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:
Battalion Wars 2*
Big Brain Academy
Disaster: Day of Crisis*
DK Bongo Blast*
Mario Kart (not officially announced)
Mario Party 8
Mario Strikers Charged*
Metroid Prime 3*
Pokemon Battle Revolution
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Paper Mario
Super Smash Brother Brawl
* Published but not developed by Nintendo
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.
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
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:
Raid over the River
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
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.
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.