Nintendo Wii – a Retrospective

First off, sorry to any regular readers – personal and work stuff went into orbit these last months and I’ve been struggling to find time to update the blog. I’m going to try to write a bit more from now on! Okay, now I’ve finished chastising myself, on with the article!

At the end of the month in the UK, Nintendo will take a new step in the console market with the release of the Wii-U. The companies first HD console, it adds another new control scheme to the ever evolving way we play games, marrying touch gaming popularised by Apple’s iDevices with a more traditional twinstick layout. I’m getting one. I’m already planning my trip to the local midnight launch with some glee! But this article isn’t about the Wii-U; it’s about the machine it’s replacing – the Wii. The little console that could.

The original Wii was first unveiled in 2005 as the Revolution. It was something of an enigma, Nintendo promising a different way of playing but not yet revealing the controller (which, at the time, was ironing out a few bugs). By the system launched in 2006 (preceeded by the underperforming GameCube, which is still one of my favourite consoles of all time) the public had been shown the wandlike Wii Remote, a motion sensing stick with few buttons and an infra-red input, and the industry at large had decried the system as an immediate failure. Underpowered next to Microsoft and Sony’s offerings, with a simplified controller and a strong focus on casual, family friendly games, how could Nintendo’s new console possibly compete? It was the end for the former Japanese Giant!

Fast forward to 2012, in the run up to the launch of the Wii’s successor, and the console once “doomed to failure” has gone on to become the third best selling home console of all time, behind Sony’s behemoth’s the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_game_consoles#Worldwide). So how did this happen?

The Controller

Yes, the controller was simplified, but that is one of the key parts of the Wii’s success. People who weren’t accustomed to using controllers, or who felt intimidated by the standard twin-stick and buttons set up, could pick up this little motion controller and immediately know what to do. Bowl a bowling ball? Make a bowling motion. Hit a tennis ball? Same thing. My sons, who both get frustrated when they can’t play games on controllers, love the intuitive set up of the Wii remote.

The Games

Yes, the Wii had its fair share of shovelware, but so did the PlayStation 2 and that’s one of the best selling console’s of all time. The Wii also had two very interesting strands of gaming, though. It had “Casual” games, games that could be enjoyed by everyone. Games that could be picked up and played, like Wii Sports, Wii Party. It had Wii Fit, not so much a game, but something fun that could be integrated into an exercise routine.

It also had Nintendo games. In an age where everyone wants to play the next Grand Theft Call of Modern Warfare, it’s nice to know that Nintendo still produce games like Super Mario Bros, Metroid, Smash Bros; in fact, the Wii offers a wider range of gaming experiences than the higher end consoles where gaming has become focused narrowly on competitive multiplayer killfests. Super Mario Galaxy is probably one of the most gorgeous looking, fun games I’ve played in the last five years!

And, towards the end of the console’s lifecycle, the Wii received three of the best RPG’s of this generation in the form of Xenoblade, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower. All three were exclusive to the system and showed what could be done with the hardware by competent developers.

The Price

On launch, the Wii was cheaper than the competition. While this can’t be said about Wii-U, it was certainly a helping hand in getting people to invest in this new, crazy little game machine. It made it seem less specialist, more like something people would be happy to have sat next their DVD player. Nintendo maintained a low price point as the system aged, meaning that it was always appetising to those who didn’t want the “kids consoles” of the XBox and PlayStation, systems many viewed as overly complicated and not for them, despite their relevant developers trying to position them as media centre devices for everyone.

In Conclusion

There’s a truth that so called “Hardcore” gamers can’t seem to grasp. Gaming is not an elitist thing; it’s not something that people should be excluded from just because they can’t or won’t use a controller. The Wii proved this and, all of a sudden, EVERYONE was gaming!

In our house, we’ve been through both Kinect (sold that, Microsoft wasted an opportunity to do something innovative there) and Move (still has its uses) but we always come back to Wii.

My kids love Wii Party and Wii Sports; I can show them old SNES and MegaDrive games through the system’s Virtual Consoles; we can play through the classic Zelda’s and Mario games through my old GameCube discs (something sadly lacking from Wii-U). I can’t say the same for the XBox and PlayStation where many of the games are not something I could play with my kids.

The Wii changed the face of gaming and it’s something that Microsoft and Sony are still trying to catch up with. If either of them can do it, I think it’s Sony; Microsoft seem to be showing a complete lack of understanding as to what “family” gaming actually is (but I’ll leave that for another article!) It may not have been the most powerful, but Wii was certainly the most important console of this generation!

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