Monday 29 January 2018

The Rule of 4 or 5: Wii U - PLUS! a most personal video game history

Back in the olden days choosing your video game console meant taking sides: Nintendo vs. Sega, Sony vs. Nintendo, Microsoft vs. Sony. As long as consoles have existed, we’ve had console wars. The reason? Shit’s expensive for a 10-year old! The general affordability of the Wii, and Wii Sports’ appeal to many parents, made the seventh console generation the first where ‘normal’ folks considered having more than one current console in the house. Before that, kids usually relied on a combination of birthday, Christmas, and odd-job money to get new hardware under the telly, and your choice led to tribalism in the playground.

A Brief History of Mine
That's over  £60,000 in 2018 money!
I began with a Mega Drive. Technically I inherited it from my dad who had bought it in 1991 with Castle of Illusion and Sword of Vermillion. The former was a wonderful Mickey Mouse platformer with impressive animation and sound; the latter was a stodgy RPG that boasted on-cart saves on the box and which I always wished had been Golden Axe instead. Soon after, Sonic arrived and that was that - I was a Sega boy. I had a friend with a Master System which I sampled a few games on. I specifically remember Back to the Future 2 being awful and Sonic being weird after ‘my’ version. My step-brother also had a NES which I have fond memories of. But the Mega Drive was mine.

It wasn’t until ’97 that I moved on to an N64. My transition to Nintendo wasn’t really a defection – Sega were killing their userbase with expensive (and therefore, unobtainable) add-ons like the Mega CD and the 32X, and the Saturn didn’t really figure in the equation in the UK. I recall seeing shots of Virtua Racing and DOOM on 32X, but by the time I had enough dollar, they were long gone. GoldenEye had dropped. Friends had PlayStations with Die Hard Trilogy and Twisted Metal, which were fun, but they didn’t have Facility˃Licence to Kill˃Slappers-only! Wipeout looked slick, but it was no Mario Kart 64. I became a Nintendo kid. N64 Magazine kept me up-to-date with all the news and I felt like I was in a club. Happy days.

GameCube came along and was a no-brainer – it had STAR WARS. I got the console, Rogue Squadron II… and no memory card. That hurt for a good month or two. Video games fell off the radar as the opposite sex properly registered on it, until the second year of university when Mario Kart: Double Dash became an evening fixture in our house. I caught up with Resident Evil 4 and games returned to the fold with the DS and, of all things, Animal Crossing: Wild World.

Christmas 2006 was all about Wii Sports. When Bioshock released for 360 I decided to supplement the Wii with a mean Xbox 360 Elite while waiting for the new Banjo-Kazooie sequel. There I discovered Xbox Live, CoD4 and the wonders of online gaming. Everything looked so pretty! Nostalgia also drove me to eBay a NES and catch up with Shenmue on Dreamcast.

Once again games took a back seat for a while and I sold the 360, but the 3DS drew me back with the remastered Ocarina of Time. I inherited a PS3 with a busted disc drive which allowed me to catch up with some exclusives via digital download. After eBaying The Beatles Rock Band kit for 25 quid, I got into guitar rhythm games years after the bubble burst, and after discovering that Steam had pretty much eliminated the headaches from PC gaming (hey - I'm a delicate console flowerchild), I started hoarding Humble Bundles on my aging desktop. I got a Wii U a couple of years after launch and flirted briefly with a Retron5 before selling it off to make room for a Switch.

Ah, I forgot one! I got a PS2 several years back so I could play ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, although that's all I've used it for.

Being an adult now (really), ‘console wars’ seem preposterous. Long ago I reached the conclusion that you need only four or five great exclusives to make hardware worth owning (and keeping.) For example, the maligned Wii U was an easy buy for me – it offered a completely different experience from Sony and Microsoft’s consoles and it easily hit my Rule of 4 or 5. Recently I’ve been contemplating packing the old girl up in her box and storing her away. I’ll miss her quirks: the swooping curtains of the internet browser; my Mii juggling or playing Rock Paper Scissors while he waits; the way our Miis drop onto the screen at start-up. The original Wii remains lodged snugly in my BESTÃ… TV cabinet, just in case the urge takes me for a little Rock Band (the DLC wouldn’t migrate so I never did the system transfer.) The Wii U and accompanying GamePad, though, are more cumbersome and I could do with the space. I considered the games I can’t play on anything else and something occurred to me – with Switch steadily stripping its predecessor of exclusives, is this the first Nintendo console to be truly worthless if you own the company’s other hardware? Should I sell rather than store it? Does it still have those meagre four or five exclusives?

I reckon there’s just enough to justify its space in the loft, if not under the TV. With this in mind, I’m going to post my personal four or five essentials here and, in future posts, those for every other console I’ve got stored away. These are the (mostly) exclusive games that make the platforms worth having. Obviously, with all the ports and remasters coming out, many games are now available on different platforms or services. Which is great! – finally I don’t need to scour eBay or use a PC to play Earthbound. Availability on modern platforms may factor into my choices for ‘The 4 or 5’ but you often can’t beat playing a game with the controller it was designed for, limitations and all.

Let’s start with Wii U, then – the ‘stepping-stone’ console sacrificed so Switch could prosper.

dartmonkey's Rule of 4 or 5: Wii U
Firstly, let’s eliminate titles that would have, until recently, been on this list: Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2 and Splatoon. I’m being harsh with that last one. It’s a great but nobody’s going to be digging their Wii U out of storage while Splatoon 2 is sitting on their Switch. Plus, once the frequent updates have stopped, the sequel will have most of the original’s maps anyway. The excellent retro-styled Squid Jump minigame has yet to make the transfer though… hmm, perhaps I’m being hasty!

Super Mario 3D World – Nintendo EAD Tokyo
With Odyssey doing the business on Switch, it’s less likely this will make an appearance, although the four-player antics could translate well, minus the touchscreen aides and mic-blowing puzzle elements. It took me almost the entire playthrough to really appreciate 3D World – the movement and level design feel built around 45° angles. This felt natural on the smaller 3DS in 3D Land, but restrictive here on the big screen after the 360° freedom of Galaxy. However, taken in context as a stepping-stone between 2D and 3D games, it’s a jolly experience, probably enhanced in multi-player, though I played alone :sadface: It also has some of the happiest box art in history, the perfect antidote to the greys and browns of EVERY OTHER PLATFORM’S GAMES of the period. And it gave us Cat Mario.

Affordable Space Adventures – KnapNok Games
One of the few games that relies on asymmetric gameplay to the point where a Switch port would be practically impossible. This is the definition of a gem. Humour punctuates the careful resource management as your spluttering tourist craft navigates the underground chasms of a mysterious planet. Really excellent, with a lovely Miiverse-dependent ending forever lost to the bits and bytes of technological progress :,-(

Nintendo Land – Nintendo EAD
It’s no Wii Sports but it does introduce asymmetric gameplay in some interesting ways. Unfortunately, the potential here wasn’t meaningfully explored in future games and we are left with this charming bag of allsorts. Nods to famous franchises probably frustrated rather than delighted fanboys, but there is plenty of multiplayer fun to be had. And the aforementioned asymmetric gameplay means we can be sure this won’t be coming to Switch.

"WOTS THIS SHITE WHERES METROID & F-ZERO U FFS?!?!?!111" – The Internet, November 2012

New Super Mario Bros. U – Nintendo EAD
The second best-selling game on the platform after Mario Kart 8. I got into this late and it’s a cracker. The art design is a little haphazard – foreshadowing Odyssey (as discussed HERE) to a certain extent, you can tell the designers were throwing things at the wall in an effort to avoid the standard FIRE/WATER/ICE/SAND themes. There are some cool one-off stages and ideas. Ultimately, it’s a really great 2D Mario and you can only play it (for now) on Wii U. And it’s got a Super Luigi remix which is really hard so I didn’t bother.

Mario Maker – Nintendo EAD
Okay, so there’s a borked 3DS version too, but Wii U is the only place you can currently get the real, full-fat Mario Maker. Give it six months and a Deluxe version will make it to Switch with slopes and a Game Boy filter. Unlike Nintendo Land, the only other game to make a genuine case for the GamePad, this could easily make the transition – you simply create your levels with the touchscreen in handheld mode and dock the console to share them on the TV. Until then you must use Wii U to create and publish your own Mario levels. I mean, of course it’s essential.

Honourable Mentions (not currently available on Switch): Pikmin 3 (though I prefer its predecessors), the HD Zeldas, Yoshi’s Woolly World (also available on 3DS), Splatoon (see above) and Miiverse.

One thing to note is that, although the black sheep of the family, Wii U also gives access to more first party software than any other Nintendo console. In the hypothetical one-Nintendo-console-or-you-die! predicament, Wii U would have a very strong case. Contained within its glossy belly you have access to the Virtual Console libraries of NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance, N64 and DS. It also runs the entire Wii library and you have two GameCube Zeldas in HD, and it’ll even run GameCube ISOs with a little modest homebrew tweaking thanks to the Wii backwards compatibility – remember, it was just two GameCubes duct-taped together ;-) Then you have a plethora of Switch titles that originated here, including Breath of the Wild, plus the exclusives mentioned above. It also played host to a bafflingly large number of fantastic indie titles – I guess residual nostalgic affection for Nintendo fuelled most of these releases because sales can’t have been stellar. It’s one hell of a catalogue.

So, a toast to you, sir! You and that imaginary person whose only Nintendo console is the Wii U. Now get in the loft.

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