Monday, February 21, 2011

"What's The Greatest Innovation of Nintendo's Little White Box? Point Me In The Right Direction..."

Well, it's President's Day here in America, and I passed the time on this wonderful day like all Americans do: Waiting for the ghost of Abraham Lincoln to leave me red, white, and blue candy under the "Freedom" Tree that we set up in the front room. I have yet to catch ol' "Honest Abe" in the act, but I think I caught Bill Clinton once. It was dark, so I couldn't see his face, but he did sexually harass me before he left, so I'm pretty sure it was him.

I know that most were probably expecting me to do a President's Day post chronicling the "Best Video Game Presidents", or the "Best Politicians From Video Games", but I decided to make like our first President, George Washington, and buck the trend. We already have enough lists like that (read: one), and I wanted to have a brief word about something that has been on my mind for some time now.

Like it or hate it, the Nintendo Wii is here to stay. In the time that the Wii has been known to the public eye, it has gone from being the subject of derision, a prophet of doom for Nintendo's somewhat shaky future, to begrudging success, to being one of the most wildly popular console systems in history.

All while making us look like this, and think it's OK.

Sure, the motion control was no where NEAR as precise as the pre-launch trailers would have you believe, and sure, the graphical power of the system was not as impressive as the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3, but the one thing that cannot be denied is this: THE NINTENDO WII WAS INNOVATIVE, DAMMIT.

There will be those who disagree with the above statement, but allow me to make a case for how innovative the Wii actually is.

The Nintendo Wii was announced when Nintendo's stock was low, and people's expectations of the company were even lower. They had just finished losing a graphical arms race against the Playstation 2 and the XBox, a newcomer, and their Gamecube sold about 100 million less units than the PS2. It was a rough couple of years for Nintendo, and they had to make a few budget cuts that included letting the developer Rare be bought out from under them, and letting go of some of their most valuable assets.

This is the economic state that Nintendo found themselves in when they decided to do something that they had never done before. Nintendo realized that they couldn't compete with the sheer financial muscle of two giants of industry like Sony and Microsoft, and they decided that the only way to sell more hardware than those companies was to simply stop competing with them on their chosen battle ground: Graphics.

Thus, The Nintendo Wii was born. It was superior in graphical capability to the Gamecube, but not by an inordinate amount. Mainly, it took console development in a new direction by stating loudly, "Video gaming must become more inclusive, and innovation is the way to do it!"

The Wii, with its embarrassingly suggestive name, featured a variety of amalgamated ideas, some improved versions of older ideas, and others brand new. Nintendo started with a controller design that was as inviting as it was unorthodox, reminiscent of the familiar aesthetic of the television remote. They added accelerometers to help gauge motion, and an internal speaker to allow different kinds of communication between game and gamer. The controller utilized bluetooth for communication, and was wireless. It even had a proprietary expansion port on the bottom for controller extensions, and the Wii system itself had sleek, small form-factor.

All of those things made the Wii the commercial success that you know it to be today, but there is one more feature that is, in my opinion, the greatest innovation that the Wii offered gamers this generation.

No, it was not the hilarious illustrations from the user's manual.
The Infrared Pointer (or IR Pointer) is the most engaging innovation that the Wii has to offer. Located in the tip of the Wii Remote, and utilizing the sensor bar that you put above your television, I feel that the IR pointer delivered on the Wii's promises of immersion in a way that the imprecise accelerometers never could. It allowed your Wii remote to become the gun you used to stop your enemies, the flashlight that you maneuvered quickly to spot the creatures shambling out of the darkness toward you, the paintbrush you drew with to manipulate your world, and your reticule with which to build your forces or construct your Goo tower. It did all of these things with a responsiveness that can only be described as "agile", and it was so well integrated that it was often overlooked.

This President's Day, The 8-Bit Variety Show salutes you, IR Pointer! Thank you for making our paintings more beautiful, our flashlights more illuminating, and our First-Person Shooters more shootey!

This is our pick for the greatest innovation that the Wii has to offer, but what's yours?
Do you hate the Wii, Nintendo, Mario, and happiness, and don't think that the Wii was innovative?
Let us know all about your thoughts in the comments!


1 comment:

  1. I enjoy the Wii IR pointer.... But I also think that with it Nintendo made a huge push in their market to a more family friendly, socially capable demographic. More hardcore game titles found their way into other consoles. Which of course doesn't bother Nintendo since they are making tons of money anyway. But for someone who likes more single player story based games the Wii is NOT the way for me to go. Of course the IR pointer is still great.....


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