Live Wii or Die Hardcore: Part #1By: Andrew Joy
We live in a culture of fear right now.
No, I’m not talking about the American people in general believing that around every corner someone’s going to burst out screaming, “Allah Akbar!” I’m talking about gamers. More specifically, I’m talking about hardcore gamers. Long has it been said that Nintendo is a company for kiddies, with their family-friendly consoles providing a video game library that suffers from a deplorable lack of mature content. While many still feel that way to be sure, recently there has been a shift in that thought. Now, the cries of injustice are not only claiming that Nintendo has forgotten about the angst-ridden, adolescent core gamer – the same one who secretly craves Mario and friends but only publicly throws his support behind whatever online sports game or blood-splattered FPS has become the flavor of the month – but also gamers in general. Nintendo’s latest console, the Wii, is certainly overflowing with casual games at the moment, and more are expected in the months to come. But has Nintendo truly forsaken all those who’ve stuck with them over the years in favor of those who’ve never even heard of them before?
There is no question that, in its quest to regain the market dominance it once had, Nintendo has started focusing on non-gamers. When they announced and showcased the Nintendo Wii (or Revolution, as it was codenamed at the time), they told us as much. And why shouldn’t they? After all, those same tactics worked for the Nintendo DS, giving the handheld such a lead over the PlayStation Portable that Sony will be hard-pressed to catch up (even with a redesign). Predominantly, two things have driven the success of the Nintendo DS: the system’s ease of use and, of course, the software. Rather than having to remember what button does what and then pounding on it until blisters form on their thumbs, players can (for the most part) just pick up a stylus and interact directly with the screen, the same way many professionals do every day with Palm Pilots and PDAs. The Wii follows a similar approach, using a point-and-click interface that, while less tactile, is a bit more PC-like and familiar in concept. Naturally, once you have a console that everyone can use, the next step is making sure it's something that everyone wants to use. This is where the software comes in.
When the Nintendo DS launched, we saw much of what we are seeing with the Wii: lots of quick ports with tacked on controls and nothing that actually brings anything new to the table, despite the considerable difference in hardware. In my opinion, this is where Nintendo really stepped up the plate by introducing the Touch Generations line, forging a path that third-party developers soon followed. Titles like Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, Big Brain Academy and Nintendogs not only showcased intuitive controls, but also provided games that everyone could find enjoyment in. Already, Nintendo has extended the Touch Generations line to the Nintendo Wii, though Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree is the only game available so far. However, there are plenty of other titles that could easily fit the label, including Wii Sports (which, as you likely know, comes with the system) and Wii Play (which comes packaged with a Wii Remote), and upcoming titles like Wii Fit and Wii Music. As I mentioned Touch Generations helped pave the road for other companies on the Nintendo DS, and the same is true for the Nintendo Wii. In fact, in addition to a number of titles targeted directly at this expanded market – such as EA Playground and Carnival Games – some big name developers are also tweaking existing franchises to have more mass-market appeal. A great example of this is Electronic Arts, who has announced a new Family Play mode for their EA Sports title. This new type of gameplay is meant to simplify the controls so that any member of the family, young or old, can just pick up the Wii Remote (no Nunchuk needed in most cases) and play with as little explanation as possible.
So, to get back to the question we posed eariler, does that mean that core gamers are being brushed to the side? Despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, our answer would have to be a resounding no. You see, even though Nintendo has several casual games in development, the company also has a lineup that is larger than any it has had in recent memory, and that includes several titles that are tailored to the core gamer. Just before E3, it came out that some of Nintendo's biggest guns - including Super Smash Bros. Brawl - would not be in attendance at the show, as the company wanted to use their limited time more judiciously and show off newer products, but that didn't mean they had merely shunned those existing projects we've all been eagerly awaiting. In fact, even though most of the hype during E3 seemed focused towards Wii Fit, Nintendo also announced a new Mario Kart for the Wii (complete with online play) and later revealed their entire lineup for the system. What we found in that release list more than surprised us (as well as our wallets, which made a running leap for the nearest window). In just the second half of 2007 alone, the Wii is getting half a dozen titles that could easily be classified as core games...and that is just from Nintendo! Don't believe us? Well, just take a look:
Few video games, if any, have as much mass market appeal as sports games. Not only do they tend to make it into the library of longtime gamers, but they seem to have no trouble finding their way into the systems of casual gamers as well. That doesn't mean they're easy, as they also often tend to have an unrivaled difficulty curve, created in part by years and years of gradual improvements suddenly being thrust upon a new player all at once. The Mario sports titles are no exception. Despite the bright colors and often goofy-looking characters, they still follow the basic rules of the sport they are based on, as well as having rather unexpected dangers - after all, the FIFA World Cup was never held in World 1-1. Mario Strikers Charged, on the other hand, will offer you just that, setting matches in 17 character- and level-themed stadiums, each alive with its own treacherous environment and terrain obstacles. The game also ups the ante from the original, providing two types of online play: one that uses Friends Codes and one that doesn't. In Friendly Matches, players can challenge players from anywhere in the world to an unranked game, so long as they are on their Friends List. Ranked Matches, on the other hand, do not require Friends Codes, though you'll only be paired with other players within your region. No matter how you choose to play, the improvements over the original Super Mario Strikers make Charged a game that hardcore players should certainly try to score.
Release Date: July 30th
Even though it falls below Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl on many people's most wanted lists, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is still one of the big three, representing a major Nintendo franchise that will see its Wii debut this year. Wrapping up the Prime trilogy, Corruption is once again a first-person take on the female bounty hunter Samus Aran's traditionally side-scrolling adventures. In addition to merely wrapping up the saga that began back on the GameCube, Metroid Prime 3 also looks to define how FPS (whether you believe the Metroid Prime series is an FPS or not) games should play on Nintendo's new console, by all accounts providing fast-paced gameplay and the pinpoint accuracy that so far only the Wii Remote and PC have been able to offer. Though it will unfortunately not include online play, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption will certainly make use of the console's other capabilities, being one of the best looking Nintendo Wii games to date.
Release Date: August 27th
An RTS spin-off of the traditionally turn-based Advance Wars series, the original Battalion Wars developed only a small niche following when it was released on the GameCube in 2005. While the game was critically well-received, gamers and game reviewers had problems with the game's short length, one that wasn't helped by the lack of any sort of multiplayer. To that last part, Nintendo is addressing some attention with the sequel. When it hits this October, BWii will take the franchise online with three different modes, including a game of capture the flag for up to four players. Some other additions include throwing a new nation (the Anglo Isles) as well as naval combat (complete with it's own selection of vehicles) into the mix, and, of course, Wii Remote controls, which should make it easier to not only fight, but also micro-manage your units across the battlefield, another common complaint with the original Battalion Wars.
Release Date: October 29th
Role-playing games often exemplify the hardcore, and while franchises like Final Fantasy are more recognizable, Nintendo is not without its own stake in the genre. The Fire Emblem series might be relatively new to our shores - with a GBA title being the first released in North America in 2003, and 2005's Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GCN) becoming the first console version to make it here - they still have a following made up of importers and new fans alike. The next game in the series, and the first to appear on the Nintendo Wii, is Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn (subtitle subject to change), which will act as a direct sequel to Path of Radiance. This time around, the game will include more chapters, playable characters, and classes than Path of Radiance. However, like its predecessor, Goddess of Dawn will also feature the same FMV and cel-shaded graphics that now appear to be the new look of console Fire Emblem games. Following Nintendo's new strategy, it will likely be just as accessible to new players as the hardcore, but should appeal to members of both groups nevertheless.
Release Date: November 5th
How does one go about explaining a game like Super Mario Galaxy? Well, calling it the most-anticipated game of the year on the Wii (or perhaps any system) would be a good start. Perhaps the driving force behind this anticipation is that the game seems like the first worthy successor to Super Mario 64 (and Reggie Fils-Aime even said as much during the company's E3 press conference) since many people considered Super Mario Sunshine to be a failure. Of course, it might also have something to do with just how fantastic the game looks - Galaxy truly appears to be graphically superior to virtually any other game in the system's lineup, showing what can really be done with Nintendo's comparatively underpowered console when developers try. As the title would suggest, Super Mario Galaxy sees our pleasantly plump plumber platforming on planetoids. Of course, bringing together a wide variety of characters - from the ones you'd expect (like Bowser) to the one's you might not (like a Wiggler) - and seeing the return of the costumes from Super Mario Bros. 3 - though, instead of the Tanooki suit, you'll don bumblebee and Boo costumes - the game's title may be more be more appropriate than we'll ever know, providing a veritable feast of series lore culled from every corner of the Super Mario universe. And if tons of new lore doesn't appeal to the hardcore, we don't know what does.
Release Date: November 12th
Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a game that needs no introduction. The last game in the series, Super Smash Bros. Melee, was the best-selling game on GameCube and consistently crowned top ten lists for the system throughout the course of its life. Brawl looks to be more of the same, but in the best way possible, offering a bevy of classic Nintendo characters duking it out on stages based on popular Nintendo games. Also, for the first time ever, the series will introduce third party characters, like a playable Snake (of Metal Gear fame) and assist trophies such as Will Wright (in original SimCity for SNES form), and it appears that many others are being kept under wraps for the time being. For those of you who are worried Nintendo might try and shoehorn uncomfortable Wii Remote controls in the tried-and-true series, don't - Nintendo is providing support for four different controller schemes including the Wii Remote with and without the Nunchuk, the GameCube controller, and the Classic controller. Despite all of that, the one thing that could cause Super Smash Bros. Brawl to meet, or even surpass, Melee's level of success is online play, which Nintendo once promised, but has sadly fallen suspiciously silent on...
Release Date: December 3rd
As I've mentioned, these are only the top Nintendo franchises that are coming out this year. Sometime early next year, gamers can expect to get their hands on an original and, best of all, online version of Mario Kart for the Nintendo Wii. After that, things fall a bit silent for the hardcore crowd, but it is important to remember that Nintendo has only begun to tap into its vast legacy, and other games we could potentially see on the console down the road include installments in franchises like Starfox, Pikmin, Kirby and perhaps even an original Zelda. Of course, if for some reason you are not a Nintendo fan and yet still own a Wii, you'll want to check back with us later in the week, when we will talk about the third-parties and what core games they're bringing to the market before the end of the year.