The Way Wii Were: Thoughts On The Legacy Of Nintendo’s Top-Selling Console

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It’s official now. Nintendo is no longer producing new Wii consoles, meaning that once the ones floating around in the retail pipeline are gone, no more will be coming to take their place. Given that the Wii has managed less than a million units sold per quarter for the last six quarters and the mass of anecdotal evidence that many of the consoles currently go unused, it’s safe to say its time is over.

The Wii had a good run though, and that’s probably something of an understatement. Despite being famously underpowered compared to its seventh-gen rivals and releasing after both of them (only a week after the PS3, but still), it managed to outsell the PS3 and Xbox 360 by significant amounts. That’s a feat that will only look more impressive with the passage of time.

But even after proving about twice as popular in terms of units sold as the GameCube and Nintendo 64 combined and casting a shadow that looks impossible for the Wii U to escape, it’s fair to wonder exactly how we’ll look back on the Wii say, 20 years from now. It certainly doesn’t feel like the Wii will achieve iconic status the way the original NES has, or that most gamers will have warm, fuzzy memories of it. The Wii seems destined to be more than a footnote in console gaming history, but not exactly deserving of its own wing in the Hall of Fame either.

What’s weird about that is that Nintendo bucked convention and went all-in on innovation when it introduced the Wii, making its motion controls the star of the show. While the PS3 and 360 did the bigger, faster, stronger thing and did it well, the Wii cast a larger net to target people who wouldn’t automatically buy a new Nintendo console—or any console at all, in many cases. That gamble on a then hypothetical audience of people who could be converted to gamers if they were shown something that didn’t resemble or play like traditional video games paid off in a way that the company couldn’t possibly have envisioned.

Yet courting casual gamers was a relatively short-term strategy, as evidenced by the fact that Nintendo switched directions again when it created the Wii U (perhaps to its detriment, but the jury remains out). It didn’t help that smartphones and tablets made enormous leaps in both ubiquitousness and power during the Wii’s lifetime, swallowing up the time and money of casual gamers while adding the gigantic advantage of portability. Mobile devices would have done that even in an alternate universe without the Wii, so while it deserves a pat on the back for helping to ferret out the casual market, it can’t take all of the credit.

Similarly, the Wii forced motion controls into the console gaming mindset, to the point where both Sony and Microsoft felt compelled to create peripherals for their machines to ensure they weren’t left out. If everyone was getting set to play launch titles on their PS4 or Xbox One by hurling their whole bodies around, that would undoubtedly be the enduring legacy of the Wii. That’s not the case, as motion-controlled games found their niche in dance, fitness, and party games and never expanded much beyond it. The Kinect 2 or some yet to be released piece of tech could change that, but regular controllers look set to stick around for a while.

That leaves culturally significant games as the Wii’s last possible calling card, but it fares even worse there. “Wii Sports” was the best-selling Wii title by an insane margin, but no dedicated gamer is listing that in his or her favorite games of all time. “Mario Kart Wii,” “Super Mario Galaxy,” and “Mario Party 8″ all moved plenty of copies, sure. Will they be remembered as the best or most notable entries in their respective series? As the Magic 8-Ball might say, don’t count on it.

There is “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” which has a higher Metacritic score than either of its predecessors (barely edging out “Melee”), earned all kinds of accolades and awards when it was released, and arguably has a higher profile than any fighting game of its generation thanks to its wide-ranging appeal. By any standard, it’s a fantastic game. As a flagbearer for a console though, it doesn’t quite measure up to the watershed impact that “Halo” and “Halo 2″ had for the original Xbox or “GTA V” is having for the PS3 and 360.

To sum it all up, the Wii sold like hotcakes, helped discover a casual crowd that has now largely moved on, introduced a control scheme that remains mostly on the periphery of console gaming, and had fairly slim pickings when it came to milestone games. It’s in over 100 million homes, yet it’s still difficult to discern what kind of footprint it will leave on gaming history.

Still, the point here wasn’t to dismiss what the Wii accomplished or apply some kind of instant revisionist history to its success now that it’s ceased rolling off the production lines. Nintendo is much better off for having created the Wii, but is console gaming as a whole? As we’ve seen, that’s a question with a much less obvious answer, one that only time will reveal.

Topics: Wii

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