Saturday, January 2, 2010

Growing Wiiry: A Nintendo Fan's Perspective

This is Part Two of a two-part series wherein we discuss the successes and failures of Nintendo's Wii console as it enters its fourth year on the market. Mr. Hollis-Lima's analysis of the console as a draw to casual gamers was posted earlier this week.

I spent the morning of the Wii launch – November 19, 2006 – scouring Boston for the system. I bypassed Best Buy and other big box retailers and stood for an hour waiting for the Downtown Crossing F.Y.E. to open. They didn't have any Wiis, and neither did any of the other stores I checked that day. I walked back to school almost empty-handed; I carried the new Zelda game, but I had nothing to play it on. I was a sorry sight.

I got my Wii a week or so later, at Gamestop on Black Friday. I hope that I never again have to wake myself up at three in the morning in order to go shopping. Still, I thought my trip to consumerist hell had been worthwhile: I could finally play my lonely copy of Zelda, for one thing, and I could now happily look forward to new Metroids, Smash Bros.', and Marios. Back then, it seemed like there was a lot to look forward to.

As I was writing this article, I took out my collection of Wii games. It's rather a disheartening sight, as it consists of only six games, including the packed-in Wii Sports. Only one game is a third-party (i.e. non-Nintendo) production. I've had the system for more than three years, but I only own a handful of games. I've owned my PS3 since July, but I already have eight games, all but one of which I enjoy and admire. What happened to the Wii? I'll get to that, but first I want to address one thing that Nintendo did right, at least at first.

Nintendo's Internet strategy is the object of much justified derision, but when the system came out, things looked far better than they do now. For one thing, the Wii, like the PS3, comes with a built-in wireless receiver – if you have access to wireless Internet, connecting the Wii is quite simple. If you want to take your Xbox 360 wireless, you will have to pay painfully high prices. As nice as the Wi-Fi is, the Wii's lack of an ethernet jack is vexing, and, in retrospect, an early warning. Once I managed to get my Wii online – shortly after launch – I had access to what should be one of the Wii's selling points, the Virtual Console. All three current-generation game systems offer game download services, but only the Wii can offer Nintendo games. There are dozens of great games in the back catalog, and there was a fairly good selection of them available at launch. Even better, there would be Sega games available too! Monday Virtual Console updates, it was clear, would destroy my wallet.

It's a shame then what's happened to the Virtual Console. Nintendo never tells us when or if they will release a particular game; some of the best and most-wanted games are still absent. I'm glad that Sin & Punishment finally got a US release and that Super Mario RPG and Ogre Battle are magically cheap again, but such laudable releases are few and far between. The Virtual Console promised a consistent flow of quality classic games; it should be an antidote to all of the Wii's disc-based shovelware. Unfortunately, most of the games that Nintendo deigns to release are not exactly worth the download. What, pray tell, is the market for Donkey Kong Jr. Math? Surely no one will play that aside from unlucky game reviewers and masochistic devotees of electronic camp.

Mr. Hollis-Lima and I have both alluded to the Wii's lamentable shovelware problem. I sometimes think that almost all the Wii's third-party developers have colluded to provide a proof of Sturgeon's Law; how else can any sane person justify the existence of Cold Stone Creamery: Scoop It Up? Twenty-five different flavors of virtual ice cream! Corporate drudgery, now available on the Wii! Or maybe I should play Jenga: World Tour! For every fine game like Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Mario Galaxy, there're a couple dozen minor abominations. Many games are more fun to pan than to play.

I shouldn't paint the Wii's current situation as blacker than it really is. There are a number of fantastic first-party games, including Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It's true that I thought the latter wasn't quite as good as it should have been, but it's still a fine game and one I wish I had spent more time playing with friends. Mr. Hollis-Lima decried the pricing of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, saying that on most systems a simple 2D platformer would be a $15 download. This may be the case, but it makes me happy to see such games get full disc-based release. They may be old-fashioned, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be big deals. Besides, some dedicated gamers tend to forget that not everyone can get their consoles online and download games.

Earlier in this article I mocked the Wii's lack of third-party support, but there are a few developers doing very good work on the system. No More Heroes is awkward, vulgar, and somewhat perverse; it took a good while for me to get into the game's rhythm. Once it clicked, however, the game enthralled me. I'm very much looking forward to playing the sequel, which looks much improved. Atlus has released a number of good-looking niche games, as has XSEED. Finally, I've heard nothing but good things about Konami's recent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which psych profiles its players and changes the game and its characters accordingly. While Shattered Memories was designed for the Wii, however, it's a bit disconcerting to see that it was ported to both the PS2 and the PSP. Wii games, it seems, are easy to translate to older hardware.

I won't write the Wii off quite so easily as Mr. Hollis-Lima has, but Nintendo has disappointed me. Some months ago, my sole Wii remote broke, rendering most games more or less unplayable. I'd like to continue playing the system, but I've yet to shell out $40 for a new controller. At the moment, it just doesn't seem worth it.

No comments: