Could the Wii fail?

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posted 8/9/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii

2: Virtual Console.

The massive backlog of Nintendo games is potentially one of the Wii’s greatest assets—and an equally dangerous threat, if fumbled.  Iwata has promised original content on the VC, the aforementioned simple low-budget games, and that’s great—we need an avenue for indie developers.  But we also need our classics, just like a literary connoisseur needs Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby.  And in the gaming sense of classics, that is where we hit our first major snag: the Virtual Console will be Rare-less. 

That’s right.  Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, they’ll all be totally absent.  Every IP owned by Rare will never see new life on Wii, but will more than likely show up on Xbox Live Arcade.  For Nintendo, that is very bad.  We all know that Rare saved the N64.  You can talk up and down about Ocarina of Time, Mario 64 and the rest of the first party hits until you’re blue in the face.  It doesn’t change the fact that a massive chunk of Nintendo fans cut their gaming teeth on masterworks from the UK developer.

For a practical example, I didn’t have the slightest interest in Nintendo until GoldenEye 007.  Once I played that hallowed shooter, I was a Nintendo fan for life.  GoldenEye was the hinging point for many fans, and without it, the N64 download section will feel fundamentally wrong.  However, with the Bond license being tossed about in a mess of red tape, there’s a slim chance we’ll see GoldenEye anywhere soon, except right where it began: on that N64 cartridge you still have in your attic.  But that still doesn’t give us the rest of Rare’s gold.  About the only saving grace is Donkey Kong 64, as Nintendo still owns that property and Rare will grudgingly have to allow them to use it on the VC.  The rest of those classic franchises are for Microsoft to do with as they please.

But not all is lost.  Far from it, actually.  The NES, SNES and N64 catalogues will go mainly untouched, with most, if not all of Nintendo’s first party software showing up eventually.  Third parties are coming out of the woodwork now, with Sega going so far as to put their own Genesis titles on the VC.  Hudson is onboard with their slim but good Turbografx-16 library.  Here’s hoping Sega will include 32X and Sega CD games.  The real problem is polish and porting.  We’ve all seen crummy emulators, some of us know the inane hassles of getting them to work, and Nintendo could capitalize on that hassle by offering a much easier (and legal) alternative.  A quick micro-transaction and you could be playing a fast easy game of Mario Kart 64 or Sonic and Knuckles.  No plugins, no controller setups, just buy and play.  This is where Nintendo’s double-edged sword of simplicity will serve them best.

But suppose they don’t go the extra mile, and give us a half-baked emulator?  The demos at E3 were somewhat rough, with Mario 64 lacking anti-aliasing and Bonk’s Adventure looking rather grainy.  PR people reassured us that the demos weren’t at all final builds, so hopefully we won’t be stuck with a worse deal than pilfering illegal ROMs from spyware-infested websites.

We also have the issue of storage.  Wii’s 512MB of internal flash memory could theoretically hold every NES and SNES game, but only a few of the really big N64 titles.  And we still have to take save games into account for the actual Wii software.  Yes, there will be support for SD cards, but until I can hook up a beastly 120GB external hard drive, I won’t be completely happy.

That leaves the classic-style controller.  I played around with it a bit at E3, and it takes some definite getting used to, but it’s serviceable.  They’ve actually done a decent job on a pad that’s supposed to work for five console’s worth of games, with only the N64 controls feeling awkward.  There might be some ergonomic add-ons for the VC controller, to make it more comfortable for N64 use.  Just as long as they reposition that cramp-inducing Z button…

Probability of Disaster: Medium
I say this because so many things could go wrong.  Omitting the wrong games from the list or pricing them too high could spell doom.  Decades-old software should be priced in the iTunes neighborhood of $1 or so per game; I’m not paying $20 for an N64 game when I can get the original cartridge at EB for half that price.  Meanwhile the classic controller still has a ways to go before it fits like the proverbial glove.  The absence of Rare will be felt deeply by all old-school Nintendo fans, the exact market that Nintendo is aiming for with the nostalgia-laden VC.  The ability to use the near-perfect GameCube controller for all the downloadable games would solve several problems.  The GCN saw many ports of older games—NES Metroid, Zelda: Link to the Past and Ocarina—so it can clearly triple team for Nintendo’s older consoles at the very least, and it shouldn’t have much trouble conforming to the Genesis and TG-16.  Then they’ll need a significant storage option for the nostalgia buffs who want to download every last game they offer on the VC.


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