A sad day came and went this week. No, I’m not talking about Lawrence Taylor’s rape charge, or another jettison of Infinity Ward employees or the realization that if you pitched a perfect game in MLB 2K10 on day 2, you still would not have won the $1 million.
No, I’m talking about my sale on eBay finalizing, and the sale of my Wii. (OK, so technically the sale was 2 weeks ago, but it all finalized last week). The main reason? I needed a netbook for this new writing gig I’m doing, I didn’t have spare cash, so something had to give.
The real reason? I hadn’t touched my Wii since I purchased Wii Fit when it came out (give or take a month of use of the balance board). It sat, sad and unused next to my Xbox 360, and even when I bought Madworld for $10 on a deal website a couple of months ago, I still couldn’t bring myself to play it.
Why? I’m not sure I can pin it on any one thing, but I can narrow it down to the following: lack of achievements, lack of cohesive online play, lack of HD, waning interest in motion control, and a tiring of Nintendo characterizations. Let’s look into this a bit more.
Lack of achievements: A funny thing happened when the Xbox 360 came out (Aside from RROD). People realized they got some candy for playing their games. It meant nothing, had no value, and could not be redeemed, but Achievement points became something as important to me in a system as a good controller or quality online. Why? It showed my level of commitment to a game. It tracked and rewarded doing oddball things. It forced me to play a game harder than I normally would if I wanted to get those pesky points. It added replay to games I never would have played twice, yet found myself enjoying games more as a result. I took my time, saw places I missed, ventured on new quests, heard new conversations, and got a better appreciation for the game as a whole. I also spent more money on arcade games, downloads, packs, pics and themes. Sometimes for achievement points, sometimes because I got excited about a game as a result. But all of it was driven by those 1000 (200) points available to me. Microsoft started an addiction subtly, and by the time I realized I was hooked it was too late. Games I would normally have played on any system were played for points on the 360. Rentals were 360. Even Nintendo exclusives would be disappointing to me because they did not offer achievements. It’s not Nintendo’s fault for not implementing a system, it’s Microsoft’s for getting me hooked. Just like I can’t watch Standard def TV anymore, I can’t play games that don’t have achievements (or trophies, etc).
Lack of cohesive online play: What makes online gaming great is the ability to have the experience of playing with your friends in such a way that it feels like everyone’s over at your house, without all the empty beer cans, half-eaten pizza, or snoring (well, that’s not entirely true, it’s just all your fault if it happens). Making this work means having seamless integration in games, a centralized network, and personalization. Nintendo had obscure system codes that made it difficult to share, and never allowed for real personalization. What makes this more difficult to swallow is that Nintendo did have a good chance to make online work, since they offered WiFi out of the box, and had good integration with news, weather, a browser, and the Nintendo Store. The problem was I always felt like I was just a small part of some giant anonymous machine. I couldn’t link up, I could just vote on whether love or happiness was more important in life, and try to guess what the rest of the world might say. I never felt that my friends and I were connected online; my best group experiences with the Wii were done in group settings in the same house (Mario Party, bowling, and tennis). This is fine in one sense: I like the physical comrade, but it’s not feasible for me anymore to have people over all the time. I am a grown adult now. I need a system that is flexible to my needs of playing with people online. The Wii was everything that was great in my youth – when I was able to sleep over my friend’s house 4 nights a week to play his Nintendo, leaving Rygar on overnight because we couldn’t save but had to sleep. But I’m grown now. I hate to admit that, but I think I outgrew the Wii, I just didn’t realize it.
Lack of HD: This doesn’t need much elaboration: as much as people want to say graphics don’t make the game, graphics make the game more enjoyable. A good story and characters beats out pretty graphics any day, but a good story, good characters and great graphics to boot? Um, that’s better than all of it. Playing the Wii offered me none of the wow factor that could make a bad game bearable on other systems. I will never understand why people compare the PS3 and Xbox 360 to the Wii when it comes to sales: they aren’t on the same level. If we want to talk about top selling systems, we should be calling the DS the great system killer, but we don’t. Why? Because the DS is not on the same level as the other systems. The same can be said of the Wii – it’s more of a casual gaming system than a next generation system. It is next-gen in its own way (motion control), but I’d class it on its own before comparing it to PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s an amazing system, and it’s sold well beyond expectations, but it’s still using last gen graphics. It’s 2010. I have a 50″ HDTV, and I don’t need to see “480p” on my screen when I flip over to my Wii input. Call me an HD snob, but so be it. Like achievements, I’ve gone HD, and I can’t go back.
Waning interest in motion control: It was a great thing when it came out. I know I lived out my sword wielding, boxing glove wearing, tennis star swinging, bowling pro striking lives in the beginning. I needed 10 feet to bowl because I replicated my bowling motion. I used 2 hands on my backhand in tennis. I gesticulated wildly when being swarmed in Zelda and needed to clear the way. I bobbed, weaved, uppercut and hooked with full motion (even though I felt like the game just thought I was dropping the controller all the time, since it never responded well). I lived motion control, and would look with disdain when my friends would just wing their arm while sitting on the couch bowling, or flicking their wrist while golfing. I’d try doubly hard to show how much fun it was to get into the motion, like I imagined the designers intended. And it was fun. In a group. Then I found that playing Zelda didn’t need me to be quite as elaborate in my motion. I really only needed to flick my wrist a little, or wiggle the nunchuk, or twist the controller a certain way, and performed the same (if not better) than living the dream. And that was when the motion controller went from innovative to annoying. I realized, like a child finally understanding there is no Santa (sorry kids), that motion control wasn’t what I wanted, I just wanted to believe in it because it gave me joy at first. Once I realized I could get the same result with less dramatic input, that’s what I gave it; usually with better results (I still need 10 feet when I bowl, just like I need to stand when I play guitar in Rock Band .. it just feels right). I suppose one could say “well then just keep acting it out and you’ll enjoy it!” That may be true, but the honeymoon is over: I prefer a controller as my input device with games that has buttons and joysticks or thumbpads or analog sticks. If it has to have motion, make it more PS3 than Wii – shake for reload to free up a button or some such. The Wii forced motion rather than suggested it, and after a while, I was tired of motion. I don’t know if this is an ill omen for Project Natal and Move, I suppose I will wait and give them their fair shake, but I hope the motion is an enhancement, and not the requirement.
Tiring of Nintendo Characterizations: This may be blasphemous, and I’m willing to take the heat of the flames, but am I the only one tired of Nintendo’s core characters now? I mean, I still love my mustached plumber, and my friends know I have an unhealthy obsession with Princess Peach (I get a rise out of watching her crush her competition), but I can’t help but feel as though Nintendo still thinks I’m 10. I know this is a difficult road to travel, because there really isn’t a way to take characters that appeal to such a broad age range, and make them relevant to everyone, so I’m understanding of outgrowing these characters. I just thought there would be more for someone like me, maybe some edgier games with our favorite characters that developed them beyond “It’sa me, Mario!” Paper Mario was a good run, and WarioWare was an interesting break-off, but for the most part, Nintendo has resigned to the fact that they will milk this cash cow, and let the older gamers either continue to find a way to adore the characters, or move on. I don’t blame Nintendo for this, I just outgrew what the Wii was offering. Maybe “outgrew” is the wrong term: Zelda was a way of making a little darker Link with a great storyline, but I never did finish the game.. something else always came up (something I’m not proud of – I did enjoy playing it, and should have finished it). It’s just hard to maintain the charm of something for so long and not have it wear off a bit. I don’t know if there is a solution here: pushing new characters risks alienating your userbase, creating new personas for existing characters will confuse the userbase, and staying with the same old formula will bore the userbase. Nintendo may be the victim of their own success here (as it relates to me, anyway). I suppose there’s nothing left to do other than milk the franchise, which it seems content in doing. Again, I can’t fault the decision, it’s just not what I want anymore. This was probably the hardest thing for me to admit, because through all my years of gaming, aside from the first 5 before the NES came out, Nintendo has been there. Their characters have been a part of my life for a long time, and have helped me form my opinion of what I expect from a game in some ways. I now expect different things, and its become time for me to admit that Nintendo and its characters weren’t offering what I wanted anymore.
And so, when I looked around my house a couple of weeks ago to find something to sell in order to get something I would use, I realized it was time to move on. Like a good spring cleaning, I became honest with myself on what I did and did not use, and was left with no choice but to sell while the system still had some value (days before the Black Wii was announced!), and made just enough for something I will get much more use out of. Yes, I will miss drunken Mario Party night. Yes I will miss my ridiculous bowling motions. And yes, I will even miss my Nintendo characters a little (Thanks to explodingRabbit, I still have my fix available).
But I’m moving on. Maybe there will be a chance for a reunion down the road; maybe Nintendo will appeal again to me one day. Maybe I’ll have a change of heart. But when push came to shove, I realized that right now, I don’t relate to Nintendo like I used to.
And that is why I have a new netbook. I guess I need to update my bio now.
What about you? Is the Wii getting any playtime with you? If a game comes out for the Wii and another system you own, do you play the Wii version? Is motion control something you enjoy, or do you prefer traditional controls? Are Nintendo’s core characters growing stale?