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Late to the Game(s): Wee for Wii!

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Nintendo’s consoles haven’t been my primary, go-to choice for gaming since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Once Sony launched the PlayStation, I felt like I had other, better options for those big AAA titles. Once Microsoft added Xbox to the mix, and once Xbox added achievements (and Sony followed suit with trophies) fueling another level of meta competition among friends for geek status – a feature that Nintendo, three console generations later, still stubbornly refuses to implement – the niche status of Nintendo in my gaming life was cemented.

Nintendo’s wonky, ever-changing controller layouts, without any consistency between generations, is an issue too. Sure, Microsoft and Sony have tweaked their controllers over the years. But the basic button layouts have remained consistent. Nintendo, on the other hand, has been all over the place, with the clunky strangeness of the GameCube replaced by the Wii motion controls (and eventually the more standard pro-controllers, which were better, but couldn’t be used for playing GameCube games on the system and still required tethering via Wii-mote).

But, for all their quirkiness, there is still something endearing about the Nintendo consoles.

I’ve teased for years that the only reason to pick up a Nintendo console is to play whatever the newest Legend of Zelda or Mario Bros. game is.

No one picks up a Wii eager to play Call of Duty with their friends. (And if they do, they’re probably a bit of a masochist.)

But, during a recent conversation with some younger gamer friends, where I made my standard “Zelda, then mothballs” jokes about the value of the Nintendo consoles, I was called to task about the innovation that fuels Nintendo and the value of that in the larger gaming world.

Take the Wii. (Please.)

While the motion controls were undeniably gimmicky, and less than ideal for games that were designed for Xbox or PlayStation style controllers, they also opened up a whole new world of gaming for older folks – many of whom would have been intimidated by a standard controller but could quickly grasp the simple motion controls of Wii’s casual gaming options.

They also helped open the door to the types of gesture controls that fuel modern VR game experiences.

And, if you stayed away from the lackluster ports of titles from the big publishers, there was some real promise in the game offerings developed specifically with the console and its motion controls in mind.

Two games spring to mind immediately, Cursed Mountain, from developer Deep Silver (who would eventually hit pay dirt with the AAA zombie series Dead Island) and Red Steel from industry veterans Ubisoft.

While others were porting old, or developing new, arcade-style “shooters on rails” for the platform as Wii console-exclusives – or attempting to shoehorn their standard control scheme into the Wii-mote and nunchuck attachment for a lower resolution version of games that played better on Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles – Deep Silver and Ubisoft were attempting to do something unique and suited to the Nintendo environment.

They did so with varying levels of success. There is no making everyone happy, and if folks weren’t complaining about the controls, which were sometimes lackluster in their responsiveness and sensitivity, they were complaining about other gameplay elements.

While Red Steel gave you unique ways to use your environment, with AI that would be just as likely to jump onto a table as to go around it, and the ability to use the Wii-mote to control a sidearm or a sword, some critics complained about the lack of openness. Those who were used to the large open worlds of Ubisoft’s other series like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed, said that Red Steel “teased” those elements while forcing the gamer down a linear path. There was also mixed reception to the motion controls, with some praising them while others argued they were clumsy and unresponsive. But no matter that criticism, it was definitely a game that made use of what Nintendo offered. Gamers, for instance, receive phone messages during multiplayer segments that can only be heard by the player when they hold the Wiimote – which has its own speaker – to their ear like a telephone. This is a step beyond innovative motion controls, and if it had set the standard for all Wii games to come, may have made the console a serious contender despite its SD graphics.

In Cursed Mountain, Deep Silver took a different track. Focusing on atmosphere and storytelling, the game tells a gripping and engrossing tale of survival in the Tibetan Himalayas. Unfortunately, that story is sometimes marred by lackluster control response – a hallmark of many Wii games where developers set a high bar that the hardware just wasn’t able to live up to. Still, it’s a standout example of what one can do when, instead of trying to make an already existing game fit a new control scheme, a studio develops something new and innovative with that console and its control scheme in mind.

There are others too, more popular and sometimes more frustrating as a result. Think Star Wars games with the promise of light saber duels that never quite deliver. But both Red Steel and Cursed Mountain try to do something unique, and tell decent stories while doing so. They both deserve a place of honor in the collection of any Wii devotee, right alongside Link and Mario.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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