For the majority of this generation, I’ve ignored the Wii and anything Nintendo. It wasn’t due to its lack of HD graphics, or being too “hardcore” or old for Nintendo, or because I thought the Wii was too “kiddy”.
No, I ignored the Wii because -- while I understood Nintendo’s strategy to provide for an untapped demographic that Sony and Microsoft did not recognise until much later -- its games no longer had that Nintendo “magic” for me.
Certainly a great console in its own right, but one I will remember as the weakest of N's consoles.
I consider myself a massive Nintendo fanboy back in the day, having grown up with the SNES, N64 and Gamecube. I know how extremely loyal and insistent one can be in regards to childhood memories of the Big N's classics. I was guilty of sometimes blindly worshipping anything Pokemon, Mario, or Animal Crossing related and perhaps hyping up Nintendo’s offerings more than they could live up to, but more often than not, they did.
Still halfway through high school when the Wii launched in 2006, I didn’t know what to expect when my most Nintendo-loyal friend invited my crew over to his place to try it out for the first time. Like I suspect for most older Nintendo fans, Wii Sports and Twilight Princess were great and exciting and the best thing EVER... at first.
When you’re older, time passes on by a lot faster than as a kid. Consequently, the novelty of waving a motion control around to perform virtual movements in virtual bowling and tennis when I could walk down the street and play them both in real life wore off very, very quickly. The motion mechanics were clever, and certainly cool, but I didn't and still wouldn't consider them innovative or fun as so many relentlessly devoted hardcore Wii fans argue.
Twilight Princess itself was the Zelda all of us had waited for, but when I found out it had come out for the Gamecube as well, I quickly snapped a copy up and played it on my beloved and neglected ‘Cube -- and my all-time favourite gaming controller -- instead. I didn't have to wave the Wiimote around like a sword to experience Zelda in its fullest.
Gamecube titles were pretty much the only things I played on the Wii.
The Wii’s lack of true online functionality also did not impress me; Friend Codes were a chore when playing Mario Kart Wii or Brawl. It also didn't help that the third-party offerings were either poor ports or dead promises, and practically no new exclusive franchises were introduced to lure me back in. The ones that were continued either were lazily updated with little change but functionality for the Wiimote (Pikmin 1 & 2, and Animal Crossing City Folk) or destroyed utterly (Metroid: Other M, Tales of Symphonia 2: Dawn of a New World).
It wasn’t long before I got lost in my Xbox 360, and my hype for Super Smash Bros Brawl or any decent first-party Nintendo game faded away. Sure, the Wii did live up to Nintendo's business expectations and sold like hotcakes, took the untapped markets by storm, and dominated the 360 and PS3... in sales. But I cared nothing for sales.
Games like Brawl, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Twilight Princess (most of my playtime on the Gamecube) and Galaxy 1 & 2 are the only big Nintendo titles that offered a hardcore or traditional Nintendo experience without the controller feeling like a gimmick or the gameplay too casual. For a long-time Nintendo gamer, it should be a much larger list. While quantity never triumphs over quality, the number of classics I can name for the N64 and SNES that I loved to bits makes the barren list for the Wii, well, a bit saddening. I don't want that same feeling with the Wii U, and I definitely don't want to leave Nintendo and all of its awesome games in the backburner next-generation because of hardware, controller and gameplay gimmicks masked as "innovations".
And no, I don’t count games like New Super Mario Bros or Donkey Kong Country Returns as memorable classics because they’re just rehashes of what we’ve seen before, lazily released by Nintendo in hopes to shut the disgruntled long-term fans up and make a quick buck rather than truly introduce a new and exciting title. It'd be easy for me as a retro Nintendo fan to just shut up and say the Wii was great due to these throwback titles, but the loyal gamer in me says I can't.
With the Wii U's impending release in Australia, I did eventually buy a Wii for myself earlier this year, to try and re-capture the good old Nintendo days in my own home and perhaps debunk my unrealistic expectations and just enjoy the games for what they are. I tried desperately to to work up the genuine desire to play through my very neglected Wii collection and re-involve myself in Nintendo's goodies in preparation for the "next-gen".
But seeing and playing through the novel ways the motion control was implemented in games from Animal Crossing Wild World to Skyward Sword makes it feel like a chore similar to Kinect games, and the complete lack of true online gaming and third-party support still baffles me to no end, and it makes me cautious as to what might happen with the Wii U and its Gamepad and reportedly less than stellar online services. I wouldn't say I'm not necessarily excited or hopeful for the Wii U; I just feel uneasy in investing in Nintendo's newest console when I was able to forget the last one and its empty promises of innovation so easily. It saddens me, considering the amount of past gaming classics Nintendo have produced and that I've played religiously to no end.
Wii 2.0. or a true leap forward?
To all those extremely loyal and unfazed fans who stayed and played the Wii to the end: yeah yeah, I get it, Nintendo changed the ways of gaming and didn't care if I refused to move on with them. But they should have cared. Only now do they recognise their mistake, actively trying to win back the older ‘hardcore’ fanbase back with a traditional controller, mature titles and Nintendo Network efforts now that they realise the casuals, parents and kids only invested in the Wii for so long. Better late than never, I guess.
Despite my lack of love for the Wii, I had a go of the Wii U at a Community Night event at one of Nintendo’s various set-ups last week, with an open mind about the future. I had an extensive play of New Super Mario Bros. U, ZombiU -- which has been critically panned -- and Nintendo Land.
I enjoyed playing the mini-games of Nintendo Land and jumping around as Luigi in Mario U, and while all three were relatively fun and the Gamepad certainly a more intriguing and creative way of playing as opposed to the motion controllers, I'm still a bit hesitant to invest in the next-gen if the gameplay suffers because of novelty. ZombiU in particular lived up to my fears in that while the concepts of coming back as different survivors and using the Gamepad to manage inventory sound cool, the gameplay itself was lackluster and using the Gamepad for inventory or light felt gimmicky.
Still, the Wii U seems like Nintendo's chance to truly have the best of both gaming worlds -- casual and core, whatever those terms mean these days. Despite my caution, it has an undeniably strong launch line-up that caters for everyone and it finally has the hardware and online capabilities that so many other Nintendo fans have wanted for years. Whether the switch to HD, more third-party support and a tablet are enough to truly take us to the next-gen or make things fun for more than a few plays is still something I'm weary about.
Do you think the Wii U’s offerings are enough to bring the 'core' back? What or how can Nintendo strike that balance they now claim they are going to achieve?
By Nathan Misa