Why Wii Sells and Why Wii Sucks

Wii

The Wii continues to sell like hotcakes laced with crack despite the common criticism that there are no good "hardcore" games for it. Even after two years with no price drop, selling at a profit, Wiis continue to fly off the shelves faster than they can be produced. I say it’s high-time we analyze the strengths of the system and where it could use some improvement.

The obvious strength of the Wii is its motion control, though I would argue that the crux of Nintendo’s success lies with its marketing. The Wii has been marketed towards the non-gamer; something for parents and children alike. It’s sold wonders to a non-gamer audience with such titles as Wii Fit and Wii Music (as well as Wii Play, though let’s be honest, we all know that only sells as well as it does because it comes bundled with an extra Wiimote at only a few bucks more than the controller would otherwise cost). From a business standpoint, this is genius, as it reaches a previously untapped market, though it’s reliance on family friendly minigame collections may leave us so-called "hardcore" gamers a little cold.

The Wii is quite possibly the most innovative console ever created due to its motion controls, IR sensor, and speaker in its controller, though game designers have hardly made use of its innovations in any meaningful way. Lets take a moment and analyze the "big three" Nintendo franchises: Mario, Zelda, and Metroid.

Zelda: Twilight Princess is perhaps an unfair example of the Wii’s potential as it was originally developed for the Gamecube, so it should come as no surprise that it would control just fine with a standard controller, just as it has in all past 3D Zelda games. The latest Metroid Prime game overhauled its control scheme drastically, allowing you to aim with the Wiimote. Though, when you get right down to it, that could also be achieved with dual analog sticks. Mario Galaxy allows you to spin Mario, his default attack, by shaking the Wiimote; something that just as easily could have been mapped to a button on a standard controller. There were a few levels where you’d have to use more precise motion controls for vehicular segments, but those were met with mixed reception, at best. The only true innovation in Mario Galaxy was the inclusion of the IR sensor, allowing you to collects stars, shoot them, launch Mario towards objects, or have another player join in on the star collecting fun. It was a masterstroke as it gave you something to do, even when Mario was walking from point A to point B with no enemies around, and it could only be achieved on the Wii. It was in many ways, Nintendo’s most forward thinking "hardcore" game.

As great as those games were, they weren’t on the whole particularly innovative, and with no new Mario, Metroid, or Zelda having been announced for the Wii, it’s safe to say these sorts of high-caliber first party flagship titles are few and far between. This leaves the rest up to third parties, who have had a notoriously hard time developing for Nintendo consoles. Since they often don’t know how to develop for the Wii, they’ll rely on the tried and true minigame collection. That, or they port games from other consoles onto the Wii to varying degrees of success. Though by and large, it seems that when this is done to last-gen titles (Okami, RE4) it’s met with praise, when done with current-gen titles (COD3, Dead Rising) it’s met with disdain. It’s not that gamers simply prefer graphics over controls. Rather that often, if a game is developed for another console with more buttons, analog sticks, and horsepower, shoehorning such controls and mechanics onto the Wii can often feel broken, or at the least "watered down."

There are always exceptions to the rule, however. No More Heroes, a third party game, comes to mind as a title that really understood what the Wii was capable of. While it’s core hack-and-slash mechanics could be done on any system, the waggle finishing moves worked well (I don’t believe you could mess them up due to the Wii’s finicky motion-detection, an issue that continues to plague the system), the Wiimote doubled as your character’s cell phone (complete the in-game characters chatting with you through the speakers), and there was a sequence where you’d turn the remote sideways to play an oldschool 8-bit side-scrolling shooter. It’s this sort of innovation that breathes new life into an existing genre by creating an experience that could only be done on Wii. Sadly, these sorts of brilliant experiments are few and far between, though more games like No More Heroes would do well to round out the Wii’s gaming library.

World of Goo is another title that understood what the Wii was capable of, using the IR sensor to double as a mouse for what was otherwise an indie PC title. Adding co-op to the mix on the Wii version is a masterstroke though; something that cannot be done on a single PC.

One would think that the mouse-to-IR sensor conversion would be an obvious enough conclusion for most developers, yet where are the real-time strategy games? Where are the point-and-click adventures? Where are the indie games? XBLA has community games and Braid. PSN has Flower and Noby Noby Boy. The Wii, with its low-fi graphics and wide array of control options should be the dominant console for the indie market, but hasn’t claimed that position yet. Better online implementation could go a long way to providing this sort of freedom.

Perhaps the biggest thing standing in the Wii’s path to "hardcore" status is its low-fi graphics. There’s a trend in the industry right now to make games looks as realistic as possible, something that works with some games, but not with others. It’s my opinion, however, that if that is your aesthetic goal, you should not be developing for the Wii. The best looking Wii games are the ones that eschew this goal in favor of a more stylized approach. Madworld and Okami use cel-shading to brilliant effect, and look as good as anything out there on the 360. No More Heroes looks jaggy and dated, but has a certain rugged charm in keeping with the game’s arcadey meta-humor. Mario Galaxy looks exactly how you’d want a Mario game to look. We needn’t see his pores.

The point is that developers need to stop competing with what other consoles can do. Not just graphically, mind you, but in mechanics as well. There’s a huge spectrum of untapped potential in this system. The Wii is capable of all genres of gaming: action/adventure, shooter, RTS, RPG, etc… developers need only take these risks and work around its limitations, whilst taking advantage of its innovations. Nintendo has the casual audience by the balls. If they can reach out to the hardcore, the competition is doomed.

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