After being virtually omitted from this year’s showing at E3 and with a complete lack of software coming down the pipeline, it’s become apparent that the Wii is on its way out and the Wii U will soon take center stage. Because of that, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight many the successes that the Wii has achieved over the past five years.
Nintendo may have forgotten the Wii, but that doesn’t mean we have to.
For all intents and purposes the GameCube, as a piece of hardware, was indistinguishable from the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Despite a solid line of first party software, features such as the lack of DVD functionality, virtually non-existent online capabilities, lack of third party support, and Nintendo becoming increasingly out of touch with longtime fans caused an otherwise fantastic console to fail at market.
By the end of the last console generation Nintendo was forced to come to a realization. Through poor sales, it was forced to recognize that it could no longer continue to fight fire with fire. Nintendo needed to do something different if it was to have any hope of replicating the success it achieved in the 1980s and early 1990s. From that point of desperation and Nintendo’s constant mantra of “innovation” the Wii was born.
The Wii’s most obvious achievement comes from a technological standpoint — new input devices. The Wii Remote is the result of the combination of accelerometers and IR (infrared) detection. These devices, in addition to the LEDs contained within the console’s sensor bar, sense the position of an object within a three dimensional space.
The Wii Motion Plus, and subsequent Wii Remote Plus improved things considerably with the introduction of turning fork gyroscopes which not only allowed the sensor bar to detect motion better but directly reflected your movements on-screen. The Wii Balance Board introduced pressure sensors that allowed your feet and body to act as the controller. These devices allowed Nintendo to bring motion controlled gaming to the forefront of the gaming industry.
Games like The Conduit and Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition proved that motion controllers can provide a mouse-and-keyboard-like shooting experience on a console. Red Steel 2 and the upcoming release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword let you swing your Wii Remote and see your actions mimicked on screen as a sword in a 1:1 fashion. Countless independent titles on WiiWare like Lost Winds, Lit, the Bit.Trip series, And Yet it Moves, and Fluidity showcased new and unique experiences that only Nintendo’s new controller could offer. There are now entire genres of games that were previously almost nonexistent such as exercise and dance.
Nintendo changed the game considerably by turning the market’s focus from a graphical arms race into a contest where the competitors have to offer new, different methods of control. Motion control may have been laughed at and derided when it was first introduced — but one needn’t look much further for proof of motion control’s success than the number of Wii consoles sold over the last half decade or how Microsoft and Sony followed suit with the Kinect and PlayStation Move. New methods of control have opened new doors and new opportunities for gamers.
They’ve also revived old ones. Something I have particularly enjoyed about the Wii is the resurgence of the light gun game. The Wii Remote’s IR pointer allows console gamers to experience classic arcade gameplay in their homes. Highlights include Dead Space Extraction, House of the Dead 2, 3 and Overkill, the Resident Evil “Chronicles” titles, and Sin & Punishment: Star Successor. The arcades we grew up in may be disappearing at an alarming rate, but at least now we can get similar experiences in our living room.
Another genre fading into obscurity that received a resurgence on Nintendo’s little white box: 2D platformers. By the time the final days of the SNES rolled around sprites had become gorgeous works of art. Unfortunately, decades of pixel-art evolution were sidelined by polygons. While revolutionary at the time, the introduction of 3D polygonal visuals brought graphics back into an aesthetic dark age, one that we have only recently come out of with the advent of high-definition.
While the Wii lags behind its competition graphically, that hasn’t been the worst thing in the world. It’s allowed gamers to take a nostalgic trip back to more youthful days with 2D platformers. And what a revival it has been. Favourites include Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros Wii, A Boy and His Blob, Lost in Shadow, Warioland Shake It, Megaman 9, Bit.Trip RUNNER, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
There are more reasons to celebrate the Wii’s standard-resolution visuals than just a retro revival. While many celebrate Nintendo’s decision to join the HD revolution with the Wii U, smaller developers probably aren’t among them. Lower resolution graphics have led to lower development costs. Lower development costs mean that developers can produce niche games, and make a profit on sales figures that would make other developers working on games for the high-definition platforms weep.
Suda 51’s studio Grasshopper Manufacture released No More Heroes in 2007. If it were a PlayStation 3 title selling 500,000 copies would have been a failure. On the Wii half a million copies sold allowed Suda 51 to produce a sequel, and a damn good one at that. Titles like No More Heroes exist, in part, due to the lackluster visuals for which the console has received much derision and scorn. Little King’s Story, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Madworld, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Rune Factory Frontier, and many other cult hits were made possible by “bad graphics”. These are among my favourite titles of the generation and while I’m sure they would all look great in HD, I’m thankful they exist at all.
Finally, I would like to recognize the Wii for expanding the audience and redefining what it means to be a gamer. Five years ago videogames were perceived by the public at large as something for children and nerds. The Wii and the DS have made great strides toward breaking that stereotype.
It’s interesting to think that five years ago Nintendo’s back was against the wall. Their home console was in third place, despite being technically superior to its primary competitor. Nintendo’s strong franchises and long history with gamers wasn’t enough to ward off the incredibly successful PlayStation 2 and all of its mass market appeal.
That was five years ago. Now, my mom owns a Wii. Somehow Nintendo is getting games into the hands of people that you never would have expected and they’re responding. Nintendo’s Wii series alone has shifted more than 150 million units. While hardcore gamers may resent the casual crowd, the fact is that their enjoyment of the medium only really only benefits us all in the long run as gaming gains more mainstream acceptance.
These are but a few reasons why the Nintendo Wii has been a success. However, from a personal standpoint, the most important thing the Wii has achieved exists in the social sphere. People were once ashamed of playing videogames. While that social stigma still exists, day by day it is being washed away as more people consider themselves gamers. Being able to sit down with family members who previously thought gaming was a juvenile waste of time and share a common pastime is an amazing experience.