Perhaps it’s more than six months at this point (actually, nearly eight), but the point stands that the little white box that could has been chugging along for less than a year now, with no immediate signs of slowing down.

Has it been a perfect ride? A ride that justifies the sales juggernaut that it has been? Yes and no. The Wii is a fun system that has escaped a large amount of criticism from the media, and it seems that anyone who does, posts a retraction statement within a few days (most recently, Sega’s marketing VP of Marketing, Scott Steinberg). This is a different time for Nintendo. They are finally back on top for the first time since the NES/SNES days, but the real question isn’t so much can they hold onto their position, as it is more are they going to make actual steps to? Currently, Nintendo is leading the way in the latest console war, but are they going to make sure to correct the mistakes that got them bumped off the Number One spot in the first place, or does history repeat itself again out of a lack of Nintendo’s pro-activity?

With Nintendo in the lead, it would be foolish for the company to simply sit back and enjoy the rewards. To fully succeed, they are they going to take this win, and keep that distance between themselves and the other competition. The Wii is a media darling right now. Third-party developers who turned up their noses at the Wii, and bet everything on the Playstation 3, are now scrambling to get something, anything on the Wii. And there’s also the fact that the Virtual Console boasts a continually expanding library that pretty much defines video gaming over the last twenty years. But in order to keep the attention of the media, developers, and most importantly, the audience, they are going to have to fix some things that are currently “broken” for the Wii’s future plans.

1.) Internet play – Since the Dreamcast, internet play has been a continually growing factor of the console gaming experience. In the last generation, Xbox and Playstation 2 ran with it and created a full online community. While the Gamecube had same potential, they only had two versions of Phantasy Star Online for online use… and nothing else for the remaining five years. With the next console line-up, Xbox 360 and the PS3 are out of the gates again while Nintendo….

Nintendo has got to get over this “fear/aversion” of online play. While they do use some of the capabilities for the Wii Shop, transferring Miis, and WiiConnect24 updates, there’s still almost no talk of online gaming down the pipeline. The new Mario Strikers and Pokemon titles hint at online play, but what about the obvious choice of Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Where are the third-party announcements? If Nintendo holds onto this archaic dogma that gamers don’t want online experiences by 2007, this is ultimately going to be the thing that finishes them off.

2.) More games, and not “ports” – There are some good games for the Wii, and the obvious “Big 3” (Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid 3 and Super Smash Bros. Brawl), and Sega’s fan-favorite NiGHTS will provide something new and original for the system. Not to mention all the “quirky” little games that are bringing non-gamers to play a console after who knows when, or even ever.

But there’s a problem with a statement made earlier: “Third-party developers who turned up their noses at the Wii, and bet everything on the Playstation 3, are now scrambling to get something, anything on the Wii”. Wii gamers are starting to get a lot of ports from Playstation 2 and 3, as well as the 360. And Nintendo is no less guilty of this, bringing what were once Gamebube-intended titles Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Super Paper Mario (arguably two of the best games currently on the system) to the Wii.

The first year is always a tricky year for a gaming system, and a lot of people underestimated the Wii. But sales numbers talk, and the developers are being forced to take the system seriously now. But the amount of ports for the system is slightly maddening. Even the best looking of the ports (Resident Evil 4 or Lego Star Wars), while simply great games… are “great games” coming out yet again. It’s a popular criticism to say how woefully underpowered the Wii is in the graphics department when compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360, it’s also hard to judge the system’s visual potential when all that’s currently been available have been ports of last generation’s games and games that were originally intended for Gamecube. While the next batch of games will undoubtedly take further advantage of the Wii… they need to hurry up and start making appearances.

3.) Wii Channel updates – This is another untapped area of Wii potential. As an older gamer, I actually find use out of the news and weather channels, but the usefulness will undoubtedly be lost on kids who just want to play video games and nothing else. The Wii Shop Channel has practical use for purchasing new content, The Photo Channel may be fun to select enthusiasts, and the Mii Channel does have some in-game applications. However, the “Everybody Votes Channel” is little more than a silly time-waster. Nintendo had a perfect opportunity to achieve what few marketing campaigns could ever dream of achieving: Get in complete touch with its audience, and find out exactly what they want to see for new games, content, and overall customer satisfaction. Instead, Channel Users can find out if the world would rather ride a camel or an elephant for an extended period of time. Other than the most hardcore of stat junkies, the practicality of the application is minimal. Nintendo’s been hinting at a “Mii Popularity Channel” as well, which sounds equally as uninspiring.

There have long been rumors of a Demo Channel, where gamers can check out upcoming titles for the Wii and DS. There’s also been talk of a Original Game Content Channel, where new games could be downloaded in the same manner as the Virtual Console. Catering to the non-gamer has been extremely successful for Nintendo thus far, but forgetting the hardcore gamer or even the long-term dedicated fanbase is going to prove costly and dangerous in the long run. Nintendo needs to release more channels related to game content. A Nintendo Power Channel seems obvious, where Users can get video gaming news in the same manner as world news. An Arcade Channel could deliver arcade-perfect versions of games to the system. A Music Channel could be fun, where CD/MP3 playback would be allowed, and perhaps have a light show in sync with the music. Game systems in the early ’90’s did this, so why not now? It’s still a “fluff” channel and would still appeal to a more broad audience. Introducing more character creation options in the Mii Channel would also be welcome.

4.) Treat the Virtual Console more seriously – Nintendo sits on a goldmine right now with thousands of potential games that could be available for the audience. Three of the most loved Nintendo consoles from the past, as well as two of their biggest competitors: Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. The Neo Geo system library is rumored to debut this Summer. So why does Nintendo trickle out games the way it does?

The disbursement of games is random and unorganized at best. Currently, the available library is overflowing with space-shooters, the Sports and RPG libraries are virtually dry, as is the Nintendo 64 library, and gamers have no idea what is coming out any given week. Nintendo may squeeze out four games one week, then only one game the next. Only Hudson and Sega give any real courtesy to the consumer by providing a “Coming Soon” list on their respective websites or revealing it to the press. Nintendo remains mum, with no seeming thought put into how they release games. The treatment is inexcusable, and the United States is by far the most behind in terms of receiving content in comparison to the other countries. Other countries will get games weeks or months in advance in comparison to the U.S. – And there’s equally no excuse as to why Nintendo drags their feet to release games from the Metroid series, or cult-favorites Earthbound or Super Mario RPG. Nintendo could release 20 “AAA” titles in one month’s time, and still have hundreds upon hundreds of high quality games to release over the next few years. The only real concern would be running out of storage space on Nintendo’s internal memory.

A lot of the problems could be rectified by a simple “Coming Soon” list on par with what Sega and Hudson already do. Nintendo would never treat a game like Metroid Prime 3 with such an “I don’t know” attitude and give it a random release date, so why should any of these classic games get treated any less? Even if Nintendo were at potential risk of running out of games, would long-time gaming fans not be excited over the prospect of Atari 2600, Game Boy or Sega CD releases? There’s also Jaguar, Intellivision, Colecovision, Vectrx, Odyssey, Commedore 64 and Apple II possibilities to tap. Even with more realistic prospects like the Atari 2600/Game Boy/Sega CD releases, there’s a few hundred more games to tap for potential, and no one’s going to be able to download them all in one sitting.

The Wii could stand to become a pure “gamer’s system”, with the potential to download every relevant game ever released from the last 30 years. The casual gamer would eat up a chance to play Pitfall! in a heartbeat.

5.) Enhance game “realism” with the WiiConnect24 – As stated above, the Weather Channel is not going to “wow” a 12-year old kid wanting to play the next Zelda game. Would that attitude change if the game’s world were to reflect the real world’s weather patterns? Or what if there were spooky ghost and pumpkins on Halloween, or snow and brightly colored lights on Christmas? The prospect of accurate regional weather would be a sports game fan’s dream come true.

6.) Release a keyboard – Sending notes, putting in credit card info. for a Wii Shop purchase, and especially internet use would greatly benefit from a wireless keyboard that plugs into a Wiimote, or even independently controlled. This is an accessory that should have debuted already.

While it would be easy to nitpick certain other aspects of the system, the biggest issue remains as to what Nintendo’s next move will be. Are they going to sit on their laurels and be content while the other systems catch up and possibly surpass them, or is the company going to make sure to keep considerable distance from their competition by continuing to release new and improving content on a regular basis? The Wii looks to correct one of the mistakes that the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube had by actually bringing a stronger library of 3rd party support back to their system, but if the popularity of the other systems surpass the Wii this time around, it’s back to losing their regained and newfound support.

Nintendo’s approach to console gaming is risky this time around, but to date, has been greatly successful. While Nintendo maintains some of the best gaming franchises the industry has even seen, is it going to be able to not repeat the mistakes of its past that bumped it from an untouchable industry leader into a second or third place? At this point, only Nintendo will hold that answer.

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Filed under: wii gaming