A Sober look at the Nintendo Wii

Now that I’ve had my Wii for almost two months and the shock of the new has worn off, I think it’s time to step back and take a good, hard look at the system and see what needs to change before it can become… ahem“the most successful console of all time.”

“Hey, what’s your friend code?”

True story: I was listening to someone I know on the radio today talking about the Vista launch - the presenter mentioned that he was crazy about the Xbox 360 and said that they should swap gamer tags. “Sure,” my friend said, “I’m $foo.” Now, I can guarantee he’ll have a few extra friends on Xbox 360 tonight. People he could play games with in the space of a few minutes. Leaving aside all other parts of their latest console offering, Microsoft nailed the online aspect. They made it ridiculously simple for people to find each other and play online.

Nintendo’s online strategy has been built around the idea of protecting children from sexual predators. The idea being that if you make the system ridiculously cumbersome, the sexual predator will lose interest and go back to stalking teenage girls on myspace. So we’re left with the following: If I want to add you as a friend, I have to give you my 16-digit code, you put this into your Wii, and then you have to give me your 16-digit code and I have to put this into my Wii. Except we can’t actually exchange codes over the Wii, so we have to find some other way of getting our friends codes to each other. But once we have independently added each other, that’s when the fun begins! We will be able to… well, we can’t play any games together yet, because there aren’t any games to play online yet. We can send each other messages, I guess. And send each other Miis (those cute characters that are popping up everywhere). Apart from that, uh…

The exchange (and entry) of these 16-digit codes is so awkward that I have actually traded Wii friends codes using Xbox Live. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing in Nintendo HQ, there’s something very wrong here.

And to top this all off, Pokemon Battle Revolution – the first online-enabled Wii game – will require an entirely new, completely separate code for friends to play with each other. I mean, good grief! Iwata-san, protecting children from online predators is commendable and all, but surely the rest of us shouldn’t be punished as well?

And now even big developers are telling Nintendo that the Wii “Friend code” system is broken and dumb. So there’s hope yet.

Post-launch Game Drought

Zelda aside, there hasn’t been a single truly compelling purchase for the Wii since it launched. Wario Ware: Smooth Moves is a fun diversion, but the system already has a bunch of games based around mini-games, so it’s hard to get excited about a bunch more. The upcoming release pipeline is pretty bleak, with no real excitement until Mario Galaxy in June. Until then, we get a bunch of lackluster third-party titles and ports from other systems (Price of Persia being a port of the PSP version(!) of the game).

Come on Nintendo, people knew there was going to be a bit of a drought while you found your feet. People still went and bought the system on the promise of something remarkable. How’s about you live up to that with more than just mini-games?

Features Removed From Virtual Console Games

When I first spoke about the Wii’s Virtual Console in December, I said

But the games that you play on the Virtual Console will be pixel-perfect versions of the games you played on your NES, SNES, N64, Megadrive or PC Engine. As the man says: Nothing added, nothing taken away.

Turns out this isn’t quite true - Nintendo removed expansion port functionality from Nintendo 64 games on the Virtual Console, which means that you can’t save data on some games (such as ghost data on Mario Kart 64), but more importantly means that there will be no rumble in VC games, despite the presence of a rumble motor in the Gamecube controller. These may be relatively minor issues, but all the same, as someone who is being asked to pay unreasonable prices to play these games, the least I can expect is the same experience. I mean, it’s only right. Right?

Misc issues

  1. Wireless out of the box! Always-on technology! Why can’t these two things come together and give me an experience where my Wii doesn’t have to do a 15-second connection test each time I connect to the Wii shop?

  2. We’re no longer dealing with bricks-and-mortar distributors and export laws, so why can’t I buy games from the US Virtual Console shop? Why are Nintendo only going to allow me to buy games that were originally released in Europe? Playing games that were never released here is half the reason I love emulators so much.

  3. I was going to make a joke about straps here, but then I figured, nah…