Feature: The Revolution of the Wii
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Five years on
We’ve just passed the fifth anniversary of the Wii, Nintendo’s current generation console. With the Wii U likely to arrive in late 2012 these are the final months for the Wii at the forefront of Nintendo gaming in the home, with the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword providing a much needed boost to the ageing machine.
To talk about the Wii as an ageing console may seem premature, and this will be addressed in the section of this feature focussed on the technology behind the Wii, both modern and old. The Wii is about so much more than technical specifications, however, as it introduced motion-controlled gaming to the mainstream market, bringing countless millions of new gamers to the industry. We'll look at some of the accessories that have been released, as it's a console that has evolved and produced some quirky products. It’s also a console that has dealt with a number of pre-conceived ideas, some fair and some unjustified, that have shaped the image and reputation of Nintendo as a whole.
The Nintendo Revolution
When the Wii was first teased in 2005, it was expected to be named the Nintendo Revolution, which would have been appropriate considering the impact of the console’s control scheme. Prior to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, motion controlled gaming had been restricted to unreliable, inconsistent and annoying peripherals – the Power Glove being a well-known example. The name Revolution was dropped in favour of Wii, a decision that baffled many gamers and, perhaps, provided the first clear indication that Nintendo was targeting new audiences, such as families. Wii is the sound of fun, when you think about it.
It was in 2006 that much of the mystery behind the Wii technology, and those innovative controllers, was finally dispelled. Demonstrations of Wii Sports showed, with remarkable clarity, what the Wii Remote and Nunchuk were designed to do. The concept of playing with a traditional gamepad was part of the past, and the future involved interpreting actions literally, bowling a ball or swinging a golf club with an imitation of the motion. Nintendo emphasized that gaming was now for everyone, complexity replaced by intuitive simplicity.
The control scheme of the Nintendo Wii revolutionised gaming, as the copy-cat efforts of Sony and Microsoft’s own innovative take on motion gaming prove.
Beyond Wii Sports, the Wii Remote has been used to swing swords, steer vehicles and shoot enemies, to name just a few activities, all using a mixture of tilting, shaking of pointing at the screen. The Sony Sixaxis Wireless Controller, used with the PlayStation 3, also included motion controls; it didn’t, however, provide the same gameplay experiences of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The control scheme of the Nintendo Wii revolutionised gaming, as the copy-cat efforts of Sony and Microsoft’s own innovative take on motion gaming prove.
The GameCube 1.5
While the controllers were a bold step forward for gaming, the graphical technology within the Wii certainly wasn’t. That’s not to say that the Wii couldn’t produce graphics superior to those on the GameCube, but it was the limited enhancement, and the standard-definition 480p output, that led some to brand the Wii as GameCube 1.5. In some respects this stance is understandable: in comparison to the HD performance of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 the Wii is a long way behind. As the HD consoles find ways to continually improve visuals and performance by providing games on multiple discs or with installations on hard-drives, improvements to Wii visuals are more a result of ingenious development tricks.
Another downside to the ageing Wii technology, even since its launch, has been the titles that it has missed. There is an entire category of cross-platform games on the HD consoles with no equivalent on the Wii. Due to the similar capabilities of the Xbox 360 and PS3, many developers produce their blockbuster titles for both platforms, while the Wii is excluded: titles such as LA Noire and Batman: Arkham City, to name just two examples. Some major franchises do arrive on Wii, scaled down to accommodate the limited processing power.
Those are the negatives, but the decision by Nintendo to remain with standard-definition output has contributed to the astonishing success of the Wii. Primarily, limiting the processing power meant that the console could be sold, at a profit, at a highly attractive price on the high street. At launch it was significantly cheaper for consumers, a factor that immediately increased the product’s appeal. Experienced gamers could be drawn in by some of the high quality titles that hit within the first year, such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess or Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. For non-gamers the attraction of motion-controlled gaming — an exciting and original prospect in 2006 — was combined with the realisation that these experiences were available at a sensible price. There will always be those who look at the Wii and say that it’s last generation technology, but domination of this generation in terms of sales and impact says otherwise.
As we look back at five years of Wii graphics, it seems pertinent to observe that processing grunt isn’t everything; game design still goes a long way. Even looking beyond the imperious visuals in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, titles such as Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Monster Hunter Tri and Donkey Kong Country Returns, to name just a few, demonstrate that art design and skilful programming can produce visual feasts. Nintendo have always stated, with utter conviction, that gameplay experience takes precedence over flashy lighting effects and HD textures: as demonstrated when nine Nintendo Life staff voted for 50 separate titles in our top ten Wii games, we tend to agree.
Accessories, Accessories everywhere
One legacy of the Wii that stands tall is the abundance of accessories and peripherals that are available. By introducing a new control scheme and audience to the industry, Nintendo has encouraged a lucrative market in accessorising. Some are clever, useful or add to the functionality of the console, while others are decidedly less so.
To start with official products, one of the most influential add-ons has been the Wii Balance Board, released with Wii Fit. While some may have scoffed at first when seeing the balance board and Wii Fit, Nintendo has the satisfaction of the sales figures that it has generated. While Wii Sports helped to encourage families to play together, Wii Fit took the aspirational goal of keeping fit and made it a comfortable experience within the home. The original title has sold over 20 million copies, which means a lot of balance boards sitting in homes. Although the balance board hasn’t always been utilised well in other titles, its impact on the health games genre has been significant.
Without MotionPlus, it becomes apparent that the Wii Remote is limited to detecting quick movements... the term ‘waggling’ was born as a result
Another major peripheral is the Wii Remote MotionPlus add-on, an additional section clipped onto the controller: The Wii Remote Plus has followed, with all of the new technology built directly into the remote. In many respects, MotionPlus delivers what was expected of the original Wii Remote, with accurate motion detection that comes extremely close to 1:1 fidelity. Without MotionPlus, it becomes apparent that the Wii Remote is limited to detecting quick movements, without a particularly accurate perception of the direction or speed of the gesture: the term ‘waggling’ was born as a result. MotionPlus undoubtedly takes waggling out of the equation, forcing gamers to actually recreate accurate motions to achieve the right results: Wii Sports Resort was a top-class example of the device’s capabilities.
The biggest issue for MotionPlus is the lack of Wii titles that utilise the increased accuracy. Red Steel 2 requires the peripheral, while other titles such as Conduit 2 include optional support: it hasn’t been called upon often. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword makes excellent use of MotionPlus for sword-play, aiming, flying and puzzles. Some may argue that it represents the epitome of how the Wii Remote should be used, albeit five years after the console was released. Intriguingly, E3 2011 showed that the MotionPlus may have a new chance of success, as an additional controller for the Wii U.
An alternative control option was also produced in the form of the Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro. Brought out initially as an accompaniment to Virtual Console gaming, it has been included as an optional control scheme in various retail releases. Not all accessories, meanwhile, require technology to work, as some are basically plastic shells. The Wii Wheel, brought out in conjunction with Mario Kart Wii, is simply a piece of plastic. Though it is possible to ‘steer’ with the Wii Remote minus this add-on, we’d wager that playing with the wheel, or one of its many copy-cat equivalents, makes the game a little bit more fun. That brings us to the Wii Zapper, another plastic shell designed to house the Wii Remote and, in this case, the Nunchuk. Much like the wheel it doesn’t enhance the controller in any way, but at least feels more like holding a gun.
Some other accessories are certainly quirky, one being the rather marvellous Let’s Tap box: the basic idea is to place the Wii Remote on the box and tap a rhythm to control the action. There have been plenty of plastic extensions that demonstrate far less creativity, designed to make Remotes look like tennis racquets or other sporting equipment. A special mention must go to the House of the Dead: Overkill hand cannon, a gun peripheral that is unabashedly crude. Check out the picture if you don’t believe us.
Long live the Wii
So there you have it, a look at some elements of what has made the Wii the most successful console of its generation. We haven’t even addressed the extensive game catalogue, which is far broader and substantial than the shelves of your local gaming store would suggest. As the Wii enters its final months before the arrival of the Wii U, it deserves recognition and credit for bringing Nintendo gamers memorable experiences, while re-shaping the gaming landscape and changing it forever. Its original code name says it all, this console has revolutionised gaming.