intendo finally dropped the bomb on most of the remaining details on their upcoming console launch – Wii. Nintendo fans everywhere cheered over the low price point of $249.99, Wii Sports packed in, an easy to use interface, low priced virtual console games, and the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will finally see the light of day at launch on November 19. While all this sounds great on paper, I’m still extremely skeptical. Even though I can’t wait to get my hands on my own Wii and take Link through his latest adventure, Nintendo has a poor track record that still makes me nervous.
Lets face it, Nintendo came out of E3 looking like a complete winner. Many were unconvinced that the company’s decision to go with a freehand remote controller and nunchuk control scheme would be a fun way to play games, but even the biggest skeptics changed their stance when they got their hands on it. Developers praised the console for ease of development, and innovative controls. Gamers loved Mario, Metroid, and Zelda. Even the Game Critics Awards gave Wii Best Of Show. How could Nintendo blow this?
A Link To The Past
Let’s look to the past with the Nintendo 64 and GameCube. Even though the Nintendo 64 had such sales juggernauts and critical successes as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the N64 still got its butt handed to it by Sony’s PlayStation. The launch of the N64 was a complete sell out, even though the system launched with only two games, Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Due to the high cost of the cartridge format, launch games retailed at a whopping $79.99.
Even though the cartridge format allowed for the lack of loading times, it caused third party titles to be $10 more on average – even when first party titles dropped to $59.99 months after launch. Sure, Nintendo innovated quite a bit with their 64-bit system with such notables as introducing the analog stick and the Rumble Pak, but the console struggled throughout its lifespan. Regardless of the dream team Nintendo brought together for software releases, games trickled out sparsely. Every year Nintendo promised a slew of games, but many learned quickly that each of these games would be delayed months and years, cancelled outright, or pushed to the next console. Even though the N64 was my sole gaming console at that time, I eventually picked up a PlayStation because I wanted new games to play.
It could have been cool, couldn't it?
Nintendo promised even more innovations, and (gasp) online with the release of the 64DD, yet the hardware arrived late to market in Japan, fizzled, and never was released in North America. At the end of the Nintendo 64’s life span, few games remained on to actually be released – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and finally the first Paper Mario. By then however, I had already moved on to the Dreamcast, and was planning for the PlayStation 2.
No Really, We'll Fix It
Nintendo then announced their next console move, codenamed Project Dolphin. Revealed at one of their last Space World shows in Japan, on August 24, 2000 Nintendo finally unwrapped the NINTENDO GAMECUBE (this was actually how Nintendo wanted people to write the system’s name). Many promises were made including online via modem and broadband adaptors, SD card support, wireless controllers, and innovative gameplay with connectivity via the Game Boy Advance. I was beyond excited.
Would it have sold better if it weren't just purple and black?
Nintendo also promised major third party support due to ease of development. The GameCube had a proprietary disc format to help deter piracy. However, due to the fact that the company opted not to use DVDs, this limited storage capacity and didn’t allow for movie playback which Sony made standard with their PlayStation 2, and Microsoft’s upcoming console adopted as well. However, games were not playable until the following year at E3 2001.
Nintendo came out strong with a line-up of Luigi’s Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Rogue Squadron, Eternal Darkness (pushed from N64), Super Monkey Ball, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Star Fox Adventures, Kameo: Elements of Power, Wave Race: Blue Storm, and Pikmin. Nintendo’s President Saturo Iwata cracked jokes about other companies focusing on sequels while Nintendo would have new titles. Nintendo fans applauded, and the Game Critics gave GameCube best of show.
Many other elements looked favorable up to the GameCube launch, including Capcom’s announcement of the exclusive “Capcom 5” and the Resident Evil series moving over to GameCube, Sega’s Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II being the first online GameCube game, and Namco’s hit fighter Soul Calibur II confirmed to hit Nintendo’s console. While Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda titles weren’t going to make launch, the company debuted both titles weeks before the GameCube launched in Japan. As a Nintendo fan, I believed that things finally began looking promising for Nintendo, and couldn’t wait for the GameCube to be released. So much in fact that I camped out in Japan to be the first to get my hands on the new system.
On September 14th, the GameCube was launched in Japan with only Luigi’s Mansion, Wave Race: Blue Storm, and Super Monkey Ball as notable titles. The GameCube only sold 300,000 units in the first three days after the system launched, and it never sold out. Some attributed the poor sales to the fact that Mario wasn’t ready for launch, and others blamed the September 11th attacks on North America. Once again, titles slowly trickled out.
Finally, on November 18th, the GameCube officially launched in North America with more third party titles than any other video game launch. Shortages of consoles, controllers, and Memory Card 51s are reported across the country. Nintendo netted $100 million in revenue on the first day, and Nintendo of America’s Vice President George Harrison said the GameCube is a “Virtual Sell Out.”
Even though the following year and beyond saw releases of Nintendo stars such as Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, F-Zero GX, and Metroid Prime, the GameCube ended up being a failure. Sony’s PlayStation 2 completely dominated, and Microsoft’s Xbox gained momentum and established itself as a contender in the videogame industry. It made me ill. While I still love many of the games that were released for the GameCube, it’s collected dust for over a year.
Why did the GameCube fail? The industry witnessed Nintendo fans only really purchasing Nintendo titles for the system, and third party titles rarely selling as well as they would on PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Third parties stopped supporting the GameCube as quickly as two years after the system was released, and almost every exclusive title for the GameCube quickly was ported to either the PlayStation 2 or Xbox.
Nintendo returned to sparse releases and continuously delaying titles. Eternal Darkness, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess were pushed back, and while Twilight Princess will also appear on Wii, the GameCube version is coming out of December of this year. Nintendo’s last hit holiday title was Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and even that game didn’t outsell its predecessor. In the GameCube’s final year, Nintendo didn’t show one GameCube game on the show floor, yet announced a few including Super Paper Mario and DK Bongo Blast which both have officially made the transition to Wii according to the Japanese release list revealed yesterday.
Online gaming was more or less complete ignored by Nintendo, and only two online titles were released – surprisingly from old rival Sega – Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II and Phantasy Star Online III C.A.R.D Revolution. While hundreds of thousands of gamers, including myself, could easily play games with their friends online with a PlayStation 2 or Xbox, Nintendo console gamers we left with split screen gaming, or LAN for multiplayer. LAN? Are you kidding me? I personally thought this was a sick joke, and even sadder I have both a GameCube modem and broadband adapters to actually play these pathetic attempts.
Other elements like not having movie playback, disc storage size, memory card size also attributed to the systems demise. After the initial surge of Metroid, Zelda, Smash Bros, and Mario, most gamers let their GameCubes gather dust. Even though Super Smash Bros. Melee was the console’s best seller, it surprisingly never saw a sequel on the GameCube. The system’s final hit was Resident Evil 4 which was released in January 2005. Originally GameCube exclusive, the game landed on the PlayStation 2 months later with exclusive features. Since then, little for the system has made a splash.
Yet everyone is ready to hop on board with Wii. Nintendo fans are calling it the second coming, and most are ready to forget about the past. There are many things going for the system right now – low price point, the promise of online gaming, Wii Sports pack-in, Virtual Console downloads, a completely different gaming experience, plenty of third party launch titles, and more. But are we setting ourselves up for a fall once again?
Reggie Fils-Aime acknowledged the sparse GameCube releases yesterday, and promises that won’t happen with Wii. That alone right there could help the Wii become a huge success. But there are a number of things already working against the system.
Will this be the answer?
The system is under powered in comparison to both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Technically it’s a beefed up GameCube. The unit will only support up to 480p resolution and widescreen games where the competition is heavily focused on high definition gaming. Even though Nintendo says they’re focused solely on gameplay, regardless of what Nintendo wants to believe, people do care about graphics. Visuals we’ve seen with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess prove the system can output some quality eye candy, but whether or not developers will be able to devote the same amount of time as Nintendo to achieve that is doubtful. If you’re hoping to have that same high-def experience with your Wii, it’s not going to happen. Especially out of the box, considering Nintendo is only including standard AV cables in the box.
Finally, while Nintendo is touting one of the largest and most diverse launch line ups in the history of video games, the company will only have two first party games available at launch - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Excite Truck. Another launch with a new Mario title absent already makes me nervous. Seriously? Is this the N64 and GameCube all over again? Twilight Princess is beyond being a hardcore game, and while Wii Sports and the Virtual Console may suck in casual gamers, the depth and complexity of a Zelda title will terrify someone who just wants a little Wii Tennis or Donkey Kong. While I enjoyed Excite Truck at E3, I don’t see that becoming a monster hit any larger than Pilotwings 64 or Wave Race: Blue Storm was. With Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Smash Bros. Brawl all moving into the 2007 space, you can pretty much see all four of those games getting spread out to fill the entire 2007 year. If history repeats itself, that’s exactly what Nintendo will do. Mark my words.
The Virtual Console is brilliant, and if Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade is proof enough, people love classic and casual games. Sure, Nintendo has proved they have no problem re-releasing their classic games time and time again, but hell, people love them and still are eager to buy them. I personally have no problem with finally unplugging my old consoles and seeing these classic relived on my big screen television. With the arsenal of 20 years of Nintendo titles, and the addition of Sega, Turbo Grafix, Hudson, and more waiting in the wings, the Virtual Console could be one of the Wii’s greatest assets. But we should expect these games to be playable online with friends and upgraded with progressive scan visuals. That would at least take the sting out of re-hashing the same games over again. Microsoft does it and I expect Nintendo to make the effort as well.
It better be worth the wait
Also, there are a number of third party titles that could show some promise including Madden NFL 07, Red Steel, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, and Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. Although there are a number of third party titles slated for launch, if developers take the same port approach they did with the Nintendo DS launch, those games will become the exact same quality the DS third party titles were – crap. Just like the Nintendo DS had an original control scheme, the Wii is just as different and developers need to realize that immediately or their games will flop.
Developers have touted how easy it is to get their games running on Wii, yet very few exclusive titles are being made for it. Developers are mostly porting current-gen games over to Wii and adding Wii specific controls to games. For original titles, third party developers, have to devote complete development teams for making games specifically for the Wii, which is costly. For third party developers the size of Electronic Arts and Ubisoft who have the funding to be able to devote to that sort of gamble it’s a bit easier. It’ll be extremely interesting to see how long third party developers will take that chance, especially if their initial Wii launch titles don’t sell as well as they hope. Because if that happens, third party developers will be out just as fast as they were with the GameCube. Why should I buy a game that doesn’t look as good, controls strangely, and doesn’t have the online capabilities as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version? My gaming dollars are limited just as yours are, and I’m putting my money on the best experience. At this point, I’m not sold that Wii will have that, especially for third party games.
Wait, you're not Samus!
Nintendo has seen some success with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection with the Nintendo DS, and even though there are a number of Wii multiplayer titles announced including Battalion Wars 2, Mario Strikers Charged, and Pokemon Battle Revolution, none of those games are announced for launch in North America. Every third party developer I’ve spoken with about supporting online with their Wii titles say that Nintendo still has yet to talk to them about online gaming. I’m not holding our breath for online Wii gaming this year, and I expect to see Wii online titles in 2007. If Nintendo doesn’t support their franchises like Mario Kart, F-Zero, Metroid Prime, and Zelda with online gaming, you can guarantee there will be some pissed off Nintendo faithful. It was inexcusable with GameCube, and it would be just plain stupid with Wii.
Obviously with such games as Zelda, Red Steel, and the Virtual Console titles tugging at our inner gamer’s heart strings I will most definitely be there on day one – mainly for Twilight Princess alone. The launch price is low enough (outside of the $60 for controller costs) to avoid damaging my wallet the same way the purchase of a Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 will, and the possibilities and promises from Nintendo somehow still keep me hoping for a bright future. But for now, the future is made up of many of the same promises and hopes I had when the N64 and GameCube were announced. I just hope I don’t end up being disappointed once again.