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Talking Point: WiiWare's Vital Role in a Retro Revival

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Introducing bits and pixels to a new generation

The upcoming release of Retro City Rampage on WiiWare arguably represents two important trends for the service — it could be the last notable release on the platform, and it's also yet another "retro" themed release. We'll consider the possible swansong and end of WiiWare in the near future, but for now we want to acknowledge the important role played by the service in making bits, pixels and old game design principals a valid part of modern gaming.

It's easy to forget in the modern gaming landscape of Steam on PC, download platforms on Xbox, PS3 and also marketplaces for iOS and Android, but there was a time when the idea of releasing a new game that looked and played like a classic from the '80s or '90s wasn't particularly common. All of the platforms mentioned now have plenty of offerings that could be described as "retro-themed", but WiiWare's arrival in 2008 represented an ideal service for these kind of titles to find a like-minded audience — after all, the Wii's humble tech and varied control options made it the perfect home for distinctive experiences produced on modest budgets, along with a part of its user-base looking for experiences different from the latest HD FPS available elsewhere or, in the case of Wii, the latest Wii Fit-style release.

Naturally the extensive retail library on Wii played a big role in providing a variety of titles, but for retro gamers — or those interested in the style of games that graced consoles such as NES and SNES — WiiWare became a surprising source of delight. The Virtual Console was another first, of course, but those seeking new games that mixed the modern with the old could quite easily root out a range of titles that scratched the retro itch.

Perhaps it was inevitable, especially with the reported 40MB size limit on downloads, but it's easy to forget just how many pixel-based throwbacks WiiWare has given us. Below is a far from comprehensive list of titles we feel represent this genre, all earning scores of eight or above in our reviews.

BIT.TRIP RUNNER
BIT.TRIP BEAT
BIT.TRIP FATE
BIT.TRIP FLUX
BIT.TRIP VOID
BIT.TRIP CORE
Blaster Master: Overdrive
La-Mulana
Castlevania The Adventure Rebirth
Cave Story
Excitebike: World Rally
Mega Man 9
Mega Man 10
Bubble Bobble Plus
Contra Rebirth

There are others that could be included in a list such as this, but at the very least it provides an indication of the breadth of experiences on offer. We see major developers and publishers such as Nintendo, Capcom and Konami, but also smaller organisations such as Nicalis, Nigoro and Gaijin Games. A variety of genres are represented, from action platformers to exploration adventures, and also puzzle and racing games.

What this selection also shows is that, whatever your retro preferences, WiiWare offered a broad mix from which to choose. Notably, WiiWare was often the lead platform or the highest profile for major releases - Konami's "Rebirth" titles were only released on Nintendo's service, while Mega Man 9's WiiWare release arguably drew greater focus than on rival platform releases. That latter example seemed to be less prominent with the arrival of Mega Man 10, perhaps a reflection by that stage of Wii's digital store beginning a decline in momentum.

A number of those titles, and more, did either arrive exclusively or first on WiiWare, with some only being available on PC away from the home console space. Whether new IPs such as BIT TRIP or re-imagined classics, games such as these have served as the perfect induction to older gaming mechanics for younger gamers, while those of us that remember cartridges or even game tapes can revel in new AND old experiences.

Of course, such has been the demise of WiiWare and the Wii Shop in general, that not many of those listed titles have been recent releases. We're yet to see whether Retro City Rampage will join the list of retro-themed titles and earn an exceptional review score on this site, yet it shows how the market has changed that Wii is the last platform to enjoy the release. Perhaps it says something for the inherent prestige that WiiWare has for titles of this style that despite the decline in the system's marketplace, and the game's inevitable publication on other platforms, Vblank Entertainment has still pushed ahead to release it along with the ROM City Rampage extra.

It's a game that's been critically acclaimed on other platforms, and we'll see whether it hits the expected standards on WiiWare; it's likely to be the last of its kind on the service, potentially joining a memorable group of downloads.

We've seen some hints of retro-themed games finding a home on the 3DS eShop, and it's still very early days for the Wii U equivalent, but perhaps Wii provided the perfect storm for games like this — a console with ideal control options, a background of 2D retail releases, and system/file size limitations that made pixel presentation the most practical option. Perhaps it was to cater to us, as gamers, with so many choosing to play on a Wii as a choice of "Nintendo-style" games, which didn't just mean new entries in classic franchises from the Kyoto-based company, but also experiences from other developers that would have been perfectly suitable on a NES or SNES cart.

Whatever the future holds for "new retro", WiiWare should be remembered as a flag bearer for keeping pixels and bit tunes relevant.

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User Comments (45)

Knuckles

#3

Knuckles said:

I would argue that Sonic 4 is retro, but with the graphics, music, and level design, my arguement is invalid. Taking level inspiration from Sonic 1 and 2, not exactly an original retro experience.

gojiguy

#4

gojiguy said:

Contra ReBirth and Castlevania ReBirth rock. Castlevania ReBirth is straight up one of my favourite Castlevania games.

hamispink

#6

hamispink said:

I wouldn't say that it led the way for retro styled games, but it certainly embraced the trend in a big way. I think the reason for that is the download limit made it hard to put anything more complicated on it :P. I'd say that PC was the place where it really began with the wide availability of cheap downloadable games from indie devs who have been pushing the retro games anyway.

ThomasBW84Admin

#7

ThomasBW84 said:

@Brendonm17 It's a Sunday, and we sometimes take the chance to cover less prominent topics at weekends. Retro City Rampage is probably the last big Wiiware release; it's also a service being somewhat forgotten.

Writing about Nintendo should mean covering more than the obvious topics. And, of course, I personally feel it's far from 'redundant', but you're entitled to that opinion.

TheRavingTimes

#8

TheRavingTimes said:

I probably spend the most time on Final Fantasy IV The After Years then any other WiiWare title. Although I still regret not being able to see a sequel to Bomberman Blast. I probably spend more hours online with that game then any other titles I have ever played.

ThomasBW84Admin

#9

ThomasBW84 said:

@TwilightV It's just context, not misrepresentation! We're certainly not saying there aren't a lot of other fantastic titles, just focusing on a certain area in this case.

If you go to the Wiiware games section on the site and filter by review score, you can see the broad range of games that our reviewers rated highly :)

MrWalkieTalkie

#13

MrWalkieTalkie said:

I'm excited for the next future retro games like 8-Bit Boy, Aban Hawkins & 1001 Spikes, Pier Solar HD, Two Brothers, and possibly Fez if the rumors are true.

bedouin

#14

bedouin said:

Slightly off topic, but if hackers in the mid-90s didn't start developing emulators for these systems I doubt the industry would have had the brains to recognize the demand. The emu scene was initially disliked by many big names, who inevitably profited from their work when they saw thousands of retro gamers downloading their favorite ROMs.

TheXboxHero

#15

TheXboxHero said:

Who is that guy on the left wearing a red superhero mask?(first picture with Mega Man, Wario, Commander Video, etc;)I feel like I've seen him somewhere before.

belmont

#17

belmont said:

I really liked Castlevania Rebirth but the WiiWare service was sort of bad in comparison to Virtual Console and other services. I think that the Virtual Console played a better role in introducing retro games to newer players.

Knux

#20

Knux said:

WiiWare has a few hidden gems, but unfortunately is covered by a mountain of cr*p.

Will-75

#21

Will-75 said:

This is just one reason I own a 3DS and LOVE IT they have a lot of the retro style titles like WiiWare with 3D thrown in which to me makes for some gaming BLISS. THANK YOU WiiWARE!

Omega

#22

Omega said:

Some might say that Retro is just an excuse for not coming up with new ideas.

Emaan

#23

Emaan said:

This was a nice read! I've sadly only downloaded 2 WiiWare titles, with neither being any of these retro-inspired delights. Hopefully, once I'm done nabbing a ton of Virtual Console downloads, I'll get a few of these mentioned.

BerendJan

#24

BerendJan said:

And don't forget the great other games WiiWare brought us. I played hours and hours of Onslaught in coop mode via WiFi. Killing slug after slug it was a realy impressive game for it's 40 MB.

I loved Water Warfare a nice playfull aprouch of the FPS genre.

I challenged my friend in Star Soldier R...

i have found memories of the bit trip serie and the art style games, wiiware made the best games on the Wii. Cheap sometimes stupid and lots of fun...
Lets hope they keep that up with the WiiU...

Rebel81

#26

Rebel81 said:

I miss my favorites Star Soldier R and Gradius Rebirth which both got underrated in their reviews.

odd69

#28

odd69 said:

I loved wiiware. I loved Virtual Console, Spent hundreds of dollars on those services.R.I.P
I love retro games, infact some are better than this crap nowdays. seriously

bezerker99

#31

bezerker99 said:

I wish Nintendo would've developed original Mario, Zelda, Metroid titles on it's WiiWare service. Would've been neat to see but, sigh ........

Also....Tomena Sanner!!!!! /me breakdances B-)

Knux

#34

Knux said:

@LordLzGlad The difference is that the PSN actually contains a lot of good games while WiiWare only has a few (and I know what I'm talking about). ;)

MAB

#35

MAB said:

La Mulana was the most awesome though... It needs a sequel ;)

Retro City Rampage really should have been moved to WiiU & 3DS eShop because it would of worked alot better and made heaps more sales.

Will-75

#36

Will-75 said:

There is one game that more than deserves to be listed above but didn't get listed {escapeVEKTOR } such an AWESOME title !

Zombie_Barioth

#37

Zombie_Barioth said:

@Knux One man's trash is another man's treasure.:P

I think having the classics available for current and future generations is a very valuable thing for any form of media, they aren't called classics for nothing after all. Its not just games either classic TV shows have been making a comeback as well, like Full House or Happy Days.

Its also really annoying when your talking to someone and they have no idea what your talking about when you bring up them up.

Bass_X0

#38

Bass_X0 said:

They didn't do enough. Where was the WiiWare Mario or Zelda game on par with the SNES versions?

Mega Man 11 please

Not if its going to be another 8-bit style game. That would be too many. It should be 16-bit style instead. Better yet, do a 16-bit style Mega Man X9.

A1234

#39

A1234 said:

I have all of those games. for me, I was always most excited for retroware games for wiiware.

Sausimo

#41

Sausimo said:

@Will-75 When I first saw the article, escapeVektor was the first title that came to mind as well (after the BIT.TRIP series of course), so it's lack of mention in the main article is a bit confusing.

Although I do like their selections (Bubble Bobble Plus is another one of my favorites), Vektor was more worthy of the limelight than most, especially since he's made his way to 3DS and Vita now.

cheetahman91

#42

cheetahman91 said:

I agree with Knux. WiiWare had some excellent titles (the Bit.Trip series, Castlevania Rebirth, etc.) but for every one of those titles it had three or four Sexy Pokers or Spogs Racings. Hopefully the Wii U Eshop won't suffer the same fate (so far it's looking pretty good).

SparkOfSpirit

#43

SparkOfSpirit said:

16-bit Mega Man X9 would be great.

Honestly, this retro-revival was one of the best parts of this last generation.

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