There are plenty of bizarro, inexplicable things in this wacky world we live in: crop circles, John Graham Altman's voting record, Tara Reid's acting career. But in the world of gaming, I'm not sure anything in recent memory tops Nintendo's announcement late last week that they'll be changing the name of their upcoming new console from the Revolution — a perfectly good appellation that evokes excitement, the Beatles, and bicentennial nostalgia — to Wii, a guttural preschool yawp that evokes the snorting of Mountain Dew through nostrils.
Not since Tony Snow became White House press secretary has a name so begged to be turned into pun fodder. Nintendo claims we'll get used to it — after all, "ii" means "good" in Japanese — but I think they've badly underestimated American gamers. On the other hand, maybe they're simply setting up the greatest consumer prank in American history:
"Whatcha doing, son?"
"Playing with my Wii, dad."
Will the ad campaign feature a lame riff on late-issue Billy Joel: "Wii Didn't Start the Fire." (Note to Nintendo — I came up with it first.)
Meanwhile, back in the land of the more sensibly named Gamecube, Nintendo is busily unleashing more weirdness upon us. In this instance, though, the unholy mélange that is Odama — a thickly Japanese-flavored mix of strategic siege combat and pinball (yes, pinball) — actually works.
Explaining the concept isn't nearly as tricky as mastering it, even if you're an old-school pinball wizard. Standing on a medieval field with a set of stone flippers at the bottom, your troops must protect a magical artifact called the Ninten-bell (don't ask), while chopping down enemy soldiers and moving the bell from one end of the battlefield to an escape gate, usually located on the other side of multiple obstacles. While they're doing this, you'll be using the flippers to bat a gigantic metal pinball — that's the Odama — around the screen, trying to smash your enemies without mowing down too many of your own.
Sound challenging? The game also comes packed with a microphone attachment that you'll use, through a series of voice-recognition commands ("march right," "rally," "advance") to direct your soldiers and keep them from becoming Odama-fodder. Now that's some pinball wizardry.
The pinball-based aspects of the game are, it turns out, both inspired and cleverly implemented. Most of the twelve, er, "tables" require obliterating physical objects (gates, dams, towers) to advance the action. Hitting battlefield bonuses can add to the level timer or briefly change the Odama to a glowing green color, during which time all the enemy soldiers the ball hits will defect to your side. Smack the ball into a nearby cave or ramp and score extra reserve soldiers or rice cakes to distract the enemy.
The strategy elements, meanwhile, are a beast to master, mostly because barking basic commands into the microphone while trying not to pancake your own troops with the Odama is ridiculously hard. (And after you lose, you're treated to the game narrator's snarky insults about your pitiful battlefield prowess.)
That said, when you've finally blasted down the Spider Temple — by launching the Odama with four sets of flippers arranged in clock-like fashion around a steep and fortified hill — you'll feel like you've just survived the culminating battle of Ran.
Aaron R. Conklin plans to run Wii, Wii, Wii all the way home to play some more Odama.