The Nintendo Wii is a bit of a conundrum, probably the biggest paradox that has ever existed in the gaming industry. Here you have a console that literally exploded in retail overnight, going on to sell nearly 80 million units in less than four years worldwide- a feat that not even the legendary Playstation 2 managed- but a console that has been plagued with numerous problems pertaining to its software. So many of them, in fact, that it is almost justified to question the almost unstoppable success of the console.
To begin with, the Wii has become notorious for its shovelware- while no one is for a minute denying that there are good games to be found on the system (some of this generation’s best games are to be found on Nintendo’s little white box, after all), the problem that they are so greatly outnumbered by buggy and glitchy half assed titles that going shopping for Wii games is literally like finding a needle in a haystack.
The problem is further compounded when one considers that quality third party support on the Wii is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Although we still get gems like No More Heroes 2 and Monster Hunter, most developers and publishers are increasingly washing their hands off the Wii, claiming any kind of success on the console is hard to be had. They do have a point, though: quality third party games on the Wii have, with few exceptions, bombed hard. Add to that the fact that the Wii is considerably weaker than the other current gen consoles and the PC, and one can see why most developers refrain from releasing any of their popular multiplats- like Red Dead- on the console.
The final problem that the Wii faces, of course, is WiWare. It’s a great service- in theory. But Nintendo’s archaic online policies have been the bane of the service, with WiiWare missing out on so many quality games that it’s not even funny. Some ridiculous restrictions- like the 40 MB size cap- have ensured that most indie developers give WiiWare a miss entirely. The few gems that are to be found on the service almost never make their money back, simply because Nintendo cannot be bothered to promote the service, or its titles.
With so many problems to face, ans the competition becoming increasingly competitive- both in price, and in the motion sensing capabilities on offer- the Wii went into 2010 facing its toughest year on the market ever. Was 2010 the year when the Wii finally lost relevance, fading into the background to become the shortest lived mainstream console ever? Or was it the year when against all odds, the little white box gained favor with the fickle hardcore crowd? Read on…
The Wii was in a largely comfortable position coming into 2010, at least from a financial perspective- Q4 2009 had been its most successful tenure on the market, and it was riding on the blockbuster success of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a title that perhaps single handedly salvaged 2009 for Nintendo, as far as software sales for their flagship console were concerned.
Its lineup for 2010 looked interesting, if somewhat niche, and it certainly looked better than the pathetic 2008 and 2009 that the Wii had suffered. The Wii kick started 2010 silently, although with a showing of strong third party support. Within the first three months, the Wii got several quality titles that silently swelled its library to surprising proportions- and barring one, not a single one of them was a Nintendo title.
So, from January to March 2010, we got Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the atmospheric and chilling reimagining of the original Playstation Silent Hill, No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, the sequel to the stylish 2008 game featuring wiseguy Travis Touchdown, Tatsunoko vs Capcom, a crossover fighting game that, against all odds, had somehow managed to find its way overseas, and outside of Japan, Endless Ocean: Blue World, Nintendo’s sequel to its unusual ocean exploration game, Sonic and Sega: All Stars Racing, Sega’s surprisingly competent take on the mascot kart racing formula and Red Steel 2, Ubisoft’s sequel to its 2006 launch title that righted all the wrongs of the original game, and made good on its promises.
What was even more surprising about these three months was the unusually strong showing exhibited by WiiWare- the service that is oft neglected by most developers saw some genuinely good games hit it in this timeframe that simply could not be missed. So, in this period, we saw WiiWare getting the definitive version of Cave Story, the darling hit PC indie title, Mega Man 10, Capcom’s continuation of its retro reinterpretation of its robotic mascot, and of course, Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 5, which for many provided the return to the Golden Days of Lucasarts’ adventure games that they had so long been yearning for.
Clearly, this was an unusually strong quarter for Nintendo, as far as software was concerned. Quite a lot of titles hit the system in this period, and while most of them were too quirky to truly be mainstream (and hence achieve commercial success), they were all excellent and well made games, that ensured that the Wii’s library would have several gems when all was said and done.
But surely the Wii was running out of steam by now? After all, what major announced title for the system was left for release? A couple, that would be done with in the coming three months, and then what? Would the console be done?
Q2 2010 demonstrated that Nintendo had different ideas about where its system was going. Clearly pissed at the Wii’s perceived lack of hardcore games, these three months represented Nintendo jamming themselves into the drivers seat, and pushing down the pedal hard.
The Wii started Q2 2010 in style, with Capcom’s long awaited third entry into its divisive Monster Hunter series hitting the system exclusively in April. Critic scores were favorable, for once, and the response from the audiences was receptive- here was a third party game for the Wii that demonstrated quality, and achieved proper success, both critically and commercially!
As far as third party support is concerned, the Wii saw a respectable quarter. It got Trauma Team, which was the series’ debut on Nintendo’s motion wielding console, the Motion Plus enabled Tiger Woods PGA 11, and multi platform titles like Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (arguably the best on the Wii), Green Day Rock Band, and LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4. On its part, the WiiWare service continued to host some good games, with the most notable being Bit.Trip Runner.
However, these three months will be remembered not for what the third parties managed on the Wii, but for what Nintendo did. First of all, of course, was Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy 2. The first direct sequel to a console Mario in over two decades, Super Mario Galaxy 2 had been unveiled at E3 last year to a lukewarm reception at best, with many leveling allegations that the game was a glorified expansion pack. Of course, that couldn’t have been farther from the truth, as it eventually turned out. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was not only a breath of fresh air in a stale genre, it also was the best produced, best made Wii game, best 3D platformer ever, in the running for best platformer ever, best Mario game ever, and out and out in the running for best game ever. Critics went berserk awarding the game perfect scores, citing its variety and its creativity. Gamers went nuts purchasing the game in large numbers, as the game managed to sell in excess of five million units in a very short time. Super Mario Galaxy 2 represented Nintendo at its best, and delivered a very strong message- the Big N was back.
Clearly, because they followed up the success of Super Mario Galaxy 2 with a stupendous E3 showing, which revealed a lineup of several blockbuster Wii games all due in 2010- but we’ll get to that later.
Q2 2010 also had Nintendo following up on the success of Super Mario Galaxy 2 with a much less significant, although no less unique, game- Sin and Punishment: Star Successor was the sequel to the N64 cult hit, a shoot em up game that was as quirky as it was fun, and that (shock! horror!) represented a genuine effort on Nintendo’s part to implement online in a self published game.
The Wii, which had looked to be on the verge of fading into irrelevance, had bought itself time, and had gained some momentum with the release of one landmark title- would it be enough to tide the Wii over for the rest of the year?
Q3 2010 probably represented the quietest bit of the year for the Wii- probably it was the lull before the storm (but more on that in the last section).
These three months were marked with the release of a grand total of one major title on the system (two if you count the somewhat subdued Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock). However, that one title was controversial enough to keep things moving, and moreover, to keep things exciting on a system that was largely ignored by the gaming media.
The game I’m talking about is of course Metroid: Other M. Now, Nintendo has always been known to experiment with the Metroid series- no two titles are ever truly alike, and all of them do something new, whether its the forced challenge of Metroid II, or the first person view of Metroid Prime. With Other M, Nintendo and developers Team Ninja decided to take a dramatic step in a direction no one had foreseen- they decided to make the Metroid experience more guided, more cinematic.
So, in a shift from tradition, we had a Nintendo produced game heavy on the cutscenes and on voice acting, and a Metroid game that held the player’s hand and showed him where to go. Naturally, such a change was met with stiff resistance from the fans, who cried foul, claiming that the spirit of the series had been compromised.
However, the single most divisive aspect of this game was perhaps its portrayal of famed series heroine Samus Aran. With little or nothing to go by, fans had, over the years, formed a mental construct of who they believed Samus really was- a stoic, silent, brooding survivor, who was on a mission to help the galaxy. Naturally, when the portrayal of the game differed from their own interpretation, they screamed- nearly three decades of pedigree had been staked here.
In a year when there were MANY controversial games, Metroid: Other M stands out for the risks it took with one of the most hallowed franchises in gaming. Was it a good game? Sure. Was it a good Metroid game? That depends on where you stand, and on what your definition of a Metroid game really is. Be as it all may, Other M was the lone standout for the Wii in a rather quiet Q3 2010.
And at this point, I officially give up.
Q4 2010 can be described using two words as far as the Wii is concerned. One word is Oh. The other is F**k.
Remember how I’ve been hinting at a ‘storm’ and ‘Nintendo taking charge’ all throughout this article? Well, this, buddies, is it- this is when shit hit the fan. This is when Nintendo unleashed the Wii in a bellow of fury at everyone around, bolstered by jaw dropping third party support, to prove, once and for all, that the Wii was relevant, that it was here to stay, and that the competition better watch out.
There are so many games to list out! Beginning with the adorable and fresh new take on a beloved character with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, to the return of the undisputed king- I mean Kong- of gaming, with Retro Studios’ finely crafted Donkey Kong Country Returns, to the re imaging of one of the most beloved games of all time in Goldeneye 007, to the triumphant return of Sega’s mascot in Sonic Colors, the game that finally got Sonic in 3D right, to Warren Spector’s finely made yet divisive epic, Epic Mickey, to Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops, which for once represented a third party game not compromised on the Wii, to the surprisingly party title Wii Party, to the sequel of the dance hit, Just Dance 2, to the return of a much loved SNES classic in NBA Jam, to Nintendo’s blast from the past with Super Mario All Stars, to the third hurrah of star music game series with Rock Band 3…
And even WiiWare got in on the fun. Whether we talk about Bit.Trip Fate, the last entry in the retro rhythm game series that truly was a fitting farewell to the beloved saga, or of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1, which was Sega’s attempt at taking Sonic back to his roots, the downloadable service was in full form these three months.
I mean, what were they smoking? How can one console see so many worthwhile and un-missable releases in so short a time frame?
If this is where the Wii picks up from in 2011, then well, I’m gonna have to throw my cynic hat away.
There’s a reason why so many people proclaim the Wii ‘won’ 2010- the console was a beastly juggernaut. Just look at that list of software. It’s not even half of what the console had to offer. Many worthwhile releases had to be trimmed down from this piece, just because this article was running so long.
2010 is the year when Nintendo took charge- it’s the year when they returned to their roots. Even as Microsoft and Sony began to chase after the fickle casual crowds with their own takes on motion control (with, I may add, varying degrees of success), Nintendo finally acknowledged the hardcore gamer, and gave him his due.
2010 was the year when the Wii’s library swelled to epic proportions. At this point, anybody who buys a Wii really has no right or reason to complain- there are too many darn games to play on the system!
2010 was the year when third parties game appeared on the Wii, and they actually sold. It was the year when Nintendo ditched the motion control act, and went after the traditional way of gaming. It was the year when the WiiWare service finally came into its own. The year when Nintendo’s sales, ironically, slowed down to such an extent that even company head honcho Iwata expressed concerns.
As always, it was a year riddled with contradictions. But, for the first time, it can also well and truly be said that this, this was the year of the Wii.