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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Twilight Days of the Wii

There are very few days left where the Wii is going to be the flagship home console for Nintendo. Let's take a look back on the Wii as it starts its fade into history. There is no doubt that the Nintendo Wii was a watershed moment for all of gaming.

The Lead-Up

Little did we know back in 2001 that even as Nintendo was releasing the Gamecube, they were hard at work formulating a plan for their next home console. The legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto was arguing to his peers in the company that the next home console should not compete on hardware specs alone.
Over the years, all of the gaming industry had gotten into the habit of touting how powerful their machines were in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. The problem was that not all consoles are released simultaneously. Once a company releases a console, it is instantly obsolete. Worse, the console could be displaced by a competitor with a time advantage because technology inevitably improves with time.
Another argument was that the audience that all console makers were catering to was the "hardcore" gamer market. This market is historically small and was saturated with consoles looking to compete for a small market. Nintendo's next console, it was argued, should focus on a wider, more casual market. This market hadn't been tapped at all and was ripe for the picking. Nintendo already had the kids of a household cornered as a market. What if they could add parents, or even grandparents to the mix?
By 2003, Nintendo had assigned engineers and designers to work on this new console. They gave it a code name of "Revolution". They had no idea how prophetic that name would be. When Nintendo revealed that the new console would focus on motion controls in 2005, the gaming community was gobsmacked. People undulated between calling the console a true revolution and a recipe for disaster.
As the console developed, Nintendo revealed its final name "Wii". It would be the first console they created without the company's name in the title. Press reaction to the new name was very negative because it was thought of as being "kiddy" or too close to a slang term for a certain body part. However, Nintendo explained their decision saying that Wii sounded like "we" and that they hoped it would bring people together.

Launch

Wii PackagingOn November 19, 2006 Nintendo finally released the Wii for $249. That was well below the cost of the competition. It was a white color, contrasting the black of the competition at the time and making the console seem approachable. It was compatible with almost all Gamecube games and had all of the ports the Gamecube had for controllers and memory cards. The Wii launched with about 10 games, but had Wii Sports as a pack-in that showcased the new wireless motion controllers and taught players how to use the system. It was also given the capability, though its online store, to play games from a multitude of previous Nintendo systems and later even old competitors such as Sega, Neo Geo, and more. It was called the "Virtual Console" system.
The launch was a colossal success. The Wii outsold its competition by up to 600%! Nintendo was obviously surprised at the unprecedented success of the console, as it was sold out for months.

The Heyday

The Wii sold like hotcakes for most of its life. It brought more people into gaming than anyone thought possible. Of all people, grandmothers were like a poster-child for the Wii. It was intuitive and had a great price which attracted all kinds of gamers.
The Wii had some fantastic games that stood out among the rest like the Metroid Prime Trilogy, the Mario Galaxy series, Zelda and many more first-party titles. It also had some great second and third-party titles like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the Resident Evil Chronicles series, Okami, and many more. These games showed people what the system was capable of. They showcased how fun a motion controlled console could be.
However, the Wii was brought down quite a bit by "shovelware" or games of poor quality made simply for a profit. In fact, one of the greatest gripes from the "hardcore" community, besides the obvious specs argument, was the absolute glut of poor quality games on the system. It was a plague that the Wii would never be let down for, and rightly so.
The competition began to panic as the Wii's success became more apparent. They scrambled to copy or try to improve on Nintendo's innovations on the Wii. But although their add-on setups had the advantage of timing, and were technologically superior to the Wii controllers in every way, they failed in the market due to poor game developer support and glitchy performance. It didn't help that the motion controls were practically tacked onto existing products and were seen to be obvious wholesale copying of Nintendo. Plus the competition still had all of the original disadvantages of their consoles, such as price and reliability issues.

The Twilight

Skyward SwordAs time went on, the Virtual Console titles began to trickle, the first party game releases slowed, and third party support for the Wii all but stopped. It was apparent by 2010 that Nintendo was changing its focus away from the Wii and that the Wii was on its final leg. But the Wii had a swan's song coming, and what a song it was!
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was the first Zelda game to be designed specifically for the Wii. In development hell for ages, it finally emerged as a spectacular game to remember the Wii by. Nearly universally acclaimed as the best Zelda game yet made, it brought true "one to one" tracking to Link's sword and dazzled with its watercolor-like graphics.

Into The Future

Now we know that the Wii U will be the successor to the Wii and it already seems to be seeing some early success with preorders sold out. The innovation continues at Nintendo with the Wii U's combined controller/second screen called the Wii U GamePad. And Nintendo seems to be stretching its legs in its online capabilities.
With a new console on the way, its good to take stock and see how we got here. The Wii will be remembered as the birth of game motion controls and the console that invited EVERYONE to play. Even grandma. As we say goodbye, we remember the console that was a true "Revolution" from the very start.

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