Every gamer has imagined it at one point in their lives. The day when a virtual reality headset or motion capture suit removes the ‘middle man’ of a controller from the game playing experience, and truly draws you into an escapist virtual world where the limits of the corporeal do not apply. We could dance around our respective living rooms, wielding unreal weapons or traversing alien terrain, and all without leaving the house thanks to technical innovations that seem all but guaranteed to arrive at one point or another.
The Wii, back in 2005 appeared to be our first tentative step towards this new horizon, presenting the idea of motion control through an innovative remote shaped wand. Yes, the name was mocked, and the design was likened to a Sky remote, but beneath it all was an unwavering anticipation amongst dedicated gamers. The initial teaser trailers, demonstrating sword fights, shoot-offs and much more, caused a good deal of salivating and set the stage for what many hoped would be the biggest leap in video gaming since the rise of the home console.
That of course was then, and this is now – 2009. We have now spent almost half a decade getting to grips with Nintendo’s machine, and the story that has developed over these years has, for many at least, been one of disappointment.
While it is difficult to argue against the fact that Nintendo has become one of the most successful video game corporations in the world, bringing the medium to the masses and extending the boundaries of what we thought possible with an entertainment console, they seem to have done so at a huge cost. Where once the eponymous red ‘N’ symbol was synonymous with tantamount quality, colourful and memorable characters, and most importantly, unmitigated fun; the birth child of the idolised Shigeru Miyamoto has somewhat dulled in its perceived colour – washing from that vibrant red of youth, to the grim corporate gray as its fields of production have evolved to a barren wasteland of creativity.
While this claim of complete reversal of commercial philosophy may seem extreme, it takes only a mild investigation to uncover its basis. To examine as a starting point, for example, Nintendo’s E3 conference in June 2009, provides a wealth of evidence. While now a fair number of months in the past, it can still be seen as revealing in terms of the companies’ apparent present strategy, and as such appears an overwhelming disappointment. One needs only look at the announcements to get a flavour for the stale – recycled IP’s such as _Mario_, _Zelda_ and _Metroid_ appear once again, supplemented only by continuations in the ‘Wii-(Sports/Music/Fit etc.)’ franchise and uninspiring third-party contributions.
While the core series’ in this list do have an undeniable quality, it is hard to overlook the thinly veiled premise that Nintendo is simply milking its most profitable franchises, without real thought as to how to advance themselves as a creative component of the industry. Combine this with another shed load of ‘Wii Music’-type games and you are left with a truly diluted offering to say the least.
Indeed, it is not only Nintendo’s willingness to abandon its own creative frontiers, it is the fact that they so shamelessly allow third-party developers to produce sub-par and near identical titles under the vague umbrella of ‘casual experiences’; a term so widely batted about in the rhetorical exchanges between developers and the respective gaming press that it seems to have lost all meaning as a specific referent. While casual gaming is by no means a thing to discourage, after all it has made games more accepted in the mainstream, and expanding appreciation for the medium can be no bad thing; it is the fact that games for the Wii currently seem to interchange ‘casual’ as a label for ‘lacking content’ or ‘unfathomably easy’ without a second thought. Surely the appeal of a game is to overcome an obstacle or challenge? If such a challenge is lacking the game becomes an empty experience, akin to an action film without stunts, a song with no instrumental track. The basic structure of the medium is sapped.
So how have we got here? What happened to those aspirations to real time light sabre duels and true immersion? While it is fair to say some games have tried to tap into these fantasies, none have really excelled. In fact, the most critically acclaimed games on the Wii remain those for which the preferred method of control is an old GameCube pad or the classic controller, such as the superb _Super Smash Bros. Brawl_. _The Red Steel’s_ of this world have come and gone, leaving little impression beyond a tainted memory of clunky controls and unrealised game play mechanics, possibly demonstrating why so many developers for the Wii, and possibly Nintendo themselves, have shied away from attempting to fuse more mature concepts with the technical innovations.
However, it seems reasonable to assume that it is not a lack of positive critical reception that has truly allowed the stagnation that we can witness today. Developers have been panned in the past and yet have come back fighting, attempting to better their mistakes and still strive for that end goal. No, the additional puzzle to the piece is not an inability to make more traditional games work on the Wii, moreover it is a lack of willing. Without stunning controls, traditional gamers found the Wii’s lack of processing power frustrating compared to the alternatives of the Xbox 360 and eventually the Playstation 3. As with any medium, a lack of sales is going to result in a change of tact, and in the case of the Wii, it was to appeal to a more family-friendly, causal market. The developers have seemed to simply stop trying to force something that, in their eyes, will not be. The Wii, in a sense has become a medium of its own, catering to a completely different audience and creating a schism between Nintendo and the wider gaming community. Whether this schism is of a natural inclination or not is questionable, but what is undeniable, is that it has been the result of economics and market manipulation.
Such analysis therefore begs the question – what does the future hold for the Wii? With predictions indicating that the next generation of consoles will not be with us for another few years, the Wii has a foreseeable shelf life and thus can be addressed as a commodity with hope still invested in it. While advances such as the new ‘MotionPlus’, allowing gamers 1:1 control with their WiiMote, hints at Nintendo looking beyond simply churning out more party games which involve some manic waggling or sweeping, and towards games with a more subtle element of input; the fact that we only now have been presented with this development, and that it was bundled with, and assumedly primarily developed for, _Wii Sports Resort_ (essentially Wii Sports 2) is indicative of the fact that Nintendo are still very much placed in a comfy position on their laurels. If viewed with a completely honest eye, it seems unlikely that as long as the money continues to pour in, Nintendo are going to change their development strategy, or long term aims for the console any time soon.
So what of us traditional gamers, and our lofty ambitions for the ‘Revolution’ that Nintendo promised us with the Wii’s development title those five years ago? Well, with Microsoft’s ‘Project Natal’ and Sony’s own impressive motion capture wand announced at the same E3 that caused so much disappointment for long-time Nintendo fans, perhaps ‘pressing X to jump’ really is becoming a thing of the past. While the Wii has taught us, if anything, to be cautious with our anticipation, one can’t help but feel the excitement start to bubble again, as we sense another era around the corner…