As the Nintendo Wii celebrates its 11th birthday, we take a look back at the console that made our arms ache and 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 present in many Nintendo Switch, Wii U and 3DS titles – most recently in Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 – and Sony’s Wii Remote imitator, the Move, now eeks out a living frustrating PS VR users.
The Wii Remote’s infrared pointer was the console’s most under-appreciated input device. It was fast, intuitive, accurate and used to great effect in games like Metroid Prime 3.
2. Virtual Console
Downloadable games were available long before the arrival of the Wii, not least on the original Xbox and Xbox 360, but the promise a single console being home to a library of vintage retro games was a huge selling point.
The dream of a complete Nintendo 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 Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic Mini consoles. 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 wandering cat, an interactive weather globe, a Wii-to-Wii email service, a photo album that turned pictures into jigsaws, and a horoscope service. And, of course, there was the Everybody Votes app, which posed all-important questions like, “Do you prefer soup or sushi?”
You can see the influence of these experiments in everything from Miitomo to Splatoon’s Spatfests. And let’s not forget the important role the Wii played in popularising the fledgling Netflix streaming service.
4. Some of the best games ever made
For all of 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 releases – titles like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – we are in the hands of expert game designers at the peak of their powers.
These are games that will stand the test of time – even Skyward Sword, trust me – and were only scoffed at because of the perceived weaknesses of their 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 were even more useful. And scary too. 250 hours logged on Animal Crossing New Leaf?
It’s a shame that game tracking on the Nintendo Switch has taken a step backwards, with nothing more than a total playtime loosely calculated.
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, 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 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 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 release 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 games, led to a resurgence in the platforming genre that is stronger than 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 Mr. Bean. The appearance of a MIi always manages to brighten a game, whether it’s your granddad chilling at the bowling lane, or Mr. T standing track-side in Mario Kart Wii.
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 recent 3DS RPG, Miitopia.
9. Shop music
Why don’t all online stores sound like this? Fix it!
It didn’t always turn out well, but the peculiarities and limitations of the Wii did push many developers to experiment with new types of gameplay experiences and visual aesthetics.
The Wii may have had a standard-def 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 memorable, nerve-jangling shooter designed around the Wii’s pointer functionality.
11. Fun times with the family
Thank goodness someone still cares about local multiplayer. Getting friends and family together to play a game of Wii Sports, Mario Kart Wii or Just Dance was perhaps the system’s greatest achievement.
The Wii may not have had the best graphics. Nor did it have 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.
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