It seems crazy to think that it was back in 2006 when my buddy Steve and I camped out overnight at a Target in the freezing cold in a out of the way area of San Diego for my Wii. The mad rush, the pushy customers who just wanted to sell one on eBay….

It’s been an interesting four years watching the evolution of this system. It was the first system that pushed motion controls as a viable alternative to traditional controllers. It’s the first Nintendo system that has (if somewhat still half-heartedly) attempted online play and downloadable content. On a personal note, it is also the first Nintendo system that has ever failed on me not once, but multiple times (oh, the save data loss and missing Miis still sting).

It’s been a weird system, to be sure. Most systems usually do not start with a rush of shovelware, which later evolves into a slew of solid gaming content. But the Wii has been “backwards” from the beginning. The graphically weakest. The one that stood outside of the console wars, not matching feature for feature the online communities, leaderboards, social content, and reward systems of the other systems.

For the latter half of 2010, the Wii is continuing to roll out its strongest software line-up to date. 2007 offered some enjoyable starter content with titles such as Guitar Hero III, Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. This year, Wii owners are getting wonderful titles such as Kirby Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Epic Mickey, Sonic Colors, NBA Jam, Goldeneye, Sonic Colors, and Michael Jackson: The Experience. Anyone who still says there is “nothing good on the Wii”, is recycling a very tired and ridiculous argument now.

Not that there wasn’t once truth to that statement. Post Super Smash Bros. Brawl in Spring 2008 to Punch-Out!! in Summer 2009, there was a massive drought on the system. The Virtual Console, which offered enough retro gaming goodness to save off any slowness with its near-unlimited potential for classic titles, confusingly dried up as well, and has since never recovered. New systems were continually added to the service, but the lack of titles rendered them useless before they even had a chance to get off the ground. There’s no excuse for Nintendo to have not released their arcade content by now. How much longer will home gamers have to wait for an “accurate” version of Donkey Kong, since we’ve never really gotten one?

To fill the void, WiiWare came in, but like the Wii’s retail library, for every gem, there was a slew of garbage. Still, the service has provided a solid array of classics, such as Strong Bad, the Bit.Trip series, World of Goo, Cave Story, a new Blaster Master, a new Castlevania, a new Final Fantasy IV sequel…. All of these are great games, which furthers my own opinion that downloadable content has become the true output of creativity for modern gaming.

While every compliment has been met with an alternative counterpoint, where does the Wii succeed without peer? 2D gaming. The Wii is unmatched in some of the best platforming experiences around. 2009’s A Boy and His Blob and Muramasa: The Demon Blade are easily two of the prettiest games of this console generation regardless of system, and Nintendo has been returning deeply to its NES and SNES roots by bringing some of their long forgotten characters out of the woodwork to play again with a fresh coat of paint. 2010 as a whole has been a surprising “Return to Basics” with the Wii.

The Wii still has some issues to work out. Mini games just about flooded the entire library, burying quality games under countless Wii Sports and Wii Fit clones. There was also the phase where some companies were so focused into fitting motion controls into a game whether it needed it or not, practical game design took a backseat to gimmickry. These days, developers seem to have remembered that traditional controls are still best suited for certain games.

There was also the matter of re-releasing Gamecube games in the Wii format, and that seemed to be a substantial part of offerings during the above mentioned drought, even from Nintendo themselves. Many gamers grew even more frustrated, considering the Wii is already backwards compatible with the Gamecube. In addition, Nintendo hasn’t really offered that many new IP this gen, other than the Wii Series and Endless Ocean. Last Story and Xenoblade, if released in the States, look to be a positive step in the right direction to correct this.

Gaming accessories that are introduced don’t get much support, from largely useless shells such as the Wii Wheel and Wii Zapper, to the barely used Wii Speak and Wii Motion Plus (yes, I know there’s a Zelda next year, but an accessory that’s been out for a year and a half needed its “killer app” a long time ago). Even the Wii Balance Board seems to have run its course. Companies are no longer trying to squeeze the peripheral into every game, no matter how impractical or unnecessary. I don’t know if another Wii Fit sequel could revitalize the device.

There’s also the matter of Channels. Netflix is the first channel the Nintendo service has seen in over two years, and while most of the channels are largely forgettable, the Nintendo Channel does offer some news and updates on the World of Nintendo. It is, however, surprising how many existing games are not mentioned on the service in any way, shape or form. Japan, like the Virtual Console, gets the lion’s share with extra features in this regard.

With Sony introducing the Move, and Microsoft introducing Kinect, Nintendo also no longer holds the exclusive market on motion controlled gaming. Whether of not the two companies can prove to be any sort of challenger remains to be seen.

In any case, Nintendo seems to have settled comfortably into its own place, challenging convention with new ideas, and reaffirming a love for the past by revitalizing semi-forgotten, but still loved series. Nintendo still has work to do in regards on their online services (complete with leaderboards, reward systems and a full listing of existing games), friend information exchanges, data transfer from one registered system to another, and revitalizing their Channel systems and Virtual Console service, both of which have suffered greatly. The good news is that all of these issues could be easily fixed. The real question is “when”, or more appropriately, “if”.

The Wii has been an interesting ride, for better and for worse. Despite the changes, it’s nice to see the most important area has been given a tremendous boost, and that’s in the games. It will be interesting to see where the rest of the Wii’s journey takes it, but if this year is any indication, it’s heading in a great direction. Let’s hope it stays there.

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