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Vintage Game Club: Alpha Centauri

Wii got it good


For several years now, Nintendo has provoked consternation from forlorn gamers who feel abandoned or even betrayed by the company. The common wisdom is that Nintendo surveyed the scene and discovered an untapped well of soccer moms and retirees with disposable income, so they dropped what they were doing and redirected their efforts to making casual and lifestyle games, with an occasional Super Mario or Super Smash Bros. thrown in to sate the faithful.

Once regarded as a savior by Nintendo loyalists, NOA President Reggie "I'm about kickin' ass, I'm about takin' names" Fils-Aime is now a regular target of ridicule in game forums and discussion groups. Even the legendary Miyamoto is depicted these days as a sell-out, wasting his talent developing cash cows like Wii Fit, Wii Music, and Nintendogs.

Nobody roots for Goliath. Nintendo accounted for 56% of the entire industry's revenues last month, thanks to evergreen games like Mario Kart (both Wii and DS versions), Wii Play, and Wii Fit, all of which remain in NPD's Top 10 long after their releases. Nintendo's strategy of expanding the market has worked better than anyone expected, and that success has provoked a strangely hostile response from many in the gaming community. Destructoid's mock motto for the company: "Nintendo, printing money on the backs of diehard loyalists since 1985."[1]

I realize it's unfashionable to deviate from the cynical snark that characterizes so much writing devoted to games these days, but when I look at the landscape of recent Wii games (and those appearing on the near horizon), I see a sunny picture. It's unreasonable to expect any game platform to be all things to all people, but in my view the Wii currently offers an impressive array of new games that should appeal to players who fancy themselves serious gamers. Obviously, the system will never compete for supremacy in the shooter market, but don't let the malcontented fanboys deceive you. Discriminating players looking for polished, well designed games will find plenty of exciting options available for the Wii.

Here's what I'm talking about:

Little King's Story - a gorgeous and wonderfully clever genre mash-up, combining real-time strategy, life-simulation, adventure-RPG, and god-game elements. Designed specifically for the Wii by a team of all-stars, this game deserves your attention when it arrives in North America next month (PAL version available now). I've been playing it for nearly a month, and I can't wait to discuss it with you here. I recently wrote about Little King's Story in more detail.

EA Sports Active - currently punishing me on a daily basis. EA has high hopes for this franchise-starter, and they clearly lavished attention on it. EA Sports Active takes what Wii Sports did well and does it better; and it takes what Wii Sports did poorly and jettisons it (more on what I mean in a forthcoming post). I'm currently in the first week of my "30-day challenge," and with the exception of Bob "You may know me from the Oprah Show" Greene's smarmy intros, this game is a solid and rigorous trainer. Believe me, you will break a sweat.

Punch-Out!! - a terrific remake of a genuine classic; accessible to newcomers, a stiff challenge to veterans. The rare game that actually earns its hyperbolic double exclamation marks. I wrote a more descriptive post about Punch-Out!! a few days ago. This is the game all my local friends are playing, and the head-to-head competition is growing more fierce (and louder) every day. 

Muramasa: The Demon Blade - another beautiful game by Vanillaware, developers of the criminally under-appreciated Odin Sphere. I'm admittedly taking this game on faith, having only seen screenshots and trailers, but I'm excited by the prospect of a tough, hand-drawn, 2D action-RPG based on Japanese mythology. The game has received an enthusiastic reception in Japan; it's due here in September.

Other Wii games available now or coming soon:

  • Boom Blox Bash Party - an enhanced version of one of the best Wii games.
  • Excitebots - crazy fun racing like racing games used to be before sim-fever set in.
  • Bit.Trip.Beat - Pong for the post-Rez set. Strap yourself in for a frenetic challenge.
  • The Conduit - folks at GDC who played it tell me not to overlook it. Due next month.
  • MadWorld / House of the Dead: Overkill - the two funniest games I've played this year; and we all know comedy and games rarely mix well...at least intentionally.
  • Pro Evo Soccer 2009 / Tiger Woods 10 - a highly-regarded soccer title, and possibly the first sports game to fully leverage motion control. If you have doubts, watch this video. Hey, you know me. Gotta throw in a sports title or two. ;-)
  • Pikmin 2 - one of the best games released on the Gamecube, the Wii version is your chance at redemption.
  • Zelda: Majora's Mask - okay, not a new game, but it's appearance on the VC is still big news to us Zelda fans.

By the way, another bit of conventional wisdom says that 3rd-party games can't succeed on the Wii. Note that 10 out of the 14 titles listed are developed by companies other than Nintendo. Punch-Out!! makes it 11 if we credit Next Level Games in Vancouver, who developed it for Nintendo.

I'm not a Nintendo apologist, nor do I believe we live in the best of all possible worlds. But I do think a reasonable consideration of the latest Wii games (and my list is only a partial one) refutes the notion that serious gamers have been left behind.