A couple of months ago I was listening to a popular gaming podcast, and the commentators were discussing how they were all dusting off their Wii systems to play Super Mario Galaxy. They all agreed that without the first-party Nintendo titles, the system wouldn't be worth owning. One of them confessed that he had yet to even purchase a Wii.
Last night as I ejected my Endless Ocean disc and inserted my No More Heroes disc, it occurred to me that this little white box with the glowing blue light is my system of choice these days. With Super Mario Galaxy dominating my gaming life through December - plus tons of co-op fun with the underrated Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, plus Zack and Wiki testing my brain far more thoroughly than any Brain Age title - I've decided this underpowered little box is OK in my book.
And, by the way, all the above titles except SMG were made by third-party developers.
Before I go any further, let me say I have no interest in suggesting the Wii is better, more fun, blessed by God (or Miyamoto), or otherwise superior to any other system. That's not my point. I'm simply suggesting that now is a very good time to be a Wii owner, and the future looks even brighter thanks in large part to third-party developers.
Suda 51's decision to design No More Heroes for the Wii suggests a willingness on the part of developers to make games for the system that are "different," broadly defined. This is not simply a matter of figuring out clever ways to exploit the Wiimote, though that trend clearly dominated the first wave of Wii titles.
When we first heard about the Wii's innovative controller, many of us probably envisioned it as a virtual sword, gun, or lightsaber. Nintendo reinforced this controller-centric image in its early ads featuring gamers of all ages waving their arms around with big smiles on their faces. No surprise, then, that most of the early games for the Wii were little more than mini-game collections designed to capitalize on our giddy fascination with the Wiimote.
NOT using the Wiimote in this way was the wisest design choice Suda made for No More Heroes. The brilliance of the combat control system in NMH lies in its perfect balance of timed button presses, motion activated kill moves, and random slot machine bonuses. The Wiimote/nunchuck enables this action perfectly, and the controls reinforce the gameplay...instead of vice versa.
Even though I have issues with Endless Ocean, the game further illustrates how third-party developers are beginning to "get" the Wii. The fluidity and grace of deep sea diving are beautifully expressed in this game, largely because the intuitive controls don't draw attention to themselves. Point and move. Elegant and easy. One can imagine all sorts of acrobatics, gadgets, and weapons that could have been mapped to the controller, but the designers wisely avoided them to focus the player's attention on exploring and soaking in the underwater atmosphere.
Other exciting games for the Wii are on the way, and I think it's likely they will continue this trend (fingers crossed). Here are a few that have my attention:
King Story (aka Ousama Monogatari)
A new game created by a team of designers from Harvest Moon, Final Fantasy XII, and Dragon Quest VIII. It appears to be a mixture of RPG, adventure, and Pikmin design elements. More than anything else, I'm taken by the visual style of the game, which looks like a living watercolor painting. The trailer also exhibits a sense of humor that encourages me to think this one won't simply be "cute." I strongly urge you to click on the video and check it out for yourself.
A project by students at the Utrecht School of the Arts and Utrecht University. Full of color and funky music, I'm admittedly taking a flier on this one, but the video has me interested.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008
Multi-platform sports titles haven't fared well on the Wii, but check out the way this game incorporates Wiimote controls. If it works even half as well as it looks here, this could be a football game even a North American can enjoy!
A terrific game made for the wrong platform (PS2). This re-release makes full use of the Wiimote for the painting and calligraphy mechanics at the heart of this game. I don't think I've ever seen a game more beautiful than Okami. Yes, it's a Zelda derivative, but I'm okay with that.
Note that none of these games are made or published by Nintendo. Of course, no one is suggesting that any of these companies will threaten Nintendo's preeminence as the premier developer for the Wii, but it's encouraging to see these and other such games coming down the pike.
Will they be good? I could be skeptical, but I choose to be hopeful. No More Heroes certainly has me encouraged, at least for the time being.