Friday, November 19, 2021

The Nintendo Wii Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Waggle


In 2005, Nintendo announced the "Revolution," a system aimed to change the way we play games.  The following year, Nintendo released its new console, the Wii, to an eager audience.  101 million units later, and the Wii is regarded as one of Nintendo's game changers.  Not only did the Wii introduce a controller with a new level of accessibility, but it opened a new demographic: the casual gamer.  What the Wii lacked in horsepower, it made up for with its creativity.

The System Itself

Costing only $250 at launch, the Wii was the cheapest of the next-gen consoles, plus it was bundled with a game and an interesting controller called the Wii remote.  The Wii remote's design was simple but intuitive.  It could be held in your hand like a remote or sideways to mimic the NES controller.  Attaching the nunchuck provided you with more control.  Nunchucks weren't the reason the Wii stood out; it was the Wii remote.

The fact swinging the remote mirrored swing a baseball bat in-game was enough to impress people.  This excitement led to a few broken TV's and busted Wii remotes, but there was no denying the awe it inspired when you booted up the the console to play Wii Sports with family or friends.  Its easy-to-use functionality attracted people you wouldn't expect to play video games, like senior citizens.

Starting up the Wii brought you to the menu.  From there, you could select between different channels including the Mii channel, the Photo channel, the Forecast channel, and the News channel.  Downloading games or applications added more channels for you to choose from.  The Mii channel let you create in-game avatars called Mii's.  Mii's were featured prominently in Wii Sports and a handful of other games.  They also gave your Wii personality.  You could make Mii's based on yourself, loved ones, famous people, the list goes on.

At some point you had to had tried to make a Mii based on someone famous!

The Art of Motion Controls

When done right, motion controls enhanced the gameplay.  A great example is Resident Evil 4.  On other consoles, you aim with the analog stick.  This wasn't the case with the Wii version.  With the remote's pointer, you could point and shoot to hit weak spots, not to mention save ammo.  Super Mario Galaxy uses them minimally but effectively.  You point at the screen to collect star bits, shake the remote to make Mario spin, and for one level, you guide him on top of a ball by holding the remote like a joystick.

The problem was many games never got it quite right.  Your motions would either barely register, or it would be too sensitive.  This led many to flail, shake, and waggle their remotes like they were swatting away bats.  Nintendo fixed this issue by releasing Wii MotionPlus, an attachment that gave the remote 100 percent accuracy.  The problem was only a small selection of games used this device.  Had the controller been designed with 1:1 accuracy from the beginning, reactions wouldn't have been as divided.  Motion controls weren't the Wii's real problem, it was shovelware.

Shoveling Shovelware

With the Wii winning over non-gamers, low rent companies like Majesco and Destineer decided to profit off this new demographic by pushing quantity over quality.  Why put in the effort when you can release a cheaply made game for 20 bucks?  The result was a deluge of shovelware not seen since the NES.  Chicken Shoot, Ninjabread Man, Game Party, Action Girlz Racing, M&M's Racing, and much more clogged the bargain bins, ready to nab some unsuspecting soccer mom.

Why spend 60 dollars on "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" when you can spend 20 bucks on "Anubis II?"

The Wii had crap, but if you dug deep, there was buried treasure.

First and Third-Party Support

Nintendo put out a mixture of titles catered to core and casual gamers.  You had new entries in the Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Smash Bros. series alongside revivals of Punch Out, Kirby, and Donkey Kong Country.  That's not mentioning original games like Excite Truck and the timeless Flingsmash.  Their major franchise efforts were excellent, but their casual-focused titles were a mixed bag.

Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort are great crowd pleaser with a varied selection of sports to choose from.  The same can't be said about Wii Play, a minigame collection that sold well only because it came with a free remote.  The less said about Wii Music, the better.

Nintendo also attempted to merge gaming with fitness through Wii Fit.  The game came with a balance board, a device that measured your weight and acted as a peripheral.  It mixed real-world activities like yoga and jogging with more gamey ones like downhill skiing.  Considering most people think of gamers as overweight slobs who haven't touched a woman, I commend Nintendo for making something that tried to show how a healthy lifestyle could be fun and rewarding.

First-party releases are important, but it's the third-party support that matters.  Although many major titles skipped the system due to the fact the Wii was "two Gamecubes taped together," it got a lot of releases you couldn't find elsewhere.  MadWorld, No More Heroes, Little King's Story, A Boy and His Blob, and De Blob are one of many distinctive titles on the system.  They took advantage of the hardware to craft fascinating experiences.  Some of these games were visually striking, like Muramasa: The Demon Blade, an action RPG with an art style inspired by Japanese watercolor paintings.

This is a Wii game, folks.

During the Wii's lifetime, the rail shooter experienced a renaissance.  You had ports of classics like House of the Dead 2&3 and Ghost Squad, plus original titles like House of the Dead: Overkill, Dead Space Extraction, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, and its sequel Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles.  These titles breathed new life into a niche genre.  My personal favorite was House of the Dead: Overkill, a game that was vulgar, violent, and funny.

Mainstream genres like open world and shooters floundered on the Wii.  There were some, but not a lot.  Most of the open world titles were ports, but a couple were made exclusively for the system, one of which I'll get to shortly.  As for shooters, one that springs to mind is The Conduit, a hardcore shooter built around the Wii's capabilities.

The Conduit offered a level of customization never seen before in a shooter.  You could swap button placements, change the size of the dead zone, or move around the in-game HUD.  I have a lot of fond memories with The Conduit, particularly the sequel, as it was the first game I ever pre-ordered, I'm not kidding.

Towards the end of the Wii's lifecycle, a few RPGs were released, including Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora's Tower.  If you wanted a fighting game fix, there was Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars.  Though it featured characters from a studio few had heard of, the game was a spectacular fighter and a great alternative for those tired of non-stop Smash Bros.

The Ports Unleashed

As I mentioned earlier, many major releases skipped the Wii.  The weaker hardware and oddball controller meant developers faced an uphill battle trying to get something like Grand Theft Auto IV running on the Wii.  The ones that made it were retooled in "interesting" ways.  Dead Rising: Chop till You Drop took the classic Xbox 360 game, chopped a lot of key features, and reworked everything else around the Resident Evil 4 engine.  Instead of fighting through hundreds of zombies, Frank West fights dozens of them, not to mention a never-ending supply of zombified poodles and parrots.

Many Call of Duty games were released, including the original Modern Warfare and Black Ops.  The catch was these versions were missing various single-player and multiplayer features.  On the plus side, the pointer controls made shooting precise and accurate.  Strangely, Call of Duty on Wii developed a cult following, bolstered by the fact the servers for these ports were still up and running even after Nintendo shut down the Wii's official servers in 2014.


My personal favorites of these Wii ports include Driver: San Francisco and Ghostbusters: The Video Game.  Rather than attempt to emulate their HD counterparts, these ports were built around the system.  In some ways, they were better.  The Wii version of Ghostbusters lets you blast a proton pack by pointing the Wii remote, plus the levels are designed in a way that gives this version more of a pickup and play feel.  Driver: San Francisco on the Wii is a prequel to the first Driver, and a fun open world game on a system that saw very few of them.

The Wii Shop Channel and Wii Online

Wii owners were able to download new titles through the Wii Shop Channel, or revisit old games via the Virtual Console.  Wiiware was the name for original downloadable titles, and there were some great releases, including Mega Man 9 and 10, Strong Bad's Point and Click Adventure, and World of Goo.  I never used the Wii Shop Channel because I was a kid who didn't know what a wi-fi password was, but I was subscribed to Nintendo Power.  Whenever a new issue of Nintendo Power arrived, I would flip to the downloadable section to see what they had to say about the new Wiiware and Virtual Console releases.

In general, the Wii's online was a mixed bag.  To share data on a friend's Wii, you had to use friend codes.  This was a 16-digit number most didn't know where to find or how to use.  Any games that supported online multiplayer had spotty servers.  In 2014, Nintendo shut down the wi-fi servers for the Wii and DS, but a handful of games, notably the Call of Duty titles, had functioning servers.  Fans have attempted to resurrect the Wii's online with homebrews and mods, so I appreciate the effort that's gone to resurrect a disabled feature.

Backwards Compatibility

No discussion about the Wii would ignore its backwards compatibility with the Nintendo Gamecube.  Every Gamecube title and most accessories work on the Wii.  Owning a Wii is a great way to explore the Gamecube's library without forking over the cash.  Nintendo re-released a handful of their Gamecube titles on the Wii under the New Play Control label, and Capcom ported the Resident Evil remake and Resident Evil Zero.  These ports are hit and miss, but it was an alternative for those who didn't want to go through the trouble of trying to find the original titles.

"Metroid Prime Trilogy" was the best of these Gamecube to Wii ports.  The addition of pointer controls made a big difference on the trilogy.  If you can find a copy, get it.

What Made the Wii Special?

The Wii was a unique specimen.  It was a gamble to make a system whose innovation wasn't cutting edge graphics, but its controller.  Despite its shortcomings, I think the Wii succeeded.  Yes, it wasn't as powerful as a 360 or PS3.  Yes, there was a lot of crap.  Yes, waggling can be annoying.  For all its problems, the Wii left an impact that's still felt to this day.  Think of the Nintendo Switch and how it mixes console gaming with portable gaming.  Had the Wii not been as successful as it was, I don't think Nintendo would tried to take such a gamble with another one of their systems.

Nintendo knew who the system would appeal the most to and marketed it as such.  The idea was simple but easy to understand, and as the name implied, the Wii was about bringing people together.

I can't say the same about the Move or Kinect.

Playing Catch Up

Seeing how the Wii was outselling both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Microsoft and Sony tried to ride the Wii's coattails by making their own motion-controlled devices.  Sony announced the Move, and Microsoft announced the Kinect.  While the Move was a controller with 1:1 accuracy, the Kinect was a camera that detected your whole body.  "You are the controller," the marketing proclaimed.

They sucked.

The Move and Kinect touted big ideas but delivered empty promises.  The Kinect was sold as a controller-free experience, but it was a pain to set up.  You needed to make a ton of free space for it to read your body, and with many games, it struggled to recognize you were there, no matter how much you readjusted yourself.  Compare that with the Wii, where you need to make some room, but not a lot, to use the Wii remote.  The Move was a bit more forgiving, but where they both failed was a lack of compelling software.

The Move and Kinect tried to appeal towards the casual crowd, but the games they offered were either carbon copies of existing Wii games, or shovelware.  Of the two, the Kinect had the worse selection.  You had blunders like Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports, and most infamous of all, Kinect Star Wars.  There was the occasional nugget of gold, such as the Dance Central series and the Gunstringer, but they were shining kernels in a mountain of crap.  Kinect games were also housed in a purple case that made it look like your games had taken a nasty beating.

The Move fared slightly better.  You had ports of House of the Dead: Overkill and Dead Space Extraction, plus some big releases like Killzone 3 offered Move compatibility.  The problem was it only applied to a small selection of games.  It wasn't compatible with pre-existing PS3 games, nor did any future releases offer Move support.  Though the Move and Kinect sold well, they were nowhere near as successful as the Wii.  Soon, they were gathering dust in GameStop's and the cluttered bins of many a thrift store.

Closing Thoughts

I have a lot of nostalgia for the Wii.  Our family got one as a Christmas gift in 2008, and we spent a lot of time playing Wii Sports, Guitar Hero III, and more.  I was excited to have a new console after being stuck with a PlayStation 1 for many years.  The family stopped working some years later, but I got my own Wii not long after.  I used it to explore the system's catalog, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

If you can look past the cheaply made party games and Wii Music, there are a lot of great first and third-party titles, as well as some interesting oddities.  I also came to love motion controls.  They made playing games more fun, and I never had a problem with aiming the remote or doing gestures, probably because I have steady hands.  How they were implemented could come off as gimmicky, but developers found some cool ways to use the controller.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the Wii.  It's one of my favorite consoles and proof you can take a gimmick like motion controls and make it work.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Redesigning My Entertainment Room


This weekend I redesigned my entertainment room.  What was once a cluttered mess of shelves is now a tidy little room that houses my gaming and movie collections.  This room has gone through many iterations, and it all stems from when I was 12 and decided to collect games.  Fast forward to now, and that dream has come true.  But first, a little history.

From Humble Beginnings

I didn't play a lot of games growing up.  My parents were strict on what I could play and for how long.  Because of this, the only system I owned was a PlayStation 1.  I had a handful of games for it and played it whenever I visited my mother on the weekends.  I missed out on the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, the Gamecube, and all the excellent games kids my age were playing.  That changed in Christmas 2008, when I got a PS2 and our family got a Wii.

Upon getting the PS2, I started buying games with whatever money I earned from doing chores and other odd jobs.  It was exhilarating to finally own games I didn't have access to, or briefly experienced at either a friend's place or a gaming kiosk at a department store.  Around 13 or 14, I decided to start collecting games for the systems I had.  Any games I got went on a bookshelf in my bedroom.  It wasn't much, but I felt satisfied knowing I had a shelf filled with games I owned.

Gotta Collect 'Em All

By age 17, I decided I wanted an entertainment room.  I owned a PS2, a Wii, and an Xbox 360, plus I had all my original PS1 games.  Using the handful of shelves I had gotten from family members, I arranged them in a way that allowed me to show off my collection.  Sadly, I don't have any photos of the original room, so this is based on what I remember.

The idea of making such a room was the result of watching too much YouTube.  Seeing the massive collections certain YouTubers had made me think, "Imagine if I had my own space to show off my stuff, that'd be awesome!"  The problem was I was deathly afraid of working.  No job meant no money.  Financial responsibility was an alien concept to me.

That changed when I graduated from high school and got a job working at Little Caesars.  Now that I had a bank account and understood the basics of saving, I could use the cash to afford more shelves for my bedroom.  Being a fledgling college student, said shelves came from the local thrift store, but I was proud.  Over the years, I built up my movie and game collections, adding new systems and new titles.

My room circa September 2021.

Extreme Makeover: GamerGuy Edition

By 2021, it was time for an upgrade.  The layout of my room had been unchanged for six years, and as the years went by and the collection expanded, it was creating problems.  Nothing says fun like shuffling stuff around to make room for more stuff.  At the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals, one of which was to redesign my room.

After months of working and saving up, I had enough cash to buy new furniture and get rid of the clutter.  I took down all the tapes, DVDs, blu-rays, and games I had acquired, put them into boxes, and moved the old furniture out.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Finding Furniture

I found the new TV stand out of sheer luck.  I work at a Salvation Army thrift store and when it was dropped off I thought, "That's exactly what I'm looking for!"  I ordered the new shelves and dresser off Amazon.  Once everything arrived, I got to work.

Building the shelves was a hassle.  With very little wiggle room, I had to be extremely careful putting the shelves together.  I nearly went mad, but I was able to finish them and save my sanity.  The "fun" part was then restocking them with all the games and movies I owned.

As I was making my way through the VHS collection, I realized I owned way too many tapes.  I had built up a sizable VHS collection during my college years.  When you have money, but not a lot of it, a VHS collection can come in handy.  They're cheap, plentiful, and there's a charm to watching movies on an older format.  However, VHS takes up a lot of space, and nearly all the shelves I owned were filled with tapes.

I decided to separate the essentials from the nonessentials.  I boxed the nonessentials up and took them to a thrift store the next day.  I also made a new rule for myself: no more tapes.  I like VHS, but I have enough tapes.  For some, one is too many and a thousand is never enough.  For me, I'm satisfied with what I own, and I'm not in a rush to fluff it with movies I may rarely, if ever, watch.

Bye bye tapes!

I got frames for my Godzilla 1985 and Return of the Living Dead Part II posters and hung them up.  A few extra adjustments here and there, and my redesigned media room is complete.

New and Improved

Building Better Rooms

I love my new media room.  It looks great and is a lot more organized and less cluttered.  It's bound to change, especially if I move out and get my own place, but I love it.

To close out this post, here's a few quick tips for those looking to design their own gaming/entertainment room:

1. Know What You Want
2. Design Your Layout
3. Have the Tools, Have the Talent