As the Wii U is closing in on eight months in circulation, the Limited Edition Legend of Zelda Windwaker HD Deluxe Bundle is here. Of course, if you have not heard about the system’s performance on the market in terms of sales, then you must have been living under a rock for these past eight months.
One fascinating aspect about the Wii U is that, from a sales perspective, it did indeed arrive at the right time. 2012 enjoyed only two original, non-port, non-multiplatform games on the Wii: Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. Could you imagine the PS3 or the Xbox360 with only two highly anticipated releases in an entire calendar year? Then again, in 2011, the Wii only saw The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, so the Wii had been in a state of atrophy for awhile. I would like to explore how a platform that sold 100M units would keel over with minimal fanfare.
Nintendo systems are famous for their “first party” games, or games produced “in house” by the parent company. What Nintendo systems have struggled with since declining a deal with Sony to go with a CD-based format for the system that would follow the SNES, is third party support. Squaresoft, now known as Square Enix, would be the greatest loss, as that company would join forces with Sony’s PS1 to release the now-legendary Final Fantasy VII. In the meantime, Nintendo would sustain itself with multiplatform releases and licensed games through Midway and Hudson Soft, but it would never again see the “oomph” it once had during its rivalry days with the Sega Genesis.
The conversations revolving around the possibility of Nintendo ever returning to the status of top dog would continue up to the release of the Wii. Personally, I enjoyed Super Smash Bros. Melee so much on my GameCube while I was an undergrad in college, that I bought my Wii the same season it was released. I still vividly remember standing outside of Toys R US in Okemos, MI at 3 AM, in the cold, in the snow, two weeks before Christmas in 2006; I was the last person in line who would be, according to the manager, “guaranteed” a system purchase. Among those standing behind me, some would leave, and others would wait to see if they could get lucky, and one almost did! I only had debit and credit cards on me, and my bank was doing “online maintenance” that morning/night, so I did not have access to my accounts and could not make any purchases. I told the manager of the TRU that I could go home and get my checkbook, and in my defense, she stayed and deceived all those sleep-deprived soccer moms in all kinds of sinister ways in order to uphold her word that I could buy that Wii.
God bless her.
The stipulation for the purchase, however, was that the customer had to buy two games with a purchase of a Wii. Now the system came with Wii Sports, which I still maintain is an actual game rather than a “tech demo.” The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a launch title at the time (though this, too, is controversial…there was also a GameCube version, thus LoZ:TP is considered among many gamers as not a launch title, but a “port”), but other options were…underwhelming from a “hardcore” gamer perspective. Among my options were licensed games, milked franchises such as Need for Speed: Carbon, Call of Duty 3, and Madden 2007. In other words, my more traditional options included a spin-off, a severely nerfed multiplatform port, and a perverse monstrosity of game that should not have been that difficult to clone from its PlayStation 2 predecessors.
Undoubtedly the most hyped launch game for the Wii, Red Steel, bombed if the reviews at the time were any indication. Apprehensive, I decided to pass on a game that all but fulfilled a childhood dream.
Many years would pass before I would play Red Steel myself. If only one of the greatest trailers of all-time lived up to the hype. It is a mediocre game that could have been significantly improved had it been delayed for quality control purposes.
I began this piece by referring to the sales of the Wii and the Wii U, a narrative integral to understanding of the legacy of the former and the future of the latter. The discourse surrounding the graphical capability of the Wii is not only substantial but also controversial. Oftentimes, it drew comparisons to its predecessor, the GameCube, and when it became clear that the Wii’s graphical output was not even in the same galaxy as the PS3/360, the trolling of Nintendo’s little white box became ubiquitous. Combined with the prior-stated lack of third party support, the Wii was alienated by antagonist gamers. It became the “kiddie” system, lacking in so-caled “mature” games, where (at that time and for the sake of simplicity here; I have explicated on “mature gaming” before. So stay tuned here at PTBN for part two) a “mature” game was one that contained hyper violence such as that seen in Mortal Kombat. Games like No More Heroes (fascinating bosses and fights, vexing protagonist), MadWorld (IMO, the worst game of this generation; I especially find it deplorable as it represents everything that went wrong with this generation: crude combinations of violence, profanity, and sex “just because”), and House of the Dead: Overkill (see: MadWorld; also, it’s really sad that a developer would be proud to break the Guinness Book of World Records for number of f-bombs in a game [record now belongs to Mafia II IIRC]. I would play Ubisoft’s Imagine series of games exclusively for the rest of my life before I ever except that as an acceptable example of “mature gaming.” Again, that’s a soap box to be erected for another day) would come and go, yet the Wii could not shed the stigma of being the system of choice for soccer moms and their children. Of course, Wii Fit, as ambitious it was and key to the Wii establishing the largest install base of all the prior-gen systems, did not mollify the Wii’s critics.
All said thus far, and I have yet to touch upon the feature of the Wii that was the most innovative of all: motion controls. Motion controls were what made games like Red Steel possible. They also made it possible for parents, aunts, uncles, and (great)grandparents to join younger generations in their living rooms and whip their tails at boxing, tennis, bowling, or golf; or was it the other way around, where children could beat their parents down at a sport that they otherwise would have never have a chance? Indeed, WiiSports, combined with the WiiMote, was the kind of dream combination that made old-school gamers reminisce about the Power Pad, and new school gamers dream about the next best thing.
Of course, there were dissenters when it came to motion controls as they were a non-traditional method of playing. Light guns were one thing (which the Wii could do, too; the Wii also happens to be the “system of choice for the all but dead genre), but infrared motion controls as the De facto method of playing games was just too much for some to comprehend or tolerate. Despite actually being an “upscale” port from the GCN, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is considered to be the first “core” game released on the Wii. Of course, longtime LoZ fans salivated at being able to actively block with the Hylian Shield via the Wii nunchuck and swing the Master Sword via WiiMote.
And even if a Wii game did not respond with 100% accuracy, it was fun for awhile…until a lot of gamers’ limbs began to burn -the active, in-shape gamers included. Thus, “waggle” was born: with a flick of the wrist, one could perform a move on a game that (brave) developers for the Wii might have envisioned as an ostentatious gesture. This is how I admittedly played most games on the Wii, with subtle gestures. But I did not complain (most of the time). Wii antagonists and fans alike would use “waggle” as a denigrating argument for all games in the Wii library that featured motion controls, including the outstanding Donkey Kong Country Returns, where some would dare suggest that the 3DS version is on-par with the Wii version due to the “lack of waggle.” I will also admit that the design of games such as DKCR and DeBlob negated the necessity of motion controls, yet some developers forced their use. At the same time, the nuisances of motion controls in those games were minimal compared to games where motion controls were indefensibly horrendous.
Nintendo would even admit that its original WiiMote was not 1:1 accurate as they had previously asserted. Thus, the WiiMotionPlus was born, packed with WiiSports Resort. Or, one could go with Ubisoft’s apology for Red Steel, Red Steel 2 in a bundle. Unfortunately, by 2009, most companies outside of High Voltage Software had thrown in the towel in terms of Wii development cycles, unable to penetrate the demographic which purchased the system. It would eventually die an unceremonious death (as indicated at the beginning of this piece). “Unceremoniously” is the tragedy in and of itself. The Wii was (is!) one of the most successful consoles ever to grace the gaming space; it deserves a better sending off. Thus, here, I would like to celebrate a few games which were the most creative in the integration of motion controls.