Opinion – The Little Console That Could (But Ultimately Didn't)

With the Wii U upon us, it’s time we bid farewell to its predecessor, the Nintendo Wii. It won’t be remembered as fondly as previous Nintendo consoles; you won’t have people dragging their Wiis out like they do their Gamecubes or SNESes. On the contrary, it’ll be marked by certain corners of the community as Nintendo’s abandonment of the Core Gamers. For many others, it will be remembered as ‘the thing that plays Wii Sports’ or ‘the Super Smash Bros. box’

This wouldn’t be the case if things had been done differently.

To this day, I believe the Wii could have left a far better legacy if it had distinguished itself from the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and not just with its motion controls. Let’s face it: “Two Gamecubes duct taped together” was an apt description for the Wii’s hardware. There was no way it could keep up with the AAA games which dominated the other consoles. The Wii had already carved out a new market with hitherto non-gamers, so why not expand a little further and promote smaller titles?

Let’s face it, AAA games require AAA budgets, and not every studio or developer has these resources on hand. The Wii would have been perfect for titles that excelled in gameplay rather than presentation. It would have been the perfect box for ‘B titles’ and indie games; let’s not forget that the Wii came out not long before the indie scene exploded.

It’s not as if nobody took up this opportunity. One of the earlier games of interest was Cing’s Little King’s Story, a Pikmin-like game with a charming aesthetic and many, many hours of gameplay. I wanted to see more games like this, more little titles that wouldn’t be produced on other consoles just because it didn’t meet the Fong Shading requirement. Unfortunately, we saw little of this during the Wii’s life. Sure, there were some quality titles in the past year — Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise — but these were the rains that broke a long, bleak drought.

Nowhere is this wasted potential more evident than the WiiWare digital platform. Originally touted as an area for developers with a smaller budget to sell their games, it received little traction from developers. Again, there were a number of solid games made exclusively for WiiWare such as Gaijin Games’ Bit.Trip series, but the WiiWare release list eventually devolved into a cesspool of shovelware titles like “Aha! I Found It!” Hidden Object Game.

It’s not like Nintendo were trying their best to foster third party talent on their console; developers criticised the WiiWare service for it’s 40MB size limit and the 6,000-sale minimum before Nintendo would begin paying developers.

Nintendo weren’t even really trying with their own games. Throughout the console’s life, we saw all the old titles rolled out as if Nintendo were marking off a dusty old checklist. We had another Mario Kart, another Zelda, another Mario Party, another Super Smash Bros., another Mario sports game. We also saw Super Mario Galaxy, which can objectively be considered a masterpiece, but this and other nuggets of excellence were the exception rather than the rule. Let me put it this way: The only new Nintendo franchises released during the Wii’s cycle were Wii Sports and Wii Fit.

Who is, in the end, to blame for the Wii’s legacy? Is it Nintendo, who failed to make a compelling argument for motion controls in favour of treading previously worn ground? Is it the developers and publishers, who couldn’t figure out a way to utilise the Wii and instead just released shovelware and minigame compilations? Is it the players’ fault for demanding more of the same rather than supporting the few interesting titles on the platform? Looking back, it seems like all parties played a role in the Wii’s current position.

The Wii could have been more than the that box that brought motion controls to the gaming world. If Nintendo and developers were willing to embrace the platform as an area for experimentation, and if Wii owners weren’t so easily placated by the gaming equivalent of a clip show, we could be saying very different things about this console. Instead, as we head forward into a new console cycle, we’ll most likely forget all about the Wii. It will become a historical artefact, a totem of Nintendo’s shifting priorities, a console that could have been something special, but ultimately wasn’t.

 

Come back on Thursdays for more thoughts and views from the NG+ cast and crew.

[Image credits: BBC, MMGN, Nintendo Life]