When Nintendo first announced the Wii (or Revolution as it was originally known) at the Electronics Entertainment Expo way back in May 2005, many critics scoffed at how the console’s technology paled in comparison to the might of the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. The unveiling of the machine as Wii (remember all the hilarious jokes and puns?) and its motion-sensing controls were also looked upon with doubt in some quarters. How wrong they were. Fast forward a couple of years and the machine is in an unprecedented position of strength within the industry. How has all this happened, you ask? Let Nintendic spell out the Wii’s magic formula and how we reckon Nintendo has got it right this time, enough so to make sure that the Wii will last long enough to outlive the PS3 and 360.
There is no denying that the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls and pointer technology haven’t yet revolutionised the way we play all games. Whether this is down to developer laziness when it comes to conjuring up innovative ways to use motion controls, or just that certain experiences just don’t agree with what the Wii Remote and Nunchuck have to offer is, little over a year after the console’s release, too early to judge. However, if what we have seen so far is anything to go by, the future is looking really quite exciting.
Metroid Prime 3’s first-person shooter control mechanics trump any other efforts on rival consoles so far; Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure has revitalised the point-and-click genre; Pro Evolution Soccer 2008: Playmaker has shaken up the sport in virtual terms and taken it in a completely new direction for the first time in a decade; Super Mario Galaxy, while relying little on motion controls manages to blend them flawlessly into an epic, critically acclaimed adventure, and that’s not discounting the huge strides that Wii Sports has made in forcing us all to look at the way we play videogames in the home in general.
There are numerous other examples, for sure, but those aforementioned display obvious progression in a relatively short amount of time, and a firm basis for others to follow on from. By comparison, Microsoft hasn’t shown very much interest in implementing motion controls, and the PlayStation 3’s SixAxis controller tilt-sensitivity really hasn’t taken off amongst developers.
Games for Everyone
Nintendo’s philosophy has always been to create games that everyone, no matter what their age, could enjoy. However, with the launch of the Sony PlayStation in 2000, a console that kick-started a new era in which gaming ‘grew up’ and where titles aimed squarely at teens and adults (Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, Gran Turismo) proliferated the market, the majority of Nintendo’s merry bunch of mascots and characters (and consoles) were almost instantly and exclusively tarred with the ‘kiddy’ brush. With the DVD disc format dominating and the GameCube launching looking like a child’s lunchbox, the situation was looking more than a little gloomy.
Along came Wii, and in something of a stroke of genius - or obvious business tactics - porting the hugely successful Touch! Generations series and others from the Nintendo DS (Big Brain Academy, Cooking Mama instantly spring to mind) to the console has made the home console much more accessible to so-called non-gamers than the PS3 and Xbox 360. A proliferation of casual software might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the high sales generated by them inevitably encourage companies to create a variety of different gaming genres for the console.
The huge success of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles, exclusive Dragon Quest RPGs, Bully: Scholarship Edition and the re-emergence of 2K Sports’ franchises are all proof of this so far - a blend of genres and fingers in multiple pies that made the PlayStation brand so successful, and the type of games that the GameCube largely missed out on. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360’s extensive library is continues to be saturated with first-person shooters and bland action-adventures, while its creator’s attempts to expand its audience and attract casual gamers (Scene It and Viva Pinata anyone?) really hasn’t made much of an impact. Sony, meanwhile, has recently admitted that, frustratingly, it has seen the likes of Buzz!, Singstar and EyeToy overshadowed by Nintendo’s latest advances.
Third Party Support
Undoubtedly, one of the major reasons why Nintendo’s failed to dominate with both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube was down to a lack of consistent and plentiful support from third party developers. Citing the GameCube specifically, despite a strong first-party showing (Pikmin, Metroid Prime, Wind Waker et. al), there remained a desperate lack of quality third party games to pad out the release schedules while Nintendo took its time working away on its own projects.
Nintendo promised to learn from its mistakes with the Wii, and despite a reserved start from a number of important software houses such as Electronic Arts, companies such as Ubisoft (Rayman Raving Rabbids) and Capcom (Resident Evil 4) have proven that third party titles can sell well alongside Nintendo’s own efforts - both over a million so far. What’s more, the opportunity for gameplay invention on the machine has also attracted developers who have shied away from Nintendo in recent years. Square Enix (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers), Capcom (Monster Hunter 3), THQ (Deadly Creatures), SEGA (NiGHTS), Majesco (Major Minor’s Majestic March), Grasshopper Interactive (No More Heroes) are just a few examples of early third party alliances.
In addition, all-important multi-format releases are also present: the likes of Guitar Hero, Rock Band, FIFA and the like, the staple franchises that any console requires for continued success. Add to all of this the WiiWare Channel, to which Nintendo has adopted a very relaxed approach to welcoming and regulating independent developers, and the third party situation for Nintendo as a whole is looking better now than ever.
There is a fine line between consumers judging your product as a toy or a videogames console, especially in terms of its RRP – something Nintendo learnt to its detriment with the GameCube. Considering the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 both launched for $299 USD, the Cube’s $199 USD price tag was unnervingly cheap in comparison. Coupled with multiple price drops in order to make up lost ground on its competitors and its blocky handbag look, the situation was pretty grim.
Pitching its price a little higher with the Wii ($249 USD) and still making a profit off each machine sold, it seems as if a healthy middle ground has been discovered. Not only is it a sturdily-priced console, but it significantly undercuts the shelf cost of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. What’s more, the Wii’s software is cheaper than its rivals (both to develop and sell), so it’s no wonder that the console has been almost consistently sold out for over a year, especially considering gaming is such an expensive hobby.
That Nintendo Magic
Whatever anyone thinks of Nintendo-developed games as a whole, there can be no denying that the Japanese firm is responsible for creating some of the most popular, innovative, imaginative and enjoyable videogaming hardware and software of all time. As a result, they also have some of the most loyal fans in the business, who will support their wares no matter what, because they know it is the type of experience they will only get on a Nintendo machine. While Microsoft and Sony both have firms developing exclusively for their machines, Nintendo’s in-depth knowledge of its own creation as well as its flair for game design is a very attractive recipe, indeed.
With the likes of Super Mario Galaxy, Wii Sports, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption already wowing audiences and titles such as Wi Fit, Mario Kart Wii and Disaster: Day of Crisis all on way, the Nintendo Wii will continue to be the home for titles that simply won’t be on offer anywhere else.
Technology Ain’t the Be All and End All
There is, of course, the argument that the Nintendo Wii’s inferior processing power in comparison to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 could be its Achilles’ heel in the long run. To that, we direct your gaze towards the PlayStation 2. It celebrates its eighth birthday this year and despite boasting last-generation graphics it continues to sell phenomenally well across the globe, easily competing with today’s latest machines. Photo-realistic visuals are great, don’t get us wrong, but judging by the Nintendo Wii’s success so far and the longevity of the PlayStation 2, polygon counts, bump mapping and draw distance obviously don’t matter one iota to the hefty majority of consumers. And even when the strength of sales does inevitably wane, a sneaky little price drop will no doubt see it leaping up again.
After a couple of videogame generations in which Nintendo really appeared to have lost the plot, the Wii is already displaying an unprecedented return to form for the Kyoto-based firm. While Microsoft and Sony continue to slog it out in wars over technological prowess, Nintendo has snuck up from behind and unleashed a surprise attack that no one saw coming – one that looks likely to see it regain its crown at the top of the industry tree for the first time in many, many years. As long as Nintendo continues to promote the Wii as a console that offers experiences like no one else can, in the future we could very well see it plodding on long after its rivals have peaked and fallen.