Saturday, December 27, 2008

Looking back at 2008

As another year is coming to a close, it is time to look back at 2008 and to look forward to 2009. With regards to the Wii and its competitors, what developments have there been over the past year? And what are we likely to witness over the next twelve months? I will explore this topic in a two part post. Let us start with the question whether 2008 was a good year for Wii owners.

Low Metacritic scores

When looking back at 2008 and comparing Metacritic scores, the Wii is clearly lagging behind the competition. In case you are unfamiliar with the site, Metacritic accumulates review scores from mostly North American and some European media outlets and calculates an average score out of 100.

Looking at all current-gen titles released this year which scored above 85 percent, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 boast 17 each, while Wii has a mere 8 to show for itself. And this is no statistical flaw. Even counting games ranked above 80 percent, the Sony and Microsoft consoles have 43 titles each, while Nintendo's little box has only 22. When considering the year's top ten games, Wii titles only made it to the number seven and eight spots (´Super Smash Bros. Brawl´ and ´World of Goo´, respectively).

Is this perhaps simply indicative of the shovelware the market leader gets, I asked myself? Unfortunately, no. In 2002, the PlayStation2 had 21 titles above 85 percent, the Xbox had 19 and the GameCube 17. In 2003, PS2 had 26, Xbox 24 and GameCube, again, 17.

Looking at 2007, though, the field is more stretched out. Xbox 360 leads that year with 14 titles above 85 percent. PS3 has 10 and the Wii 6. Nintendo also has the year's highest rated title, ´Super Mario Galaxy´, albeit it being the only top ten entry for the console.

High Famitsu rankings

But there are other statistics to consider, other measures of quality titles. In 2008, Japan's reputable weekly gaming magazine Famitsu awarded only three perfect scores, two of which to Wii exclusives. The magazine is published by Enterbrain who also track and publish sales figures.

The first perfect Wii game of 2008 was, quite obviously, ´Super Smash Bros. Brawl´. Unexpectedly, the second was a graphic novel called ´428: Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de´ developed by SEGA. Here is a trailer.

Let us have a look at all the perfect scores awarded by Famitsu over the last ten years. Out of the nine games who received the top rating, five were exclusive to Nintendo consoles and only one of those was a portable game. With the exception of SEGA's graphic novel, though, all were first party titles.

´The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time´ (N64, 1998)
´Soul Calibur´ (Dreamcast, 1999)
´Vagrant Story´ (PlayStation, 2000)
´The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker´ (GameCube, 2003)
´Nintendogs´ (DS, 2005)
´Final Fantasy XII´ (PS2, 2006)
´Super Smash Bros. Brawl´ (Wii, 2008)
´Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots´ (PS3, 2008)
´428: Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de´ (Wii, 2008)

Looking at Famitsu's highest ranked games of 2008, each current-gen console has three entries with Wii leading the pack.

Wii redefining the mainstream

So, North American and European review scores betray a distinct lack of quality Wii titles compared to the competition, while Japan's most reputable reviewers see no such gap at all. Why do these indicators differ so greatly? I assume that Famitsu is more ready to accept Wii as a platform for new kinds of gaming. Just consider a more unusual DS game like ´Another Code´ aka ´Trace Memory´. Its Metacritic score is a measly 70 percent while Famitsu scored it a 35 out of 40, translating to a percentage of 88. I believe that Japanese gamers are simply more open to new ideas.

The Wii's tremendous and overwhelming success is often misinterpreted by traditional gamers in Europe and North America. Often you hear them talk about how Wii has found its niche, not realising that they themselves are the niche now. Wii has redefined what must be considered mainstream gaming. Christening something as mainstream is not a question of content or interpretation, it is all about numbers. And they are as clear as anything.


So, all in all, it would be wrong to say that games for Nintendo's newest console lack in quality. After all, ´Wii Sports´ is one of the most immersive and addictive videogames in decades. It was TIME Magazine's game of the year 2006 whose editor noted that "it might be the greatest videogame ever made" for precisely those reasons.

It is true, however, that the Wii lacks high quality traditional games. There are solid titles to be found in every genre, but far less than on the other two consoles. Why is that? Mainly, Nintendo has the weakest third party relations of the big three. This, in turn, is owed to the fact that no other hardware manufacturer is as successful a publisher as Nintendo.

But will this remain the status quo in 2009? No, I believe. The sheer numbers of Wii consoles sold will convince third parties to both increase their Wii budgets and widen their portfolio to include more than the ´Touch Generations´ type games. This will be the topic of the second part of the post.

Thanks to: MaxConsole, Go Nintendo, Joystiq

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