Wii Truths Day 3: Software Trends

wii Console_0The Wii was a special console for me. Its lifespan coincided with a leisure sweetspot in my own life that afforded intoxicating levels of videogame opportunity. I played a lot of Wii games and tracked all the Wii developments, be they exciting or mundane, major or minor, captivating or frustrating. I found plenty of fun on my PS3, and I suffered the exclusivity of many X360 hits, but I don’t regret spending the majority of my gaming prime with Nintendo’s bold experiment.

Although many will say the Wii died long before 2012 (and not without merit), the system’s successor is a week away from taking the baton, signaling the official end of Wii’s journey. With that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to take a week and remember just what Nintendo’s “Revolution” was all about. Each day this week, we’ll take a closer look at one aspect of the Wii’s legacy, framed by a number of Wii Truths that have dawned on me as I look back on the generation.

The first two days of Wii Truths Week focused on the hardware; from now on, it’s all about the software. Day three begins that trend with a broad look at the Wii’s library, examining how Wii’s unique market position influenced the software that developers made for it. Following Wii Sports’ example, a lot of developers decided that Wii was best suited for collections of short, simple experiences. The plethora of minigame compilations became the butt of jokes shared among the core gaming crowd.

But the truth is...

Wii Truths Week

  1. Motion Controls
  2. System Features
  3. Software Trends
  4. Digital Distribution
  5. Game Spotlights

It had some truly odd niche games.

Ever want to play a 3D action game starring a scorpion, a tarantula, and Billy Bob Thornton? How about a 3D platformer involving warring mushroom tribes and Les Claypool? Vegetable barbershop manager from the designer of Goldeneye? The Wii was certainly an peculiar game system; maybe that's what attracted so many abnormal games. Quality ranged across the board on Wii’s niche titles: I didn't care for any of the aforementioned games, but I certainly fell in love with Treasure's bizarre corridor shooter experiment. You can’t say Wii's weirdest games didn’t have some fresh premises with unexpected names attached.

Bonsai Barber Carrot

The number of franchise spinoff games it got was absurd.

There were five Final Fantasy games made specifically for Wii. Sounds pretty good, right? Xbox 360 only got three. Of course, those three were big-budget, mainline epics while Wii’s five included a tower defense, a town-builder, and a minigame-riddled action-adventure. Resident Evil and Dead Space, two of the biggest names in survival horror, were brought to Wii as tensionless rail-shooters. Even more bizarrely, they were joined on rails by archetypal JRPG series Dragon Quest and tactics shooter Ghost Recon. Platforming icon Rayman’s first appearance on Wii was a token walk-on in a minigame collection. 3D fighting sensation SoulCalibur and action stalwart Castlevania went all Freaky Friday on us and traded genres. Even the curious evolution simulator Spore arrived on Wii as a clumsy action game. Though big name franchises came to Wii, many abandoned their core appeal, believing they could succeed on brand equity alone. Barring a few exceptions, they were mistaken.

It had its own puzzle platformer surge.

Xbox Live Arcade’s marketing push put indie games on the console map. One genre that flourished on the service was the puzzle platformer, with hits like Braid, Limbo, P.B. Winterbottom, and Fez keeping genre enthusiasts happy year after year. The puzzle platformer’s surge wasn’t limited to HD systems, as titles like LostWinds, NyxQuest, Max and the Magic Marker, And Yet It Moves, Winter of the Melodias, and Fluidity were some of WiiWare’s top titles. More could be found on physical Wii discs, like A Boy and His Blob and Lost in Shadow. XBLA’s award-winning games got the press they deserved, but Wii owners could enjoy a small bounty of puzzle platforming if they knew where to look.

Wario Land Shake it Throw

It brought the Nintendo sidescroller back to consoles.

Nintendo spent much of the N64-Gamecube decade exploring the 3D frontier, updating its NES and SNES properties to the era of polygons. Mario, Donkey Kong, and Samus were free to roam in all directions after years of marching left and right. But things largely went flat again on Wii, appropriately starting with Super Paper Mario’s sidescrolling RPG platformer in 2007. 2008 followed that up with the gorgeously animated Wario Land: Shake It. But the real hit parade began in late 2009 with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, soon followed by Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. That makes six sidescrollers on one system after going two whole console generations with only three between them. Not since the Super Nintendo golden age did Nintendo show 2D gaming so much support on its home systems.

It missed out on the fighter's resurrection.

The fighting game genre went into a deep slumber in the early part of the decade, but Street Fighter IV’s home console launch in 2009 propeled the tourney mainstay back into living rooms. Suddenly fighting games were mainstream again: an avalanche of home updates to Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, King of Fighters, Blazblue, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter X Tekken, and more ensured PS3 and 360 owners wouldn’t go a couple months without a major release. On the flip-side, Wii had two major exclusive fighters: Mortal Kombat Armageddon and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. I was so desperate for chop-socky action that I rented a Naruto game that got above-average press. Maybe it was the system’s unorthodox default controller, maybe it was the lack of dependable online play systems...whatever the reason, this generation’s fiercest comeback bypassed the Wii almost entirely.

no More Heroes Save

Some developers tried to cash-in on its family-friendly image (by subverting it).

“Babies and grandmas” was the pejorative phrase frequently used to describe the Wii’s target audience. Many software creators took notice and created simple, inoffensive games. Others didn’t. Bizarre auteur Suda 51 started the crass movement with the stylishly violent No More Heroes, and Platinum Games followed suit with the black and white (and very red all over) MadWorld. Sega reanimated its House of the Dead series with HotD: Overkill, a grindhouse zombie pulpifier that may boast the most F-bombs of any video game script. And of course, Rockstar Games’s Manhunt 2 continued the company’s proud tradition of media outrage, encouraging players to simulate gruesome murder scenes with the same glee that Nintendo promoted baseball and golf. Where hardcore gamers saw “babies and grandmas,” these developers apparently saw the opportunity for shock value.

It got ports from both stronger and weaker hardware (and returned the favor).

Never before has a home console existed in such a strange niche of processing power. Though its guts were a notable step up from its Gamecube predecessor, it was nowhere near its console competition, and even the PlayStation Portable wasn’t far behind (and the PS Vita well ahead). As a result, Wii seemed to get ports to and from everything: Sakura Wars, Rogue Trooper, and Prince of Persia from PlayStation 2 and Xbox, several Nintendo franchises from Gamecube, Dead Rising from Xbox 360, Death Jr. II from PSP, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time from Nintendo DS, and many more. Several Wii exclusives also ended up getting HD-tuneups and heading to other consoles, including the highly anticipated revivals NBA JAM and GoldenEye 007 as well as modest Mature-rated hits Dead Space: Extraction, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, House of the Dead: Overkill, and No More Heroes.

wii Party Shoot

It was this generation's party animal...

With the majority of console owners connecting their systems to the internet this generation, online play has supplanted local multiplayer on the priority list for most developers. Where splitscreen shooters and racers were the norm in previous generations, many high profile Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games in those genres capped at two players or dismissed local multiplayer entirely. Perhaps because its online options were severely limited, Wii seemed absolutely stuffed with games fit for a full couch. A few of its seemingly unlimited minigame collections stood out as party-worthy, but many of Wii’s most compelling titles had local multiplayer support. Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Boom Blox, Mario Strikers, Wii Sports Resort, New Super Mario, Kirby’s Return and many more had four-player local play, and even predominantly singleplayer games like Punch-Out, Trauma Center, and Monster Hunter had quality 2-player options. It’s telling that most any game gathering I hosted or attended this generation revolved around the Wii, whether Wii Sports-men or Counter-Strike pros were in attendance.

...but it was inundated with minigame collections and shovelware.

All those Wii Sports and Wii Fit and Nintendogs knockoffs didn’t detract from the Wii’s sizable stable of hit software. But the swelling of low-budget crap did make the worthwhile games way more difficult to find. Browsing the Wii shelves and Gamestop or the listings at Amazon means skimming past dozens of Imagine Party Babyz-caliber games for every Metroid Prime 3. It’s just too easy to write off the entire library based on a glance at Wal-Mart’s Wii section. Review outlets often took that attitude, meaning plenty of decent games didn't get the coverage they deserved. And I can't blame them: even though I'm well versed the system's software offerings, it still takes me forever to browse through an online catalog. Nintendo might want to consider a stingier policy with that "Official Seal of Quality" with Wii U to cut down on the awful shelf space hogs.

Imagine Party Babyz Clown

The Wii library had some early hits, but its strong launch also attracted plenty of junk. Did you only dust the system off for high-profile Nintendo franchises, or did you do your homework and search out the quirky niche titles? Tell us your favorite hidden gems in the comments, then come back tomorrow and Friday for more of our weeklong Wii eulogy.