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Five years on, what has the Wii's revolution REALLY changed?

So the era of the Wii, and with it the first wave of Nintendo's glorious gaming revolution, is drawing to a close. After overnight world-domination and five years of hardware sales so big they'd send the Moon running to the gym to bulk up, this generation's first motion-control heavyweight now finds retirement beckoning as a successor bites at its ankles in the form of the still slightly confusing Wii U. 

But how successful was Nintendo's all-encompassing, caring, sharing experiment in accessible gaming, really? Did it deliver on its promises to evolve games, gaming and gamers beyond what they had been before? Hell, was there even really a revolution at all, or have we just been fooled into thinking there was? And how much has any of this really helped Nintendo? It's the end of an era, and it's time to take stock. So take stock I very much have.

A revolution in game design

Remember the giddy swell of exciting possibilities when we found out what the Wii was all about? The tornadoes of futuristic game ideas that ripped through our minds, as we realised that what we’d long-imaged as the distant sci-fi destiny of video games was actually with us, right here, right now? 

Above: This was the most exciting thing in the world in 2005 and you know it

The most ultra-responsive, dizzyingly-immersive, point-and-shoot FPS controls of all time. First-and-third-person melee combat with real, one-to-one duelling that let us thrust, parry and block like some kind of neo, couch-based Errol Flynn. Completely hands-on, physics-driven worlds which we would manipulate in real-time with our actual arms and digits. It was goddamn Lawnmower Man, and we were getting it in our living rooms, without any of the unpleasant psychological and existential implications that caused Pierce Brosnan so much trouble.

Yeah, didn’t happen, did it? We got a few attempts at FPS – including a couple of genuinely great ones, such as Metroid Prime 3 and Red Steel 2 – some tacked-on sword-fighting in Zelda: Twilight Princess (which in truth just remapped the Gamecube’s A-button to a shake of the remote) and a whole lot of party games.

There are reasons for this, and most of them, ironically, come down to the Wii hardware. As exciting as new control inputs are from a game design perspective, they alone aren’t enough to turn the collective hydra-head of the world’s AAA game designers and publishers. The most creative developers in the industry love using meaty technology to build imaginative, affecting new worlds and innovative, powerful gameplay mechanics. For the likes of BioShock and Deus Ex, the low-res visuals and lesser processing grunt of the Wii just isn’t enough, magical immersive waggle or not.

Above: Never gonna happen

As for publishers it comes down to profit, pure and simple. Yes, development of Wii games might be cheaper than creating HD blockbusters, but releasing SD blockbusters into a marketplace with a casuals-and-families-oriented culture built by the platform holder certainly does not spell big returns.

And while the Wii’s various control options technically have enough inputs to accommodate AAA core releases, they’ve never been terribly welcoming from a development perspective. Yes, a Wiimote and nunchuk can accommodate an FPS, but not as comfortably as a twin-stick pad or keyboard and mouse. The classic controller is okay, but not great. The Gamecube pad is better, but the biggest problem with both of those latter options is that no developer can guarantee that a player owns them.

There’s a reason that innovative but non-standard third-party control devices rarely take off. Being optional, designing for them is just too much speculative effort for too little return. Novint Falcon, anyone? Exactly. And that’s before you even get into the issue that the Wii’s lesser power has always meant that porting a multi-platform release meant essentially creating a whole new game. Impressive, innovative exclusives have just never been worth the effort.

Above: Dead Space Extraction. Not proper Dead Space, but great. But sold bugger all

And so for all the reasons listed above, most of the true auteurs in game design have gone with the horsepower and standard controls this generation. And who can blame them? I certainly can’t.

As for the auteurs who really should be able to get the best out of the Wii? Not even Nintendo has really managed to justify the need for motion control as a gaming evolution. Wii Sports worked brilliantly, and was a hell of a lot of fun, however cool it might now be to pretend that it wasn’t. WiiPlay was fun but shallow, as was Wario Ware. Excite Truck, Metroid Prime and Mario Kart worked well, but in no way demanded motion control. And as for the rest of them, we’re looking at otherwise traditional games with a bit of motion tacked on.

The Super Mario Galaxies? Two of the greatest games of this generation, without doubt, but motion-control barely got a look-in. Twilight Princess? A Gamecube game with a bit of waggle stapled onto the side. Mario Strikers? A lot of fun, but no motion control that a stick and a couple of buttons wouldn’t have done as well if not better. Donkey Kong Country Returns? The motion-activated roll manoeuvre actually got in the way. Smash Bros? If you were using anything other than a GC pad, you were Doing It Wrong.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is finally going to deliver on the promise of the Wii in terms of 1:1 sword fighting, with real, tactical repercussions, but it’s taken five years and a controller hardware revision to achieve what sold us all on the idea of the Wii in the first place. So by the time Skyward Sword eventually comes out with all of its impressive bells and whistles, it just won’t matter any more.

A revolution in game design? Was it balls. But let’s look at how the Wii has affected gaming outside of the actual games. Or, you know, not.

Topics

Nintendo

74 comments

  • Bamford38 - August 25, 2011 4:08 a.m.

    Another brilliantly written article Dave. Nintendo has definitely distinguished itself as the platform of choice for the casual market and its going to be difficult to win back serious gamers. The other thing is that the Wii was somewhat affordable enough to warrant the hardcore market buying a second console, even if it was just for the occasional first party gem that came out. But with the WiiU having a touchscreen controller, gyroscope and all the other technical gubbins, is it going to be too expensive to be a novelty item? If it is as expensive as a PS3 or 360, i cant see many xbox or playstation fanboys turning away from their console of choice to buy a WiiU, and the casual market wont want to shell out £300+ for a machine theyre only going to dig out when they want a spot of tennis. Nintendo is in a tricky situation and ill be very interested to see how they deal with it.
  • BackwaterRifle - August 25, 2011 11:34 a.m.

    Actually, if you where even around for at least the days of the GameCube, they should have no trouble at all.
  • TheWhitestMexican - August 25, 2011 4:17 a.m.

    Nicely written piece, Hooters. It'll be interesting to see if Nintendo can recapture some of the "core" audience with a machine that, hardware wise, isn't really that much different than what Microsoft and Sony currently have on the market, while maintaining its hold on the "casual" audience. When Sony and Microsoft finally unveil their new machines and have them out on store shelves in a few years, I suspect Nintendo will have difficulty hanging on that "core" audience. But, like you said, I guess we'll have to wait and see...
  • InfinityPrimo - August 25, 2011 9:51 a.m.

    This is speculative that the Wii U is relatively the same power as the current systems now. It could be a lot stronger (or weaker). Nobody actually knows but Ninty..
  • DannyMB - August 25, 2011 4:23 a.m.

    Dave, when you put it like that, Ninty are pretty f*cked arent they? The acid test for me with the Wii U is if I imagined the Xbox 720 and PS4 went on sale at the same time as it. I know which one I would buy, and I reckon there'd be a hell of a lot of Wii U's left on the shelves if that was the case,
  • sleepyMexican45 - August 25, 2011 4:29 a.m.

    BASICALLY, a great article as always Hooters ;) x
  • tofu666 - August 28, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    I agree
  • Mooshon - August 25, 2011 4:58 a.m.

    Great words again Dave. Nintendo have been frustating me for a long time now, and I just can't see myself investing in their next gen. They are just so stubborn with their business practices. Proprietary discs/cartidges keeping prices high, enforced 'shortages' on hardware, perpetual iterations of old (though undeniably great) IP's with limited 3rd party developerment. They're on the crest of a breaking 'casual gamer' wave right now, but do I fear for a slow decline when that demographic refuse to invest in the next bulk of mandatory and expensive peripherals.
  • db1331 - August 25, 2011 5:10 a.m.

    What does that last picture EVEN MEAN?!?!?
  • Hobogonigal - August 25, 2011 7:33 a.m.

    Its a good, well thought out article but like db1331; what is the last pic about??? I definitely think that whilst the games Nintendo produces are still top class, their public image is becoming more and more reserved and, well, as the logo change shows, grey and serious. Bring back fun Nintendo with cool advertising instead of non-gaming celebrities pretending they know what they are doing!
  • TheCakeIsaPie - August 25, 2011 8:44 a.m.

    It's a Buriden's Ass. Nintendo don't know whether to embrace the casual (Buzz!) or hardcore (Killzone 3) and will end up starving.
  • cchen04 - August 25, 2011 5:10 a.m.

    If the Wii-U does not get online right, Nintendo is screwed. Just like Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform isn't going to take off until/unless the app store gets more populated. Regardless of how good a product may be, that's the price of being late to the party. Here's a hoping they'll do it right...
  • fadedlinevigil - August 25, 2011 5:47 a.m.

    For a feature article, there sure are a lot of question marks in there. This article doesn't really say ANYTHING, just states obvious things that we all know then presents about 100 questions with unknown answers. Faux intellect high school blog material at best.
  • Errrrbo - August 25, 2011 6:05 a.m.

    Great. F#%king. Article.
  • Link's Left Boot - August 25, 2011 6:05 a.m.

    Undoubtedly Nintendo have done well from the Wii but i think you're right, they certainly didn't bring about a revolution in gaming. From a gaming point of view I found the Wii to be incredibly disappointing. It has so few outstanding games while 360 and PS3 have surged ahead with an impressive roster of quality titles. Unfortunately I think we're going to see the same story with the Wii U: Nintendo makes huge promises and fails to deliver while Sony and Microsoft move farther ahead when they release their next-gen machines. Only this time I don't think the casual market will come to Nintendo's rescue. As a huge Nintendo fan I'm am very worried for their future...
  • shawksta - August 25, 2011 7 a.m.

    By all that Nintendo's even lucky they made a reason to buy a wii, and that reason is why i love it. While Nintendo did go casual friendly they didnt nessecerily leave the core when they releaseed Awesome First Party core games, which give us reason to respect the wii considering Nintendo handles it like pro's while the 3rd Parties are still wondering how to unlock its potential. All i know is that the WiiU has a HUGE amount of potential use that will most likely change gaming more than Motion did, forget what the 3rd parties say about the specs,we didnt hear it from the Big Wigs, and Nintendo wouldnt stoop low when their just getting started. This will be one heck of hardware that we need to watch out for.
  • shawksta - August 25, 2011 7:04 a.m.

    Also, Nintendo seems to be getting the Mainstream 3rd Parties back,and theve been focusing on their First Party allot latley so they can be on a roll and possibly be back to the Nintendo that was known to be the best company ever. Everyone seems to fail at noticing how the past months Nintendo's been all about 1st Party for both 3DS and Wii while Kinect and Move are catching the Casual audience again, I guess Karma hit hard.
  • codystovall - August 25, 2011 9:59 a.m.

    Hopefully karma will hit nintendo harder in wii u sales.
  • BackwaterRifle - August 25, 2011 11:31 a.m.

    Now why the hell would you want that?!?!
  • NeoTechni - August 29, 2011 2:17 a.m.

    as he said, karma. Nintendo has been resting on it's laurels for far too long. Them being on top is bad for gaming

Showing 1-20 of 74 comments

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