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15 Years of Wii

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Nintendo released the Wii, a game console focused on motion control, ​​on Nov. 15, 2006. After the failure of the GameCube, which didn’t overtake rivals such as the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the company found success in the Wii. Selling over 101 million units, Wii is widely considered the most popular console of its generation. Not only that but it has also been supported for almost the entirety of its 15 years, with its final game, “Shakedown: Hawaii” released in 2020. Throughout the Wii’s lifespan, Nintendo contrasted themes of innovation with traditionalism — both in the system’s design and its games.   

In order to sell the console, Nintendo provided a variety of innovations to set itself apart from the competition. Its controller, the Wiimote, has a design resembling a television remote, allowing it to take on a wide variety of situations — from a sword, to a golf club and even a paintbrush. In fact, Nintendo exploited the Wii’s versatility by including a pack-in title, “Wii Sports,” where the Wiimote was used to stimulate a wide variety of sports, including baseball and tennis. There were also traditional aspects such as the games’ design, which emphasized a family-friendly nature and a pick-up-and-play mentality which was reminiscent of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In addition, the Wiimote could be turned on its side to resemble an old NES controller, allowing it to play certain games, mostly 2D ones, horizontally; although, this is not demonstrated in “Wii Sports.” Now motion controls are popular, with the Kinect, the PlayStation Move and the Nintendo Switch Joy-cons all taking inspiration from this design. 

Another innovation of the Wii was providing many family-friendly titles. Nintendo released an entire series of games centered around the controller performing basic activities, known as the “Wii” franchise. This branding eventually grew to encompass titles such as “Wii Party,” “Wii Music” and “Wii Play.” While each game covered a different activity, all of them shared two aspects in common: a focus on providing a fun, family-friendly experience with both multiplayer and single-player modes, and the usage of avatar-like player characters known as Miis. Miis resemble a traditional Japanese doll known as a kokeshi, and the idea of a character-creation system had been experimented with ever since the NES era. The success of these games caused many other publishers to make family-friendly titles such as Ubisoft’s “Just Dance” series and EA’s “MySims.”   

While most core gamers derided these titles as too casual-oriented, most Nintendo consoles have had family-friendly games with both multiplayer and single player modes ever since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System era. These include various spinoffs in the Mario franchise, such as “Super Mario Kart” and “Super Smash Bros.”  

Mario also released many games on the Wii. The system was the first home console to host multiple mainline Mario platformers since the NES 15 years prior. Each of them managed to put a unique spin on the traditional Mario formula. The first of these games to be released was 2007’s “Super Mario Galaxy,” a 3D platformer that placed the famous plumber in space where he explored a series of planets by way of a space station. Like many Mario games, it also stuck to tradition, as the game still tasked players with rescuing Princess Peach from the clutches of the evil Bowser. The new gameplay style, with levels that consisted of a series of planetoids interconnected by transportation devices known as “Launch Stars” provided a more linear game compared to Mario’s previous outings, which had a more open-world style. 

Nintendo followed this up with “New Super Mario Bros. Wii,” the sequel to the 2006 DS game “New Super Mario Bros.” This game returned to the old, 2D play style of classic Mario games such as “Super Mario World.” It added several new innovations, the most prominent being a four-player co-op play mode. “Super Mario Galaxy 2,” a sequel to the 2007 game, added Mario’s dinosaur companion Yoshi; ramped up the difficulty level; and provided players a longer quest through the addition of Green Stars, new collectable items that appear in levels after the game is beaten. Subsequently, Nintendo would go on to create 3D Mario games that were even more linear, such as “Super Mario 3D World.” However, a backlash against this style caused them to return to the old, open-world formula with “Super Mario Odyssey.”  

The Wii also combined tradition and innovation by offering downloadable games through its Wii Shop Channel. The games were split into two categories: the Virtual Console and Wiiware services. While the Virtual Console gave modern players access to retro games such as “Sonic the Hedgehog” and most of the older “Final Fantasy” titles, the Wiiware service gave indie publishers the chance to release their games. Some of the titles released through this system included “BIT. TRIP,” a challenging series of rhythm games, and “Cave Story,” a nonlinear platformer about a boy named Quote who must prevent an evil scientist from taking over the world. These games, despite being delivered in a new format, still paid tribute to the legacy of old video games. For instance, the “BIT. TRIP” series’ graphics have been frequently compared to an older Atari game, while “Cave Story” contains elements of older NES games as a side-scrolling game with an emphasis on exploration.       

Elements of the Wii transformed the current gaming landscape. These ideas are also implemented in Nintendo’s current console, the Switch, as they have marketed the system to both casual gamers and core gamers; many of its best-selling titles are remakes of older games. 

Through the system, Nintendo was able to turn millions of people into gamers, most of them outside their usual demographic. From preschoolers to grandparents, pretty much everyone has been able to appreciate the simple gameplay of games like “Wii Sports.” This has paved the way for mobile gaming on smartphones, which target a similar audience. Through rereleases on the Virtual Console and new games in established franchises, Nintendo has been able to introduce many people to their famous franchises and tap into a nostalgic market hungry for games of past eras.  

Bailey Kanthatham is an Entertainment Contributing Writer. He can be reached at bkanthat@uci.edu.