Farewell To The Nintendo Wii, A Great Gaming System After All

I will not speak ill of the Nintendo Wii, even though others have done so for years. My Wii was a very good gaming console. A weird one, yes. It somehow managed to be popular while remaining niche. Its games were fun, but often a bit ugly. Its best games came out in the middle of its lifespan, not at the end. And it failed to do many of the things it was supposed to do, due to limits of technology or imagination or both.

The Wii is, nevertheless, the console that ran some of my favourite games, including excellent versions of Mario, Zelda and Metroid. Its weird games were among the best oddball titles any gaming console has had. And it remains an innovator whose imitators have yet to improve upon it.

The system is nearly dead. Its last announced Nintendo-published game came out this week (there could be more, but... why?). Its successor, the Wii U, will be re-introduced to the world during a big pre-launch event in New York City on Thursday. What was born as a machine code-named the Revolution will soon officially be retro.

It deserves a proper send-off.

My Happy Life With The Wii

I had two Wiis in the last six years, both supplied by Nintendo. The first arrived in the back of a police car in the middle of Times Square in late 2006. I worked there at the time, and Nintendo public relations was ever in search of a good new promotional stunt (they still were that day). I'd played the Wii before at press events and even dabbled with the machine's signature motion-sensitive remote-shaped controller back in the fall of 2005. None of that blunted the pleasure of finally having a Wii. I played some Wii Sports first, then dove deeply into The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

The Wii had excellent versions of Mario, Zelda and Metroid. Its weird games were among the best oddball titles any gaming console has had.

One of my first and favourite discoveries of the Wii was that I could take it with me. The thing was small: just three DVD cases thick, Nintendo used to proudly hype. I would toss it in my messenger bag so I could plug it in at work or at home and play more. I'd never carried a console around before. This was great, but it also killed my launch Wii in less time than it took my Xbox 360 to red ring. Quarters also fit in my messenger bag, and one of those quarters turned out to also be capable of fitting in my system's disc drive, never to be seen again. The machine died. Nintendo graciously sent me a new one.

The Wii was the first video game console that anyone plugged into my parents' TV since the Odyssey 2, the console my brother and I played in the Totilo household in the early '80s. We would plug an NES and then a SNES in a different room, where my my brother and I kept our toys. When we left the nest, so did game consoles. But in 2006 the Wii was something my parents had to see. My father liked the bowling. We dabbled with tennis. I eventually bought my parents a Wii, their first and probably last game console. My dad liked it for Netflix.

My second Wii never collected dust. A game journalist receives many games in the mail, and the curious one could find plenty to play. I played many, many games on it, despite the ample distractions of my Xbox 360 an PlayStation 3. I have proof that I played many Wii games. The system captured the name of every game I played and counted the hours and minutes. It left me with a record of what I'd done with the machine. Here's that record:

My career Wii playing stats, minus the games I played on my original four-month-old, quarter-eating Wii. (Special guest vocals by my cat)

My top entry was the Nintendo Channel (81 hours, 32 minutes; 60 times), which I used to pull stats just like these for a monthly check on how much play time various Wii games were getting by the online-connected player base.

My top three games, in terms of play time, were The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (55 hours, 52 minutes; 12 times), Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn (48 hours, 47 minutes; 21 times), and Little King's Story (42 hours, 12 minutes; 12 times). The fourth entry, 38 hours in No More Heroes (!) must have been a fluke. Surely I left the game paused overnight or something.

My three least-played games were Madden NFL 08 (4 minutes; 1 time), Super Turrican (1 minute; 1 time), and Blazing Lasers (1 minute; 1 time).

I'm not a horder, and, despite the implications of this essay, I'm not nostalgic about video games. While some gamers enjoy amassing large game collections, I prefer to obtain, play and cull. I used to fancy that I could contain all of my video games on one shelf, a shelf that would only contain the best games. These days, I've spread my games across at least three shelves. My Wii games, at least, just fit one row, after many, many re-cullings:

Caveat: I haven't tried to make room for these yet, mainly because I haven't played much of them.

For the purposes of this reminiscence, I tried to come up with my top five. I failed.

Settle for my top seven?

And here's my top 1.

The Wii's Best Ideas

The Wii was an extraordinary machine and, still, the top-selling console of its generation. It popularised motion-control gaming and reminded society that simple games-the likes of which we really hadn't seen since Pac-Man and Tetris — were the games capable of the broadest appeal. The simple Wii Sports sparked or re-sparked the love of playing a video game in millions of people.

The stealth innovation of the Wii was the Mii, the simplified avatar that anyone who touched the Wii would sculpt for themselves. Before Miis, people rarely saw themselves in video games. With the Miis, in a simple but enchanting way, they did. Miis spawned the creation of player avatars on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but the Miis remained the most charming and the most useful. They could star in game after game and thanks to the Mii parade feature, march their way into friends' consoles. The Wii made us all video game characters. The consequences of that are still unfolding.

The Wii also was the first major console to clearly track its users' stats, a feature buried so deeply that most users probably never saw it. The tracking was limited, just logging the game names, the time played and the number of sessions experienced. But even that tiny bit began to provide the kind of feedback we now enjoy from so many gaming-based activities that tabulate our experience. These days, it seems like every device we have is tabulating something that we do. The Wii may not have been the first system to do any type of counting-the Xbox 360 was tallying achievements a year before the Wii was on sale-but it did so with a thoroughness and clarity that is as modern as it is illuminating.

The Wii also popularised the digital sale of using a new console to play the classics. Before the Wii, Nintendo, Sony, Sega and Microsoft systems were mainly for the games of the generation they were in and maybe, through backwards compatibility, the one from before. The Wii's Virtual Console allowed players to re-buy and re-play games from many cycles before that. It turned back the idea that old games would become literally unplayable unless gamers kept a hold of old consoles that were otherwise obsolete. It helped keep the old games relevant. This concept is so commonplace now that it's hard to remember how unusual it was that Nintendo first let it happen.

Perhaps the best Wii idea of all, and one too little copied in other consumer electronics, was that the device itself lit up when something important had happened to it. If a friend sent you a message or if a game needed an update, the system would start emitting a blue glow from its disc drive. You didn't have to turn the Wii on to know something was ready for your attention; the device's light pattern showed it. Most inert consumer electronics do nothing like this, which is a pity. What a disappointing failure that we don't have more electronics that make themselves useful even while they are more or less turned off.

The Wii's Best Ideas That Didn't Really Happen

Motion control was supposed to be better than the Wii allowed it to be. Even the 2009 Wii controller upgrade Motion Plus offered less than the 1:1 association between character and a player's hand movements that early Wii trailers implied we'd get. The subsequent PlayStation Move motion-control wand for the PS3 did a better job of tracking player movement, but the Wii never managed to let players feel like their motions were truly and finely being tracked. It always felt like the system was guessing about how you just moved, or, in the case of Motion Plus games, guessing a little better. But real, fine motion control that could rival the precision of pressing a button? The Wii never delivered that.

The Wii also failed in some ways users may have not realised. The system was supposed to be as quickly-responsive as a light switch. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, wanted games to partially install into the system so that they'd load faster. The Wii cached a tiny bit of data for each game, but that barely speeded boot-up. He also wanted the Wii's weather, news and other channels to flick by with the speed of changing channels on TV. He figured people could flick the Wii on, zip through its channels as they would a TV and get whatever info or entertainment they needed. This didn't happen, not without pauses that lasted longer than deep breaths between each channel transition.

The Great Games

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is my favourite Wii game. I love the Metroid series, so I'm compromised here. Like all the best Metroids it is a hybrid of sci-fi action and archaeological adventure. Its level design was tight, its art direction masterful.

But let's remember the little games too. Or hear about them here for the first time. There was Cubello, the strange, abstract download-only game that played like omni-directional Tetris. Or there was You, Me and the Cubes (above), a warped download only game that challenged players to flick pairs of characters at a cluster of cubes without knocking off the other characters standing on those cubes.

There was Trauma Team, which took the motion-control surgery of the Trauma Center games, and added co-op as well as a whole soap opera of different characters and game types. There was a character who did diagnoses whose missions played out more like a quiz. There was a coroner whose crime-scene investigations were more adventure game-y, and there was an emergency responder whose missions were a more of a time-rushed arcade game. This game's co-op surgery option, which allowed players to divide a single-player task to two players, letting them divide a controller's worth of inputs across two controls, however they wished to divide it up, was so innovative and interesting that I e-mailed a top game developer, recommending he check the mode out.

Endless Ocean<;/em> and its sequel, Endless Ocean: Blue Word pushed the idea that games could really just be relaxing simulations of swimming underwater while gawking at cool-looking fish and whales. Red Steel 2 was arguably the most fun and tightest-controlling motion game for hardcore gamers ever made. (If you never stabbed a video game bad guy behind your back in Red Steel 2, you haven't sampled the best of motion-control gaming). House of the Dead: Overkill helped the Wii bring the light-gun shooter genre back-the system deserves a thanks for this genre revival-and wound up being, along with MadWorld, one of the most profane and violently outrageous games ever sold on a major console.

Kirby's Epic Yarn was the Wii's Wind Waker, a game so gorgeous and so distinct in art style-in this case, one involving drawing the world with yarn-that it is likely to only be fully appreciated a generation or two hence. The Wii's Silent Hil, Shattered Memories, was an exceptional game about escape and psychological tricks (on the player!) that ended with a marvellous twist. People stopped talking about Deadly Creatures well before they should have ceased discussion about a realistic (!) game starring a scorpion and a spider. Did they ever catch on to the excellent audio of Mushroom Men? Hell, did they ever watch the generation's best cut-scenes in Little King's Story or witness that game's you'll-never-see-it-coming finale?

Champions of indie games might adore the pure minimalist perfection of line-racing game Art Style Light Trax (above). And if they didn't, they messed up.

The biggest games for Wii were the likes of Wii Fit and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Both were fine and as distinct from each other as possible. One was a workout trainer; the other a piece of software that doubled as a fighting game and as the most impressive museum of Nintendo characters and lore ever made. Our gaming lives are richer for these having been made.

We were supposed to get great motion-control games from the Wii. We did, even if people forget that Bonsai Barber existed (well, Wii Sports Resort was pretty good, too). It also gave us games with great story, such as Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (above).

People scoffed at how bad the Wii's worst games were. Ninja Breadman, anyone? They sighed at how long Nintendo waited to put out new games following a very busy launch. But Nintendo hit the mark often and missed it badly very few times (remember Wii Music? Or the unexceptional Animal Crossing: City Folk? The extraordinary Super Mario Galaxy 2 made up for those.

A Console Finally Done

The Wii was more or less done two years ago. Short of the lovely but slow-starting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo ceased to produce Wii games of major consequence in 2011 or 2012. While many systems enjoy a fine twilight, when top development teams are comfortable with the hardware and wring out the best-looking, best-designed games they can, the Wii just faded. Third-party developers were never that enthused about the system anyway, and most of them bailed just as soon as they arrived late to the party. Mostly, they were barely there.

As the Wii nears its end, it leaves behind a legacy of bowling grandmas and wrist-shaking Zelda players. It also leaves behind heaps of plastic: the wheel that came with Mario Kart, the speaker that came with Animal Crossing, the gun shell that came with Link's Crossbow Training and the huge Balance Board that was packed with Wii Fit. None of this paraphernalia is likely to earn the Wii much hindsight respect, but the system's library of software should. Month by month, the Wii was not the machine for many of us to own. But as an extra-as an accouterment to my life as a gamer or to my dad's life as a non-gamer-it had just enough to make it a boon.

The Wii could be condemned for having stuck around too long or for having failed to match its hype. So what? It was a jump and a risk. It was a bold attempt at change and, stealthily, the appliance that powered some of the best video games ever to run on a Nintendo platform. It made the old people happy; it made me happy, too. That's a good legacy, I think.

The Wii U will be able to do everything the Wii did-including playing Wii games-and more. But it didn't do the hard work. The Wii did. The Wii was wonderful and deserves better than a rep as fad or a dust collector. It was an engine of fun, sometimes revved up by waves of the hand, sometimes powered simply by some great video games.

It was, all things considered, better than a hula hoop.


Comments

    I didn't know the Wii was dead yet, is the Wii U out? Have they stopped releasing Wii games? Is this like when a canned obituary for celebrities sometimes get printed by mistake?

      seems pretty dead to me....

      I had a look in the wii section for the first time in years (trying to find the metroid prime collection) and there was all crap...crap as far as the eye could see

        I personally traded mine in about two years ago, when it was still kinda worth something. I haven't really paid attention to Wii games since then.

      Mines used to keep my missus entertained, Zelda:SS does wonders

        I think the only game on the Wii my wife played for more than an hour was Resident Evil 4, which she finished three times before going back to the 360.

          My missus is on a massive resident evil binge atm, might buy that for her give me another 8-12 hours of free time lol

    Not a single mention of Xenoblade.....how dare you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!eleven!!!!!!

    Mine died in 2007, I just haven't buried it yet. Although a healthy coating of dust would certainly seem like it's buried.

      Let's just call it a shallow burial :)

      Time to sell everything off to retro gamers woop woop

      My dut covered Wii serves only as a reminder to not buy the Wii U.

        I couldn't even tell you where mine is, but I still got my moneys worth out of it. Twilight Princess alone justified buying the console. If the Wii U can offer a handful of exclusives up to that standard then I'm sold even if I'm not excited about the console itself.

    Wait what...!?

    What is this gameplay records thing above? I like how the Wii tells you how long you've played through letters but always wished it could be more organised like it is on 3DS and Steam. Are you telling me that the Wii has a more organised system for this and I had no idea about it!? :O

    MUST DOWNLOAD NOW

      I had no idea either! I thought it was only the daily total thing. I've really interested to see which games I've played the longest now. Must check it out when I get home

        I just tried looking at the Wii Shop and I couldn't find it :P

        Anyone know where this thing is?

          Nintendo Channel apparently... hmmm I shall re-investigate!

            Yup, it's part of Nintendo Channel.

            It's what you'd expect but what I found weird was that it completely omitted a fair few of my games (at least 5 or so). They just didn't show up on the list at all even though I have the play time letters for them. Strange! (hi Strange!)

              I found this too. But there's a piece of homebrew called Playstats, or Play Stats, or something like that. For ages, it used to give out a lot of garbled results. But not too long ago, it got an update and seems to give fewer ridiculous numbers. Picked up some of the titles that Nintendo Channel didn't, like GH6.

              Ah, here we go:
              http://wiibrew.org/wiki/Playstats

              Also it should be noted that the letter box thingo only holds five years' worth of data, so if you've had yours since launch then a lot of those earlier titles will be missing some time.

                I've been out of the loop for a while but don't I need to modify my Wii or something to enable homebrew?

                It's strange you say that though. At first I figured that was probably the best explanation but although I've had my Wii since launch it showed Twilight Princess (my first Wii game) on the list but not others I got and played well after it.

                  It kinda depends, there's all sorts of different methods depending on which version of the system software you have. I still haven't upgraded from 3.2e, so I'm somewhat out of the loop myself. But if you mean in terms of hardware modifying, you shouldn't really need to do anything at all, the Wii's been highly softmoddable for a long time. Check out hackmii.com, the Homewbrew Channel stuff is on there.

                  As best as I can figure, the Nintendo Channel only detects games that have had their info specifically catered for. So I guess with some games, either Nintendo or their respective publisher just couldn't be bothered to get them to add an entry for it in the channel.

    Having played many PSmove games and many motion plus I would say that nintendo's is far better but it did seem like only nintendo knew how to use it

    A suitable eulogy. Thank you.

    I'm a non-gamer, and yet this girl gave me and my flatmate her Wii..and it's the most reliable entertainment option whenever people come over. Somehow Wii sports, while looking 15 years out of date, still keeps people amused. With this announcement, I'm waiting for all the games to plummet in price

    Nope.

    Bought mine on launch day, can't say there's really been one truly great experience on it outside of the two Mario Galaxy games.

    By the time Skyward Sword came out the hardware was too old to provide the epic experience that a game like OOT delivered at the time.

    For all its success I have to say that the N64 and even the Gamecube were far better consoles.

    I’m now very concerned that the WiiU will come out with very few first party games and by the time the big titles (think the next Zelda, 3D Mario or GOD FORBID a brand new franchise) are out the next Xbox and Playstations will be out making it look ancient.

    For all its “revolutionary” hardware can you say that the Wii has released a single game that has been as well put together in terms of fun, control and innovation as a Portal, Little Big Planet or even a Trials?

      World of Goo

        Great little game but it doesn't have the depth of Trials or the experience of a Portal game.

        It's my favourite iOS game of all time but it's not an mind blowing console experience.

      I haven't played those games, but I'm still going to say yes. House of the Dead: Overkill and de Blob were fantastic. Also Little King's Story. I'll even throw in a vote for A Boy And His Blob.

        Ok, House of the Dead Overkill is a great example. It's a good game but aside from the novelty presentation it's marred by being able to see your crosshair on the screen (something that older shooters including HOTD 2 on the Dreamcast) managed to avoid.
        Plus the framerate is absolutly terrible a lot of the time! It's just not up to standard as a AAA title and wouldn't get a look in if you compare it to an Assassins Creed game or something like that.

          Actually, you can turn the crosshair off and calibrate the pointer to give you 1:1 movement on the screen, giving you the proper light gun experience. Same goes for the HotD2&3 double pack. Only way to play imo which is why I avoided the RE Chronicles titles, since apparently you can't do the same in those.

      I don't think the Wii U will age as badly as the Wii. Nintendo made a really bad bet on the HD front which made the graphics hard to look at. By the time Skyward Sword came out I actually found it difficult to play Wii games. It wasn't the polygon count or FPS, it was just the resolution.
      Maybe it's just me, but I can jump between a launch title XBOX 360 game that was bumped up from the original XBOX and a modern, fully realised PS3 game with no problem. I can see the difference in graphical quality but it doesn't stop me from enjoying the game. However the difference between even HD XBLA games and SD Wii games is enough to put me off the Wii entirely.

      Hopefully the Wii U keeps up on that basic level so the difference in graphics is something only tech heads and fanboys have to worry about.

    I loved the re releases of res evil 4 and pikman 2. already awesome games but playing with the controls enhanced the games. also de blob was awesome.

    I never really paid too much attention to my Wii's. yeah, I've had 3. Still got 2. Bought my first one around launch week. I remember saying "I don't care how far I have to drive, just find me one and I will go pick it up". That was directed at my wife who has the patience to call a hundred stores and track down what seemed to be the last bloody Wii in existence.
    I played that original Wii the most. That is, until I bought a PS3. Favorite game back then was Tony Hawks Downhill Jam. That brought many hours of entertainment. It also caused 5 or 6 WiiMotes deaths. lol
    It's had a few decent games. Unfortunately it's been plagued with rubbish the whole time.

      Yeah I remember that feeling - the Wii was sold out everywhere! Thankfully EB actually had stock, and was the last place I looked - they're good for something I suppose :P

    Good riddance. I've had mine since 2007 and have played it for MAYBE 20-25 hours total. It remains the only video game system that I regret purchasing. Never sold it because I kept holding out for that one special game that never came.

    That'll do, Wii. That'll do.

      Bah wii u, nintendo be true

    I stopped playing games properly on my Wii in about 2009. The last game I attempted to play was Skyward Sword in 2011 and wow, what a absolute flop that game was, I never bothered to finish it. Since then, the only thing keeping my Wii alive was the abundance of homebrew available on the console. As of today? It sits, boxed up under my bed along with the rest of the Nintendo family.

    The Wii was great, but not as great as it could of been. And Warioware Inc. is still the best example of waggle gameplay... also Super MarioGalaxy 2 was an platformers dream come true. Though after an month of intense gameplay, at launch. I traded it all in and got some new Xbox360 games... Nintendo really needs too strengthen their "Seal of Quality" for the WiiU, and avoid the dilution of the brand through shovelware. One thing that's irritating is how much Wii games are at retail still - still $60+ for launch games!

    Gamecube, though, is still my favourite Nintendo console.

      Maybe you weren't old enough, but N64 > Gamecube.

      Ocarina of Time > Wind Waker (only just, but then add Majoras Mask too!)
      Mario 64 > Mario Sunshine
      Mario Kart 64 > Mario Kart: Double Dash
      Starfox 64 > Starfox ???
      Goldeneye, Turok 1 & 2, Perfect Dark > ???
      F-Zero X = F-Zero GX
      Original Smash Bros = GC Smash Bros.

      That said…. I never owned a SNES……

        Nah, MK64 is trash now. Don't know how I couldn't see it at the time, but getting hardcore into MKSC and SMK showed just how dumbed down MK64 really was. MKDD was a better game. Also you could argue that having both OoT and MM (along with the NES games) on the one disc makes the GCN superior :P Not to mention that Master Quest is out there too.

        Nothing can touch Lylat Wars, but Assault was still far more decent than people gave it credit for. The FPS games you listed had great competition in Timesplitters 2 and 3. Both fantastic games, and rightly so given their roots in GE and PD.

        Then once you go beyond that you have both Metroid Prime games, two Pikmin titles, Viewtiful Joe, ResiEvil4, the best version of Twilight Princess, DK Jungle Beat, and loads of other games I'm struggling to think of. The GameCube was secretly awesome.

    I think I played maybe five games on it total. In 2010 alone I completed over 60 games. I'd reasonably call that a lack of content, even though I really liked those five games.

    The Wii was a far better system than people give it credit for. It just seems like no one was willing to actually try and find the gems in the sea of shovelware, party games and other assorted crap. I've managed to amass a library of somewhere around 90 titles while avoiding all the aforementioned crap, and there's been some absolutely great stuff in there. I know of others who were nearing the 250 mark, and while I couldn't believe that they did go and list all their stuff and while there were a few titles I disagreed with, most of the extra was just stuff I didn't have much interest in but couldn't really flaw on quality.

    There was definitely something for everyone, just so long as you didn't expect to have it handed to you. Though for the prices most of them ended up at, they may as well have.

    The Wii served it's purpose.

    It was a delivery platform for Nintendo first party games.

    It served it's purpose well. Punch Out fo lyf yo

    I love that you gave 'Silent Hill: Shattered Memories' a mention. It was one of the most interesting games I played on the Wii, but none of my friends have even heard of it. It's sad that one of the best games in the Silent Hill franchise will be largely ignored because it was released on a "casual console".

    The Wii, putting soccer mums ahead of the gamers that supported the company. Goodbye Wii, you were never really welcome

      lol you mean gamers that abandoned the company for playstation of xbox then have the nerve to bitch and moan Nintendo didnt cater for them (Like they did with the GC). Laughable logic. Anyway Nintendo acknowledged they focused on the casual market with the Wii and will attempt to make amends with the Wii U, lets hope they keep that promise.

    Yup.. enjoyed most of the time I spent with the Wii.. I remember Endless Ocean (the first one).. WiiSpots (bowling was always my favourite), Mario Galaxy (1) and a couple of other games that I can see images of in my head but can't think of the names.. but to be honest, it wasn't that the system was truly awful or the games were bad.. but just couldn't justify spending the amount of money they wanted on the game titles when I could get higher fedility games for PS3 and PC for sometimes less. It was really only the Nintendo exlcusives and ones that made GOOD use of the controller that I got.

    Do I regret my decision to buy it? Not really.. even bowling itself was worth it.

    I didn't play it as much as my other gaming things, but I still managed to accumulate 31 games (plus VC games too) on the thing so it did alright, not to mention a cupboard of peripherals.

    Once I get a WiiU, the Wii will probably become a dedicated set of Wii Fit scales and Gamecube player in another room. It shall live on...

    I love(d) my Wii. Lots of great memories. I still play it from time to time. I'm hoping it doesn't break and I can return to some of my old favs in the future.

    The wii is like the game cube and the soon to be Wii U.

    Gone, forgotten and never a classic.

    This depresses me.. I loved my Wii, from Smash Brothers to Carnival Games, I couldn't get off it. Sad to see it go, it's almost like closing a "gaming" chapter in my life.

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