Wii Truths Day 5: Game Spotlights

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.

Wii Truths Week ends today, with the spotlight hovering over a handful of specific games that I found notable for some reason or another. Some of the games getting the spotlight are personal favorites, but this definitely isn’t a top ten list. After all, sometimes the most remarkable games are the disappointments that serve as cautionary examples.

And the truth is...

Wii Truths Week

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

Mega Man 9 was Capcom's first "downloadable content" ripoff.

When a big publisher announces downloadable add-on content before the base game even launches, cries of indignation are the default response. When add-on content is revealed to be included in the base game but locked behind a pay-wall, the death threats start pouring out. Japanese juggernaut Capcom’s goodwill took a nosedive this generation after the once-great publisher started locking content away from players inside the disc they already paid $60 for, most famously in Resident Evil 5 and Street Fighter X Tekken. It’s easy to forget, though, this practice actually started with the downloadable WiiWare game Mega Man 9. Flags were raised when its add-on “content” was a couple kilobytes' worth of code, extremely small even for a retro-styled game. Hackers then confirmed that the necessary data was in the original download all along, uploading YouTube videos of more premium content weeks before it was made available through the in-game store. The apparent price-gouging practices tainted what was otherwise one of my very favorite games.

Boom Blox Explosion

Boom Blox was a 3D version of Angry Birds designed by Steven Spielberg.

Big names don’t get much bigger than Steven Spielberg, a guy prominently credited on dozens of cinema touchstones in the last three decades. The film legend’s name is also attached to a few games, including the Medal of Honor franchise and classic point-and-click adventure The Dig. These dramatic, gripping, suspenseful titles reflected Spielberg’s silver screen pedigree; Boom Blox did not. Credited as the franchise’s designer, Boom Blox was a physics-puzzle sim where the player slung projectiles at precariously stacked fortifications, usually aiming to maximize destruction per ordnance. Sound familiar? Don’t go accusing Steven of plagiarism: Boom Blox was on store shelves before Rovio’s mega-hit was even on the whitebaord. Maybe if Boom Blox had Angry Birds’s mass-accessibility, Spielberg would have his name attached to yet another cultural phenomenon.

The Conduit was the definitive "Halo-killer."

Ever since Halo exploded onto the scene in 2001, the collective game industry has obsessed over finding the “Halo-killer,” the sci-fi shooter that would dethrone Bungie’s cultural sensation. Every game dubbed as a potential usurper adhered to a few parameters: a sci-fi aesthetic, internally manufactured hype, and inevtiable underperformance. The original was Killzone, Sony’s attempt to grace the PlayStation 2 with a shooter juggernaut of its own, but the term has been applied to everything from Resistance: Fall of Man to Haze to whatever the brains behind Modern Warfare are working on right now. But in my book, the quintessential “Halo-killer” was Wii’s very own The Conduit. Announced in April 2008, the game’s imaginative alien weaponry, Area 51-esque conspiracy themes, and online deathmatch promises had Wii fans salivating. The developer’s enthusiastic trade show appearances, tech demo teasers, and fan-centric marketing campaigns further stoked the flames of hype to a roaring blaze. But, as the Halo-killer curse demands, the end product simply couldn’t compete with the king. The Conduit was the Wii’s best sci-fi shooter by virtue of being the only one, but it was barely mediocre by any other measure. A “Halo-killer” through and through.

Warioware Smooth Moves Hula

WarioWare: Smooth Moves ruled because it embraced the spastic silliness of waggle.

The WarioWare series and its rapid-fire microgames bathe in absurdity, and its Wii entry was no different than its Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS titles in that regard. But unlike its portable predecessors, Smooth Moves has the advantage of a host console that is, to some extent, inherently ridiculous. Nobody plays Wii to look cool, after all. Even the focus group-approved actor families in the commercials look awkward in their animated enthusiasm. But while Wii Sports has a veneer of self-respect, WarioWare proudly bounced off the walls, especially when players were passing the Wii remote around every five seconds. Its machine gun pace, low maintenance, and outrageous tasks combined for a perfect storm of party hilarity.

Twilight Princess's delays exposed Nintendo's screwy priorities.

Nintendo made a lot of Gamecube owners cry for joy at E3 2004, when it debuted what would become The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. It then spent the next two years making those fans cry normal, sad tears as Twilight Princess was delayed again and again while the Gamecube release calendar thinned. Finally, at E3 2006, Nintendo firmed a launch date for the hardcore Legend of Zelda game fans had anticipated for so long...but not on Gamecube. The game would launch with Wii in November 2006, Nintendo declared, and it would make it to Gamecube afterwards. Finally the delays made sense: Nintendo was busy converting the game to support the Wii's motion controls. Even stranger, the entire game world was mirrored for the Wii version: Nintendo felt that players, statistically leaning towards right-handed dominance, would feel more connected to a right-handed hero than the traditionally southpawed Link. Rather than release Twilight Princess in a timely manner on the console it had been promised for, Nintendo had decided to delay and superficially alter the game to help prop up a new system launch. Few would say that the Wii controls were a benefit to the game, and the Gamecube version would have been perfectly playable on Wii anyway. It may have boosted Wii launch sales, but at the cost of some fans who refused to be strung along a neverending trail of heartbreak.

Godfather Blackhand Edition Smack

The Godfather: Blackhand Edition proved that waggle isn't always worse.

As one might expect, the video game adaptation of The Godfather borrowed heavily from the granddaddy of open world crime. And like most GTA-clones, it fell well short of Rockstar's benchmark, with dull driving, a dreary sandbox, and sloppy recreations of the legendary film's scenes. And yet, my criminal career with the Corleones lasted almost forty hours, thanks to Blackhand Edition's hands-on approach to fisticuffs. Most sandbox games rarely ask the player to put up their dukes, but The Godfather frequently ordered the player to get his hands dirty intimidating shop owners, starting fistfights in bars, and sending brutal messages to the rival families. Although all versions of The Godfather featured the same knuckle sandwich tactics, the Wii version replaced shoulder trigger punches with Wii remote and nunchuk shakes. Replacing a button function with waggle motions always results in something lesser...except in The Godfather. Something about roughing up capos with short air-punches inexplicably made it feel more immediate and tactile. Combined with competent pointer-based gun crosshairs, the intimate mafia encounters in The Godfather: Blackhand Edition proved that there are exceptions to the waggle-inferiority rule.

Nintendo practically treated Excitebots: Trick Racing like a secret.

High-profile games tend to debut via magazine cover exclusives or dubstep-infused trailers about a year before their launch. After the initial bombshell, it's up to the publisher to drip game details through major media outlets for the next several months, eventually ending in a swell of features and reviews before launch. Nintendo apparently decided to buck convention with Excitebots: Trick Racing. The bombastic arcade racer was quietly announced via two vague sentences in a Nintendo press release in late February 2009. It launched just as silently less than two months later. Unsurprisingly, it didn't set the sales charts on fire. It didn't even get a worldwide release: it only appeared on store shelves in North America, and Japanese players could only obtain the game as a redeemable prize in Club Nintendo. It's a shame Nintendo refused to promote Excitebots, as it was a surprisingly strong followup to the launch hit Excite Truck. Nintendo squandered a potential gap-filling game in its console's mid-life drought years because it couldn't be bothered to put any marketing effort into the title.

wii Play Motion Teeter

Wii Play Motion was an apparent cash-in that hid motion gaming gold.

The original Wii Play sold nearly 30 million copies since its launch in late 2006. Based on the mediocre quality of its minigames, it's safe to say the packed-in Wii remote had a lot to do with its runaway success. Nintendo showed remarkable restraint in sitting on a sequel until five years later, but by that time Wii was stumbling over a new slapdash minigame collection every week. As a result, Wii Play Motion was basically dead on arrival. I was one of the few who picked it up, and I'm glad I did: one of Wii Play Motion's sixteen minigames has the most perfect motion implementation I've experienced. The "Teeter Targets" game tasks the player with rolling and tossing a marble via a series of see-saws, controlled by tilting the Wii remote back and forth. It's got everything I want from a motion game: an intuitive premise based on lifelike physics, a density of control that wouldn't be possible with a standard gamepad, a surprisingly tactile feel from the Wii remote's vibrations and internal speaker, and elegant core gameplay that could serve as the foundation for increasingly complex scenarios. The Endless Mode's Sideways and Upward stages strike me as proof-of-concept that "Teeter Targets" could have been a full puzzle-platformer. I definitely would have paid for a full-length WiiWare extension. Unfortunately for me, my favorite motion game was an all-too-brief minigame in a controller-bundle that was snubbed by most media outlets. I guess it'll remain my little secret.

I played Super Smash Bros. Brawl more than any other game this generation (by about two-hundred hours).

In my DS Lite retrospective, I chose The World Ends With You as the dual-screened portable's software avatar. On Wii, it's got to be Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

It introduced strange new ways to play that nobody asked for and most ignored for the classic dual analog setup. Its core of effective play was surrounded by flashy fluff. Its success could be attributed to strong showings from Nintendo's historically successful franchises. It made earnest efforts in online play and user content creation and sharing, but fundamental limitations due to conscious design choices nosedived those features' worth. It sacrificed the upper crust of depth that veterans treasured in exchange for a less intimidating learning curve for rookies. Its image was that of shallow zaniness, but depth and variety were core components of its DNA below the surface. It tried to deliver an epic singleplayer experience but mostly came up just short of great. On the other hand, it ruled the couch and was the centerpiece of many a gamer gathering.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl was essentially a more accessible evolution of Melee, much as the Wii took the Gamecube's guts and gave it a new face that Nintendo fans and non-gamers alike ate right up. Brawl wasn't the end-all Nintendo fighter it was promised to be, and Wii didn't change the world the way its hype foreshadowed. But with this console generation in the rear view mirror, I can at least safely say I squeezed incredible value out of Brawl and enjoyed the Wii as much as any system I've owned. It wasn't a revolution, but it was a hell of a ride.

Thanks for joining us this week to remember what Wii was. Wanna mention some Wii games that meant something special to you? Got any more thoughts on Wii's controversial six years? Keep the discussion going in the comments, and we hope you'll be back next week in our regular rotation of game coverage across all systems.