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The Death of the Nintendo Wii

Nintendo

As we teeter over the precipice of another year in gaming it is important for us to look back and reflect on what a great year it has been. Online forums fill with ‘game of the year’ chatter and we all begin to look forward to the titles that will shape the medium over the coming twelve months. As the smell of mulled wine and mince pies fills my nostrils I can safely say – now is a great time to be a gamer.

This time of consideration is also a time of rejuvenation as two of our consoles are being bettered and replaced by their respective manufacturers. The Nintendo Wii and the Sony PSP have both had a fairly illustrious time on this planet, and as their box-fresh substitutions prepare for their first sortie into a hostile market I’ve decided to take a look back at them both, starting with everyone’s favourite after party entertainment system – the Nintendo Wii.

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Launched at the end of 2006 after the premature death of the GameCube, the Wii was lauded for its unusual configuration and apparent lack of judgement; who could have foreseen the impact it would have on the world of videogames? A groundbreaking control method and a lack of concern over aesthetic horsepower, the Wii managed to stimulate those who had never picked up a control pad in their life and led to the birth of the casual market. However, as we look more closely at the evolution of the medium since the Wii’s inception it begs the question: Has the Nintendo Wii changed gaming for the better?

The one aspect of Nintendo’s little box of tricks that cannot be argued over is the figures. To date, the Wii has sold almost 90 million units which makes it the most successful home console ever released by the company, and third most successful released by anyone. At launch the Wii’s demand outstripped supply so much so that UK retailers did not have a steady supply of stock until the middle of 2007 and it has consistently outsold both of its seventh generation competitors.

Impressive figures when read back to back but with the low price tag (£179 is exceptionally cheap for launch day) and an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at non-gamers, perhaps it’s not all that surprising. The Wii was designed primarily to bring people together, not over the internet, but as a family. It’s sleek white outer shell, user friendly interface and intuitive control method was perfect for introducing the uninitiated to the world of gaming.

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The emergence of the casual gamer is something of a phenomenon not simply bound to the Wii. Eventually Sony and Microsoft couldn’t ignore the emerging market any longer and mimicked the functionality and intuitive interface of the Wii’s motion sensor devices. Despite the creation of technology that was far more advanced and instinctive than the Wii’s nunchuck-like magic wands, neither platform has managed to set the world alight with its software; and here in lays the crux of the Wii’s initial success.

The Wii shipped with the rather predictably titled Wii Sports, a sort of demo disk designed for guiding players around the finer details of the Wii’s capabilities. This display of ability was replicated on both Kinnect and Move and, despite the allure of finer graphics and more sensitive hardware, the gaming public were no longer amazed by a console’s ability to track the movements of the body. Sony and Microsoft were late to the punch with too few fresh ideas.

The implementation of motion detection technology was a brave move by Nintendo, and it wasn’t only the competition who found themselves in a fit of panic and rushing back to the drawing board; third party developers had to create involving and imaginative software to engaging with a previously untapped yet rapidly expanding user base. Did they succeed? I would go out on a limb and say no. Third party support on the Wii was woefully underwhelming, the majority of it being dance simulators such as the Just Dance series or expansions of the Wii Sports blueprint such as Mario & Sonic at the Olympics Games. This is not to say that development outside of Nintendo’s studios was always bad, it just fell between the ever expanding crevasse developing between hardcore and casual gamers; a predicament that was always on the horizon as Nintendo powered on with its crusade to have every man, woman and child playing videogames.

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This will always be an issue that the Wii will be remembered for. Putting the impressive figures aside for one second, support for the Wii has certainly waned in the past couple of years. It has become a sort of industry joke that the Wii remains in cupboards until the family gathers at seasonal events and play another round of virtual golf. Whilst the PS3 and Xbox 360 motor ahead with awe inspiring releases year after year, the Nintendo elite are left waiting for the next instalment of Zelda or Mario to reprise their roles as the saviour of a console everyone else seems to have forgotten.

That’s not to take anything away from Zelda of Mario. Nintendo have always maintained an exceptionally high standard with their own games, usually finding themselves awarded a developer of the year accolade or two; but is this enough to keep a console running and a user base motivated?

Whether Nintendo was right or wrong to initiate a change in the gaming market is not at all important. What is important is how they progress their idea beyond its initial inception; and come this summer we will all witness the next instalment of Nintendo’s master plan. The Wii U is a continuation of Nintendo’s promise to bring families together… around a videogames console. Its additional screen allows the user to engage with the machine without the use of the family television. As counter intuitive as that sounds and despite knowing full well that this technology would be the cornerstone of all major arguments in my family, I am slightly intrigued by the concept of the Wii U.

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More importantly than being intrigued by the concept I am praying third party developers will understand and engage with the endless possibilities made available with the Wii U. Nintendo have clearly got a focussed plan with its current crop of consoles, but unfortunately outside development has been sorely lacking. It hampered the success of the Wii, but crucially it could kill off the continued growth of one of our brightest and boldest production houses.

The Wii’s legacy is one of mixed fortune. I imagine in years to come, we will look back at the Wii as the quiet start of a gaming revolution, ironically the development name for the console. For Nintendo to succeed in its plan for dominance two things have to happen. Firstly, it must work with third party developers to ensure a plan for continued development over the entire lifespan of the console as opposed to the brief flurry of games and then silence and disappointment. Secondly, it must unify the hardcore and the casual gamer and ensure neither feels hard done by as the company explores new intellectual territory.

Can Nintendo do this? I have no idea, but looking at the achievements the company has accomplished in the past ten years, it is clear that some of the brightest and sharpest minds in the industry are situated at Nintendo HQ.

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As we wave goodbye to the Wii, it’s best to remember the good times the console has given us. Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess have all been marvelled and regaled as generational masterpieces, and there was only ever one place to play them. The Wii was as bold and brave as it was unfortunate and hamstrung. Risk is never guaranteed its reward, but it should at least receive our respect. I think the Wii’s obituary would be better written in ten years’ time, as I imagine it will be forever remembered as the console that stood as the foundation for the years of development and progression ahead. We shouldn’t mourn its passing until we can see Nintendo’s complete picture, and even though it would be difficult to admit that the Wii was an out and out success, I can’t think of another console that has ever put as many smiles on as many faces; that surely is something worth applauding.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2011. Get in touch on Twitter @RichJimMurph.

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