Trends come and go in the gaming industry with the relative frequency of their similar namesakes on Twitter. Just when developers believe they have a handle on what players want, everyone’s Red Bull-infused brains refuse to cooperate and shift their minimal focus to something shinier and newer.
No console in the history of gaming was ever more a victim of attention deficit than the Nintendo Wii. This June, Nintendo will begin shutting down a majority of the Wii’s online functions as the Wii U, for better or for worse, is now the main focus on Nintendo’s console front. Like any other system before and after it, the Wii owes its success and lasting image as a gaming system to the company whose logo is printed on its plastic shell.
Only seven years ago, video games typically did not come with two hundred million dollar production budgets. They were not expected to sell ten million copies per title. Visual marketing tags like high definition and stereoscopic were not yet in our vocabulary. The Xbox 360 had been out for months and was floundering, still trying to find its footing as the newest system for gamers to use. While Sony had Microsoft’s direct competition waiting in the wings, Nintendo had other ideas. They had already tried to stand tall with both companies with the GameCube and, to put it bluntly, they fucked up. Nintendo put out its share of quality software as they always do, but the GameCube did nothing (and in some cases less than) the Xbox and PlayStation 2 did not already do.
After the launch of the Nintendo DS gave the company more money than the Super Best Friends, the innovation continued. The September 2005 Tokyo Game Show showed us all exactly what “Wii” could do…that’s their stupid pun, not mine. Rather than show off more polygons per second and talk about processing power that attempted to bring programmers to orgasm, Nintendo wanted to give people who had never played a video game before the chance to experience it.
This new “controller” was unlike anything we had seen before. Nintendo has, of course, given us their share of failed experiments like the Virtual Boy, R.O.B. and the e-Reader, but watching video of people playing tennis with a remote felt different. It looked like this might actually work, and a truly geeky part of me felt like I was watching the industry change in front of my eyes. The opportunity for creativity with this new system was endless as long as developers did not get lazy and simply port watered-down versions of other games to the Wii.
Naturally, I was mostly wrong.
When I first brought home my Wii, sold to me by who was likely the last reputable Gamestop employee in the company’s existence, I chose Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Trauma Center: Second Opinion and Red Steel as my games for the required bundle purchase. Damn if I didn’t play the stupid Wii Sports pack-in title the most out of any of those. I wanted to play the games that felt like they belonged on the Wii, where a normal controller simply would not do. Red Steel was supposed to be one of the main demonstrators of this idea, eliminating button presses in favor of swinging the remote like a sword and aiming your crosshairs with your arms instead of a directional pad. Unfortunately, it took Ubisoft an entire sequel to truly figure out these mechanics.
This, of course, followed the pattern established since the Nintendo 64: if Nintendo didn’t make the game for their system, it likely was not going to be hailed as a classic. Wiis were showing up everywhere from dormitories to nursing homes, but they were the equivalent of social and mobile gaming – great for a quick fix, but not the engrossing sensory overload that is expected when playing a video game. As it turns out, five of the six highest-rated games released on the Wii were developed by Nintendo themselves.
That is not, however, meant to underscore what accomplishments those games are. Every game that contained Super Mario on the Wii was a landmark achievement, from the neo-retro (yeah, that’s a phrase) New Super Mario Bros. Wii to the “Holy fuck, this is perfection” expression on my face every time I think of Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, one of the highest-rated games of all time. Just thinking about getting those 242 stars again makes me want to quit Bioshock Infinite and start it up again, something I will be doing anyway this summer.
Italian plumbing simulations aside, Nintendo also gave us the stunning conclusion to a trilogy in Metroid Prime 3, a game so good it made you wonder how the first two were designed on a regular controller…a question compounded when the Trilogy Collector’s Edition was released. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is still argued against its predecessor Melee as to whether or not it is superior, with one distinct advantage being online play, a feature Nintendo finally decided to implement as native to its hardware. I’d rather not go into the details of people openly weeping over the original trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and while it admittedly was also released on the GameCube, Skyward Sword demonstrated once more that the Wii felt like home for shooting a bow and arrow.
As for everyone else, well…the pickings get pretty damn slim. I peer over my monitor at my stack of Wii games and there simply are not very many from people that are not named Nintendo. MadWorld might be the only M-rated Wii exclusive that never eventually showed up on another system. Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and even No More Heroes were either not originally made for the Wii or saw release on something other than a Nintendo system. Again, it really was the story of Nintendo’s life; by the time Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released, you really only had to dig out your Wii to play the games Nintendo was making.
The fact that Nintendo is now shutting down a huge portion of their “online services” should not be that surprising; who is really still going on the Everybody Votes Channel and taking time from their day to answer polls with their Mii avatars? I forgot that place even existed. The Wii in general never really did us any favors for serious online gaming. When you were not busy punching in friend codes, you were hunting for a USB cable to hook up an ethernet connection if you were serious about playing online and not praying for your wireless network to cooperate.
Therein lies the mission statement of the Wii: it was never meant to be a serious gaming system. The Virtual Console went largely underutilized, the system was weak on a performance level even compared to low budget PS3 and 360 games, and third parties largely ignored it once the true capabilities of the other systems were realized. Regardless, some of my favorite moments in gaming (including a psychologist asking me if I like to roleplay during sex. Thank you, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories) came thanks to the little white box.
I do not know if what I feel for the Wii qualifies as nostalgia, nor do I think it will ever invoke the same warm fuzzies that all of its older Nintendo console brothers seem to do. Given enough time, I think it will become the same as any other system from the Big N: more of the same. When that phrase gives you Super Mario Galaxy 2, the status quo works just fine for me.
Wii System: Gdgt.com
Wii Remote: Amazon.com