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Wavebird Review

Johnny_Liu By:
Johnny_Liu
06/01/02
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
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PLAYERS 00 
PUBLISHER Nintendo 
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The next big wave.

Game Revolution is no stranger when it comes to the need for wireless controllers. In fact, we bitched about it first. Duke just about pops a vein in a GR rant.

The thing is, wireless controllers have, by and large, been pretty weak. Most of them are second rate attempts by third rate...I mean third-party...companies. The wireless controllers we've seen so far are often poorly made.

But now, Nintendo has gotten into the game with their wireless Wavebird controller, the first first-party controller of its kind. Now that our dreams have come true, is it everything we hoped for?

Oddly, yes. The Wavebird proves true to its name as it ushers forth a new wave of freedom, bringing high-quality first-party construction with performance that works beyond the specification, all at an attractive price.

"So why go wireless?" you ask. Just think about never having to wind up your cords again. Never having to leave them in a messy clutter strewn between the TV and the couch. Forget having to skootch the system from out of its cozy home in the entertainment center just to have enough cordage to reach the sofa, leaving the system vulnerable to getting kicked, stepped on, sat on, etc. The advent of wireless controllers also means that kids can no longer swing a controller by the cord like a mace, whacking their little brothers in the skull. Instead, these Wavebirds can be chucked like projectiles, which is both more aerodynamic and accurate.

The Wavebird is molded in the exact same shape as the original GameCube controller, but the space between the digital pad and the C-stick has been filled in and slightly extended. A 'frequency channel' dial is set at the bottom of the controller and the slots for 2 AA batteries are located in the back. Your knuckles will be a touch snug between the handgrips and the battery slots, but no more so than the Dreamcast controller.

They've also improved the B button, increasing its size and making it feel more like a normal button and less like an accidental drip of plastic. Huzzah!

The receiver unit is a small plastic rectangle without any obtrusive antennas. There is a similar dial to select the frequency channel underneath this unit. Obviously, the controller and receiver dials must be set to the same channel in order to communicate.

The controller uses radio frequencies just like your everyday wireless phone. But unlike older wireless controllers, the Wavebird doesn't require a line of sight like an infrared system (i.e. your remote control).

In short, the Wavebird is about as powerful a wireless controller as I've ever seen. It has worked despite the presence of other wireless devices and through all kinds of barriers. It easily worked through more than 3 walls, far past the 20 feet listed in the manual. I felt no delay or lag, even in the heat of smacking up that little punk, Pikachu. I even tried batteries that were too drained to start up my GBA, and they still worked without a hitch.

The tradeoff for going wireless is no rumble feature. Frankly, I'd rather go wireless than have the occasional gimmicky rumble, but I suppose it's different for different games, as certain titles use the rumble as part of the gameplay.

Understandably, the Wavebird represents merely Round 1 of what quality first-party wireless controller have to offer. In keeping with GR's tradition of ranting endlessly about things we care about, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some features that I'd definitely like to see in future wireless controllers.

Power Button
Not even the Xbox and the PS2 DVD remote controls have a power button. Imagine playing 'til the wee hours of the morning and are just about to conk out from sheer exhaustion. Instead of stumbling to turn off the system, you could just shut it down from the couch and fade away into slumber. I guess it would have to be relatively hard to access to keep you from accidentally turning off your system in the middle of a game, but it's still a thought.

Colors
The Wavebird currently only comes in boring gray, which can get confusing if you plan on multiple Wavebirds. If the controllers get mixed up, the only way to identify which one goes with which receiver is by wayward button mashing or checking the tiny indented numbers on the channel dial. Not to worry, though - Nintendo has consistently reissued products in Technicolor. I bet they'll follow suit with these puppies.

Auto off or Sleep mode
An automatic low power consumption mode to switch into during long periods of inactivity would help save battery life even further. Though how about...

Charge
Even though the batteries promise up to 100 hours of charge, in the future, I'd like to see these devices do away with the batteries altogether. As Duke mentioned in his rant, how about having a recharger built right into the receiver? It would function like a phone. You could just put the controller back in the cradle after playing, and the next time you sit down, you're all charged up and good to go.

Page Function
I can foresee controllers getting lost inside couches, in the fridge, behind the toilet, etc. How about a page function to help locate missing controllers? Again, they do it with phones, so why not here?

Nintendo's pricing strategy makes these controllers affordable. The MSRP is $34.99, but the Wavebird is easily found for a refreshing 30 bones. Plus, they've lowered the cost of normal controllers to boot. The PS2 and Xbox should play catch-up to the price and innovation of the Wavebird. Nintendo has taken a bold step forward in what will surely be a wireless revolution for controllers across the board.

Revolution report card
  • First party quality workmanship and design
  • Better B button
  • Attractive price
  • Reported 100 hours of battery life
  • Um, NO CORDS!
  • No rumble
  • Boring gray

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