The Wii wasn’t just for filthy casuals — it earned its success

Wii image, purchased from iStock

The Wii represented a unique turning point in Nintendo’s history. Prior to its existence, Nintendo had striven for graphical and technical prowess in the same manner as their direct competition. While this worked for a time, Nintendo quickly found themselves in a pickle when their desire to push limits clashed with their conservative-minded outlook on video games. Even ignoring the N64’s cartridge dilemma, Nintendo’s refusal to price their consoles at high-end markers meant losing out in sales and third-party support come the GameCube. By the time the Wii was in development, Nintendo knew they had two options: either continue doing what they were struggling with, all the while pricing their console competitively, or try something new altogether.

Naturally, Nintendo chose the latter. I’m sure no one needs reminding of the Wii’s impact on gaming. It broke sales records, tapped into a previously unheard of market, and completely revolutionized game controllers. But while the console itself is seen as a success, I also feel as though it doesn’t really get appreciated enough for its innovations and the boundaries it kept pushing.

The console itself

For one, the Wii’s design was definitely unique. Excluding Switch, it was the smallest Nintendo console to date, around half the size of the GameCube. Its thinness allowed it to be used standing up or lying flat. Despite the Wii U using certain aspects of this in its design six years later, the Wii was an anomaly at the time. Compared to its competitors, the PS3 and Xbox 360, the Wii was tiny and contained no excess fat.

What you see is what you get, amirite?

Additionally, the Wii was completely backwards compatible with the GameCube library (until late in its life, when a cheaper GameCube-incompatible Wii was released). Only the first PlayStation 3 models offered backward compatibility, and Xbox 360 could run less than half of the first Xbox’s library. Yet because the Wii built upon the processing architecture of the GameCube, the ability to play GameCube games came with no exceptions. It was also helpful for when the Wii suffered from game droughts, as you had two consoles in one and could catch up on GameCube classics whenever the Wii wasn’t cutting it.

It plays GameCube games!

That point in particular is something deserving of more appreciation. My personal GameCube library is really small, consisting of about 10 or so games. The reason for it being so small is budget-related, but those games all warrant multiple playthroughs. Yet because my actual GameCube is broken, that I can use my Wii instead is an added bonus.

Of course, the Wii also used previous-generation technology, outside of its controller. The reasons for this were multifaceted, including a desire to keep costs down and also adherence to their corporate philosophy: “lateral thinking with seasoned technology.” In any case, $250 USD was a relatively inexpensive final price point for the console, compared to the launch prices of PlayStation 3 ($500-600) and Xbox 360 ($300-400).

Let’s not forget the fiasco that was this console’s price, after all!

Taking the stress off of your wallet

It was this relative affordability that really helped the Wii become a big name in the gaming market. Was it top-of-the-line technically? Not really, but given that HD technology was still new in 2006, it didn’t absolutely have to be.

Putting aside familiar technology, the goal of Nintendo was to innovate gameplay. ThisĀ  was most apparent in the controller. Shaped like a TV remote, the Wii Remote (“Wiimote”) used Bluetooth interactivity for its gameplay mechanics. No longer did gamers play in a sedentary position; now they were forced to interact with their games. A slash of Link’s sword now required a flick of the wrist, while steering meant tilting the controller in the appropriate direction. Future add-ons would further enhance the interactivity of the Wiimote, including an attachment that’d better track the controller’s motion.

“It’s gonna take you back to the past…”

But if that wasn’t enough to sell people on the Wii, there was always the Virtual Console aspect. Legal emulation was huge! The VC started with only a handful of titles at the consoles launch, slowly expanding in the weeks that followed, but the ability to play older games in a crisper resolution was a real novelty that many people hadn’t experienced prior. And if classic titles weren’t enticing, then you could always download original titles, or WiiWare, for relatively cheap.

Wii downloads
“It’sa me, downloading!”

Overall, early response to Wii was somewhat lukewarm. Many people complained that the console didn’t feel like a “true next-gen console” and that its controller was “gimmicky.” Constant complaints about casual gamers also kept popping up on internet forums, leading to lengthy debates about what a “true gamer” really is. This isn’t mentioning Nintendo’s infamous E3 2008 demo for Wii Music, prompting “Nintendo is dead!” rants for the next few years.

Nevertheless, it persisted!

In spite of all of this, the Wii persisted and showed that it had staying power. It showed that there wasn’t one way to make a video game experience, and that you could also experiment with interactivity. It showed this so well that Microsoft and Sony eventually imitated the Wii with their own motion control schemes, albeit to less success. Nintendo knew what it was doing, essentially.

Does this mean that the Wii was suddenly perfect? No. Not only was its controller prone to imprecision, something Wii Motion+ would attempt to fix a few years later, but some of its add-ons, like the Wii Balance Board, felt underutilized. The console also had shoddy online functionality that was a nightmare to set up, and many of the games that used it suffered from lag. And, of course, the console was plagued with shovelware. Lots and lots of shovelware.

Wii shovelware
Never a more on-the-nose image than this one!

If you don’t mind me getting personal…

Yet I still loved it anyway. To date, my Wii library of games is the largest it’s ever been for a Nintendo console, with almost 40 physical titles alone. That’s not including VC and WiiWare purchases, both of which make for almost double that amount combined! And given that the Wii came out at a time when I was starting to save up my own money, that was a big deal.

The Wii is definitely my most used console. Is it my favorite? That’s debatable, but it’s definitely the one I respect the most. It tried for many new and unique ideas, some of which can now be seen in the Wii U and Switch. And it pulled them off fairly well, too. So while it might not have been the biggest or baddest console out there, I think time has been kind to what it tried to achieve. That alone is worthy of more appreciation than the console already gets.

Reinvigorating the elderly

Ultimately though, yes, the Wii’s biggest achievement might have been that it got grandma and grandpa to care about video games. Considering that some of the most ardent detractors of video games could be the elderly, largely because they had lacked the patience and enthusiasm to play them, to suddenly see retirement homes and rehab centers display Wii Sports and Wii Fit regularly was mind-boggling! This example is a microcosm for the penetrating effect the Wii had on casual gamers. The Wii was able to turn truly almost everyone into a gamer, at least for a quick game (or seven) of bowling or tennis.

What do you think? Does the Wii deserve more credit, or is it already praised enough as is? Let us know in the comments below.

Zachary Perlmutter
News and editorial writer for Nintendo Enthusiast. Is hoping to one day publish a graphic novel or two.