Such was the company’s enthusiasm for the notion of digital distribution, the hype surrounding the launch of WiiWare was almost deafening. It was hard not to get carried away by the tidal wave of optimism.
The service has now been available for a good few months and we’ve seen some awesome games. LostWinds, World of Goo, Pop, Alien Crush Returns, Toki Tori, Space Invaders Get Even, Mega Man 9 and Final Fantasy: My Life as a King are all excellent games that are worthy of your undivided attention.
However, it’s rather telling that not a single one of these titles is produced or published by Nintendo. In fact, the company’s support for its much-hyped service has been mysteriously lacking of late.
So far, Nintendo has published a total of seven games on WiiWare – the trio of ArtStyle titles, Magnetica Twist, Dr Mario, My Pokémon Ranch and MaBoShi: The Three Shape Arcade. Out of those games, MaBoShi is arguably the best - and that wasn’t even developed in-house.
Such data begs the question: why is Nintendo treating WiiWare with such disinterest?
As a company, Nintendo is famous for its brands. Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and Metroid are recognized the world over and have sold millions of units of software in every territory.
Nintendo has always taken pride in the fact that its games are system-sellers – Sony and Microsoft may have big titles in their arsenal, but they can’t make the same boast – a game like Fable 2 or Ratchet and Clank does not shift consoles in the same way that a new Mario, Zelda or Wii Sports game does.
So why have we not seen these huge licenses make an appearance on WiiWare? Dr Mario is the only glimpse we’ve had of Nintendo’s leading mascot, and even that was a mildly underwhelming update of an existing title.
Capcom has already reaped the rewards of producing a retro-themed reinterpretation of a classic franchise in the shape of Mega Man 9, so why doesn’t Nintendo do the same?
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the demand for a new Mario or Zelda adventure - crafted with the same gorgeous 16-bit visuals that made the SNES instalments so appealing – would mean any new first-party project would literally fly off the (virtual) shelves.
Development time would also be negligible compared to the kind of effort involved with creating a first party Wii retail release; and if Nintendo’s own hype is to be believed, the company would stand to make a tidy profit thanks to the digital download scheme.
Perhaps Nintendo thinks that WiiWare doesn’t need its support. However, while the service has provided some sterling titles, only the most blinkered fan would argue that there hasn’t been quite a lot of shovelware present as well.
SPOGS Racing, Hockey Allstar Shootout and The Incredible Maze are not good advertisements for the potential of WiiWare. More often than not, we’re finding that the small indie coders behind the vast majority of WiiWare games are unable to turn their lofty ambitions into reality; the result is a catalogue of software that is becoming increasingly populated by below-average ‘me too’ titles produced by ambitious but underfunded Western coders.
Looking to the future, WiiWare has plenty to offer, with or without Nintendo’s involvement. We have some promising indie titles such as Bobby Carrot Forever, Eduardo the Samurai Toaster, Evasive Space, Icarian: Kindred Spirits and LostWinds 2, but we’re willing to bet that most WiiWare gamers would be willing to trade all of those titles for a true Mario, Zelda or Metroid game crafted by Nintendo.