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Friday, July 27, 2007

SUPER Rant: Do Wii Think Alike?

^ When publishers treat the Wii as a dumping ground for PS2 ports

It has been 8 months since the release of the Nintendo Wii console in the US and in that short time span, it has been for me, as a supporter of the Wii (and Xbox 360) in this generation of home console, a roller-coaster ride. I am a hardcore gamer and I have to admit that Nintendo’s strategy to push its revolutionary console into both the homes of the hardcore and casual/non-gamers has left me less than impressed with the Wii. A few months leading up to the launch of the Wii, gameplay videos of Ubisoft’s FPS Red Steel were flashed across the Internet and for once, Nintendo satisfied me with their special control scheme for the Wii – the Wii-mote and the nunchuck attachment. But then again, Nintendo’s signal to attract casual/non-gamers also gave some publishers the wrong idea. My heart sank when THQ announced some absolutely useless Wii games ranging from SpongeBob Squarepants: Creature from the Krusty Krab to Barnyard to Disney’s/Pixar’s Cars. Vivendi Games offered Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, a long overdue game. Midway introduced Rampage: Total Destruction and The Ant Bully. Some of these haphazard works led some people to believe that the Wii was just ‘2 GameCubes stuck together by duct tape’, to quote a ‘famous’ phrase from many critics. I found myself wondering: Would the Wii be just another GameCube? Afterall, it is the weakest among all the current-gen consoles – technically. I found myself growing less confident about the success of the Wii. Again, is the Wii going to repeat history all over again?

Fortunately, Ubisoft lent some great support to the Wii and allowed it to pull off a very successful launch. Of course, there were the first-party games to thank as well, including The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports, which was packed in with the console and Excite Truck. Within the next few months, a few more publishers jumped onto the Wii bandwagon after seeing the sales of the console soar. Games started to pop out for the Wii like running tap water. I was starting to get joyful for Nintendo. Then … … another problem struck. Good thing Nintendo continued producing the goods: WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Wii Play and Super Paper Mario. Okay, what was the problem, you may question. A couple of publishers thought that it was a good idea to test new grounds by releasing PS2 games on the Wii – PS2 ports (or ports of last-gen games) are what these games are known as. From Heatseeker to Mortal Kombat Armageddon to Scarface: The World is Yours, Codemasters, Midway and Vivendi Games were all guilty of treating the Wii as a dumping ground for last-gen games so that they can benefit from the brisk sales of the console. During the same period, Medal of Honor Vanguard, another PS2 port, and The Sims 2: Pets, a game released for last-gen consoles, also appeared on the Wii. All of a sudden, I wasn’t very confident of the Wii anymore and couple those games with Namco Bandai’s kiddy Tamagotchi: Party On!, and you can say that I was starting to get apprehensive about the Wii’s future. But just moments later, I was assured of the Wii’s good days ahead.

^ An offspring of the increased third-party support for the Wii

A slew of sizzling announcements hit the Wii soon after. THQ’s WWE SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2008 and Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed (What? Another PS2 port, but still more interesting than SpongeBob Squarepants, nonetheless), EA’s NBA Live 08, FIFA 08, Madden NFL 08, EA Playground, Boogie, My Sims and Need for Speed Pro Street, Rock Band, Activision’s Guitar Hero 3 (guitar controller is shown in image above) and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, Rockstar’s Manhunt 2 (yet another PS2 port, but adds more variety to the Wii games library), Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, Bully: Scholarship Edition, Vivendi Games’ Geometry Wars: Galaxies and The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night, Atari’s Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3, Godzilla Unleashed and Jenga are all set to hit the Wii. Ubisoft continues to push more support for the Wii in the form of the (as of now) console-exclusive Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Cosmic Family and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Hard Evidence. LucasArts’ Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga also made headlines. Needless to say, there are more new games en route to Wii (like the new and second Trauma Center game for the Wii by Atlus and Capcom’s Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure), and I can only watch in delight as the Wii gradually arms itself with such essential third-party games that were lacking from the GameCube and together with popular first-party ones like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I believe that the Wii will become a more efficient ‘money printer’. Perhaps that was the zenith of the Wii’s success in those short 8 months. Has Nintendo achieved its target? That question brings us to the present day.

Both May and June sales figures demonstrated that Nintendo dominated the US market with the DS and Wii in first and second place respectively. For the uninitiated, Wii moved 338, 278 units in the month of May, while it managed a more impressive 381, 000 sale number in June. What is more astounding is the fact that Nintendo not only dominated the US with the Wii, but also Japan, with 3 million consoles sold. Software sales were largely made up of Wii and DS games as well. In the light of these figures, the Wii has been dubbed the ‘money printer’ – unsurprisingly. Nintendo’s unique plan to get hardcore, casual and non-gamers to experience gaming with the Wii has paid off handsomely. No more jostling with the technologically-superior Xbox 360 and PS3 – that may well be what Nintendo was thinking when it first conjured up the idea for the Wii. Nintendo has achieved its target. Yes, it has and I am happy for them.

^ Nintendo has became so obsessed with chasing casual/non-gamers that it made such a dumb 'non-game'

At the recently-concluded E3 2007, Nintendo’s press conference brought up a new announcement: the highly-speculated Wii Health Pack was renamed Wii Fit and the ‘game’ would be released next year. Okay, for a refresher, Wii Fit is basically an exercise game where you are required to have the Wii balance board (a pressure sensitive board) in order for you to be able to play it. In the game, there are several activities that can be done, including push-ups, yoga, aerobics, soccer ball-heading and so on and so forth. Actually, that was the main highlight of Nintendo’s conference. Yes, you heard it right – a game that is in fact a game? Alright, I do not deny that releasing Wii Fit will allow Nintendo to reap more profits from the Wii because the people who will actually go out and buy Wii Fit will be those casual and non-gamers – and this category of people overwhelmingly outnumbers actual gamers. BUT as a hardcore gamer myself, Wii Fit looks in every way -- just plain stupid. Wii Fit is just a very casual game, a game made for people who have not played a single game in their life before. Has Nintendo gone so obsessed with chasing the minds, hearts and money of casual/non-gamers that it is possible that it is going to make such a dumb non-game (I prefer to call it that way)? It is certain that I do not favor Wii Fit, but be sure to expect more of such games dotting the Wii games library in the future.

Yes, it has been a roller-coaster ride with the Wii, which has been in existence for 9 months, including the launch month. From the pre-launch period where I grew more confident of the Wii’s success after the new control scheme was showed off via Red Steel and the tremendous support of the console by Ubisoft, to the announcement of the several kiddy, totally-unnecessary games due for launch day, which caused my heart to sink, to the influx of PS2 ports and ports of last-gen games, to the sudden slew of hot announcements, to the release of Nintendo’s amazing sales figures and to the major announcement of Wii Fit at E3 2007, Nintendo has, at times, put a smile on my face, and at times, made me frown. But, at the end of the day, I just want to know: Do Nintendo and I actually think alike?


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