Friday, February 04, 2011


Nintendo Abandons the Casual!

When details behind the Wii were being hammered out, as the legend goes, Nintendo's developers all got together and started brainstorming ideas for what to do with the platform. These ideas became Nintendo's famous line of "casual-friendly" software: Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit, and Wii Music. Sports was a system-seller. Play enjoyed the benefit of sneaking in with a second controller. Fit flew off the shelves for basically the same reason as anything else that seems to offer a shortcut to weight loss. Nintendo was on a roll. The story was that Wii Music was the last idea to come out of that fabled brainstorming session. Critical and financial failure aside, this led to a rather natural question: what's next?

Well, next was Wii Motion Plus and a sequel to Wii Sports. Well, okay, fair enough. Wii Sports is practically synonymous with the system itself. Even though the store shelves are choked with sports games put out by third party developers trying to catch Nintendo's coattails, it's still kinda nice to see an official sequel, especially since it helped to solidify Wuhu Island as a recurring setting for Nintendo's games. The hardware that it came packed with was kind of hard to get excited about.

"The controller can tell how you're moving it!"

"... Doesn't the controller already do that?"

"Yeah, but this is better!"

Then we got... Wii Fit Plus! No new hardware this time, just an expansion pack for the original software. And... to be fair, it's a great upgrade. There's new games, pre-built routines, custom routines, a streamlined interface, and a lot more Wuhu Island. And it was polite of them to release the standalone disc at a rock-bottom $20. Still, it made one wonder if Nintendo was just going to keep rehashing their proven ideas. Was that really it?

And then came... the Vitality Sensor! It was revealed at E3 with the promise of software that could help you to relax. Here's the Nintendo I want to see -- crazy gadgets and crazier games. Well done, can't wait to see what you're doing with it.

Then 2010 rolled around.

Arguably, it was a pretty good year for Nintendo fans. New Metroid game, new Mario Galaxy, new Kirby game. Here's classic Nintendo, rolling out new chapters in all of the classic franchises. But something felt missing.

We haven't heard a single peep about the Vitality Sensor since that quick look at E3. The only Wii-branded game was Wii Party, a game that felt like sort of an off-handed afterthought among the 2010 lineup. It hardly received the sort of hoopla that Nintendo lavished upon Sports, Fit, or Music. Possibly it's because Nintendo themselves didn't develop it. Possibly it's because the game doesn't really stand out in any way. I haven't played the game, but it looks like Mario Party with Miis. Besides that, you can't throw a rock at a discount rack without knocking over about twenty "party games" for the Wii that nobody's really interested in buying anymore -- if, indeed, they ever were. Wii owners aren't exactly hurting for a new pack of minigames these days.

I dunno. It's possible that Nintendo backed off on the novelty games because they wanted to differentiate themselves from Sony and Microsoft as they started pushing the Move and Kinect. The problem is, I bought my Wii for the novelty games. I like the bright, happy cartoon worlds and the silly caricature people. I like the idea of turning exercise, music, and tropical resorts into video games. I want to see how they plan to make software that can change your mood. I want to see this little white box do things that video games have never done before.

Of course, only time will tell. Maybe this time next year I'll be eating my words.


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