The following is the most rampant rant I’ve ever spewed forth on this blog. Warning! First three rows may get an opinion.
Nintendo’s Wii console is something of an enigma. It has broken technological boundaries with its motion sensitive controller, but it is also woefully underpowered for the HD era. In its short 18 month lifespan it has homed some of the finest ‘proper’ games anywhere – think Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and the magical Mario Galaxy, but it’s not these titles that have been the system shifters. It will undoubtedly become the Big N’s most successful home console of all time, but Ninty may well lose their soul for the achievement.
Growing up with the SNES, the N64 and the Gamecube, it was always apparent that Nintendo never quite reached the levels of success they deserved. While Ninty have long ruled the handheld market, from the time of the original Gameboy right through to the days of DS, they have constantly struggled to gain a strong foothold in the console market. The quality of their software, especially their first party games, was always of the highest caliber. Looking at the N64, it had some of the greatest games of all time; easily a match for the number of essential exclusives on the opposing Playstation One. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Mario 64 are arguably the two most important videogames of the 3D age. But, because the N64′s cartridges were far more expensive to produce than Sony’s CDs, developers shied away from taking risks on the format (leaving the console with a poor catalogue of third party titles), which meant it could never compete with Sony’s box housing the likes of Metal Gear, Final Fantasy and Resident Evil.
The Gamecube was the same story. Fantastic first party software – you really can’t go wrong with the Wind Waker, Two 3D Metroids and Mario Sunshine – was again let down by a lack of third party support – excluding Resi 4, of course. The cute and cuddly Cube was marred with the same ‘just for the kiddies’ image as the 64. And as Nintendo were facilitating their fanboys with Mario, Link and Samus, letting the casual crowd pass them by, Sony were finally penetrating the mainstream conscience with edgy Wipeout ads and unprecedented marketing campaigns.
It’s no surprise then that the unveiling of the Wii – where the company proudly proclaimed their console would conquer that consciousness – at E3 2006 was met with sniggers and a tirade of tutting. Apart from being a punner’s paradise – the wag who dubbed it the ‘Wiinus’ must be particularly proud – it had a strange and confusing controller and technically was no match for Microsoft’s 360 or Sony’s PS3. Nevertheless, the Wii has become a rampant success story amassing a user base of tens of millions in less than two years. And why? Simple. Ninty, after four failed attempts, finally found the casual crowd.
Yep, the heart of the Big N was no longer to be found in the land of Hyrule, a manic Mazza triple jump, or the haunting solitude of an Aran adventure; but in the vapid, shallow realm of the party game, flailing about like a blindfolded baboon and the blindingly white teeth of models. Ninty had found their success not through programming ingenuity or artistic mastery, but through slick marketing moguls, intuitive – if not fully realized – motion controls and, more than anything else, through families.
Conquering the casual market by grabbing grannies’ attention with something they could understand and play as easily as their grandkids was the key for Nintendo. And it’s ultimately what the Wii’s success has been built on. Quite why anyone would want to sit around with their family while dad grimaces and grinds to a sesh of Wii Fit is beyond me – really you lazy sods, join a gym and reclaim your dignity. I can however, see the appeal of the party game, and for a medium that has continually been chastised for encouraging insular, unsocial behaviour, the Wii’s success is testament to the wonderful social tool videogames can become.
Still, even, though, I’ve loved Nintendo for many years, I can’t help resent them for their success. Don’t get me wrong, after years of producing some of the most beloved characters and games the industry has even seen they fully deserve the mountains of moolah they’re now amassing. But it’s not really those characters or games that are dragging in the Dinero. No, it’s annoying Ian Wright ads, the image of the beautiful, and soulless tele family playing Wii Sports and housewives everywhere trying to fight the fat with Wii Fit. Nintendo have seemingly never worked less for so much success.
A company who produced the greatest games of all time and got ignored for over a decade to a company who peddled fun, but ultimately shallow and soulless, family games that captured the world’s imagination.
Enigma doesn’t even begin to cover it.