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Channel Surfing

There's more than one way to play with your Wii

So you've beaten Zelda and can hurl a 90 mph fastball in Wii Sports without shattering your 50-inch plasma. Now what?

It's time to explore the rest of the "channels" -- some of them included with your Wii, and most free to download. Like cable TV, Nintendo's offerings range from CNN-worthy usefulness to stuff we'd trade for a Lifetime Original Movie. Here's our Nielson ratings:

Mii Channel -- A good place to start, the Mii channel allows you to create a cute avatar of yourself, your friends, or maybe Jesus or Hitler. You'll select everything from head size to mustache intensity, yielding a player reminiscent of the armless Playskool people of your youth. But in an age when you can create photorealistic avatars of yourself for games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Nintendo's decision to go cutesy is stylish but questionable. Also, customizable clothing choices are practically nonexistent. With any luck, downloadable hairstyles and clothes will be available soon. SCORE: 7/10

Shop Channel -- Who needs next-gen graphics when you can download the 8-bit hits that put videogames on the pop-culture map back in the 1980s? This is an easy-to-navigate, joyous experience where Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, and TurboGraphx-16 games can be purchased for $5-$10 a pop. Here's hoping Nintendo gives rare Game Boy and Sega Saturn classics a chance to shine down the line. Nintendo, however, is taking its sweet time in releasing the classics we crave most: A handful of nostalgic blockbusters are available, but a host of duds like Columns and Urban Brawler gum up the works. With Wii Sports packed with the system, who's going to buy 1985's Nintendo Baseball? Still, when the Wii ever hits a "new release drought," or if you just can't afford to drop $50 on a new game, kick back with Super Mario World or Contra III. These relics feel as fresh, fun, and well-designed now as they did back in the '90s. SCORE: 8.5/10

News Channel --Some of us like our news without the "what you don't know could kill you! Story at 11!" stuff. This straightforward channel lets you check out the day's Associated Press stories and pictures. Pointing, clicking, and zooming in on your news region of choice is way more fun than scrolling down a web page, but this simplistic channel is good mostly for a glance after a gaming session, not a reason unto itself to boot up the Wii. SCORE: 6/10

Forecast Channel --You'll spin the globe (literally) with your Wiimote in search of thunderstorm updates, daily highs and lows, and even the five-day forecast in the Sahara. The only thing missing is the goofy weatherman. SCORE: 8/10

Internet Channel --Powered by the Opera browser, the internet channel is all about unrealized potential. The trial version is free for download, but typing a web address means pointing and clicking at each letter with the Wiimote. (FYI to parents: Porn sites work fine, with no history cache to track browsing. Not that we've tried.) SCORE: 2/10

Photo Channel --With an SD card, you can upload your own digital photos and music library to create a custom photo presentation. A hit at family gatherings, the multimedia experience blows the lid off ye olde slideshows. You can e-mail photos to another Wii system or turn pictures into a jigsaw puzzle. There's even an option to manipulate photos with custom clip art and paintbrushes, but it's a poor man's Photoshop at best. SCORE: 5/10

The Future . . .Imagine a virtual arcade where you can walk up to other players' Miis and challenge them to a game of Street Fighter. For now, however, the Wii's online component is totally broken: To talk to other Miis, you must exchange a 16-digit code and wait for approval. Getting a home loan is easier. The Wii's still a blast, but Xbox Live it ain't.

 
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