tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Wii would like to play

It's been about 5 months since I got my Wii. I don't usually get consoles this close to the start of their lifetimes, but I made an exception in the Wii's case since I was intrigued by the possibility of new methods of interacting with game worlds. Well, that and the fact that there was a Sonic game on it that wasn't entirely bad. Five months on, I find myself satisfied on the whole, yet still disappointed at certain ways in which the experience has been lacking.

First off, let it be known that there IS good third-party software for the system. I've been largely happy with Capcom's efforts on the system, and Sega has also shown some rare (if rough) inspiration with titles like Sonic and the Secret Rings and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams. I've heard largely good things about other titles like No More Heroes as well. Unfortunately, good third-party software is far from common. There's a LOT of shovelware on the system, and much of it is either in the form of completely uninspired minigame collections or lousy ports of PS2 games. The Wii has the largest install base of all three current-generation consoles thanks to its low price and emphasis on “casual-friendly” gaming, but so far long-time gamers appear to be expressing dissatisfaction at the third-party software available on the platform, and I would have to agree with their complaints. Nintendo's first-party efforts have been largely solid, if excessively familiar, but what really keeps gamers committed to a platform is a reliable stream of quality third-party software. It's why the DS continues to be a success in spite of its own casual gaming focus, and one of the reasons why the PSP and PS3 are finally seeing success.

The other thing that annoys me about the Wii is how underdeveloped certain aspects of the system are. This isn't a knock against the CPU/GPU performance of the system (it's not even as powerful as the first Xbox, seeing how it lacks programmable shaders, but that's not my focus here) – it's a gripe with the capabilities of the hardware. For one, the 512MB internal memory is incredibly limiting. The lack of significant internal storage has already gimped Guitar Hero III's feature set, and the much-anticipated Rock Band will similarly lack downloadable content. In addition, once the WiiWare service launches, Wii owners are going to find themselves strapped for storage space with downloadable titles vying for space with Virtual Console games. An easy fix would be to support USB hard drives (and Harmonix has already openly asked for such a feature) but it seems unlikely Nintendo will do anything of the sort.

In addition, the Nintendo Wi-fi Connection has proven to be a major hassle. A limited online service hampered by the need for “friend codes” made sense on a handheld with relatively simple firmware and no in-built storage, but on the more powerful Wii it makes absolutely no sense. Why doesn't the Wii have support for the same things that Xbox Live or even PSN does? I've been gaming online since before it was even possible on consoles (1997, with Starcraft, Diablo and Quake) and even those games had far more robust online features than anything on the Wii. No unified friends list, strange and hard-to-remember friend identifiers (which are game-specific for some reason), no support for voice chat peripherals of any kind…WFC is just lacking in so many respects that it's not funny. I do play Super Smash Brothers Brawl online, but it's enough of a hassle that such occasions are rare (compared to say, the times when I log on to Steam and play Team Fortress 2).

I've had fun with the Wii, and there are games, both upcoming and currently available, that I'd like to play on it, but I feel that Nintendo is in danger of squandering its lead if it doesn't address the shortcomings in its platform. Attracting casual gamers is all well and good (and lord knows there are still millions of people out there who shell out money for shovelware) but annoying the core gaming audience who have bought into their platform is far from a recipe for success.

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