E3 2005, Nintendo unveils the Revolution, its new videogame platform. The console will redefine the way we think about games and the way we interact with them. It will be a revolution in gaming. When compared to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3, it contains significantly less power, but what it lacks in power, it makes up for in innovation. That’s because the Nintendo Revolution will be controlled by your motion. But wait, it’s not a Revolution, it’s a Wii.
While Microsoft and Sony were busy talking gigahertz, gigabytes, gigasamples, megabytes, teraflops and any other silly words you can think of, Nintendo was showing off its new controller: the “Wiimote.” An analysis of the Wii’s core architecture proved that it was roughly 1.5 times as powerful as its predecessor, the GameCube. It lacked a hard drive, DVD drive and its processor reportedly clocked in at a meager 729 MHz. HDTV support was also absent. “The consensus was that power isn’t everything for a console,” commented Shigeru Miyamoto, a member of the Wii development team, “Too many powerful consoles can’t coexist. It’s like having only ferocious dinosaurs. They might fight and hasten their own extinction.” So Nintendo, claiming it would please a larger demographic of gamers, carried on with its Wii while fanboys shed tears of joy, skeptics laughed and the general public looked on in wonder.
Generally speaking, there are two types of gamers: the hardcore gamer and the casual gamer. The hardcore gamer primarily looks for one thing in a videogame, the ability to be immersed in it. He or she wants to feel like they’re in the game. Amongst other things, they want photorealistic eye candy, interactive environments, intelligent AI, and they want the sound of that bullet going by their head to be as chilling as it would be in real life. Better yet, they want all of those things while they go up against the world online. This is exactly what the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 accomplishes with their shear horsepower and integrated online services, but the Wii lacks the muscle and it doesn’t have a service for online gaming. Instead, it tries to immerse the player in a different way.
Why aim your rifle using a thumbstick when you could shoulder it just like a real rifle? This is what the Wii achieves, to a certain extent. In his article “The Battle for Control,” found in the July 2007 issue of Game Informer, E. Daniel Arey poses an interesting question: “How many times can you press the same button configuration over and over and feel something new?” My answer to that would rest in the hands of developers and their requirement to create unique and engaging videogame experiences. But let me ask this, without stunning audio/visual aspects and virtually no online play (as well as downloadable content), how many times can you swing your make-believe bat before it feels like a gimmick? The hardcore gamer knows that graphics are important, not vital, but important. I asked multiple people (who owned both an Xbox 360 and Wii) “would you rather play a sports game on a Wii or an Xbox 360.” Almost all of them responded with Xbox 360. Why? It’s too difficult to get used to the controls on the Wii, worse graphics, no online play, along with a handful of other reasons. The Wii attempts to immerse the player by putting a bat in his or her hands. The other next-gen consoles simply push out “more horsepower, more polys, and more everything” as Mr. Arey so perfectly puts it. Oh, and did I mention online play? There’s a reason that Madden sold more copies on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Change isn’t always good. This is the biggest reason as to why many studios are so apprehensive about developing on the Wii platform.
The casual gamer, on the other hand, is someone who likes to play a quick game and get on with their life. Frankly, that’s not very hard for developers to entertain. The Xbox 360 and PS3 do it with the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Store, respectively. The Wii does it near-flawlessly with games such as Wii Sports as well as its Virtual Console. This is where the Wii truly dominates the competition. Most adults, if at all, are casual gamers. Have you ever noticed that they generally find the Wii more enjoyable? This is why! Nintendo did its best to cater to both hardcore gamers and casual gamers, and, although it has been a valiant attempt, has thus far failed to sustain the hardcore breed.
Ah, you’ve caught on, and you’re right. The Wii did launch to immense success. As of June 2, 2007, an excess of 3,121,280 units have been sold in North America alone according to Nintendo’s latest financial statements. The reason for this is simple: innovation and price point. The console retails for $250, so almost anyone can afford it. Furthermore, it’s different. It’s unprecedented. But with the lack of stellar games like Zelda: Twilight Princess, it’s more or less of a fad, and as all fads do, it will pass unless something is done. While Nintendo is busy riding atop its cloud of launch success, it has lost sight of where its Wii is heading, and for the record, it’s not heading in a good direction. It’s already treading in deep water with the shortage of hardware power, but with the complete deprivation of quality games, online play, and developer support, the Wii will have no choice but to go down. It’s only a matter of time before developers learn to fully harness the Xbox 360 and PS3’s full potential, and then the difference will be all the more noticeable between those machines and the Wii.
Although it’s next-gen in the sense that it was launched in the 7th generation era, it’s truly only halfway to being next-gen until both Nintendo and game developers utilize the Wii’s capabilities to its maximum extent. It features a built-in Wi-Fi adaptor, so why is there no integrated online service similar to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network? Where’s the strong line-up of games Nintendo is usually famous for? It’s sad that one of the platform’s prettiest-looking games was originally a GameCube title. If we don’t see some big games that really exploit the Wii’s control scheme, the whole motion-controlled thing will end up as nothing more than a novelty that wore off.
However, Mr. Arey is entirely correct in stating that unique input devices are part of the future. Whether you think the Wii capitalizes on its innovative control scheme or not, it is shifting things in the right direction, as is the incredibly successful DS. By adding new control styles, we expand developers’ opportunities and assist them in making more captivating titles. Nevertheless, there is no reason to completely rid of button-mashing altogether. Here’s to Wii 2, a console that will have even greater innovations and the horsepower of an Xbox 720!