Wither Wii

With the Wii, Nintendo made the argument that its new generation of games would be about innovative game design and not raw graphics power. Now that we’re into year two of the system, I find myself thinking about how it stacks up against the XBOX 360.

Off the top of my head, here are the big Wii games that Nintendo itself has published:

  • Wii Sports
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • Smash Bros. Brawl

These were all big games for Nintendo, yet I think only Wii Sports qualifies as a major part of Nintendo’s argument. It’s easy to pick up and play with no prior gaming experience. It’s accessible to everyone. The Wii remote’s usage is very intuitive and fun. You couldn’t substitute a normal gaming pad and maintain the same level of immersion. The graphics are simple but endearing. I don’t think the same can be said for the other four offerings listed above. Zelda, admittedly, began life as a GameCube game, and it doesn’t make large use of the Wii remote aside from aiming one’s bow, which isn’t much different than it would be if you were using a mouse or a joystick to aim. Ditto for Metroid. It works nicely, but isn’t so much better than using a mouse on a PC that you’d never want to go back. Collecting Star Bits in Mario Galaxy with the remote pointer is fun, but you could remove that aspect from the game entirely without reducing it very much. Smash Bros., from what I understand, just uses the Wii remote like any other button smashing pad, and you’re fairly encouraged to just use a GameCube or Classic Controller instead.

All of these games were great games, but I think you could put them onto a 360 and they’d play almost identically (and likely look better). In fact, as I think about places where innovative controls drive the experience and graphics take a second chair, the big examplar right now is Rock Band, which isn’t even available for the Wii (yet). And for more traditional gaming, on the 360 you also have Mass Effect, BioShock, Portal, Half-Life 2, Halo 3, Gears of War, and so on. Those are all games I’ve wanted to play over the last year but can’t because I don’t own a 360. Putting myself in the shoes of a 360 owner who doesn’t have a Wii, I’d certainly have wanted to play Zelda and Mario Galaxy. Metroid I was never a big fan of, but it has its pull, and I’ve never been into fighters too much to care about Smash Bros., but again, your mileage may vary. Point being, that’s seven for the 360 and two for the Wii, and neither of those two games are must-plays because of their specific Wii-like attributes, they just happen to be manufactured by Nintendo and thus exclusives to that system.

Now, Wii was a surprise hit to some, so there were studios that didn’t start working on games for it until it was proven to be a success. Additionally, there are studios that aren’t interested in doing anything other than making the same old games, and making them prettier and prettier, so the Wii just doesn’t appeal to them. You can call it lazy, but it’s silly to say that there was anything wrong with the types of games that existed prior to the Wii, so why not just keep making them and making them prettier? Especially when Nintendo itself is still publishing its old standards without adding in much motion control innovation. And this is a very tricky battle for Nintendo to win. Given any “standard” game that could exist both on the 360 and the Wii, the 360 version is always going to look prettier, and is going to have better online integration. So even if versions of Portal, BioShock, et al did come out for the Wii, the 360 copies would still be preferable. I’ve yet to see a multi-platform game where the Wii version added anything to the experience that greatly improved it over the 360’s. Wii Spore could probably beat out any 360 port, but that’s mostly because it would be more closely able to emulate the points and clicks on the Mac/PC version.

I don’t want to come off sounding like I’m unhappy with my Wii. It’s loads of fun. It doesn’t break down all the time like a reported 30% of 360s do. And the price is nice. Post WoW I’ve been a very casual gamer, so it’s not like I’m devoting hours a day to gaming, anyway. The flow of Wii games coming out has been sufficient for my needs, but it you’re only going to buy one system, I think the trade-offs make the Wii a hard call if you’re going to be buying more than one game every 1 ½ - 3 months.

Nintendo has sold enough consoles, and is far less expensive to develop for, that one would think there would be plenty of money in developing exclusives for it. All of the mini-game games have shown that all sorts of interesting things can be done on the Wii, but very few developers have managed to stitch those proofs-of-concepts into full-length gaming experiences. I’m quite certain it can be done, but I’m still waiting to see the cards laid out on the table.