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Dead Wii Walking

A Look at the Uncertain Future of the Wii

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Let’s face it, with the new Wii U console coming this year, it’s only a matter of time before the Wii gives up the ghost. Sure, Nintendo says they will continue to create games for the Wii, and perhaps they will come up with a few more. But last year, even before the Wii U was announced, third party support had already dwindled to the point where the Wii was looking like a dying man in the hospital, his breathing heavy, the machines monotonously beeping to indicate that yes, he’s still alive, for now. This year certainly won’t be better.

The Story So Far: The Abandonment of the Wii

I saw the writing on the wall last summer when game publishers came to New York to show off their upcoming holiday wares. Outside of Nintendo, everyone had pretty much given up on the Wii; publishers might show one or two Wii games, but as many had none, yet they would have at least half a dozen games for every other platform. Previewing Wii titles was a disheartening task;.

The Wii was clearly dying, and while publishers might send the patient a cheap bouquet with “get well” cynically written on the card, they saw no point in visiting the patient in the hospital.

I was perplexed. After all, 2010 was the best year ever for the Wii. After years of pumping out cheap mini-game collections, publishers finally seemed to be putting some real effort into the console, with such major titles as Disney Epic Mickey, Call of Duty Black Ops, Sonic Colors, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong Country Returns and so much more. Some of these games were quite successful, so it seemed that finally, publishers were starting to make what Wii gamers have long been asking for; good games.

But it was not to be. The next year publishers turned their back on the Wii, with almost no games in the first half of the year and few announced for the holiday season. Some companies like Capcom pretended that the Wii no longer existed, while others tossed a game or two our way. Activision put out a couple of Wii games, as did Electronic Arts. Sega put out one, as did Atari and other small and mid-sized publishers. Ubisoft was the only third party publisher that released more than a couple of Wii games (at least four, although they didn’t send me review copies of all of them).

These publishers were offering less for the Wii in 2011 in terms of quantity, quality, and PR push. They didn’t want to entirely ignore the huge market of Wii owners, but their hearts were clearly elsewhere.

Nintendo also only published three titles for the 2011 holiday season, but the quality was considerably higher and they were all exclusives. They also represented Nintendo’s best, whereas the other publishers’ best games went elsewhere.

The Known Future: Shaky

So what’s in store for the Wii in 2012? My fear is, not much. Nintendo has announced a couple of notable upcoming titles - Rhythm Heaven and the long-awaited Xenoblade Chronicles - and Square Enix is promising Dragon Quest X will still come out for the Wii, even though they are also working on a Wii U version, but little else of note is on the horizon.

The Unknown Future: Grim

Perhaps Nintendo will continue to make Wii games for a while. Their president, Satoru Iwata, said last year that focussing on 3DS games at the expense of the Wii and DS hurt Nintendo’s bottom line, so perhaps this means that they will try and keep the Wii going for a year or so.

The easiest way for them to do that in the U.S. would be to release the many good games never released here, but so far Nintendo seem resistant, only releasing Xenoblade Chronicles after an intense gamer campaign. But if Xenoblade does well they might at least release The Last Story (update: they did), and the release of those two games in the same year would arguably be enough in itself to making owning a Wii worthwhile.

But that only would help keep the Wii going in the U.S., so worldwide Nintendo still needs to make some new stuff. Will Nintendo make a good faith effort to give Wii gamers more to play? Or with their focus on wooing core gamers to the Wii U, will they simply crank out a few mini-game collections for the Wii? My guess is the latter, and that third party publishers will also give us nothing but mini-game collections and kid’s movie tie-in games.

And if that’s all that’s left for the Wii, then it is, for all intents and purposes, dead. I still have a soft spot for this console, which never seemed to achieve its potential, but as I see it sitting idly in my living room like a dying patient on life support, wheezing heavily and waiting for the end, I fear it won’t be long until it’s time to pull the plug.

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