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Is Wii screwed?

posted on February 6th, 2007 by jay

Amidst all the recent articles on how the Wii is creating gamers out of grandmas and still out of stock around the nation, there are murmurs of doubt. Few people doubt the control scheme; it works well and is a lot of fun. But it remains unclear if Nintendo will be able to satisfy either their hardcore fans or their new casual gamer audience. Detractors are already labeling the Wii a repeat of the Gamecube; a platform for Nintendo games but little else.

As expected, the Wii will have a solid lineup of first party games:

Animal Crossing
Battalion Wars 2*
Big Brain Academy
Disaster: Day of Crisis*
DK Bongo Blast*
Fire Emblem
Mario Kart (not officially announced)
Mario Party 8
Mario Strikers Charged*
Metroid Prime 3*
Kirby
Pokemon Battle Revolution
Project HAMMER
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Paper Mario
Super Smash Brother Brawl

* Published but not developed by Nintendo

This move looks unfair.

Even without third party games, the Wii could do very well. The DS has sold amazingly almost solely on the strength of Nintendo titles and since their home system appeals to much of the same audience, Nintendo may be able to manage a repeat performance. Animal Crossing, Big Brain Academy, Mario Kart, Mario Party 8, Pokemon Battle Revolution and Super Mario Galaxy are all nearly guaranteed to sell very well, especially in Japan.

But it also may be the case that the markets are different enough for this comparison to be pointless. A $130 price point for a casual gamer with $35 games may be significantly more appealing than a $250 home system with $50 titles. Additionally, half a dozen great games may be more likely to sell a handheld than a home console. Home users often demand not only quality, but breadth of selection.

So let’s move on to games announced for the Wii by companies other than Nintendo. This next list of games could be important. There is a chance any or all of them could be huge, but the odds seem low.

Dragon Quest Swords — Could be big but still a spinoff
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles 2 – Big but spinoff
Red Steel 2 — So so feelings towards the original may stunt sales
Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles – Big but spinoff
Sims Wii — Big but spinoff
Sonic and the Secret Rings — With Sega’s track record…

A promising list, but for most of them there is a recent counterpart that forces our expectations to remain subdued. Square Enix has released a lot of Dragon Quest spinoffs, and they generally sell and play well but are nowhere near as good as proper series entires. The first Crystal Chronicles was decent but not exactly a critical success. Ubisoft’s Wii track record has not been impressive thus far and the Red Steel team may just be untalented. Capcom has already made a handful of uninteresting RE spinoffs, such as the Survivor series, and EA churns out Sims related games like there is no tomorrow. Finally, a look at reviews for any of the last few Sonic games would make anyone very skeptical about anything branded “Sonic.”

As long as the Wii is a dumping ground for triple A title’s gaidens, Nintendo will have a hard time convincing anyone they have actually learned something from the Gamecube’s mistakes. This may translate to a hard time selling consoles once the hype has died down and gamers are left to choose a console based solely on its software lineup.

I feel sick…

Besides spinoffs and sequels, the Wii will also be home to many ports. Some of the high profile ports:

Godfather Blackhand edition
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
Prince of Persia: Rival Swords
Spore Wii

All of these titles have potential to sell well, and maybe even provide us with excellent gameplay (looking in Spore’s direction). But for a game to truly take advantage of the Wii’s unique control scheme, it has to be initially designed for only that console. The handful of launch ports has left a bad taste in many gamers’ mouths and publishers may soon learn that consumers prefer original Wii content over games slapped with Wii controls halfway (or later) through the development cycle.

Then there’s No More Heroes, by Suda 51, the same strange man who gave us Killer 7. There is no chance it will be a system seller because it will not appeal to enough people, and if the gameplay mechanics are similar to Killer 7’s, it probably won’t even be much fun to play. But it sure will be interesting and very probably worth going through once just for the experience.

The Wii will also assuredly be home to more hands on sports titles than any system would know what to do with. Golf, Boxing and Fishing games:

Leaderboard Golf — System 3
Boxing Action — AQ Interactive
Fishing Master — Hudson Soft

Super Swing Golf was a huge letdown, but with any luck Leaderboard Golf or one of the next thousand golf sims will both a) make use of the Wii’s control scheme and b) not suck. The pack-in boxing game is fun but frustrating because it is not nearly responsive enough. Holding out hope for a good boxing game may have to continue, though, as it’s hard to believe something called Boxing Action will even be competent. Hudson Soft’s Fishing Master aims to recreate fishing so perfectly that the only thing missing is the fish. Presumably, the game will include hours of drunken boredom. These hands-on sports games may be very important at capturing the casual market and if Nintendo has some sense (which it often does not) it will prevent the Wii market from being littered with dozens of lousy sports titles. Casual gamers don’t spend much time reading game reviews and after buying one or two subpar golf sims, they may be permanently turned off.

Depending on your perspective, the large number of small companies working on Wii titles is either exciting or terrifying. Many developers who have never published a game have announced they will be designing for the Wii; this may make the system a dumping ground for amateur garbage, but could just as easily give the Wii a robust lineup of unique games. The challenge Nintendo faces when dealing with small developers is making sure they actually produce. The little guys are often under-funded and over ambitious which is a combination that often leads to vaporware. Possibly vaporware:

Midnight
Orb
Raid over the River
Sadness
Thorn

Either Sadness is a FMV game, or NIBRIS has not game play screens to show.

Midnight, Orb and Thorn are all projects of Crossbeam Studios Entertainment, who have zero releases under their belt. Because attempting to complete a single game just isn’t difficult enough, they have begun preliminary work on Midnight and Thorn while designing Orb. NIBRIS’ Sadness has a lot of people excited and seems somewhat reminiscent of Silicon Knight’s Eternal Darkness. Unfortunately, NIBRIS is also working on Raid over the River simultaneously and has never actually released a game.

And finally, there are the announced projects by important developers that may one day make a big impact on Wii sales, or at least please many hardcore gamers. Today, however, there is scant information on these titles. Announced or mentioned but little or no info:

Sword of Legendia — Namco
Keiji Inafune project — Capcom
Cing project
Camelot project
Kenji Eno title — From Yellow to Orange
Yoot Saito project
Hideo Kojima project — Konami

Namco’s title sounds related to the Tales series but has been categorized by the major sites as being an action game. The Inafune project will likely do well considering the man created Mega Man, Onimusha, Dead Rising and Lost Planet. If Cing can maintain the stride they’ve hit with Hotel Dusk on the DS, their Wii game should be another excellent adventure title. Camelot may not be well known outside of hardcore Sega and Nintendo circles, but they have a stellar track record and their new Wii RPG should be excellent (here’s hoping they bought the Shining Force rights from Sega).

Kenji Eno is far from a household name and is significantly more obscure than even fellow music driven designers Mizuguchi and Koshiro. He created the D series and the bizarre Enemy Zero, which means that even if his new game isn’t particularly good, it will mirror No More Heroes by being original enough to demand a playthrough. The same goes for Yoot Saito, mastermind behind oddities Seaman and Odama. And the importance of a Wii game from Kojima, the man behind the Metal gear series, hardly needs to be stressed.

Nintendo passed up the opportunity of making their console Odama 2 friendly by going with a poor quality speaker instead of a poor quality microphone in the wand.

No analysis of a modern gaming console would be complete without mentioning the system’s online set up. The good news for Nintendo is that the Virtual Console is doing well and the good news for the consumer is that it already has a strong lineup, including many classics no gamer should miss (if they did the first time around).

But now the bad news; very few Wii games have been confirmed for play online. Worse, important publisher Square Enix has publicly derided the Friend Code system Nintendo seems so keen about. For the Wii to compete against the 360 and PS3, it will need better online support and so far Nintendo has done nothing to convince us that the Wii will have this.

Critics have been quick to mention that much of the Wii’s success thus far has been the result of hype, and hype is often empty. What these detractors often fail to recognize is that this hype has put consoles in homes, and developers don’t care why consumers bought a system, they simply want to publish games on systems that many people own. The early success of the Wii has created a band wagon effect and many publishers are jumping on board.

The Wii will be just fine if two things happen. First, enough developers need to have jumped on the Wii wagon due to the systems excellent launch numbers. These 3rd party developers also need to give their full attention to their Wii games. Simply creating spinoff after spinoff while keeping important main entires of major series on other consoles will not do Nintendo much good, nor will ports of games with motion controls sloppily tacked on. Secondly, Nintendo will have to slake its customer’s thirst for quality titles for the year or so these newly started 3rd party games remain in development. If Nintendo can weather the initial drought, much like it did with its DS handheld, the Wii should do far better than the ill-fated Gamecube and possibly even seriously compete with Microsoft and Sony’s offerings (despite the fact that all of these companies claim to not be in direct competition with each other).

Please note that besides a few high profile ports, only Wii exclusives are discussed in this article. Additionally, there are many games announced that are not mentioned, either because the extreme likelihood they will not make it out of Japan, are from a start up developer and may be vaporware, or because no information on the title is available.

7 Comments

  1. pat said on February 7, 2007:

    for what its worth, i would really like to see sadness hit the wii.  as much as i like the console already, i think that game could singlehandedly make it appeal to the crowd who will only consider a system if it has games that are "adult only".  it gives the wii a grown up sensibility all by itself.

  2. Matt said on February 7, 2007:

    I think a lot of people are way too critical of the Wii and if it can keep momentum going in the first year. The Xbox 360 had a deplorable launch period with only 3 games after launch worth any time: Dead Rising, GRAW, and Oblivion. But no one was really worried that Xbox 360 still needed to prove itself. Compared to that system, the Wii is doing amazingly well. I have 6 wii games already, with a few still to buy, and I am having the time of my life. In my mind, with games like Trauma Center and Wii Sports, the Wii has already shown me that gaming can work with a controller like that, so all we need are the games. The ports are getting a little ridiculous, I’ll agree, but it’s better than having nothing. With The Godfather, Scarface, and now Manhunt coming out for the Wii, the library is growing very fast. They may turn out bad, but to the unsuspecting customer, ones that tend to play Madden, they may give them a chance before seeing a review. And something tells me Sonic Wii will turn everything around for Sega, just like Sonic Rush on the DS. And I don’t think having Nintendo pump out 1st party titles is a good thing, as it won’t let 3rd parties have a go with their own games. That’s why this "drought" talk is a blessing, letting 3rd parties showcase their titles without having to deal with Metroid  and Smash Bros. altogether. Also, like Pat, I’m am dying to see what comes of Sadness. The style and material SEEM to be in a world of its own, helping to bring a level of maturity to the Wii that only Silicon Knights would be able to bring. Hopefully, HOPEFULLY, it does come out, but you never know. I know, I ramble, but it’s surprising that people look at the Wii with such a critical eye. This article helps to make an understanding of it all, but you know there’s a million people out there that are just gonna sit there and score the big "next-gen" game with bated breath.

  3. jay said on February 7, 2007:

    I disagree, I think people were and still are worried about the 360. Additionally, it was competing with the PS2 and the Gamecube. The Wii is competing with the 360 and PS3. Personal anecdotes of you liking games are good but I really don’t see where I’m being unreasonable in my analysis. I hope your unbridled optimism pans out since I want to see the Wii succeed, but think your love of Nintendo is tinting your vision.

  4. Matt said on February 7, 2007:

    Naa, it was never a "I love Nintendo only" thing. I guess it is easier for me to not be so weary on the whole subject when I have way too many consoles in my home. If one system is at a lull, another is booming, so there’s not a lot for me to worry about in the grand scheme of things. That whole response, if I think about it logically, is primarily stemmed from that fact, so it could be slid into the "minority" corner. The ones that have no consoles? Yes, they should look at all things first when considering a buy, as it isn’t the best option in every angle. It will in a year’s time, but right now, it’s a questionable outlook. But it’s been very interesting to see people go right to the whole Wii60 thing. It just worked out perfectly it seems, and its just a given that you have 360 for normal gaming, and the Wii for the abnormal. 

  5. Rollin said on February 7, 2007:

    What most people don’t take into account is that there are many out there (me included) that are Nintendo folk who bought Wii because it was supposed to reach every demographic and genre, and bought Wii with no plans of getting anything else. I don’t plan to buy a 360 this year, as good as i know it is i just don’t feel like making that high an investment when i have a Wii already. But that Wii fun isn’t as engaging as some of the stuff you see on 360 and PS3, therefore perfectly sane, non-(system)partial people like me miss out on the epic types of games. Or just traditional type.I disagree that Wii has the equivalent of a GRAW, Oblivion, or Dead Rising out now or coming up. Nintendo is repeating the early DS releases, Wario and all. That’s a bad thing. People who say others are too critical of Wii are usually the ones who have bought one Wii game too many and are just content with the system and caught up in the hype; it’s hardly everybody. It’s not a drought because Nintendo aren’t putting games out, it’s a drought because nobody is stepping up in their absence. Of the millions of Wii owners, how many do you believe are Sonic fans, or Godfather fans, et cetera? Nintendo is doing little to keep their long time consumers happy, or even satisfied, with just allowing spinoff after spinoff to grace it. They promised newness and creativity, but we have to sit through the crap and wait. Great, that’s exactly what i bought Wii on launch day for!…360, i am definitely still worried about. I think PS3 will gain a much better foothold in the next-gen market given some time, and for a system that was the newest thing out by a mile, it did piss poorly in that first year.The unsuspecting customers that’ll fill Nintendo’s pockets with Godfather money are good for Nintendo and Nintendo alone. They’re the ones who tell them it’s ok to shove these piles of crap onto us while their real fanbase waits for something substantial. I’m not talking about Mario, Metroid, or Zelda. I’m talking about the new games like Disaster and No More Heroes, the next motion controlled sports games that work, the next great adventure game, the next great wifi game, the next big new thing.So i’ll be waiting over here, arms crossed, tapping my foot, staring at you Nintendo.

  6. Steve said on February 16, 2007:

    none of the consoles are screwed. they all have great games coming out over the next year and they will all make a profit. none of them are going anywhere. it all comes down to personal preference, and I am not loyal to any one specific console so I bought them all.  Hooray me!

  7. jay said on February 16, 2007:

    Since there seems to be a misconception that the name of this article means I think the Wii is doomed, I’d like to make it clear that the content of the article does not say this. To summarize my own article – the Wii may meet the same fate as the Gamcube (which wasn’t exactly doomed) if 3rd parties continue to only release spinoffs and sidestories of their best franchises on the console. Or it is possible the DS phenomenon will simply reoccur, despite what 3rd parties do. Because the Wii sold well initially, many 3rd parties have begun developing more important titles on the system, therefore, despite the name of the article (which is a question, not a statement) I am cautiously optimistic about the Wii’s future.

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