The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is on in Los Angeles this week and while it signals the arrival of some new video game consoles and software, it also more or less winds down the clock on some current generation hardware. Last year the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable were both superceded by newer models and now this year, the first of the current generation of home consoles bows out. The Wii U is expected to take up the entirety of Nintendo’s conference, effectively closing the chapter on the Nintendo Wii.
The Wii will go down as a vitally important system for Nintendo. It is the highest selling current gen console (70 million units) and its clever marketing and emphasis on gesture based controls catapaulted Nintendo from third placed marketshare last generation with the Gamecube to market leader. Nintendo also found success in the portable space at the same time with the Nintendo DS (151 million units) and were rolling in the money from 2004 to 2009. After a tough sixth generation of consoles where they were comprehensively outperformed by Sony and the Playstation2, Nintendo gambled and won big with the casual gaming market.
Much has already been written about the new challenges that Nintendo (and Microsoft and Sony) face from the new onslaught of casual gaming on smart phones and free-to-play web browser games. But for this blog post, I wanted to write about my own personal take on the Wii.
Its a shame that the old TFW Podcasts have been lost to the web archive in the sky (one of these days we’ll get our archiving sorted out!) because there was one podcast we did in December 2006 where I spoke about playing the Nintendo Wii for the first time in a demo booth at a shopping mall. They way Mike asks about the experience and my glowing initial feedback, its easy to forget how excited we all were back then for the potential of this device. It really did sound like a system that could live up to its code name during development – Nintendo ‘Revolution’.
I think back when the system was first revealed, I remember reading speculation that the Wiimote and nunchuck could create potentially a newer, more accurate way to play first person shooters, that it would rejuvenate the point-and-click adventure game genre and that it would be a perfect way to control light sabers in the definitive Star Wars game.
Six years on, its clear to see that the system didn’t really live up to a lot of those initial hopes and dreams. And for its failure to live up to a lot of its initial hype, its probably the last time that people my age get really excited about a new console. We’re probably too goddamn jaded and weary of gimmicks now. What happened to that Nintendo Vitality Sensor anyway?
When its all said and done, I think the Nintendo was my least used console out of the Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It had the shortest lifespan (5 years) and was used the most infrequently. Like millions of other Wii owners, mine ended up gathering dust and is now consigned to the bedroom tv.
Despite its prolific sales record, the Wii never really got out of the blocks with third party software support thanks to its unique control scheme and modest hardware specs which flew in the face of the convergence that Microsoft and Sony had. The biggest selling games in the last few years, like the Call of Duty series, required a certain level of graphical horsepower and online infrastructure that the Wii couldn’t offer. Consequently the Wii became a system that you would ‘dust off’ a few times a year when Nintendo’s next marquee title was launched. If you wanted to play Mass Effect, Bioshock or Grand Theft Auto, then you had to look elsewhere.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the system though. The first party games from Nintendo on this thing are incredible. Although you could occasionally be in for a long dry spell between release dates, the system is home to two of the best 3D Mario games (Galaxy 1&2) and it has also has excellent iterations on Mario Kart, Zelda, 2D Mario platforming and most famously, some of the most entertaining and accessible casual games ever created (Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort).
The Wii’s other strength is the incredible range of classic games on offer with the Virtual Console. This downloadable library offers an impressively comprehensive library of games from the 8-bit and 16-bit era, spanning game consoles from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Commodore 64 to the Sega Mega Drive to the Neo Geo. I defy anyone to browse this catalogue and not find a handful of childhood favourites that are worth revisiting. When I look at my meager library of Wii games and then look at my online catalogue, its possible that I’ve spent more money accumulating digital downloads of classic games than on the full priced new Wii games.
Was it all worth it then? At the end of the day, the Wii didn’t really do a lot of the things we thought it might when the system was first revealed. But the truth is, it has some of Nintendo’s best efforts on the system and these are genuine exclusives that really have no contemporaries on the 360 or PS3. Sure there are platformers, party games and kart racers on other systems but none that are remotely comparable to Nintendo at their best. For that reason, coupled with its excellent legacy software, its hard for me not to have a soft spot for the Wii. The casual gamers have moved on from Wii Sports and Wii Fit and are all about iPhone games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. But for someone like me who still loves the classic Zelda games or wants an easy way to play perfectly emulated versions of Super Mario World, Metal Slug, SNK Baseball Stars 2 and Puyo Puyo, the Wii ends up offering a surprisingly compelling reason for the traditional gamer to come back from time to time.
The Ten Best Wii Games
In no particular order:
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
This was a pretty great launch title for the Wii. Twilight Princess had a nifty ‘dual world’ mechanic where Link could transform into a wolf and teleport to a twlight alternate reality. The game also had some entertaining dungeons and cool setpieces including one sequence involving goblins that evokes The Lord of the Rings movies. Looking back, there are some minor niggles – there isn’t much treasure hunting, Kokiri village is pretty drab and the overworld is a bit bare – but overall this is still a great installment in the Zelda franchise.
Mario Kart Wii
Mario Kart Wii is probably the most ‘gimmicked’ iterations of this franchise with the most aggresive rubber-banding AI that ensures every race is a close finish. It has the most overpowered blue shell and ridiculously wide tracks that are accomodating for even the most inexperienced of players. And thats what makes it such an enduring and accessible multiplayer kart racer. The portable versions on the DS and 3DS are still designed for the core gaming audience but for everyone else, Mario Kart Wii is colourful, fun and easy to pick up and play. Mario Kart Wii sold a mindblowing 32 million copies, easily the greatest of any home console version of this franchise.
Super Mario Galaxy
After Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube, I remember having some pretty tempered expectations of Nintendo’s next 3D platformer. Even the trailers and the screenshots for this game didn’t really sell me on what this game could offer. Then the perfect reviews scores started rolling in, one after the other. Then I finally had a chance to play. For several hours in a single session. Then I played Gusty Garden Galaxy and that triumphant orchestral score kicked in while I soared through a galaxy lit up by bright candy-coloured starbits.
In my opinion, this is one of the greatest games ever made. It’s the best 3D platformer ever made. It’s cheerful presentation puts a smile on the face. It’s ingenuity in level design consistently enthralls and delights. The platforming is pitch perfect. The difficult curve impeccable. There are other games that I’ve played this generation which are great but I don’t know how well they’ll age. Mark my words though, Super Mario Galaxy will go down as a timeless classic.
- Super Mario Galaxy Review (2007)
Super Mario Galaxy 2
The only thing more impressive than making a perfect 3D platformer like Super Mario Galaxy is to do twice. The sequel to Galaxy doesn’t improve on the original, it expands on it. Once again, Nintendo throw the kitchen sink at the level design, adding more Yoshi levels, tinkering with the Wii remote controls, adding more costumes and generally going hogwild with their imagination. I don’t think the musical score of this game reached the same heights as the original but everything else about this game is either on the same level or better. It’s wonderful stuff.
- Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review (2010)
Six years ago, the Nintendo Gamecube only sold 30 million units worldwide and Sony ruled the gaming world with the unstoppable Playstation2 which has exclusive rights to some of the biggest game franchises in the world. What do you do? You create a console that has dated graphics and a free launch title that is a minigame pack of six sports game. It changed everything. I remember when Jen bought the Wii as a Christmas gift for me in 2006. We ended up opening it and playing it 2 weeks early. We had ‘Wii parties’ where people pretty much lined up and waited to play this thing. Back then it was a brave new world and we all thought bowling alleys would go out of business. Its the most game changing launch title ever. Its still also a cheeky bit of fun.
Wii Sports Resort
Wii Sports Resort will age better than Wii Sports. Wii Sports Resort revisits Wuhu Island with a wider range of game modes including the entertaining kendo stick duels, frisbee golf and table tennis. Plenty of people told anecdotal stories about non-gamer family members playing their first video game with the original Wii Sports. For me, that breakthrough moment occured with Wii Sports Resort. I know some people say they ‘don’t play games’ but have Words With Friends, Draw Something and Fruit Ninja on their iPhone. My dad doesn’t play games in the sense that he literally plays no video games whatsoever. Never has, never will. Or so I thought. In 2009, when my dad and brother were in town for my wedding, my brother challenged my dad to a game of table tennis on Wii Sports Resort. To my great surprise, my dad picked up the Wii remote, intuitively knew how to play, and played a round of table tennis against my brother. It took 66 years but Nintendo finally got him to play a video game. And he did it with a smile on his face.
- Wii Sports Resort Review (2009)
New Super Mario Bros Wii
It has some of the most vanilla and bland graphics for a Super Mario game but otherwise, this is a fantastic 2D Mario game, both in single and multiplayer mode. There is a pretty comprehensive set of levels in this game that actually gets pretty challenging towards the end but I think thats why I ended up enjoying it so much. Its challenging without being cheap or unfair. As you’d expect, the game controls with pinpoint precision and is wisely very limited in its use of gesture based controls. If you ever want to see how Nintendo are brilliant at designing their levels so that they can be mastered by players performing speedruns, look up some Youtube clips of four expert players motoring through this game. Thats where you can really appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into designing a Mario platformer.
Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law
This entry is a bit from left field but I really enjoyed the Harvey Birdman game. Its basically a clever use of the Adult Swim license applied to the Phoenix Wright game format. The game has cartoon animation that is lifted directly from the show and voice acting to match. Its funny, has some silly but enjoyable mysteries and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’m not even a particularly big fan of show but I really enjoyed this.
This game has the world’s worst intro to a video game. It’s twenty long, arduous unskippable minutes of gibberish dialogue. But suffer through that and you’re rewarded with one of the best action RPGs of this generation, all rendered in a beautiful, distinctive brush-stroke art style. The game has a cheeky sense of humour, game mechanics that make use of the Wii remote in a tactful, inuitive manner and has plenty of content.
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Improves upon Twilight Princess in every way you’d hope for. This game has a more interesting and colourful art style, it has a more seamlessly integrated set of weapons and gadgets that are useful in all the dungeons and introduces an endearingly twisted villain in the form of Ghirahim. It also has one of the more developed and tender relationships portrayed between Link and Zelda. A great swansong for the Wii.