As the Nintendo Wii reaches its tenth anniversary we look back at the console that made our arms ache and, just as often, our eyes bleed.
1. Motion controls
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Waggle, waggle. The Wii Remote may have failed to live up to its early promise but its influence remains. Gyroscopic controls are a mainstay of many Wii U and 3DS titles – Splatoon and the Zelda remakes come to mind, as does Tearaway over on the PS Vita. And Sony’s Wii Remote imitator, the Move, has recently staged a comeback of sorts through its use inPS VR.
It would also be surprising if Nintendo’s Switch console doesn’t include an element of motion control, be it through a gyroscope in the main unit or the attached Joycons. The Wii Remote’s infrared pointer was perhaps the console’s most under-appreciated input device. It was fast, intuitive, accurate and used to great effect in games such as Metroid Prime 3.
2. Virtual Console
Downloadable games were available long before the arrival of the Wii, not least over on the Xbox and Xbox 360, but the promise a single console being home to a library of vintage games was a huge selling point.
The dream was of a complete retro library was never truly achieved, zapped by rights issues and a patchy Western release schedule, but it spearheaded a movement that continues to this day in products like Rare Replay and, most recently, the NES Classic Edition. It’s easy to forget that by the end of the Wii’s lifespan the service had amassed a library of over 600 titles in Japan, and nearly 400 in the West.
What? Yes, apps. It’s quite funny to look back at the Wii dashboard. The future was right there in front of us, all along. A grid of icons containing games but also a range of curious services that these days we’d just call apps. It was pretty much a test-run for the iOS interface.
And what a curious bunch these apps were. A news service graced with a cat that would occasionally wander on screen. An interactive weather globe. A wii-to-Wii email service. A photo album that turned your pictures in to jigsaw puzzles. Horoscopes. And a truly bonkers voting app that posed questions like, “Do you prefer soup or sushi?” You can see the influence of these experiments in everything from Miitomo to Splatoon. And let’s not forget how important part the Wii played in popularising the fledgling Netflix streaming service.
4. Some the best games ever made
For all the criticism directed at the Wii there can be few game experiences quite as memorable as your first serve in Wii Sports’ Tennis. And when it comes to first-party Nintendo games, such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, we are in the hands of game designers at the peak of their powers.
These are games that will stand the test of time and were only scoffed at because of the perceived weaknesses of the host platform.
5. Play Diary
Seriously, why doesn’t every console have something like this? The Wii calendar recorded, day-by-day, the length of your play session and the games you played. What initially appeared to be a tool for parents to monitor their kids became fascinating source of insight into my own playing habits. Its refined 3DS and Wii U successors are even more useful. And scary too. 250 hours logged on Animal Crossing New Leaf? Sheesh.
The Wii Balance Board, steering wheels, golf clubs, and tennis racquets. Wii speak, controller condoms, and the Zapper; the Wii had it all. Most of it was useless junk – nearly all Wii Remote sports add-ons – but some of it was inspired, such as the Balance Board.
In centuries from now the years 2006-2011 will be identified by the number Wii peripherals embedded in the earth’s crust. See also: Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
7. 2D platformers
They never really went away, except they kind of did. Late in the life of the GameCube Donkey Kong Jungle Beat was released and served as a reminder of a genre that had long been out of favour. Nintendo then went on to have a huge success with New Super Mario Bros, on the DS. So when they were in need of some IP-led games to fill the gaps in the Wii’s schedule, they went back to the genre they know best.
New Super Mario Bros Wii, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Retro’s Donkey Kong Country Returns were the highlights along with appearances from other old faves in the shape of Klonoa and Mega Man 9. These titles, coupled with the rise of indie development, led to a resurgence in the platforming genre that is now as strong as ever.
8. The Mii
Xbox Avatars may have cooler clothes and bigger quiffs but they don’t have the charm of Nintendo’s Miis. And nor can you design them to look like Admiral Akbar or Snoop Dogg. Miis were, and remain, well supported by Nintendo. Their appearance always managed to brighten a game, whether it was your granddad chilling at the bowling lane, or Mr. T standing track-side in Mario Kart.
Crucially, they were also fun to create, and for a while there was a sizeable online community dedicated to designing and trading famous Mii characters. Their legacy remains in everything from Animal Crossing and Super Smash Bros to Miitomo and the forthcoming 3DS RPG, Miitopia.
9. Shop Music
Why don’t all online stores sound like this? Fix it, all of you.
It didn’t always turn out well but the peculiarities of the Wii did push some developers to experiment with new type of gameplay experiences and aesthetics.
The Wii may have had an SD display but this led to Sega making MadWorld a visual masterpiece. The Wii Remote wasn’t always accurate but it didn’t stop Suda 51 turning it into something deadly and visceral in No More Heroes. And if you thought light-gun games were a bore then you should have tried Dead Space Extraction, a nerve-jangling shooter designed around the Wii’s pointer functionality.
11. The family
Thank goodness someone still cares about local multiplayer. Getting friends and family together to play a game of Wii Sports, Mario Kart or Just Dance was the system’s greatest achievement. The Wii may not have had the best graphics. It may not have had many mature games. But it did get my mum dancing, my sister racing, and my dad hula-hooping. And you can’t argue with that.
On second thoughts, maybe you can.