Somewhere in your house, your attic, maybe even in a shoebox under the bed, you will find it. I’m talking, of course, about the Nintendo Wii. According to recent figures, Nintendo shifted over 100 million of these units since their inception in 2006 – and yet, the impression I get is that a lot of us have abandoned them to some silent, distant country, unplayed, forgotten, or lingering on eBay for pitiful sums of money.
I know where mine is – gathering dust, its cables wrapped in awkward bundles, somewhere underneath a stack of books. At least, it was until my sympathy got the better of me and I fired it up for the first time in about eight months. I wanted to reassure myself that the Wii – a console on which I’d sunk so many happy hours – was still a home for gamers, still a platform that offered novel and compelling titles that are worth playing again, that are worth revisiting. This article is going to list just some of the titles that I think still stand out as heavyweights, even if the little console is looking its age against its new and shiny successor, the Wii U.
While its reputation is for “family and casual gaming” – always an awkward to define and probably grossly simplified category in the first place – the Wii was also a launching-pad for some new, curious, and innovative titles. While some of these made little or no use of its unique controller, these games are also not available on other platforms, making it the only show in town.
And so, in no particular order, and acknowledging the inherent bias of such a list, here are five reasons to keep playing the Wii.
Skyward Sword was the reason I bought the Wii in the first place. While it was not the first Zelda title to be launched on the console (that honour falling to Twilight Princess), it is easily, in my mind, the better of the two. Firstly, it was clearly a labour of love – its landscapes and characters were beautifully, enchantingly rendered, its puzzles tricky and engaging, its storyline hackneyed but compelling. There were also good reasons to explore its entire world – from the floating village of Skyloft, to the reasonably standard volcano, forest and desert worlds below – because of the ability to modify weapons and items with bugs and objects dropped by enemies in the fight. It wasn’t a deep or complex crafting system, but it just suited the game.
Sure, it had its downsides – the endlessly enraging “Silent Realm” episodes were also pretty scary in their own way, but these were far outweighed by its excellence, its fun, and its playability. One of the nice touches was the implementation of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, so that when you slashed with your sword, blocked with your shield, or caught bugs with your net, you were actually (sort of) doing the motions. Cue several objects knocked off a nearby table. But that’s alright, because it is a wonderful game.
Imagine Super Mario Bros, but without the hindrance of playing only in two dimensions. Add a third dimension, and you’ve got Super Mario Galaxy. Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel (they can count as one game, alright) were funny, charming, and sometimes technically fiddly re-imaginings of what a Mario game could be.
What was special about the game was that it utilised the remote in a non-intrusive way; it was, for want of a less fancy word, ergonomic to play the game with the twists and gestures and motions that the controller enables. These control and guide Mario through the world in responsive and effective ways. The levels were also so amazingly fun and imaginative, really making use of your problem solving skills and your awareness of space and depth, that they had an appeal simply to run and leap and float around. By adding the third dimension to the puzzles, you really have to engage your brain, especially when working under a time limit.
While the game’s story, characters, and some of its items and mechanics are familiar old friends, the game is an entirely new arena for the franchise. Equally, its score and sounds are lovely, its rendering smooth, its enchantment enormous. So it is the best of both worlds (or galaxies) – a solid bedrock of the old, and a floaty adventure of the new.
The Wii was never really a console for JRPGs – or for RPGs, to be fair. But Xenoblade Chronicles is by far one of the most enjoyable JRPGs on any console that I’ve had the fortune the play in the last few years.
Its world is enormous – literally; the world is made up of the fossilised bodies of warring titans. Its quests are endless, its combat is deep but also fast and fun. Xenoblade requires a genuine eye for detail ; sometimes literally, because the text is sometimes painfully small (its only fault, I swear!). It has excellent voice acting, a brilliant story, and it is actually just endless fun to romp around its inventive landscapes, exploring its secrets, and defeating its enemies. There’s a learning curve, but with JRPGs there’s always a learning curve – the joy is getting a handle on it for the first time, and therefore opening up the game’s possibilities even more. JRPGs are about mastery and time and attention to detail. Xenoblade has all of these. It also has a wonderful score.
In addition to its world and skill, it also had interesting inter-personal mechanics between the characters ; build up your “affinity” through “heart to heart” moments and other actions, and your battle performance and effectiveness as a group is improved. Added to this is the customisation of costumes and appearances, including a massive variety of weapons, which show that a lot of thought has gone both into its production but also its world-building. It simply doesn’t feel like there is any dead space between locations, while its towns feel populated and its enemies are cunning and real.
My first Metroid game! And it was worth it. Guiltily, I couldn’t help but think while playing it, but this isn’t a Wii game! I mean, really, its production, visuals, and pacing are all flawless in a way that’s possibly unique on the console. But thankfully it is a Wii game – see below. While I missed out on games 1 and 2, the third installment didn’t leave you missing out on the world or its characters. Equally, it is so intuitive to pick up and play, and its story and world so engrossing, that those things don’t matter anyway. As Samus – you see from inside her helmet – you embark on one of the most engrossing experiences on the console.
The premise is this: You are a bounty hunter, exploring alien worlds and sometimes ships, shooting odd looking and inventive aliens in the face or tentacle, all while solving platform puzzles. You can also roll up into a ball and zip and slam through ducts and tubes in order to traverse and make sense of the worlds that you explore. Throughout, the Wii was pushed to its maximum in terms of rendering cinematics and environments, and it looks beautiful. There are also subtle particle and environmental effects that really bring the worlds to life in the way that the Xbox 360 and PS3 did at the time. There is in fact so much to these worlds that you feel part of a cohesive environment, part of an exciting, non-linear story. You’ll feel compelled to revisit them again and again. It is equally satisfying, then, when you have to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck creatively and actively in these worlds, to have an effect on them – pulling levers, pressing control pads, twisting items and scenery in the world. This is the technology behind the Wii being used to its fullest, brightest best.
Beautifully animated and set against hand-painted backgrounds, the mythology-inspired Japanese side-scroller was easily one of the most attractive and simply fun games on the Wii.
Simple on the surface, Muramasa shows a little of its JRPG influence with leveled weapons, recipes, and side-quests. While you can power through the game relatively easily without paying these too much heed, they are also massively rewarding reasons to return to earlier areas, to acquire new and even more powerful combos and weapons. Technically tricky and surprisingly complex in its mechanics, it was always going to be about more than style over substance. But it has style in bucket-loads, too, of course.
Yes, there’s nothing quite like chaining the explosive, visual fireworks of a seemingly endless combo attack while tens upon tens of enemies spawn at you, and then fighting a giant octopus. And then fighting a giant octopus against the background of a classical wood-block print. And then making some rice balls to recover some energy only to do it all over again, but differently, more elegantly, for more points and color and noise.
So, is it worth plugging in the Wii again?
In fact, these games are the perfect reason enough make the effort to excavate your Wii from its site (assuming you packed it away like I did) and to restore it to life with a magical draught (by pressing the power switch), and then to enjoy these, or in fact any number of other, equally deserving titles.