Nintendo released the new channel, Nintendo Channel, for Wii recently in Europe. It was released about a week after WiiWare, the channel that enables online shopping and downloading of games. WiiWare is interesting in the sense that we can easily expect some really amazing stuff coming out through that channel, while Nintendo Channel is something that exemplifies why Wii is different from other consoles.

Screenshot for Endless Ocean
The Endless Ocean for Wii. The literal blue ocean strategy.

It is an interesting channel in regards to Nintendo’s blue ocean strategy but like many other aspects of Wii, it leaves me wanting more. The channel is basically an advertising/marketing channel for Nintendo. You can download demos, see information and trailers about upcoming games, and some other stuff. One of these additional functionalities is the feedback section, where you can submit feedback back to Nintendo on the games you’ve played on your Wii. You can also enable a tracking feature so that your Wii will send information what you do (the same info it shows in your Message view) to Nintendo and in exchange the channel will recommend you titles and allows you to download demos for the DS. All in all, really simple stuff, but the execution is really nice - and dead simple.

I know that one main aspect of Wii is its simplicity and many of the things I think I’d want it to do would just make it too complex. I’m well aware the limitations of the console - most of which seem like conscious design decisions by Nintendo. The hardware has been optimized for cost and really makes the developers focus on the gameplay (instead of graphics, like on the other next-gen consoles). The software and mutliplayer are made as child-safe as possible, to the point that mutliplayer racing in Mario Kart Wii feels like anonymous one-night-stand-orgy. It’s a bit like with most Apple products, you know the limitations in (mostly) advance and accept them as they are the reason “things just work”.

Remote would be one solution to aforementioned problem, but that of course is totally infeasible solution. Wireless broadband adoption of today doesn’t also warrant spending too much time on making I find it sad that some innovative features are underutilized with the Wii. I’d love that my Mii character would actually be “in the cloud” and propagate through my friends, carrying over my settings and accomplishments. Now, my Mii can only propagate a read-only copy of its appearance across other Wiis. No doubt the authentication scheme for such feature would be a nightmare. I like to fantasize something like this was in the initial vision of Wii, because otherwise I can’t understand why the Wii Remote has storage capabilities. Tying your character to a WiiMiis the global representation of my Wii gaming they could be. The ubiquoitus rules of unlockable content on console games mean that, as it is today, my gaming experience depends on how far the I or owner of the Wii I’m playing has progressed in a game and not how far I have progressed in some Wii. I guess this tradition will remain for all nomad Miis who wander from a firend’s Wii to another.

The current “next-gen” consoles have me split. While Wii is truly exciting and something new, it is a bit too centred still on the age-old Italian plumber. The Playstation 3, on the other hand, has only GTA IV going for it (okay, and Super Rub-a-Dub) and it’s twice the price. Xbox 360 just doesn’t feel right, and that it has like twenty different editions á la Vista doesn’t help. The Wii of course has lots of hidden fees in form of accessorizing (Component cable, Wii Wheel, Wii Fit…), but the other consoles are guilty of this to some extent too.

Image of Wii Mario Kart Bundle

What interests me in today’s console gaming is multiplayer, both on my sofa and online. Both of these aspects are taken more into account on the Wii, where most gaming has been designed as a group activity. PS3 and Xbox 360 have taken the more traditional PC way of mutliplayer and have focused on online only, which is stupid as the expectation that my friends would be online at the same time at their own homes playing the same game is really, really far-fetched. On the other hand, some games insanely enough do not support multiplayer on the same console even if they have online-multiplayer. This anti-social tendency I can understand in story-driven games as GTA IV, but not otherwise.

I did answer on Nintendo Channel’s feedback section that, in my opinion, Mario Kart Wii is, in fact, a Hardcore game (as opposed to casual). Once you’ve passed the easiest cups you start to see the classic Nintendoesque features. The game cheats as much as it can in the hard mode, just like in Mario Strikers Charged Football. It’s amazing just how in the last 10 meters or so, I’m hit with all the suffering the Wii can inflict on me (red and blue shells, lightning…) just like it’s able to make a goal in the last second despite me trying to tackle the seemingly invincible player with all my players.

It is really exciting to see how Nintendo tries to do new innovative things with Wii. This has been no doubt a risky decision, but it seems to have paid off as Wii is still outselling other consoles, even though its pricing is exactly the same as on the launch date. The other consoles have seen aggressive price cuts, no doubt in part response to the success of Wii.

I’m quite sure that Wii can and will probably surprise us in the future, but I’m afraid the initial design decisions of PS3 and Xbox 360 means that they can only replicate or improve, but not innovate. One reason, I guess, is because of people like me, who want to expect certain things from them. There’s no room for innovation when you got expectations on top of long traditions. In those circumstances you can only perform.

This post was originally posted on Tech IT Easy on May 30th, 2008. Nintendo did ultimately fail later with Wii but they had a good run.