Revolution. It’s a word that most gamers, and most Nintendo fans, have long since forgotten. A code name, a buzz word, a piece of marketing hype. But in the days before Wii, it used to mean something. Revolution was not just the promise of just a new console, better graphics and (finally) online play, but an entirely new way of playing videogames. Nintendo fans envisioned all of their favorite game series transformed by a groundbreaking new control technology with a host of new franchises constructed around the new controls. We could see it, how motion controls would bring us one step closer to total immersion in already deep genres like RPGs, adventure games and especially first person shooters. Amid this pre-launch blue-skying was Nintendo’s subtle but persistent promise that their Revolution would open gaming to an entirely new audience, a group of people who had never or rarely touched games at all.
Wonderful, we though. What could be better than introducing our parents, grandparents, significant others and otherwise gaming-illiterate acquaintances to our favorite pastime? If Nintendo released a few brief introductory games, like the Wii Sports they were talking about so much, it wouldn’t be long before grandma was galloping across the verdant fields of Hyrule. Well, maybe that’s a bit too optimistic, but at least our significant others would finally understand our devotion to the medium.
The promise of a revolution has gone unfulfilled. The brief set of tutorial games started by Wii Sports has grown into a glut of mediocrity. Third parties and even Nintendo have repeatedly take the easy way out. Minigame collections—little more than compilations of proof-of-concept-demos—far outnumber the quality software on the Wii. The console is phenomenally popular among the casual crowd that Nintendo was aiming for, not as a pioneer of modern gaming, but as just another fad. Nintendo might brag that they’ve outsold their competitors two to one, but the majority of those millions of sold Wiis are collecting dust. Meanwhile the hardcore audience, the loyal fans who have kept Nintendo in business for over two decades, are being ignored.
Last year’s pathetic E3 press conference is a prime example of this. Nintendo apologized and held another conference a few months later to make up, but from past experience, I’d have to say that half the games announced at that conference won’t see the light of day. Nintendo knows who’s buttering their bread: grandparents, bored housewives, and the cult of Oprah. Any scraps they toss to the hardcore crowd are just to placate them. It can’t last. Eventually they’ll saturate the market with minigames, the casuals will grow bored and move on to the next fad, and the bottom will fall out of the Wii market.
Nintendo needs to get back to work, shake off the Scrooge McDuck syndrome and put some of that copious cash to work making real games for real gamers. They can still deliver on the promise of immersion, and most of it hinges on their new Wii Motion Plus peripheral, a hardware add-on that gives the Wii true 1 to1 motion tracking. This little device has the potential to take the Wii the rest of the way to the revolution, but it won’t do any good if Nintendo bundles it with Wii Sports 2 and calls it a day.
Nintendo is notorious for squandering their hardware’s potential; both the N64 and the GameCube has abilities that were scarcely used if not at all. With the Wii over two years into its life cycle, it’s time for Nintendo to stop wasting time and start work on the second wave of Wii software. In the next part of my “needs to make” series, I’ll detail the genres Nintendo should innovate in, and a host of old series that can be reinvented for the Wii.
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