Feature: Looking Back at Six Years of Wii
Posted by Gaz Plant
Time to say goodbye?
Despite strong first-party support, 2005 marked the beginning of the end for Nintendo’s GameCube, prompting the company to reveal its next system, the Revolution. The next year would see not only the unveiling of the revolutionary Wii Remote, but also the controversial unveiling of Wii; it was perceived by some as outrageous at the time, but has since become a household name. It wouldn’t be until E3 2006 that the concept of Wii finally took shape, and after a show that included a tuxedo wearing Shigeru Miyamoto conducting a Mii orchestra to the Zelda theme, the console finally began to make sense.
It’s now six years later and, in just under a month, Wii U will launch in the US. Despite incredible sales across the world – the highest of this generation — the past six years have arguably been difficult for Nintendo, with the concept of motion control and a perceived shift towards more family-orientated games alienating a percentage of the traditional fanbase. It would be easy then to assume that the last six years have been bad for Nintendo fans, but in reality, Wii has given us a tremendous amount of content on a system that has been technologically surpassed for half a decade.
So with that in mind, and before the humble little system is sidelined by its HD successor, we’re taking you back through the last generation; looking at some examples of where Wii went right, and where it went wrong.
While Wii wouldn’t hit stores until the end of the year, 2006 will be forever imprinted by Nintendo’s rectangular console. Thanks to a spectacular showing at E3, Nintendo built a healthy anticipation for Wii early in the year, which ultimately led to the system selling out worldwide at launch. But it wasn’t just the new system that defined 2006; alongside the console was a double header of the hugely anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the revolutionary Wii Sports, both of which made full use of Wii’s new motion capabilities.
Highlight – Wii Sports: Nothing said revolutionary on day one like Wii Sports. Packaged in with the system (outside of Japan), every Wii owner could experience the thrill of simulating sports in their own living rooms thanks its simple concept. Despite the limitations of the Wii Remote, Wii Sports proved to be an incredible success throughout the system’s lifespan, and continued to be a system seller well into its final years.
Lowlight – Red Steel: When we all saw the concept videos at E3 2006, one thing was clear – Wii would allow you to replicate motions exactly as you would in real life and play them out on screen. So when Red Steel was unveiled, it was natural to assume the same would apply. It turned out that the Wii Remote wasn’t quite that accurate, and Red Steel ultimately took a lot of criticism thanks to its lack of finesse.
The first twelve months are crucial for any system, and Nintendo clearly had a plan with Wii. Early releases for Super Paper Mario and Mario Strikers Charged kept up sales, but it wasn’t until E3 that things really picked up. The double-header of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Super Mario Galaxy pushed sales even higher into the Christmas period, while the debut of the Mario & Sonic series created an incredible amount of attention as the mascots teamed up for the first time. Third-parties continued their support into 2007 — alongside a regular Virtual Console service — so rarely a week went by when Wii owners didn’t have something new to consider buying. Carnival Games was also released this year, but like with Wii Play, we’ll just move swiftly on.
Highlight – Super Mario Galaxy: By 2007 it had been five years since Mario’s last outing, and it’s safe to say that fans wanted more. And they got it. Super Mario Galaxy received a rapturous welcome at E3, and when it was released in November it received a similar welcome in stores. With its innovative gravity-based gameplay and visual flair, Galaxy instantly became the best game on Wii, and as a testament to its brilliance it still holds that place for many today.
Lowlight – Lack of Connected Online: The release of Mario Strikers Charged saw the first appearance of Nintendo’s online service on Wii, and instantly there were problems. While the Wii had its own friend code for contacting fellow Wii owners, Strikers also shipped with its own unique friend code, creating additional codes to swap. The lack of an integrated online profile and various other features considered standard on other systems would continue to plague Wii throughout its lifecycle.
The first half of 2008 saw continued dominance from Nintendo, skilfully balancing the new casual gaming market with its existing fanbase. Wii Fit and the Balance Board’s release in the West was met with huge acclaim, selling out just as quickly as the console, while the releases of both Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart Wii proved instant hits. However, in what would be seen by many as the turning point for Wii, E3 2008 focused primarily on casual gaming. Featuring the often-criticised performance from Cammie Dunaway, Wii Speak, and of course the cringe-worthy Wii Music presentation, E3 could be painted as a PR disaster for Nintendo. To add insult to injury, the big release at Christmas was actually that same Wii Music, although the release of Animal Crossing: City Folk did alleviate the pain somewhat.
Highlight – Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Although the Smash Bros Dojo website ruined almost every secret in the game months before launch, the excitement around the release of a new Smash Bros. reached ridiculous proportions. Thanks to two generations of multiplayer mayhem, Brawl had a lot riding on it, and thankfully Sakurai and his team did not disappoint. Brawl was another fantastic fighter, and paved the way for Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS as a by-product. Although we could have done without the tripping...
Lowlight – E3 2008: What else needs to be said about E3 2008? Many may feel it was a mess from start to finish, with Nintendo’s show focused not on the big games coming soon for Wii, but rather on what families would be playing that Christmas. While no-one begrudged Nintendo’s casual market success, the setting for these games was wrong, and coupled with the terrible Wii Music presentation it left many fans alienated. A dark day for Nintendo fans everywhere.
After the dismal end to 2008, it was expected that Nintendo would kick things back into gear in 2009; this however, did not happen. 2009 instead continued the trend left by 2008, with casual family games continuing to be the primary releases. Third-parties also began to struggle, with exclusives such as Dead Space: Extraction and The Conduit failing to sell as well as hoped. Despite the lack of first-party content, the release of Metroid Prime Trilogy and a return for Punch-Out!! were well received, as was the big screen return of 2D Mario in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The announcement of Wii MotionPlus at E3 was also seen as a potential saviour from the waggle-heavy games, but was it just too late?
Highlight – New Super Mario Bros Wii: Despite having a multiplayer skew, Mario’s 2D return on home consoles was warmly received, filling the first-party Christmas slot perfectly. Building on the nostalgia factor of the DS game, NSMBWii was a critically-acclaimed experience from start to finish, and thanks to a superb multiplayer mode it became a party game of choice on Wii.
Lowlight – Wii Vitality Sensor: Was it a peripheral to combat Microsoft’s announcement of Kinect, or was it a tech demo announced too soon? We’ll probably never know, but Nintendo’s Vitality Sensor will almost certainly go down as one of Nintendo’s oddest moments. A peripheral that measured your heart rate to alter the on-screen experience, it’s difficult to even imagine what it would do, let alone how you would market it.
Two years of intermittent support would kill even the best console, but undeterred Nintendo continued with Wii into 2010, despite calls from a certain Michael Pachter – and probably others — to release a Wii HD. The first half of the year was all about Wii MotionPlus, with Red Steel 2 making good on the original’s promises and Wii Sports Resort proving to be the perfect Summer game, while Super Mario Galaxy 2, in the eyes of some, actually managed to improve upon the original. Christmas 2010 saw substantial improvements from all parties, with the release of Goldeneye 007, Sonic Colours, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the controversial Metroid: Other M being particular highlights. There’s no denying it – 2010 was a fantastic year for Wii owners.
Highlight – Monster Hunter Tri: Alongside all these brilliant IPs came the reappearance of Monster Hunter on Western shores, and perhaps most importantly, as a Wii exclusive. Taking advantage of both Wii Speak and also making substantial use of Nintendo’s online infrastructure, Monster Hunter Tri proved a hit in both Europe and the US, boosting sales in the middle of 2010. It was enough of a success that the game will soon be coming to 3DS and Wii U in Ultimate form.
Lowlight – Other M Controversy: Nintendo’s decision to hand the beloved Metroid series over to Team Ninja was questioned by many, and despite the game being an enjoyable experience for some, its portrayal of Samus Aran as helpless and tormented by her past didn’t get a good reception. This led to weeks of discussion between fans arguing about whether Samus should have remained silent or not, a debate that will continue to rage for some time.
The sheer volume of brilliant games at the end of 2010 led to a renewed optimism going into 2011, an optimism which soon evaporated. Bombarded with ports and casual games once more, Nintendo fans began to look to the future along with Nintendo, as Wii U was unveiled at E3. Meanwhile on Wii, the conclusion of the Bit.Trip series on WiiWare was a rare highlight at the start of the year, while Xenoblade Chronicles bolstered August in Europe. With nothing else noteworthy, it was left to the Wii’s final hurrah to save the day in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, providing a quality experience for the holiday season.
Highlight – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: In what has become the norm for the Zelda series, Skyward Sword swooped in at the last moment of the Wii’s life to provide perhaps its biggest hit at the very last moment. Coinciding with the series’ 25th Anniversary, Skyward Sword proved exactly what Wii could and should have been throughout its lifespan, while also adding a huge amount to the Zelda mythos. A truly brilliant experience.
Lowlight – Abandoning Wii: 2011 was perhaps most noteworthy for the almost complete abandonment of Wii. Aside from Zelda, Nintendo’s efforts were limited to a 2D Kirby platformer and Wii Play Motion, while third-parties resorted to a handful of ports (although one of these was the superb Rayman Origins). The poorly received Conduit 2 and another Mario & Sonic Olympic game did little to help the scarcity of quality Wii releases.
With Wii U development in full swing, Nintendo’s commitment to Wii has almost vanished in 2012, with only a few select morsels to enjoy. The release of Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story in Europe filled a gaping release gap, while Project Rainfall continued to occupy American gamers. As a result of this lack of support, Wii sales finally ground to a halt, with the running total just shy of 100 million units at the end of August.
Highlight – Success of Project Rainfall: Backed with a sense of injustice, American gamers took to the internet to find out just why Nintendo was refusing to release Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower in the US, only to discover Nintendo didn’t think there was enough interest. The movement showed otherwise with a persistent campaign, and though its direct influence is debatable, Xenoblade Chronicles got its stateside release – with support from Monolith Soft — followed by The Last Story.
Lowlight – No support going forward: While all systems must die to herald in the new generation, the sudden and rapid decline of Wii support continues to be shocking. 2012 offered no real classics from either first or third-parties, and aside from Skyward Sword it is arguable that substantial Wii support stopped in 2011. As any gamer will tell you, a year is a long time to not see anything new.
Looking back over the past six years it’s easy to simply pick out all the bad moments and call the Wii a failed experiment by Nintendo. But look harder and you will see a brilliant system, with enormous sales and a number of games that perhaps just weren’t for you. Rather than hammering Wii and its casual slant, we should be celebrating the experiences and thrills it has given us for six years. Yes, it was underpowered compared to its HD cousins, but Wii was the console that gave us Super Mario Galaxy, Skyward Sword, Metroid Prime 3 and all of the other brilliant titles that we’ve been unable to mention, which will stand the test of time.
One thing is clear though – the past six years have been a rollercoaster ride. We’ve had some highs, we’ve had some lows, and we’ve had a presentation where Miyamoto pretended to be playing a trumpet; but in the end, we had fun. And that’s the most important thing of all.
Let us know what you think of these Wii years, and keep an eye out for our top Wii games poll and Wii memories this week.