BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now.  As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far.  After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on.  The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November.  With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright.  So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?

Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms.  The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again.  Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller).  After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.

 

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And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

Now let’s look at Wii and Switch.  They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse.  Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube?  Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced?  Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share?  The answer to all those questions is no.  So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?

Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths.  They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying.  The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages.  The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system.  Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.

 

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Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future.  Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)?  I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen.  Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form.  The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive.  Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want.  Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.

 

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Its heart was in the right place, it just needed a few tweaks.

 

Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing.  Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii.  Was its success actually good for gamers?

Yes, it absolutely was!

It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations.  Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them.  Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade.  Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.

But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii.  Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation.  Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.

 

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Have you played this game? Do you know what it is? This is Trauma Team, just one of the many underappreciated Wii games.

 

So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious.  Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story.  In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others.  Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge).  While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop.  Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!

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Wii Retrospective: All About the Games

As Wii’s life draws to a full close, there is a lot to say about the system.  While you could fill several articles talking about the disbelief when it was revealed, unorthodox system design, massive mainstream success, and bitter hatred from several sectors of the gaming community, that’s not what is really going to matter when we look back on the system in the future.  The only thing that is going to matter from this point on is the game library, and that is what I am going to be looking back on.  While I could wait for the Nintendo cycle to make the entire world love Wii once Wii U’s successor is released, I’m just not that patient.  Wii’s lineup has been severely under appreciated, and I’m going to overview several categories to show just how much there is to the system if you look.  Instead of going genre by genre, I’m going to try something a little different and divide games by first and third party, with three sub-categories for each.  Let’s dive in to the best Wii has to offer.

First Party:

Nintendo Staples:

These are the franchises you expect on every Nintendo system (and God help them if they miss even one) by default.  Two of the big ones, Zelda and Metroid, both had a pair of Wii releases.  I don’t care enough about Metroid: Other M to defend it very much (although the fact that I view it as forgettable instead of an abomination probably counts at this point), but the other three entries in those series all deserve much more love than they’re given.  Zelda: Twilight Princess is what it promised to be, a direct follow-up to Ocarina of Time.  Yes, it’s pretty easy in combat, but everything else is done pretty much perfectly.  Shooting with the IR pointer feels great, screw Wii Sports, that was what impressed me at launch.  Skyward Sword, on the other hand, changed the formula quite a bit more.  While I wish aiming was done with the IR pointer, the sword combat worked perfectly.  One thing it annoys me that no one acknowledges is that SS fixed the combat difficulty problems and is one of the hardest Zeldas in that area, even without the unlockable hard mode.  Both games have incredible level design, focusing on intricate dungeons and dungeon like fields instead of wandering around.  As for Metroid, Metroid Prime 3 is another game that greatly benefits from the Wii controller.  The emphasis on aiming and shooting means that the IR pointer adds a huge amount to the series, and there were some very appreciated changes (FINALLY there are teleport points).  If you can overlook the fact that it doesn’t copy the Super Metroid formula as exactly as the original Metroid Prime did, I think you’ll see just how good MP3 is.

As for other Nintendo staples, one of Wii’s biggest strengths was its platformers.  Wario Land Shake-It, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland are all great entries in their series and a major part of what made Wii so great for those who missed the console 2D platformer.  Smash Bros. reached a new level of hype with Super Smash Bros. Brawl, although the most vicious fighting involving it is probably from fan wars between it and Melee.  There were also entries in Fire Emblem, Nintendo Wars, Pokemon spin-offs, and Warioware for your Nintendo staples.  I know, I know, there wasn’t any Starfox, Pikmin or F-Zero and that’s the worst atrocity in human history, but as we’ll see in the next section there were things to make up for those.  I’m also aware that I skipped over one really, really obvious series, but again, just keep reading.

New and Revived IPs:

Not every Nintendo IP gets to show up on every system, and Wii had its share of revivals.  The Excite series kept its tradition of skipping every other Nintendo console, but Wii somehow managed to get an astounding three games in it, with Excite Truck, Excite Bots, and Excite Bike World Rally for Wiiware.  Punch-Out came back after a very long absence with a fantastic update.  After the original Sin and Punishment finally got a worldwide release on the Wii’s Virtual Console, it got an even better sequel that will easily fill the gap Starfox left in you.  Rhythm Tengoku got its first console release in Rhythm Heaven Fever.

But of course, everyone wants to know about the new IPs (until Nintendo skips over a major franchise in favor of one, at which point public opinion will immediately reverse).  The most prolific one, obviously, was the Wii (Insert word) series.  Wii Sports was the system seller for the mainstream, while Wii Play, Wii Fit, and Wii Sports Resort all sold very well along with their respective pack-in peripherals.  Wii Music did not have one and was a relative failure (and really hated by the gaming community).  Coincidence?  Probably.  Near the end of the system’s lifespan Nintendo brought in some new IPs in more traditional genres.  The rain fell and the world got to play Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower, all of which filled a much needed genre gap for Wii.

Mario:

Yes, Mario gets his own section.  Mario’s presence on Wii was one of the biggest for any Nintendo system, and that presence was well earned.  The first Mario game on Wii was actually Super Paper Mario, an RPG-platformer hybrid that suffered from an identity crisis but had some very creative ideas and great writing.  Mario Kart Wii is not one of the best games in the series for level design, but had probably the best implemented online play of any first party game on the system.  After a disliked Mario Party 8, Nintendo toned the series down quite a bit and released the much better received Mario Party 9 five years later.  Although it taught me I simply can’t get into a soccer game no matter who stars in it, Mario Striker’s Charged was a good effort from Next Level on their rise to prominence with Nintendo franchises.

Mario’s Wii games may not sound all that great so far, but that’s because I’m saving the best and most obvious ones for last.  After the traumatic Mario platformer drought on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube, which only got one Mario platformer each, Wii had three Mario platformers on it, and all were absolute masterpieces.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii may have an army of internet posters who hate it because it has repeated world themes and a cappella, but if you give the game a chance you’ll find a platforming classic up there with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.  It also heralded the revival of the home console 2D platformer.  As for the Super Mario Galaxy games, do I need to say anything?  Even people who hate Wii acknowledge them as classics, they will be remembered as some of the best games of all time.

Well, that’s the first party section of Wii, but that’s all the system had to offer, right?  Considering I already said there would be a third party section, you can probably guess that’s wrong.  Let’s look at what third parties had to offer on Wii.

Third Party:

Prominent Exclusives:

This section covers third party games for Wii that had at least some sort of hype around them.  I am including timed exclusives as long as they were not announced for other platforms until the Wii version had already been released.  There were actually more games in this category than many people would expect.  Red Steel was the most hyped third party launch game, and while it didn’t turn out well it did manage to get a much better (and different in every way) sequel.  No More Heroes 1 and 2, Goldeneye 007, and Madworld were some other games that went against the tone often associated with Wii.  Wii also gave the rail shooter genre new life with House of the Dead Overkill, Dead Space Extraction, and the Resident Evil Chronicles games.

Not every prominent Wii third party game was about shooting or slashing.  The brilliant puzzle game Boom Blox, paint based platformer de Blob, and platformer/Katamari hybrid Rabbids Go Home were all unique games that the whole family could play.  Epic Mickey was somewhere in the middle, a dark but not violent take on Mickey Mouse with a surprisingly strong Nintendo 64 feel to the gameplay.  While somewhat stretching the definition of prominent, Muramasa was at least taken notice of in gaming communities and provided a great 2D combat engine to go with its beautiful painted world, while Capcom’s Zack and Wiki got attention for its great use of the Wii controller.  Speaking of Capcom, who can forget the anger caused by Monster Hunter Tri and Tatsunoko vs Capcom were announced as Wii exclusives?  But my favorite moment in this category was when, after a couple of mediocre storybook games, Sonic made his long, LONG overdue comeback in the Wii exclusive Sonic Colors.

There are also some Wiiware exclusives that deserve mention.  World of Goo is a brilliant physics based puzzle game that got a surprising amount of recognition.  Konami’s Rebirth series brought back Contra, Gradius, and classic style Castlevania.  Final Fantasy IV: The After Years may actually be the best received direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game.

Multi-platform Games:

Definitely not Wii’s strong point, and probably where much of the hatred of the system comes from.  Yes, Wii missed out on a huge amount of games that were released on both PS3 and 360, and apparently a system having its own library is a bad thing now.  Despite this, Wii had some multi-plats worth mentioning.  The Wii version of Rayman Raving Rabbids actually completely overshadowed the other versions, being one of the early showcases for the system’s controller.  Rayman didn’t forget this, and Wii got the incredible Rayman Origins at the same time and with the same content as the other systems.  De Blob 2 went multi-platform, but the Wii version didn’t miss out on anything from the others.  Despite being widely considered a disappointment, the Wii version of Epic Mickey 2 is actually the best one with the original developer and best control scheme.  The Call of Duty games didn’t have everything on Wii they did on other systems, but almost all of them did in fact make it to Wii, and Wii’s IR pointer controls could quite possibly make up for the shortcomings.  While sharing games with PS2 or PSP felt demeaning, there were some solid games where the Wii version was the definitive one thanks to the controls, such as Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Silent Hill Shattered Memories, and Ghostbusters (which was a completely different game than the PS360 version).  Wiiware had a better shot at sharing games with other platforms than retail releases, and Wii had some good games in that area like Mega Man 9 and 10, the Bit.Trip series, Cave Story, and Retro City Rampage.  Not a great lineup of multi-platform games, but it’s something.

Overlooked Gems:

Back in the height of the “Wii has hundreds of crappy games, the system therefore sucks!” days, I said that in the future they wouldn’t matter at all, and we’d only remember the gems in that gigantic pile of unnoticed third party games.  That time has come, let’s start with the cream of the crop.

Did you know Boom Blox had a sequel?  Boom Blox Bash Party may sound like a spin-off, but it’s actually a direct sequel that is even better than the first game.  Put assumptions aside, this series is not a party game or a simple arcade puzzler.  Boom Blox Bash Party had hundreds of brilliant and just inherently fun physics based puzzles, and is a must for every Wii U owner.  A Boy and his Blob is a fantastic sequel to the NES game that feels like a puzzle platformer merged with Zelda.  Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is actually a completely different game on Wii and uses the IR pointer for the best gameplay in any of the Sands games.  Lost in Shadow is another puzzle platformer, a deceptively huge game that doesn’t let the puzzle aspect completely overshadow the platforming.  Trauma Team combines Trauma Center gameplay and a few Phoenix Wright style play modes for a gigantic game that everyone should look into whether they’ve played the previous Trauma Centers or not.

While I don’t recommend them quite as strongly, there are some more obscure games worth checking out if their description catches your attention.  Blastworks is a shmup with a Little Big Planet style level editor.  Deadly Creatures is an aesthetically realistic platformer where you play as a spider and scorpion.  Elebits suffers from some early “is this a good way to use the controller?” issues, but is a creative and fun game almost impossible to describe.  The RPG Opoona, aerial combat game Sky Crawlers, and extreme sports game SSX Blur are some games I haven’t personally played, but their reputation suggests they deserve a mention.

As I hope you can see, Wii actually has a much greater quantity and variety of good games than its reputation would lead you to believe.  As I said, I have complete confidence that people will acknowledge this in time since it will at some point be a Nintendo system benefiting from the nostalgia filter, but you don’t have to wait.  With Wii games still easy to find and cheap, now is the perfect time to dig into the system’s under appreciated library.  Like every system, games will be Wii’s true legacy, and they leave a much better one than many people give them credit for.