The Six Year Shake
Although I do not own a Wii U, I am very familiar with its packaging. Since first going on sale in the US in November (it was released in the UK last weekend and is only days away in Japan) it has been rather difficult to avoid pictures of Wii U boxes and games posted online, as consumers proudly display their enthusiasm for Nintendo and/or cardboard. Although I am intrigued by the hardware, I had no intention of adopting at launch, but that didn’t prevent me from sharing in everyone’s excitement and reminiscing about the console it will replace.
The Nintendo Wii was my introduction to the seventh generation of home consoles. Back in 2007, the PS3 was still an overly expensive luxury and another two years would pass before I'd drunkenly buy an Xbox 360. The vast majority of my gaming was spread between my PS2, PSP and DS, but that all changed when my wife surprised me with a birthday Wii. I was very happy that the weekly trips to Akihabara, one sided conversations about my PSP and the games that littered our living room had not been lost on her, and that I finally had a console that didn't need hooking up to a voltage converter.
At the time, many retailers were still allocating the Wii by lottery system, as it overtook the DS as the most sought after and least available electronic on the Japanese high street. The Wii was my first Nintendo home console - ours was a SEGA playground and the PlayStation 1 and 2 provided ample gaming for a teenager with no nostalgic ties to Nintendo - and I felt more than a little conflicted when I unplugged my Saturn to make room for the enemy. The guilt quickly passed, once I'd seen my likeness smack a baseball into the stands, and it wasn't long before Wii pains were an acceptable reason for sighing when sitting down.
I certainly wasn’t the only one suffering from Wii elbow, as the system eclipsed even the most optimistic of sales forecasts. Nintendo had been steadily losing market share since the early nineties and the Wii was a gamble that had to pay off, which of course it did, trouncing both the 360 and PS3 in early hardware sales. It launched in most territories at the tail end of 2006, bundled with Wii Sports, and was so popular that console and peripheral shortages continued well into 2008.
|No More Heroes|
While it lacked the power and multi-media capabilities of the 360 and PS3 – Nintendo never officially denied that the Wii was two GameCubes sellotaped together – it still flourished, thanks to a novel and accessible form of player input, and software that focused on well-loved franchises and games for all ages and experience. Your Mum, Dad and Gran were heavily courted by Nintendo, leading to a period of success that trumped even the NES/SNES golden age, one which we are unlikely to see again. It didn’t matter that third party developers were not porting their AAA titles; so long as Wii owners had their copies of Wii Sports and Wii Fit and were still receptive to another Mario, then Nintendo would continue to shit gold like a Lannister.
For the first few months, my Wii was good for two things: Mii based entertainment and the shooting of Nazis. Medal of Honour Heroes 2 arrived at a more innocent time, when Nazis didn't have to be zombies and MoH wasn't pushing violent beards and tomahawks. It worked well with the Wii-mote and nunchuck, offering a considerable challenge, and was not the watered down shooter that I had expected from a console built around family friendly games. Wii Play was a limited collection of mini games, but perfect for those first few weeks when Mii creation seemed like the best thing in the world. However, for the most part, it was Wii Sports that was living in our disc drive. It was the reason to own a Wii and remains an exemplar local multiplayer game.
So many of my Wiimories (memories) revolve around Wii Sports. The promise of four player tennis ensured that at least a few of our guests would arrive on time for our annual Sumida-gawa fireworks party. Despite three years of attending one of the biggest displays in the world, which happened to take place 50 metres from our front door, I have precious few memories of the actual fireworks (I blame the cheap absinth) but I still fondly recall our increasingly competitive pre-party Wii Sports tournaments, with the furniture pushed aside and the beers flowing. Though much of the novelty had worn off by the time Resort arrived, we still occasionally revisit Sports for a round of golf nostalgia or to see if the training modes still think I have the reactions and hand to eye co-ordination of a pensioner.
My favourite single player experience on the Wii has to be No More Heroes. It is the game that best reflects Suda 51's style and approach to development and remains his best game. Travis is a lovable loser and, in all my years of gaming, few things have pleased me so much as listening to incoming phone calls through the Wii-mote speaker. The combat embraced and benefited from motion controls, instead of simply making space for it, and like some sort of demented Shadow of the Colossus, the focus on boss fights worked beautifully, thanks to some of the weirdest and most entertaining foes you'll ever kill. I did try the sequel, but by that point the PS3 had already turned me into a HD snob and I couldn't see past its ugliness.
|Wii U and Box|
Wii Sports and light sabre disembowelments aside, my Wii has done two things exceptionally well: karaoke and on-rail shooters. Having little to no interest in the Nintendo staple of Italians, big eared boys and chimps in ties, I found in other less celebrated games compelling reasons to keep playing my Wii. The on-rails genre lends itself perfectly to motion controls, with or without a plastic Uzi attachment. Umbrella and Darkside Chronicles are probably the two best Resident Evil games since RE4 and Dead Space Extraction proved that linear shooters could feature compelling narrative; House of the Dead collection did nothing of the sort, but was still pure arcade fun.
Joysound Karaoke DX, with its 65,000 songs, allowed us to preserve one of our favourite past time activities from Japan, while also annoying our neighbours. The thought of doing karaoke on the Wii U, utilizing the tablet for song selection in the same way that karaoke booths do, had me quite excited until I discovered that the hardware is region locked. I can't see myself buying a Japanese U just for some Saturday night tunes. I even managed to get my family involved in Wii karaoke. Our extended session last Christmas left me emotionally scarred, but content that I had finally gotten my parents to show interest in a gaming console, even if it wasn't strictly for games.
I have no great urge to jump into the next generation of Nintendo home consoles. With the possible exception of ZombiU, there are no launch titles that interest me, and £300+ is a lot of money for cockney zombies. That being said, I am intrigued by the hardware which, along with Monster Hunter, should be enough to warrant a purchase sometime next year. For now, I'm content sticking with my Wii, a console that filled a niche in our living room that I didn't know was there. With sports, rails and karaoke, it continues to justify its spot under the TV, even if the Sellotape is starting to show.