There is no denying what Nintendo have contributed towards the evolution and development of the games industry in the time they have been making video games consoles and games. It’s over 25 years since the Nintendo Entertainment System was released and Nintendo have had a major player in each console generation ever since.
Now though, we’re approaching the end of the 7th console generation and are on the cusp of the 8th. The Nintendo Wii-U is on the horizon and The Nintendo Wii is just about at the end of it’s run. Despite the debate and uneven opinions that badger the Wii around, it has played a very important role in gaming this generation and has had a major impact on the direction game development has gone, even forcing the hands of its competitors.
Instead of just claiming that the Wii was so important, and did so much, I’m going to explain why in this article, which I humbly present to you. My console in review of the Nintendo Wii. This, of course, is all from the point of view of someone in the western market, and based in the U.K.
Originally conceived in 2001, the work on the Wii started almost immediately after the Gamecube was released. The idea was, instead of trying to compete with competitors like Sony and Microsoft directly, they would try to subvert the market and pick up the gamers that neither of those got their hooks into.
Nintendo wanted to avoid the power struggle that would come of two similar consoles trying to out-power one another with their machine’s capabilities. Which makes sense to me, if there would have been three very similar consoles out at the same time then it wouldn’t matter which one you bought, it would just come down to the library.
Whilst in development, the Nintendo DS was in the front of the developers minds at one point. They wanted to utilise some kind of touch screen technology in their next console. However, the idea was eventually put onto the shelf as they realised that it would make their new console too similar to the DS, and they felt they needed to avoid that. It seems ideas are never scrapped all together though as this idea would come back again when Nintendo were making future consoles.
Early in its development, the console went through several names. For a while it was known throughout the media and public sphere as the ‘Revolution’, a name that went over rather well amongst the critical populous. It was later though that a name was finally settled on and the console became known as the Nintendo Wii. This name was not as well received upon announcement. Piss taking, pun intended, ran rampant all over the internet.
Nintendo would constantly try to explain their newly named console to anyone that would listen in the face of the guttural jokes that rang around their ears. They would say that The Wii was a console to be played with friends and family, it was a social gaming console, hence the pronunciation of the game being like ‘we’. The console is always written using the lower case ‘I’, as the two lower case letters supposedly looked liked two people standing side by side.
While the theme of social gaming was, in fact, the core theme that the Wii held throughout its entire lifetime, these explanations still fell on deaf ears and the urine based jokes kept coming.
When the console was shown at E3 in 2005, it was received with both a mix of excitement and cynicism. The Wii would pioneer the art of motion controls and using more than just your fingers and thumbs to play a game. Many were excited to see what looked like a whole new way of playing games becoming the norm, while the more jaded commenter, those that had seen projects like the PS2’s Eye Toy, would complain that the product wouldn’t work as well as the intended.
In late 2006 the console was finally released to the world.
Upon release though the console was instantly a smash hit, retailers couldn’t get enough of the console to meet demand. Many buyers were put on waiting lists while more machines were shipped out to the stores. It was big news for quite a while that production couldn’t meet demand and Nintendo literally couldn’t make them fast enough.
The machine had a very strong release. The fact that it came out around the same time as one of its main competitors in the Playstation 3 compounded that fact. The Wii sold over 100,000 units in its first week and that number continued to climb over the following weeks and months.
In less than a year the Nintendo Wii managed to sell more total units than its direct competitor, the Xbox360, which had already been out for a year upon the Nintendo console’s release. The numbers were in Nintendo’s favour, including the price. The Wii was around $250 upon release, far cheaper than the Xbox360 and half of what Sony were charging for their newly released Playstation 3.
The only problem was supply; the Christmases after the Wii’s release were especially bad. Parents struggled to get their hands on a console for their kids for the holiday; the Christmas rush was a disaster. In the U.K. hundreds were left disappointed as they were told they might need to wait for as many as three months to get one.
This is similar to what happened to me, I was told that I would have to add my name to a list at my local GAME and the earliest I could expect a Wii of my very own would be March. Luckily, only a few weeks later I was able to find a Wii in a lesser known electronics store.
The console’s extreme popularity was a mix of the new hardware and control method the console promised, coupled with the fact that the Wii was been marketed to families rather than gamers. It was being marketed to cover a broad a demographic as possible, which is what Nintendo have always done with their consoles.
Whatever the reasons though, it worked as the Nintendo launch went incredibly well, in spite of the supply issues and went on to lead the market for the first time since the days of the NES.
The console itself was the smallest of the current generation, not only that, it was also the smallest Nintendo Home console to date. Despite being far sleeker than the first generation of its competitor’s consoles, it also happened to be the weakest. Graphically, the games looked more akin to something seen in the previous generation than those layers would expect to see in the next generation of console gaming.
The lesser graphics and lack of a HDMI made many turn away from the console when they could see the incredibly good looking games that were coming out on the Xbox360, PS3 and powerful PCs of the time. Many would claim that the consoles lack of ‘power’ when compared to its direct competition would be its eventual downfall. As a famous man once said though; Graphics aren’t everything.
In spite of its lack of power, the Wii was still a very unique console. Firstly, it didn’t reply on a controller, instead its main method of control was the Wii remote, also known as the ‘Wiimote’. The sensor on the end of the remote, would be tracked by the bar placed above the television and would track the remotes movement.
This control method would promote gamers to stand up and make use of as much of their body as possible. Hence all of the promotion for the game containing images of people bouncing around in far too large living rooms as though they were playing a real game of tennis. It didn’t take long for many of to realise the very minimum effort required to play games on the Wii, and the bouncing around became a simple flick of the wrist.
Most of the early titles in the consoles life would make the most of this new control method, making it seem more like a gimmick than a genuine innovation. By the time the ‘real’ games came out for the console, they all had the option to be played with a classic controller or Gamecube controller, rather than using the Nunchuck and Wiimote.
The console also had the least friendly online features of the three consoles in its generation. While the massive success of Xbox live on the first Xbox got developers all working on their own online capabilities, Nintendo seemed left behind in this aspect. Not many games supported online play to begin with and gaming with someone you didn’t already know was next to impossible. You needed to exchange friend codes beforehand before you could find one another’s console, ironically a very unfriendly experience.
The brunt of the Wii’s online capabilities were being used solely for their Virtual console and ‘Wiiware’. The online market provided a ton of games for purchase coming from not only Nintendo’s past consoles, but from old Sega consoles also. Oh if only the Sega fanboys of old could see this now. The virtual console was well received though; many old school Nintendo fans would be drawn to the console with the promise of collecting a library of all of their favourite NES and Super Nintendo titles on their Wii.
The Nintendo Wii had more than its fair share of ups and downs. It lacked the ability to play DVDs, when pretty much anything you could jam a disk into at this point could. This was apparently a cost saving measure and meant that Nintendo could sell their console for as low a price as they did. Nintendo would also say that they wanted a machine that was purling about gaming, and not the entertainment centres that other games console were becoming.
At the end of the day, the console’s capabilities and functions would be met with a lukewarm reception. As the cynics predicted, the motion controls weren’t as responsive as we were lead to believe. While they worked just fine for playing a mini-game compilation with your Nan, then they tried to make the transition over to their bigger titles, many would prefer to plug in a Gamecube controller and play it that way.
As well as it sold, the Wii’s early existence was fraught with problems and drama. Video evidence of overzealous gamers punching their friends in the face and many a photo of a smashed televisions were popping up far too often for Nintendo’s liking. The Wii was quickly becoming known as the most dangerous console on the market.
It didn’t take long for Nintendo to start plastering their games with warnings to make sure you played your Wii in a huge open sports hall. And new, stronger versions of the wrist straps were rushed to stores while the older ones were immediately pulled from shelves.
The image of a smashed TV became synonymous with the Nintendo Wii for a few years after that. The overly excited people playing the console in the game’s promotional materials spawned many a spoof video with people accidently hurling themselves out of windows and sitting in an emergency room with a remote embedded deep into their skull.
Eventually though, these jokes died down and were replaced with a different kind of joke…
Release titles and Early library
A lot of the early games for the Wii were bad. The line-up of games for the consoles release was laughable. Probably the Wii’s best release title was something that came with all consoles on purchase; Wii Sports. It was a fun little game that was really only meant to display the Wii’s capabilities, there wasn’t that much too it ultimately. Although it still went on to be the best selling game of all time, weird that.
The highlights of the Wii’s launch library consisted of Red steel, Super Monkey ball: Banana Blitz and Rayman: Raving Rabbids. Around this time, a lot of the games coming out for the Wii were either compilations of mini-games such as Rayman or the Wario-Ware titles, or they were games that made heavy use of a single feature of the Wii and used that as their selling point.
The only established Nintendo title that got release with the Wii was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. However, this turned out to be a rather hasty port of what was originally designed as a Nintendo Gamecube game and it showed that. Features added to the Wii version of the game in order to make use of the Wii’s features were so tacked on that it was seeping through the seams.
It’s not surprising that the Wii had an underwhelming release library of games when later on many third party developers would admit to having little faith in the Wii and thus didn’t put the effort they probably should have into the games they developed for it. How were they to know it would take off like it would?
In the year following the release of the Wii, attention grabbing games did eventually hit the shelves. Despite the criticism aimed at the console for its lack of power or HDMI capabilities, games like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption would come out and impress both fans and naysayers alike. Despite their standard definition nature, the games make perfect use of the Wii’s capabilities and showed that, indeed, power wasn’t everything.
It was to be expected that both Mario and Metroid, two of the company’s heavy hitters, would turn in the profit for Nintendo though. It was the newer properties that would be the test for Nintendo, everyone loved a Mario game, but those alone weren’t going to keep the Wii chugging along.
It was when the Wii Fit came out in the beginning of 2008 that the Wii found itself slotted into a rather large gap in the market and found its popularity all over again.
The Established era
By late 2008 Nintendo came to realise that not everything was sunshine, the success of games like Wii fit and other none traditional titles taking up the Nintendo section in many a video game retailer, the console was started to gain a bit of a reputation. Gone, were the jokes about people accidentally killing one another with Wii Remotes, now the Wii was being branded a console for ‘casuals’.
It was the Wii that brought the view of Casual vs. Core gamers to the forefront of the media sphere. Critics would bash the Wii as being a console marketed toward children with the gimmicks of the motion control, and older ‘non-gamers’ with ‘non-games’ such Wii-Fit that were seen as fitness aids rather than real games.
This is where a lot of hostility toward the Wii spawned. Avid Xbox or Playstation gamers, fanboys, if you will, would constantly bash the Wii for being a casual console that wouldn’t and physically couldn’t produce games that could keep up with their consoles. While you’d think these jibes would be like water off a duck’s back, Nintendo did seem to take this all to heart.
This might have been true to some extent though, the Wii suffered from a lack of any strong third party support. All of the games worth buying in the eyes of someone who would consider them self a game were far and few between, and these were usually relegated to Nintendo’s long running in house titles, their Metroids and their Zeldas.
Anything else was regarded as being bargain bin fodder, the type of games only bought by very young children or parents who had no clue what they were picking up. Many of the cross console titles that would appear on the Xbox360, PS3 and PC would pass over the Wii as its lesser capabilities would mean a separate version of the game would have to be produced.
While most of the time you wouldn’t see the big titles released on the Wii, on the odd occasion you would see a unique Wii version of the game appear. However it was rare that these games lived up to the sales and level of quality seen in its HD competitors.
Aware that they were lagging behind their competitors in capturing interest in the ‘gamer’ section of the market, Nintendo would produce some new additions for their console in an attempt to coax back some of the gamers who had turned their backs on the console, or had left it to gather dust as they played something else.
The Classic controller pro was the first ‘apology’ to fans. The original classic controller was poor, cheaply put together and uncomfortable to use, many were torn between deciding to use the Wii remote in a game that didn’t suit it all too well and a naff controller that were actually less comfortable to use.
The next thing was the Wii Speak. While online gaming with the Wii was a rarely seen beast, there were a few games that were easier to play online than most, however, with no way to communicate between players, it often took away from the experience when they would need to find some alternative, outside way to communicate with one another. The Wii Speak seemed like a desperate attempt to make up for lost time in the end though as it was only every supported by 13 games after release.
The final, and biggest, apology came in 2009 in the form of the Wii Motion Plus. The dissatisfaction at the Wii’s motion controls not being as accurate as they had been advertised before the console’s launch was something of a thorn in the Wii’s side. Many players had expected the Wiimote to track their movements perfectly, however the actual remote would recognise awkward jerks and in what general direction they were being flung.
The Wii motion plus addition performed how the Wii probably should have from the start. A healthy library of games supported the updated hardware, but only five games were designed specifically with it mind and thus required it for play. If the Wii’s motion controls had been of the quality of the Wii motion plus right off the bat, it would have been interesting how differently this console generation would have panned out.
Game library 2008-2010
By 2008, the Wii was settled. Everyone knew what it was and what it could do. The games that experimented with the new controls had been released and then shoved aside; it was now that the real games could come out for the console, in theory at least.
The biggest western releases in 2008 came in the shape of two more established series titles: Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart Wii. While Smash Bros could have easily appeared on any console based on what use it made of the motion controls, Mario Kart Wii was bundled with the Wii Wheel. While essentially a piece of plastic, the remote performed exceedingly well when controlling Mario Kart and actually grabbed the attention of both gamers and non gamers alike.
Mario Kart game gave players up to four different ways to play the game which all performed very well. It also supported a rare form of online multiplayer for the Wii and allowed people to just race randoms to their heart’s content. In my opinion, Mario Kart Wii was one of the best games that came out on the Wii that actually made use of the console’s unique features without seemingly gimmicky.
We also got to see No More Heroes, a game with a unique sense of humour that had many thinking that there might just be something to this Nintendo Wii after all.
Other than that though, the majority of stores in 2008 would be selling more games starring deformed rabbits and a Wii edition of Nintendo DS game Cooking Mama. There was also a terrible port of the Alone in the Dark remake that horrifying to play for all the wrong reasons.
Throughout 2009 and 2010 there would be a steady stream of games that would grab the attention. Capcom’s hugely popular (in Japan at least) Monster Hunter series would jump ship from Sony and come to Nintendo.
There would be some titles trying to show that the Wii wasn’t just a console for Mario games and balance boards, some successful (such as Xenoblade Chronicles and Madworld) and other really not (Like the Conduit and Epic Mickey?).
That isn’t to say that Nintendo had forgotten their newly discovered niche, A sequel to Wii Fit and Wii Sports both being evidence of that. And games like Just Dance were grabbing the crossover from the dancing game craze.
Some series that had began to gather dust were also brought back to the console, Kirby would see his first console release for ten years in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Donkey Kong Country Returns would also revive a series that hadn’t been seen since the days of the Nintendo 64. Some games would come out that people had never thought they’d see again like Punch-out!.
These long running titles, along with sequel to DS game New Super Mario Bros. and another Metroid game (Metroid: Other M) would be the best selling games for the console. It continued to be a struggle for any third party developers to get much of a look in on the Wii.
There was enough being released on the Wii to keep people coming back to it every now and then, and it seems like there were a fair few games to keep anyone’s interest. But if you think about the fact that I listed pretty much every game released on the Wii of note (and a couple of not so notable ones) in a three year time span… that is actually pretty depressing.
The handheld’s shadow
By the time that 2011 rolled around, people had simply stopped paying attention the Nintendo Wii, including Nintendo themselves. If anyone said anything Nintendo released in early 2011 the Nintendo 3DS was the only thing you’d hear about. It seemed the entirety of the company’s weight was being thrown behind the development, marketing and release of the new handheld console and the Wii was all but forgotten.
There had been rumours flitting around toward the end of 2010 that there was a sequel to the Nintendo Wii in the works. But many media outlets seemed to disregard the rumours that the console would simply be akin to the ‘slimline’ editions of both the Xbox360 and the PS3 since their initial release, maybe with a DVD in it too.
As we got into 2011 though, these rumours gained some traction and talk that Nintendo were coming out with a brand new console was all but gospel fact. At 2011’s E3 event, the Nintendo Wii-U was officially announced and, in my opinion, the Nintendo Wii died.
Development on games had ground to a halt for the Wii, the 3DS was the new favourite new toy. On top of that, everyone was hyped up for the Wii-U and everything it promised to not only bring to the gaming market, but what it would do to make up for everything negative people felt about the Wii.
There was an emphasis on appealing to the ‘core’ market again, Nintendo, it seems, didn’t want to be seen as a company for kids and casuals, they wanted the best of both worlds. It’s this kind of behaviour, focusing on the 3DS so heavily and then brushing the Wii aside as the Wii-U gets announced, that makes me think that nobody was that proud of the Wii by the end of it’s run.
Closing titles 2011-beyond
If releases were few and far between before, they were even more of a rare sight now. All throughout 2011 there was probably only one notable release all year and that was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the first Zelda game made for the Wii, six years after its release.
And Skyward Sword was brilliant, it looked as good as games do on the Wii, which is still nothing to turn your nose up at, and it’s utilisation of the Wii motion plus controls into gameplay was exceedingly well done. Pretty much every item in the game made use of the motion controls in some way, they were vital, but they weren’t too intrusive either. Skyward Sword was probably the best ‘Wii’ game to come out on the console. It’s just such a shame that it came out so late in the console’s run.
Aside from Zelda we got another Mario and Sonic crossover game, Kirby Return to Dreamland and a sequel to Conduit. How that got green lit I’ll never know. Only a few months ago I was asked to write an article for a site listing the top ten Nintendo Wii games of 2011, I had bought one game all year. Not only was it sad, it was depressing. Never mind in 2011, I’d probably struggle to make a top ten list of best ever Wii games…
This coming year and beyond don’t look to be all that much better. Pandora’s Tower was released early this year and Epic Mickey 2 is being released later on. Aside from that, the only titles being released on the Wii are cross platform titles like Lego Batman 2 and more ‘casual’ games like Summerstars and Everyone Sing.
While it is possible that Nintendo will continue to develop Wii games alongside the Wii-U for a while, like Sony did with the Playstation 2, I would say that the Wii and sung its last song at this point. Skyward Sword was it’s fat lady and I think it was a title it can happily call it’s cap.
Final sales in comparison
Overall, while criticised by gamers and the gaming media alike, finically the Wii can’t be deemed as anything but a success. As of the end of March 2012, Nintendo had sold 95.85 million units of the Nintendo Wii. The Wii had moved over 20 million more units than its two competitors as of the end of 2011, it had been the best selling console of the generation by a long way, in spite of its low powered nature.
At the beginning of this essay, because by this point that is exactly what this is, I said that the Nintendo Wii had played a very important role in this console generation and has had a major impact on the direction game development has gone. After reading this post, you might be wondering how I could possibly claim that when it seems the Wii has been fraught with problems its entire run.
While the Wii has had more issues than One Piece, it had undoubtedly been the most influential console of the three in the 7th generation. While there have been a lot of stunning and brilliant games out on the PS3 and Xbox360, they’re both travelling up a single straight thread. These console both build on the same things to insane degrees, they push on graphics and processing power and making the same games better and better.
They grow on the principle of taking what is good and what people like, and trying to make them better, and continue to make them better until their hardware physically can’t handle anymore, which is when they bring out their next, more powerful console, which starts the cycle again.
The Nintendo Wii wasn’t a console that blindly climbed the same piece of thread in a mad dash for the top, instead it added more threads, tried something different and looked to find more places to climb towards that they didn’t previously know where there. They wanted to create a web, so they could go anywhere they wanted with their console.
Metaphors aside, the Wii was trying to be different because Nintendo knew that, in the long run, it would pay off. And pay off is exactly what it did. Throughout most of its run it outsold its competitors, to the point where they both started scrambling for some way to compete with their elder opponent.
I would assert that it was direct influence from the Nintendo Wii that caused both Microsoft and Sony to come up with their own motion control analogue for their consoles. Both the Playstation Move and the Kinect came into existence in order for both of those console to try and keep up with the massive sales the Wii was still getting.
The Xbox360’s Kinect may be a bigger, flashier, more usable piece of hardware that blew what the Wii could do out of the water. But you have to ask the question, would the Kinect ever have come into existence if not for Nintendo pushing that envelope in the first place? Something similar may have come around eventually, but Nintendo continued to be the company that innovated and did it first.
Now we have the Wii-U coming out which adds even further to the motion controls by not only combining it with a touch screen, influenced the DS and the Wii’s original concept, but also adding the power and graphics capabilities that the previous console lacked. If the Wii-U can do as much for the industry as it’s predecessor, it’ll be interesting to find out.
Was it a success?
This is a difficult question to answer. Financially it was a success, yes. In terms of its innovation, yes, it influenced a change in the industry. From a gamer’s point of view though, eh… not so much.
We could view the Nintendo Wii in a number of ways. At worst it was a failed experiment, an attempt to bring more of a person into a game, literally, and help immerse people into games a lot more fully than any had previously. This had fallen flat on its face and the Wii had become nothing more than a joke, bad tech being marketed as something it really wasn’t.
On the flip side though, it could be said that the Wii was a hugely influential piece of hardware that, while may not have been able to bench press as much as it’s high powered competitors, it had a much more important impact on the direction the industry went and would lay groundwork further developments in the future.
The Wii looks entirely different depending on which perspective you take. The average person doesn’t care what impact it had or what groundwork it laid down, they would rather just play some fun games. If it had any fun/good games was something up for a little more debate, again, depending on your perspective. While the Wii had it’s ups and downs, it was rarely out of the spotlight, it was getting talked about just as much as it’s fellow 7th generation consoles, for better or for worse.
Despite me saying that the Nintendo Wii was dead, it will still live on in Nintendo’s future endeavours. I mean, their next console is called the Wii-U and still using the Wii Remotes, although they’d better be motion plus exclusive. The Wii-U still has a lot of the Wii in it, only with much better graphics and all that power that is so important to everyone.
The Wii-U is out to still appeal to the new market it found for itself with the Wii, but also get the hardcore crowd back interested in buying Nintendo games.
The Wii-U may have been born out of a desire to appeal to the core gamers again, but it might have also been a reaction to the fall in profits Nintendo logged in 2011. Being a product that provides some casual games to everyone is actually a pretty good place to be, the market for this games is huge, people wanting time wasting games rather than big, immersive experiences.
Companies like Pop-Cap and Zynga have dedicated their existence to providing games to this market, some more honestly than others. With a prevalence of people playing games on their phones and other devices they carry around, it seems that gamers on the go are less inclined to go play on the Wii or their 3DS when their phone is right there, on them at all times.
Moving to a making a console that is interesting both types of gamers might have, in fact, been an act of survival by Nintendo. The numbers say that they are losing money, maybe they realised this early and decided to jump ship while the going was still good. If they can still manage to get the best of both worlds with the Wii-U, then it proves what a wily company Nintendo really is.
There really isn’t much more to say that I haven’t already said multiple times by this point. The Nintendo Wii was a polarising console. It was both brilliant and awful. It changed the direction of the industry, but also had less than 15 really worth while original titles throughout its entire run.
Nintendo had always been a bit crazy, but that’s what has dragged them through the industry for so long and kept the successful. They say that there is a very thin line between insanity and genius; I think Nintendo walks that line with one foot firmly planted on either side of it.
While I, Like many people I know, rarely play my Nintendo Wii anymore, it still sits in my room and I still look at it fondly. At the end of the day I think that the Wii was good console because the things that it did outweighed the things that it didn’t.
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