This month I spent a little time playing hooky from Wii games to check out Batman: Arkham Asylum on the Xbox 360. Once I started playing, I just couldn’t stop.
And I kept thinking, why don’t people make games like this for the Wii?
Batman is a beautifully crafted game with a script from the comic book and television writer who created Joker’s quirky sidekick Harley Quinn. Most comic book movies are disjointed and episodic, but this one is tightly focused on a Joker-lead uprising at Arkham.
While playing, I looked at the pile of Wii games I needed to go through. There were a couple of dancing games, a couple of cheerleading games (which are in essence also dancing games), a rail shooter, a couple of sports game, a cooking game and some even less impressive titles. They weren’t necessarily bad games, but none of them promised the epic experience of the Batman game.
This sort of experience can happen on the Wii, and has in games such as Deadly Creatures and Call of Duty: World at War, but for every one Wii game of that caliber there are 20 equivalent or better games for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Is There a Good Reason?
Why is that? Game publishers and designers offer a lot of reasons for the dearth of epic games on the Wii. They say the Wii, being less powerful than the other major consoles, is only suitable for casual games that require little horsepower. That most Wii gamers who want something beyond casual games own an Xbox 360 or PS3 and thus don’t need or expect core titles for the Wii. That when more elaborate games are released, they don’t sell well: gamers will purchase these games from Nintendo, but not from third party publishers.
This is a load of bull. Here’s why.
Untruth 1: The Wii isn’t powerful enough to create the epic titles seen on other platforms.
It’s true, the Wii is far less powerful than the Xbox 360 or the PS3. It is impossible to have the same level of graphics, it is impossible to create the same massive environments and you can’t have nearly as many objects on screen. But so what? The Wii is more powerful than the PS2, and impressive games were created for that system; Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Grand Theft Auto III, Final Fantasy X, Silent Hill 2, Ico and hundreds of others. In fact, the PS2 was consistently more successful than its main competitor, the original Xbox, even though the Xbox had markedly superior graphics.
If a developer sits down and designs a game specifically for the Wii, there is no reason it can’t be as good as any PS2 game. So the question is not, why aren’t designers making games that are just like what you get on the PS3 – they can’t – the question is, why aren’t they creating great games when there are so many great games created for platforms less powerful than the Wii?
Untruth 2: Most Wii core gamers have other consoles for core games, therefore they are content with minor Wii titles.
A lot of core gamers may indeed own the other consoles - I certainly do - but that doesn’t mean all they want to play on the Wii is party games and rail shooters. The Wii is a unique platform, and when designers have tapped into that uniqueness, they have sold games. Call of Duty: World at War did well by offering an FPS experience different from that available on other platforms. No More Heroes, a game very specifically designed for the Wii, did well enough to inspire a sequel.
If you design a game for multiple platforms, and you don’t do anything special with the Wii’s capabilities, then certainly there is little reason to buy the Wii version. So don’t do that. Instead, make games whose unusual control schemes make them more fun than the other console versions in spite of any technological shortcomings. Make games that offer an experience so special that gamers are lured away from their other consoles; that’s what the Wii exists for.
Untruth 3: Third party publishers can’t attain the sales figures Nintendo can for Wii games.
It is true that many people buy Nintendo consoles simply because they are Nintendo fans, desperate to buy Mario and Zelda games. But as proved by the Game Cube’s poor sales, there are a lot of people who won’t buy a console just because Nintendo makes it. Much of the reason Nintendo’s Wii titles sell better than those of other publishers is because Nintendo is doing a good job of creating and selling these games.
First off, Nintendo uses its IPs well. IP stands for Intellectual Property, and it refers to the hooks people use to sell games, most often characters or series; Mario and Luigi, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid. Nintendo creates the best games based on these IPs it can: epic, imaginative, fun games.
Other publishers, not having faith in the market for serious games on the Wii, hedge their bets with their IPs. Two notable examples are Dead Space and Resident Evil, 3rd person action game series on other platforms turned into rail shooters for the Wii.
A rail shooter makes sense on the Wii; the Wii remote is ideally suited for these games, and the simplistic gameplay can seem more friendly to the more casual gamers who are a big part of the installed Wii base. But if you look on forum discussions of games like Dead Space: Extraction and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, you will find many, many people saying, “why can’t they give us a real game instead of a rail shooter?” Dumbing down games for the Wii will not satisfy core gamers, yet these games aren’t casual enough for people who just want to play ping pong on their Wii. This is why Call of Duty: World at War was a rare third party success. It’s a major IP and it was designed with the same care as the CoD games on other platforms.
That lack of publisher faith is also evident in the lack of advertising for most of the major Wii releases. I’ve seen far more ads for Nintendo Wii games than for any other publisher’s Wii games. And I’ve seen way more ads for Xbox 360 and PS3 games.