Around the same time last year (February 2008 ), like millions of others, I bought a Wii. Back then, it was pretty common for a store to sell out its entire stock of Nintendo's popular white machine (at least in Canada I think.) I remember that mine was the 2nd last console in the store, out of a stock of 10 Wii's. So I was pretty excited to finally lay hands on one, and I even ran home carrying it in a backpack; yes the package was just that small.
Naturally, the first game I played was the Wii Sports title that was bundled with the machine. It was a pretty fun game, and it was really great to see the functionality of the Wii remote demonstrated in simple things such as rolling a bowling ball or punching somebody's lights out. It was the kind of game that you pulled out when friends came to visit, or if you had 5 minutes to kill before heading off somewhere. But it wasn't the kind of game that could keep your attention for more than a week; if that was your only game.
The first title I actually bought was Super Smash Brothers Brawl. It was almost the definitive reason for why I bought the Wii in the first place. For years I had been a die-hard Playstation fan, but was turned off by the PSP, and the then unreasonably expensive Playstation 3 (which had nowhere near as many good games as it does now.) Something about SSBB got me hooked onto the Nintendo bandwagon, and I was completely sold as soon as I saw the very first trailer in 2007. I remember logging well over 6 hours the night that I picked up my copy of the game, and I think I finally slept at 3am, after getting almost halfway through the SubSpace Emissary Mode. But what I really wanted to do was take my game online and start cracking some heads.
Easier said than done.
I must say, it was frustrating having to work around the friend-code system just to be able to play against others online. It's great that Nintendo was nice enough to give us free online functionality, but they really dropped the ball with the user-interface. Was it really necessary for Nintendo to slap a 12-digit code on every online-enabled game just for the sake of security reasons? No, not at all, and I'm not seeing why they didn't just adopt a simple friends-list similar to XBL and PSN. The thing that really sucked was that not only did you have to get their numbers right, but the adding of the code had to be a 2-way street. Meaning, you could add somebody to your list on whichever game, but unless they add you as well, they won't show up on your friends list. At the very list, a simple "Somebody has added you to their friends list" alert would have been much appreciated.
With that in mind, it wasn't too long before I had about 11 people on my friends list for SSBB, but still, the online troubles were only beginning. For whatever reason, the servers on SSBB were incredibly slow to match you up with players in free for all; and to this day I still encounter several connection issues, and dropped sessions. Sometimes I may wait 5 minutes until I am matched up with another player. And then the lag sets in, which completely wrecks what was originally a fun, smooth-playing game. SSBB was a really great game, but the online issues almost limits the multiplayer to the old 4 controller-setup. Very disappointing to see that Nintendo has not yet smoothed these problems out, and a year later too.
The next big game I bought was Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, which was a game I enjoyed thoroughly. I spent many late nights with the volume at maximum playing this game. However, I ran into the cumbersome online experience that I went through with SSBB, again largely due to the friend-code system, and coupled with the possibility that many people were probably not playing online with this one.
Mario Kart Wii became one of my favourite games for the Wii simply because it was the type of game that you could spend anywhere from 5 minutes or 5 hours playing it and have a very enjoyable experience. I felt that Nintendo hit the online component right this time, because MK had an even better matchmaking system than SSBB could ever have. Within 30 seconds, you were matched up with other players; on a regional scale, but worldwide also. And the best part was that there was no crazy lag to ruin the session. Sure it sucked that MK still operated on the FC system, but Nintendo got just about everything right with that game. MK even featured a buddy system, so that you could go split-screen and be on Wi-Fi at the same time, doesn't sound like much to get excited for, but very few (if any,) Wii games feature this option. Perfect example of easy, fun gaming that suits just about any time constraint.
The summer of '08 was a bit of a rut however, and I began to get bored with the Wii's offering, or lack of it. Sure it was great to have MK and SSBB, but there really wasn't any games that held my attention for those long summer days that I wasn't at work. This was about the same time that I started downloading Virtual Console titles like crazy. It was really nice to get reconnected with Zelda Ocarina of Time (which I hadn't played since 2000), and several other titles like Wave Race 64 and Super Castlevania IV. Of course you couldn't do Virtual Console without downloading the first 3 Super Mario Bros. titles.
My favourite Virtual Console game to this day, is still Streets of Rage 2, which was released on the Genesis a little over a decade ago; it was just simple beat-em' up goodness, and very fun with a second player. I was mostly a PC-Gameboy gamer in the mid-late 90s, so I was really excited to be able to play some of these old games from consoles that I never had the privilege to own.
However, as time went on, the rut continued, and I was really disappointed that there wasn't very many good first person shooters on the Wii, which was a strange thing since everyone used to tout the Wii's precision motion controls, and the ability to have a FPS experience comparable to that on the PC. By October of 2008, I had already played Call of Duty 3 (terrible), and Metroid Prime 3 (good, but no online), and finally bought Medal of Honor Heroes 2.
Heroes 2 was a solid game, but to be honest, I wasn't a big fan of the controls, or the fairly unbalanced weapon damage during online play, I also thought the graphics could have been much better. Everyone says that to this date, Heroes 2 has the best FPS control on the Wii, but I think that distinction belongs to Call of Duty: World at War. Heroes 2 has the best online interface on the Wii, thanks to EA's decision to bypass the FC system altogether with the EA Nation system, smart move. Not only did Heroes 2 have a functional friends list free of digits, but it also had the lobby, and several other leaderboard functions as well. That game was a perfect example of a game that was half-way to becoming something found on next-gen platforms.
Call of Duty: World at War was a game that I was more than happy to buy in mid-November of 2008, and I gave that game a 9.0 rating, on the basis that it was a game that I felt made a solid attempt to be like its next-gen counterparts. The campaign is the same, the weapons are the same, even the ranking system with the perks and the weapon customization is identical to that found on the other versions. However, I felt that World at War on the Wii lost a few points in the area of graphics (which are obviously a technical constraint) and because of some loss of functionality in the area of online modes. It was disappointing that Treyarch was unable to include the popular Zombie mode, or the 16 player limit found on the other versions, which again was probably a technical constraint due to the Wii's lack of horsepower.
Looking back on it now, World at War was another example of a Wii game that was half-way to becoming something identical to what the other next-gen consoles offered. It had some great gameplay, and the controls were solid, but if it had MOH's online interface, I think I would have scored it to 9.5.
The game that I think comes close to being 99% identical to its next-gen counterparts is Rock Band 2. EA and the Harmonix team really pulled it together with this iteraration of the Rock Band series, and more than made up for the mess they released a year ago with Rock Band 1. Rock Band 2 for the Wii is leagues above Guitar Hero and does just about everything that you'd expect from the PS3 and 360 versions, everything right down to downloadable content which again is something that very few Wii games feature. Sure, the character models are probably lower poly and definitely aren't as high-res as the other versions, but it is forgiveable, and does not detract from the overall experience. If I reviewed this game (which I intend to do in the future), I would probably score it a 9.5 (9.9 if we still had the old rating system). Everything right down to the online integration of World Tour mode was spot-on. The best part about Rock Band 2 on the Wii was being able to use my Guitar Hero 3 controller with it. Most of my friends don't come over to play RB2, so I had no intention of buying the complete instrument set, but it was very nice not to have to purchase another 50 dollar guitar just to play this game.
Of course, my only gripe against RB2, is obviously the FC system, because I see the EA logo on the case, and it had me thinking, "it would have been great to see the EA Nation system integrated into this game". Ow well, close enough.
So thats just some of the notable experiences I've had with the Wii over the past 12 months. Overall I think its a great great machine, and I applaud Nintendo for their effort into doing something different from Sony and Nintendo.