(Originally published in 2017)
Console launches are very special events, and Nintendo console launches for many are particularly so. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch on the horizon, I’ve decided to tell my stories of Nintendo console launches past, and why those systems are special to me.
A Nintendo Wii Story…
Nintendo may have cracked open the door to crazytown a little with the launch of the Nintendo DS, but as the world would soon learn, they were about to rip that door right off the hinges and let the insanity truly flow with their next home console. They codenamed their GameCube successor "Revolution" and proudly proclaimed that they were going to change video games forever. Normally, that kind of hyperbole is just that, hyperbole. Nobody actually expected the very gaming landscape to be intrinsically altered by a single product. But with Nintendo's DS beating the ever-loving tar out of Sony's PSP contrary to every conceivable logic, anything was possible, especially when it came to the Big N.
We soon found out they weren't kidding, and they were going to do it with a thing called Wii. It wasn't about new powerful hardware, it was about the way people interacted with their games. It was a bold move, but Nintendo clearly had their ducks in a row because they approached it with confidence. When Nintendo finally showed off their revolutionary new controller, they did it like this, without a single shot of an actual video game.
I've never seen a brand new concept communicated so perfectly, and I was immediately and completely sold. Then they announced that name. Wii. I... I can't say I was ever truly on board with that one. I understood the logic they were going for. They wanted to invent a new sort-of nonsense word. They cited Google and iPod as words nobody would have taken seriously 20 years ago, but now they were marketing megaton bombs. So, sure. I get it. "Wii" though? Here in America, that word already had plenty of connotations, no matter how you spell it. Still, those motion controls looked amazing, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on them.
Then came the talk of the system's relative power, and the industry began letting its concerns be known. It turned out that the Wii wasn't going to be much more powerful than the GameCube, and nowhere near as capable as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Now, allow me a little sidebar here to talk about the strange situation of console power during this time. It's my belief that this specific generation came too soon. Microsoft was the first to jump into what is commonly referred to as the 7th generation of home consoles. They were getting slaughtered by Sony in America, and soundly beaten by both the GameCube and PS2 in Japan. So they abandoned the original Xbox rather quickly and ushered in the era of HD gaming with their immensely successful Xbox 360. It may have seemed natural at the time, but it had an effect on the gaming landscape that I was none too fond of.
The technology was certainly there to support gaming consoles of this caliber, but game development wasn't. Developers were still maximizing what they could do with the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube, and those games did not look "bad" by any definition. More importantly, developing games in HD was exponentially more costly, and I don't think the industry was ready to bear that burden yet.
Simultaneously one of the best and worst things to happen to video games
As a result, we started to see an industry that had very few incentives to innovate. Look at EA for example. They were the kings of the hill, bar none. Activision was gunning for them, but EA was the big bad. So they decided to use that position to take a few risks and release new, unproven IPs like Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, and Brutal Legend. It cost them big, because even though their efforts were successful to some degree, in order for a game to turn a profit, AAA games needed to be more than just successful. They needed to be absolute smash hits, and that created a landscape where studios were no longer willing to try new things.
Annual sequels which had already been somewhat common became way more prevalent, and the overwhelming levels of brown and gray that covered all of the most popular games visual designs left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. Had the Xbox 360 not come when it did, Sony wouldn't have had much motivation to release the PlayStation 3 as early as they did, what with the PS2 still riding more than high enough, and Nintendo's lateral move with the Wii would have kept game-making costs right around where they already were for GameCube.
But Microsoft pushed the industry forward, and I totally get why they did, but I think it hurt gaming for a long time. The 7th generation brought us some amazing games, but I've always felt that another couple of years, 1 or 2 at most, of the 6th generation would have had a massively positive impact on the future of gaming.
Televisions themselves were changing
The reason I say 2 years at most is because of the advent of the HDTV, and this is where Nintendo's all-too-often limited foresight hurt the Wii the most. Not including the ability to output in HD made competing with the other HD platforms in any meaningful manner nearly impossible. Not that Wii games looked bad, but not supporting HDMI out during this era left a lot of gamers with the impression the the Wii was not to be taken seriously. The graphics were never going to be as good as PS3 and 360, but the least they could have done is make their next generation console properly compatible with the TVs that were certain to be in most peoples' homes 2-3 years into its lifecycle.
Still, that lack of true next generation power turned out to be one of the Wii's biggest strengths. Where photorealistic graphics drove the competition's biggest releases, anyone who wanted to develop for the Wii and try to take advantage of its unbelievable install base were forced to get creative, and that resulted in some crazy awesome and unique games.
Okay, sidebar over. Back to the story.
This time around, I was more ready than I had ever been for a Nintendo console launch. I was store manager of the Union City Game Crazy, and I had my system, games, and accessories all paid off. In fact, I had the Wii's launch day set up like a well-oiled machine. So I decided that since my store wasn't doing a midnight launch of its own, I was going to head over to Times Square and go see Nintendo\'s crazy midnight launch party at Toys R Us.
This was the scene outside TRU on launch night. Off to the right was where the stage was. (Photo from Edilee)
It was great because I didn't have to wait in any lines. I wasn't there to buy anything! I had it all set back at my store already. I just walked around and took it all in, and boy was it a spectacle. In the area next to the store they had this huge stage set up with a DJ blasting some crazy music, and people were giving out cool Wii hats and gloves to the crowd. Everyone there was beyond stoked to finally get their hands on what they thought was the future of gaming. (The new Zelda game didn't hurt either).
Reggie himself took to the stage a few minutes before he went inside to personally ring up the first official sale, and gave a cool speech about how awesome everything was. Honestly, it was an absolute blast to be there and see all the hubbub. After the party was over and people started buying their Wii consoles, my friends and I hopped a train back home where I got myself a good night's sleep, went into work the next morning, and sold the giant stack of Wii units behind my counter.
The launch itself went silky smooth. I didn't have any issues besides a ton of people coming in to buy systems we didn't have. Not that we didn't get plenty of consoles, but in case you somehow don't remember, the Wii was a freaking phenomenon. Everyone had to have one, and not just Nintendo fans. No, Nintendo's second and even-crazier-than-the-DS attempt to change the way people play games and make them more accessible for absolutely everyone turned into a sensation that permeated popular culture in a way that video games hadn't in a very long time. And while that may have turned into frustration for a lot of people for months and months to come, it was just an incredibly fun thing to be around for.
So white and shiny!
I lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment by myself when the Wii launched, and I'll never forget the feeling of taking it home and seeing the UI in action. Nintendo never really had much of a UI in their consoles before, and hearing those sounds, logging into the eShop and buying Super Mario Bros. on the Virtual Console, putting in my copy of Twilight Princess and swinging my sword by flicking my wrist from the comfort of my own couch, was an unforgettable experience.
Spinning that globe in the weather channel was AWESOME!
Yes, in the long run the Wii had more than its fair share of troubles, but I was immensely tickled by the fact that Nintendo had managed to look the forward progression of technology straight in the face and say "nope, we're going a different direction" and succeed so wildly with their own vision. The Wii was the true start of Nintendo's "gimmick" problem that's plagued their last couple of consoles, but there's no question that the Wii was the right system at the right time.
And you know what, for all those silly motion controlled piles of shovelware, the Wii saw some truly fantastic traditional games. We saw new IPs like No More Heroes, The Last Story, and Xenoblade Chronicles, as well as extraordinary new entries in classic franchises like Donkey Kong Country, Punch-Out!!, Excitebike, and even A Boy and his Blob. And remember when Nintendo sold a bajillion copies of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a brand new 2D Mario game on a home console, and started a trend of big-budget 2D platformers finding their way back onto people's TV screens?
And how about the Virtual Console?
I'll never forget the first time I saw this screen.
Sure, it wasn't perfect, but I spent over $1000 (no, I'm not exaggerating) on that service during the Wii's life cycle. And thanks to that service, I played some great games I had never had the chance to play when they first came out. I got to experience the Turrican series on both SNES and Genesis, play through Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the Turbo CD, and obsess over the sublime Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap for Sega Master System. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Anybody who says there were no good games for the Wii simply wasn't looking.
They may not have looked as "good" as the competition, and there may have been a LOT of shovelware to weed through, but the Wii had a spectacular library
So why do I love my Nintendo Wii? There are a ton of reasons to love my Wii, but above all else, I love it because it got my wife to play video games with me. You've heard Nintendo talk about this scenario a ton of times, but I watched it play out firsthand and I still can't believe the genius of it. It started with Wii Sports Bowling, which was the gateway drug Nintendo had cleverly gotten into the hands of people all over the world. Then Mario Kart Wii with its Wii Wheel and motion controls happened. It was so intuitive that my wife immediately wanted to give it a try.
Then she got really good with it. Then she tried it with traditional controls. She's never looked back. Now she's a Mario Kart pro (not literally, but she's dang good) and it's all because Nintendo lowered the barrier of entry. Not only that, but Mario Kart gave her the courage to try other things. She did pretty well with Elebits and i still can't believe I actually came home from work one day to find her playing Super Mario Galaxy on her own with no prompting from me.
Probably the most impressive feat she's accomplished though is that she has beaten Runner 2 on Wii U 100% on all difficulties. Look, she's never going to be a gaming nutjob like me. It just doesn't click with her the same way, but certain games really do work for her, and now that she knows that, she's willing to give more stuff a try. That's all because Nintendo's Wii philosophy actually worked. It may have wound up being a mixed bag in the end, but I will always be grateful for Nintendo for creating that environment for her.
What’s your Nintendo Wii story?