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Why Wii Fail – Two Years Later the Nintendo Wii’s Shortcomings Become More Glaring With Age
Over two years into the life span of the hot selling Nintendo Wii console it’s time to take a step back and evaluate some of the console’s most frustrating shortcomings and how this cash cow of a machine could have been so much more. Personally, I had my Wii in hand the day it came out and was instantly thrilled. Nowadays, I still look at the cute little white box lovingly, but find myself continuously baffled by the shortsightedness of Nintendo in execution and curse it on a regular basis for a number of reasons.
I had never been so hyped for a new toy. My first impression was love at first sight. The interface, the controllers, Wii Sports, Zelda, all just a phenomenal start for my little buddy. Sure Red Steel was a bit of a let down. The control style was weak rather than revolutionary, but hey, it was the Wii’s first shot at translating a first person shooter to the motion control set.
I came to some early conclusions. First, Wii Sports bowling, while simplistic, was hands down the best video game bowling simulation I had ever played. The entire Wii Sports package was very complimentary to the console’s control scheme. Second, Zelda: Twilight Princess, while an outstanding entry into the series, really wasn’t helped or hindered by the control set. It was the first example of kind of forcing some motion control schemes into a title that didn’t benefit from it. Still, it wasn’t an overall detriment for the game.
On the other hand, I also picked up Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, since I’d always liked the series. I was torn by this title. The main game itself was absolutely made for the new motion-sensitive control set. It did revolutionize the title. The mini-games on the other hand were mostly hit and miss.
Surprisingly, two years later, the console hasn’t come very far in my eyes, and the farther it does advance, the more it shows its weakness. So consider this my open letter to Nintendo on what’s really spoiling the Nintendo Wii for me and many others. I’m going to be the first to admit, though I still really do love my little Wii, but it’s only really busting the market because of the low price point and wide ranging demographic appeal. I’ve owned every Nintendo console since the original NES, I was a massive Atari-head back in the 2600 days, and I’ve spent many years gaming hardcore FPS on PC as well as owning both the original XBOX and the 360. I’m decently rounded in this category, with only the PS2 and PS3 being out my realm of experience, but for purposes of this article I’ll remain Sony neutral.
” It’s All About the Looks. Let’s beat the horse that’s been dead the longest first. The graphics power of the Wii was sub-par from the day it came out. Not surprisingly, Nintendo wasn’t too thrilled about sharing a lot of detail on the hardware specs before release. It’s base of a PowerPC “broadway” processor with an unspecified ATI GFX processor left a lot guessing, but just from a simple performance and eye-candy test from a casual player, it’s just not really very impressive. Even with some of the newest titles it’s obvious that graphics are not this console’s strong point. That’s okay, that’s hardly the most important piece of a console, but I think it’s a serious hit to longevity and credibility in the gaming community when Nintendo’s “next gen” console really can’t even compare favorably to Microsoft’s “last gen” XBox console. Pixel per pixel, the best looking Wii games can barely compete with the best Original XBox titles.
Even completely giving Nintendo a pass on not giving us better than 480P output, when you start putting the graphics out to a HD set, even the highest power titles are pale. It really starts to hit home when you see even ported games like the latest Call of Duty title having to cut major components of game play to even translate down to something the Wii can handle. Some of the sharpest looking of the Wii games look “rough” around the edges, so to speak when playing on high resolution screen. There’s not really an argument to be made here, it’s simply a fact. I have an extremely hard time arguing for even anything beyond “modest” improvement over the graphics of it’s older sibling Game Cube Console.
Yes, graphics don’t make the game, but when you jump back between something as astoundingly sharp and beautiful as the original Gears of War to even the hottest and greatest of the Wii titles it’s not even a fair comparison. I don’t think Nintendo needs to push to be the best in the graphics race, but I think Nintendo needs to at least put itself in the same class, which it simply hasn’t done with the visual power of the Wii. Again, this is probably the least important of my concerns about the console, but it’s still a significant black mark on the Wii and one of the reasons that that it still has trouble bridging that gap to hardcore gamers. The problem is not just how the titles look, but the low processing power of the unit also limits aspects of gameplay. Some of the latest generation game engines can’t even be developed on the Wii because it’s simply the scrawny weakling of the big three consoles. Nintendo seems happy with hot sales and a wide appeal and just a small chunk of the heavy gamers market, but I think they could have gotten away with a little bit more effort even if it had driven the price point up a bit more.
” An Unimpressive Walk Down the Video Game Aisle. How many Wii owners have really taken a good hard look at the titles in Wii section of their local Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Game Stop or Future Shop? Apart from a handful of heavy hitter Nintendo exclusives and the yearly round of classic ports like your Madden or Tiger Woods games, the titles available for Wii are phenomenally bland and generic. There is simply a glut of half-assed party games out there. Your standard, rushed out movie tie-ins come and go, and even the occasionally interesting or innovative titles seem too few and far between. When you get past Super Mario Galaxy, Zelda, maybe a few others here and there, how many titles really have you devoting nightly time to your Wii on any regular basis?
I generally find myself looking at my cross-platform releases on the 360 instead of the Wii, even in games where graphics aren’t really an issue like your Guitar Hero or Rock Bands. Madden still doesn’t really fully translate to the Wii-mote/Nunchuk style of play, and face it, if I really am going to hit up a game for a lot of hours and in-depth gaming, I’d rather boost my gamer-score on X-Box Live and play in HiDef. I can’t really pin-point one cross-platform title that is significantly improved, if improved at all by the motion control set of the Wii.
Don’t get me wrong, when the motion control set is implemented with thought and care, in games like Mario Galaxy it’s a beautiful thing. But it’s really the exception rather than the rule. Sure there are lots of Wii games out there, and they’re retailing $10.00 cheaper, but the selection is anemic at best. Why is this? The heavy hitters in game development don’t take the console seriously.
A prime example of this is in a comment from Mark Rein at Epic Games:
“I don’t think there’s a lot of money on making engines for the Wii because the big software dollars right now are being earned on Xbox 360 and they’re going to be earned on PlayStation 3, and I think unless you’re going to sell your engine to Nintendo, you’re going for scraps on that platform.”
I’m not holding up Epic as the end-all of game studios, but Rein makes some good points. For a studio like Epic which prides itself on pushing the envelope in game engine and performance, it’s a tremendous step backward making a game for a current gen console that’s still using last-gen technology. The current incarnation of the Unreal Engine cannot even be scaled down to run on the Wii’s hardware specifications. Developing for the Wii is simply about putting out titles quick and cheap to turn a buck unless your name happens to be “Nintendo.” And let’s face it, Nintendo may have some legendary properties, but they aren’t churning out Mario and Zelda quality titles very often.
” The Storage Capacity of a $5.00 Thumb Drive. One of the most massive disappointments of Nintendo’s short-sightedness is the they built a console around a platform to highlight downloadable content and then gave the console virtually no storage capacity to handle it. It’s a perplexing issue to say the least, because one of the strengths of the console showcases its most glaring weakness.
When confronting my biggest frustration of my Wii it’s the fact that over the last few months I’ve gotten more quality game play time from Wii-Ware titles than I have over-the-counter titles. There are some exceptional titles now available on Wii-Ware. World of Goo is one of the best dollar for dollar investments I’ve made in the console. Boingz is another great Wii-Ware title and I’m currently putting some time into some other quality Wii Ware titles like Lit, a third person puzzle game and Onslaught, a surprisingly good First Person Shooter, well worth the 1000 Wii Point ($10.00) investment.
But let’s look at this dilemma. The console has 512 meg of useable flash memory. That is absolutely nothing. I can get that much memory over the counter in a thumb drive for pocket change. If I hit a decent sale, I can get a 2 gig flash drive nowadays for $10-$15.00. I just bought a 4 Gig Mini-SD card for my digital camcorder for $14.95 last month. Now don’t start with the “but it’s expandable by another 2 gig with an SD card” argument. That’s total deception. Let’s just ignore the fact that upon its release, Nintendo was gouging people for $90.00 bucks for the 2 gig SD cards with the “Wii” logo on them back in 2007. For those that are considering owning a Wii console, make sure you understand that the SD expansion is not useable memory. It’s simply a storage dump. You can’t even access save game info on it, much less play stored titles.
Even if it was a quick task to swap for games and data back and forth between the SD card and the flash memory it would still be a major inconvenience. However, Wii owners know that even the data swapping process is painfully slow. It’s amazing how long it takes to copy even a modestly sized game from flash memory to the SD drive. It can often take several minutes, then inexplicably, it can actually take a couple of more minutes alone to delete the original data off the flash memory (though that’s seemed to have improved with some of the more recent updates to the Wii OS). What this means is that while we are getting better and more sophisticated Wii Ware titles available, you pretty much have to go through this dumping process every time you want a new one, then make hard decisions about what to keep and what to store back on the SD.
In addition, some of the cooler things that Nintendo itself is offering, like the Internet-based Nintendo Channel that has some nice features, content and video playback ability take up scads of memory blocks. I had to finally dump the Nintendo channel just to accommodate a Wii-Ware title. How could Nintendo not anticipate this issue? I would totally back off this if the expandable SD memory was directly usable by the system. I could live with a solid 2.5 gig on this console, but it just isn’t there. I can promise that if Nintendo were to release a small external memory expansion where the storage was directly accessible and usable by the console it would sell like hotcakes. It’s not just downloadable titles that are the issue, it starts to run into silly issues that are alien to consoles like the 360 and PS3. Rock Band or Guitar Hero for instance. I see a small track package of songs I’d like to own, I can download them on to my 360 hard drive. On Wii, there’s an entire source of income they’re missing in downloadable add-ons. Of course, you can still get those add-ons by buying an additional disc for near full-game price on Wii. However, it’s simply another outstanding reason to continue buying titles that are cross-platform on the consoles that can handle game patches, title updates and downloadable content. Right now, I would say that the Wii investment alone is worth it for the Virtual Console and Wii Ware titles coming out. But the storage capacity simply cripples this machine as a viable platform for this type of content.
” Who’s Wii is this anyway? While the above concerns I all consider major drawbacks, this and the next concern are not quite as much of “game-breakers” for me, but just add a couple of more irritations. That being said, I don’t give a damn if you think it’s not fair to compare the consoles, I’m going to use the Xbox 360 as a template of what works for this specific concern. The Wii needs better differentiation and organization for its player profiles. The 360 does a wonderful job of this. With the Wii, you can create your own “Mii” avatar that represents you, which was a cute feature that was uber-cool for the entire first 3 weeks you owned the console, but there is still no “profile” system for the console like you have in the Xbox 360 world. When I boot my 360, I log on to my profile. For multiplayer, we can log into multiple profiles at once. Within this profile all my game data is stored and accessible. I can customize my environment, game settings, personal information, etc. The Wii has still not evolved beyond the 20 year old system of each game managing it’s own data. The sad part of this is that it’s a badly needed on this console because of its tremendous appeal to very young gamers who tend to spend more time playing around in menus and settings when they shouldn’t.
Every gamer that gets on the console has full access to all saved game data, console settings, everything. I want a profile. I love the fact that when I get on the 360 I feel like my console environment is mine. When I’m on my profile and boot a disc, I only see my own personal game data. Of course, this all plays into whole Gamer Score system on Xbox Live. I know that Wii Console owners trivialize “Gamer Score,” but the excitement and appeal of this feature in the Xbox world is a huge draw. Just like you used to chug quarters into the Asteroids Machine to move your initials up on the high score list, Gamer Points are a thing of pride and status in the Xbox world, and it’s only possible by having personalized profiles. In the Wii universe every player that picks up a controller has full access to mess with everyone else’s data without a second thought. Can you do this on a 360? Of course, but it has to pre-meditated. You have to log into someone else’s profile and do it. Every player can password their profile if they feel threatened by that. This comes down to having an “identity” as a gamer in the Xbox world. On the Wii, your only identity is what you have disc to disc or title to title. That’s just so 1988.
” It’s Amazing What Fun You Can Have With One Hand. The major selling point of the Wii apart from the price point of course has been the “revolutionary” control system. The Wii-Mote/Nunchuck system is a radically different concept in gaming. Have you noticed, though how few games really utilize this combination to it’s fullest? Worse yet, have you noticed how completely clumsy some games can be when not really designed for this type of control set? Don’t get me wrong, I actually love the Wii remote. I like the fact that games with a simplistic control set can be played with one hand. But unless your thumb is about four inches long, it’s really not all that great when you have to bring the direction pad into play, or if you actually have to use combinations of these buttons. None of the buttons rest intuitively for play.
I’m not saying that the Wii should abandon this concept, but I really think that certain games should implement a more traditional control system. Dare I say that the they should have redesigned the optional add on “classic controller” to be a bit more like the Game Cube or an Xbox controller and given the option in some games, like the Madden series for instance, for an alternate more traditional control system? The current alternative of turning the Wii-mote on it’s side for some Virtual Console and standard titles never “feels” quite right. I also have an irritating love/hate relationship with the classic controller. For classic Mario fans, I believe most of you will know where I’m coming from with this next concern. Mario is a game based on two buttons. One button you hold down to run, almost universally, this is the button you press with the tip of your thumb while you execute the jump with interior knuckle intuitively. The classic controller layout complete fouls this up by organizing the two buttons that in a configuration where the second button in this scheme doesn’t fall beneath the bend of you thumb anymore.
When it comes to Virtual Console games, I’ve spent a ton of time reliving some great times with Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Mario World and the original classic Super Mario Brothers, but the classic controller layout is just set up for a very difficult ride with these virtual console games as well as others.
My other beef with the controller layout for games like FPS genre entries make the classic “lounging” style of gaming a thing of the past. One of the small pleasures in life is throwing your legs up across the couch. Reclining against al old beat up cushion and resting your hands on a controller in your lap. Having to sit up and be at a reasonable angle sometimes gets to be a real drag and kind of makes the “relaxation” part of gaming a non-option in some cases. Again, this may not be a fair criticism, but it is something I miss when playing certain titles on the Wii.
When the Wii control set works well, it’s a tremendous sense of power, when it doesn’t, it’s a massive drag.
This has been a pretty long-winded complaint session for the Wii Console. In fairness, I love the fact that this console is such a huge hit. It shows that these very high price-points for consoles like the PS3 and XBOX 360 are drawbacks for these machines even with as much power and functionality as they have. It’s sadly humorous to see Microsoft redesign the Xbox Dashboard to give more “Wii” like features like Mii-Style avatars as if that’s going to make a difference in stealing some of Nintendo’s market share. It’s proof that they are completely out of touch with why the Wii is so popular.
However, I do think that long term that Nintendo is setting up for failure for continuing to put out technology that is so far behind the curve in most respects. With the average gap between each generation of consoles that are released, think about how antiquated Wii hardware will seem in 2011. Can you imagine 2 years from now Nintendo introducing a console that finally has graphics on par or slightly better than the original Xbox?
There has to be a compromise that keeps Nintendo’s efforts at least in the ballpark with current gen technology. There is a whole segment of the gaming community that doesn’t give the Wii a serious look, and I have to believe that Nintendo is missing out on long term opportunity to grow their product line.
It’s been very easy the past year or so for Nintendo to step back and not really care about some of the concerns like I’ve expressed above because they can pretty much simply point to the still heavy demand for their product. However, even though I’m a mutli-console household by choice, I can’t imagine being at a point where I would settle on the Nintendo Wii as my “primary” or only console no matter how much I would miss the sucker. Imagine all the things you really love about the Wii rolled up to console with the power and diversity of something like the 360.
So this is my laundry list. I think that most of these are pretty simple to fix and still keep their console up to 25% lower than the retail cost of the 360 or PS3. However, if I’m the owner of one of those other consoles, walking through the Wii section of the department store would make me take pause to consider whether the Wii is worth the investment. If Nintendo continues to think that they can stay on top of the market with nothing more than the name, a couple of heavy hitting properties and cheap price tag, I believe they are in for a rude awaking with the next thing decide to put out on the market. They should certainly step back and take certain stock in how Sony counted on PS2 loyalty would translate to sales for the PS3 regardless of the price. Customer loyalty to the brand will only take you so far.
Get to work, Nintendo! In the next couple of years Microsoft and Sony are going to catch up with the features of the Wii that make it unique and force you to play on more even ground with the other big boys on the block. The next generation of Nintendo’s consoles better come equipped to compete.
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