I decided to wait a few weeks after E3 to really sit down and discuss Nintendo’s new line-up for the Wii. I’m sold on the 3DS purely due to my love for Kid Icarus: Uprising, and after 20+ years, one takes what they can get. Of course, Starfox 64 3D and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D hold my interest as well. But it’s a telling sign that a lot of games are getting crazy for two remakes that are over 10+ years old, and a franchise that hasn’t been touched in two decades. Honestly, it sounds like the current state of the film industry, doesn’t it?

Of course, there will be other titles, and the line-up does look exciting, so that’s little more than an observation on my part.

For the Wii itself, things couldn’t be better as far as retail goes. For a while, my interests remained purely with WiiWare titles and Virtual Console selections. For the time being (or seemingly indefinitely), NoA has shelved the Virtual Console, which is unfortunate. From 3-4 games a week, to one game a week, to hoping for at least one game a month, one of my favorite features on the Wii has been rendered moot. I wonder if we’ll ever see the arcade versions of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., or Mario Bros.

But at least we have new things to play with, right? Well, old friends with new faces, playing in familiar ways.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is one that’s really pulling my attention this round. I didn’t like Donkey Kong 64 as much as it was too much of a collectathon, and the graphics seemed to have a higher level of detail in 2D. This is Retro Studios first real go with 2D, Donkey Kong and a platformer, but the artwork is beautiful, and the artwork is very strongly influenced by Rare’s original style. I’ve said elsewhere that 2D gaming seems to be the Wii’s strongest suit, and it seems that others feel the same way.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn follows the 2D trail as well. The graphics remind me of the arts and crafts style of Yoshi’s Story, which was one of the few 2D games on the Nintendo 64. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to appreciate the level of creativity used for these levels (though I hope the game length is significantly longer than Yoshi’s Story’s hour long journey). While I do play the occasional “dark and gritty” game, games like this are a true stand-out, and attract my attention a lot faster.

Which brings us to Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The idea of actually swinging Link’s sword myself excited me about the Wii since inception, and I’m eager to finally see it happen here. This is a game that demanded motion control, and I want that same feeling of “Wow” I felt in playing the Metroid Prime games with Wii controls, as in it would be pointless to play it any other way. To date, not that many Wii games have generated that “need” for me. I also enjoy the graphics. To date, this is the only Zelda game that looks closest to the illustrations found in the original NES title’s instruction manual. Even with the limitations of 8-bit graphics, that’s how I “saw” the game’s world. This title looks to be the closest realization of my personal interpretation so far.

The third party has also stepped it up this year, with a new Goldeneye (if you can’t sort out the legal issues of the original game, then create your own interpretation), a new NBA Jam (one of the few sports games that I found fun, and surprisingly one Midway never went back to resurrect), and a new Mickey Mouse adventure (back when Disney games were “cool” in the 8 and 16-bit ages, and didn’t entirely and exclusively revolve around Disney Channel stars).

And with all of this, the love affair for Nintendo has returned, it’s just like the old days, all of those countless days and hours playing these games start firing up the nostalgia like a supernova, etc. But let’s look at things a little more critically.

I feel all of this was a little calculated, and I feel that these big “exclusive” titles that the Wii is getting were just as equally calculated. For a longtime Nintendo fan, it was growing increasingly difficult to sit by and not see the changes coming, and the “old fan” being pushed aside to court the new.

After Spring of 2008, the Wii hit a drought. Not in quantity (because there were more than enough Wii Series clones and it seemed like anyone could publish any kind of title on the Wii, no matter how commercially skewed or just plain awful), but in quality. Games like Wario Land and Punch-Out!! seemed to be the exception, rather than the norm from Nintendo. Wii Fit, Wii Play, and Wii Sports dominated everything, and it got to a point where Nintendo didn’t even have to try anymore. While it could be argued that you can’t maintain an entire system on just 2-3 games, the Wii remained the exception to that rule. Well, there was the Atari Jaguar, but that system had numerous problems from the start, and fell apart accordingly.

And there were plenty of comments about how the “Nintendo faithful” losing enthusiasm in the Wii and Nintendo. A lot of 3rd party companies echoed the same, after releasing some unique title that made a solid attempt to work within the Wii’s specs, and utterly tanked at retail. Did it matter if a few sour faces were made along the way? Not really. The new crowd has by and large eaten up anything with the word “Wii” on the cover, and little else.

I can’t help but wonder if part of this was Nintendo’s plan: Not alienating their old base so much, but getting these new gamers in so deep with the Wii, and now dropping all of their classics on them as sort of a gateway drug. Will it work? Hard to say. Perhaps for some, but how many the Wii audience are aware that the Wii even goes online, much less who Donkey Kong or Kirby are? Didn’t franchise games like the “New Play Control” series and Wario Land tank in sales, despite being based on beloved characters?

As excited as I am for this huge wave of “new” coming for the Wii, I can’t help but feel that this should have been the standard for the system’s lifespan, not the exception as the system begins the first stages of its gradual wind-down to the next system.

2008 was an utter drought post Smash Bros. and Mario Kart. 2009 held some surprises, but there were still months where nothing happened, and there was no real game news. I’ve mentioned before that the Wii has always needed “balance”: Provide the Wii Series for the new gamers, but supplant that with traditional titles to keep their long-standing fans happy as well. Nintendo wooed the new folk a little too hard for a little too long, and “time to clean the dust off my Wii” became a fairly overused phrase in comment sections for old fans.

But there’s also a new question: Where are the new characters and IPs? Is the “Mii” the Wii’s debut character? The Endless Ocean series is the only thing I can count as “new”, and if NoA decides to localize Last Story and Xenoblade (which I hope they do, as the Wii is barren for RPGs, unlike the NES and SNES days), there are two more new series.

There’s also the matter of motion control. In a year after its debut, Motion Control Plus seems to have finally gotten its showcase title in Skyward Sword, but Nintendo’s other “big” offerings look to provide a more traditional control scheme. There are titles on the Wii that make the most out of the control scheme (Metroid Prime and Ghostbusters among them), but its undeniable that many just shoehorn some type of motion in there to have it, while others just don’t even bother anymore. It seems that even Nintendo is starting to realize that the control scheme doesn’t matter. It’s all about providing the best gaming experience possible. If motion control works to enhance that experience in a sensible way, then so be it. If not, then minimize it.

This isn’t a post to bash the Wii. They’ve certainly done the right things to keep themselves #1 in sales and keeping themselves relevant in the mind’s eye of gaming, whther everyone agrees with it or not. Whether it’s a “gateway drug” scenario for the new, or a means to sway back the old fans with a “See? We never left you” equivalent of flowers and chocolates, Nintendo’s gone from “drought mode” to “flood mode”. And it is great, and it makes old fans remember why they love Nintendo, but it’s something of a harsh relationship.

I hope we’ll continue to see old and new faces on the Wii more regularly during its remaining life cycle, and this shift in attitude will transfer to the next system. The 3DS seems positioned to bring back all the old favorites (are you really going to need 3D to play Brain Age or Personal Trainer: Cooking?), and I am still skeptical if Nintendo will find an amazing enough gameplay novelty to entice those “new” gamers who only care about the “Wii Series” to plunk down another couple hundred dollars for a new system past their current Wii.

But I guess we won’t know those answers for certain until the next system.

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