Friday, June 6, 2014

Out with the Old...

As support for the Wii comes to a close and Nintendo looks forward to the Wii U, it's time to look back on the upstart white box that took everyone by surprise.

Prior to the Wii, motion controls were basically unheard of.  Nobody thought of shaking a controller to do anything.  When Nintendo unveiled the Wii at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2005, people were surprised.  A console that doesn't go for the latest and greatest in graphics?  Moving the controller does stuff in game?  This was a huge gambit by all accounts.  But it worked.  Nintendo managed to sell over 100 million consoles over the course of seven years.  Nintendo did a lot of things right with the Wii.  Among them:

Virtual Console  If there was ever a way to offer legitimacy for retro emulation, the Virtual Console is the best thing ever.  By including rare games like Super Mario RPG, Phantasy Star IV, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even import games like Sin and Punishment, Nintendo made the Wii a retro juggernaut unlike anything else. Of course, it's difficult to say that it killed piracy, but the gesture definitely improved the opinons of those who wanted a sense of legitimacy for downloading older games.

Same-screen Multiplayer This is huge when compared with the competition.  The Wii had more games that supported four player split-screen than either of Sony or Microsoft's offerings. As a selling point, this was huge.  The Wii had a bunch of fantastic party games, too.  While it's entirely happenstance, it's possible that this helped get the Wii to such a large install base.

Motion Controls The last time anyone saw motion controls really added into a game as a main selling point was the Nintendo Power Glove on the original Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid 80's.  While the Power Glove was cool, it didn't work well, and the sensors needed to make the glove work were fragile and prone to breaking.  Nintendo picked up a lot of skeptics when they announced the emphasis on motion gaming.  But their gambit paid off when they included a...

Free Game with the Console! No other company did this with their console at launch.  Granted, it was only Wii Sports, but it was a fantastic way to showcase the motion controls.  The bowling was fun to play, and a great party game for quite literally everyone.  Numerous stories surfaced of retirement centers buying Wii consoles for aging seniors to have some fun.  When a console draws that much attention, it's hard to say the system failed.  The added bonus of bringing together the oldest and youngest generations is a huge thing, too.

The thrill of victory is not lost at Riderwood Retirement Community in Silver Spring, Maryland
Pointing at the Screen as a Gaming Mechanic Using the sensor to point at the screen makes for several options in game play.  The biggest being two genres getting a huge boost:  Shooters and point-and-click games.  Sega released two House of the Dead games, the Call of Duty franchises made use of on-screen pointing, and cult hit The Conduit used pointing on screen to great success.  Capcom made two Resident Evil Chronicles Games, which were as challenging as they were entertaining to play.  Good usage of design space is uncommon but awesome.

While the console did a lot of things right, it had its share of stumbles.  Among them were a few glaring examples:

Motion Controls?  Eeeeugh...  Too many developers went "ERMAHGERD! MERSHERN KERNTRULLS!" and chewed out as many titles as they could.  Too many of the games released were gimmicky at best, and outright shovelware at worst.  Ju-On could have been amazing, if the game's controls weren't so frustratingly abysmal.  It was a common problem, especially at first.  There was all this new design space, and nobody knew what to do with it.  Red Steel probably could have been amazing with a bit more polish and more tinkering under the hood.  Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess felt like a Gamecube game without the Gamecube controller.  EA Sports had no idea what to do with the motion controls with Madden, eventually skipping the console entirely with future generations.  Fairly early on, the console felt gimmicky, with lots of flash and dazzle but not much in the way of substance.  To be fair, it kept that way pretty much until the very end.

DLC Purchases Tied to the Console, not Individual User Account  This one is pretty much unforgivable.  Nobody else does this, and this caused headaches for at least one fan when transferred to the Wii U.  Every other console uses ID-based authentication, and this puts Nintendo at a distinct disadvantage.  At the very least, it appears that Nintendo has heard this complaint, and are working to fix it.  But the damage has already been done.

Lack of Major Third Party Support The games that Nintendo published were awesome.  Nobody disputes that.  But when looking at non-nintendo games, there's only a few good games and a whole lot of garbage.  Which really, really sucks.  The survival of a console depends on more than just good first party games.  Other developers need to get on board and make must-have games for the console.

While looking back is all fine and dandy, what does this mean for Nintendo?  Tune in next week for a looking forward perspective!

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