Happy New Year. Hope your 2007 has been a good one so far, barely a quarter month in. Chances are many of you have been enjoying the wonders of Nintendo's little white machine. Also chances are many more of you haven’t, through the inevitable and well publicised problem of low stock. Something that has been on my mind the past week where extended gaming sessions via my own personal Wii has forced the following utterances from the mouths of close friends and family:
"When can I get one?"
"How much are they?"
"Can I have yours?"
"We've no money but… we really should get one."
"Is there anywhere at all I can get one?"
"Are you sure I can't get one now?"
"I'll fight you for it."
"Seriously, I think you better sleep with one eye open because I'm having yours."
And so on. The Wii effect is well and truly in play right now, and over the holiday period there's been a large amount of desire to own one from those who've played mine. At the very least, they've expressed interest while on the other end of the scale they've wanted to own one as soon as possible, unable to put the Wii remote down and leave my living room for neither love nor money. Which makes it all the more a shame that they can't get walk into the shops and easily buy a unit any time soon. Recent reports of Wii being out of stock until February may be a tad overzealous, but it's clear that there's a real scramble out there to satisfy demand. Whether or not that same fervour for it will still be there when new machines are available is a question mark that lingers without a certain answer in sight.
The current high demand is symptomatic of a new machine around the holiday period which has natural appeal to the mainstream. Especially during a time of year where families are together and mingling more often than usual. It's fair to say that given a month of frustration, desire may wane. After all, it doesn’t matter so much if interest drops when the cash has already been handed over, but if it starts to wander before the purchase then Nintendo loses a potential sale.
At the same time, it's probably not as much of a problem as we may think. One thing that's become quite apparent in the numerous threats of having my Wii taken off me is that this craving has been something slowly building since the machine's launch. All of these people have been teased into curiosity by Nintendo's presence around various stores, demo booths and multimedia adverts. They've been asking me about Wii weeks before they got to actually play the thing recently, where for many of them the deal was sealed. What was before a wish to play has transformed into a strong longing to own, which is quite a feat given 'playing' and 'buying' are not always synonymous. The delay may be annoying for this audience of wannabe Wii owners, but you'll notice a certain type of behaviour for anyone who has their heart set on buying something, especially consumer electronics. If there's little money in the coffers, feeble justifications are made. And if there's a wait involved they'll merely say something along the lines of "well, that gives me more time to save up for one". If they're a bit more games industry savvy, they'll remark that by that time more viable software will be available. It's a barrier of want that's been passed and once convinced they'll be willing to jump through the necessary hoops to get a Wii. The only real coin Nintendo misses out on based on the lack of supply are users who may be sitting on the fence, either from the lack of playing or just a lack of interest. But ultimately, these are not the audience in need of 'conversion' so early on in the machine's life cycle. Those targets are necessary during dry periods where dips in sales are more evident. Until then, Nintendo's "GameCube Turbo" (as dubbed by hardware fiends) will continue to sell huge numbers through a potent combination of clever marketing, killer apps and mass appeal. All factors any games machine would be happy for.
For those of us who are lucky enough to own a unit and may have exhausted the delights of Zelda and Wii Sports, our attentions may have turned to the future. Personally, my thoughts have drifted towards the potential offered by Wii's virtual console capabilities, which -even in 2007- still has me excited by titles I either played and loved or never got to truly enjoy Back in the Day. And although not officially announced, there are several games in particular that have my eyes twinkling in the prospect of revitalisation.
Streets of Rage trilogy – MegaDrive/Genesis
It baffles me why Sega has yet to revisit or even acknowledge its excellent scrolling beat 'em up series in the 21st century. Made even more galling given the recent and rather superb freeware PC remake (http://www.bombergames.net/sorr_e.htm) currently doing the rounds. The fact it was ignored over more obscure efforts in Sega's otherwise fantastic MegaDrive Collection is either a sign of something big around the corner or Sega simply not valuing the franchise as highly as fandom. Regardless of its plans, I'd like to see the company throw us a bone through some two-player fighting action backed by Yuzo Koshiro's wonderfully good soundtrack, all via the comfort of Wii. If not, how about letting the guys behind the aforementioned PC remake have a go - I'm pretty sure they like money.
Final Fantasy III (nee VI in Japan) – Super Nintendo
The role-playing game that helped change the face of the genre on consoles and consequently paved the way for FFVII to do the same on PlayStation. FFIII managed to marry a strong storyline to diverse characters, a truly epic quest, revolutionary gameplay and one of composer Nobuo Uematsu's most memorable scores. It broke many gaming taboos that existed at the time; approaching adult themes such as multiracial identity and child abandonment in a mature fashion, visually pushing the Super Nintendo in a direction rarely approached and capping things off with two legendary themes at the end of the game, running for around 17 and 22 minutes respectively (something unheard of for a cartridge based console game). There were even Street Fighter II style joypad inputs for some of the battle moves. Sadly, we're unlikely to see this any time soon on Wii simply because it's enjoying a remake on Game Boy Advance right now and I'd suspect Square Enix wouldn’t want the sales to eat into each other. However, given FFIII's roots as a CD title -originally due for the Super Nintendo's ill-fated CD expansion deck before that mutated into Sony's PlayStation- it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of plausibility that the game will find itself on Wii's virtual console in the shape it took when Square Enix re-released it on PlayStation a fair few years back. I only hope that if that becomes the case, the developer doesn’t bring over the painful loading times that came with it.
Parasol Stars – PC Engine
Third in the Bubble Bobble trilogy, Parasol Stars may not be as well known or as well received as its prequel, Rainbow Islands, but still manages to maintain endearing platforming gameplay that feels fresh today. It's perhaps the ideal compromise between its predecessors, with levels bigger than Bubble Bobble, but more contained and focused than Rainbow Islands' while using the latter's human forms of Bub and Bob. The titular parasols could be used for a wide range of tasks; stunning enemies, capturing them, throwing them, blocking from projectiles and even parachuting from higher platforms. The versatility, coupled with a two player mode, made for engaging 'dip in, dip out' gaming that would be perfectly suited for Wii.
Earthbound – Super Nintendo
Earthbound is like a barrel of hyperactive monkeys having a party on Absinthe. That's to say: It. Is. Freaking. Nuts. It's also one of the best role-playing games ever created, in all its quirky glory and tongue-in-cheek charm. Ape's kitsch slice of Americana may look like an 8-bit throwback, but the apparent simplicity belays a long and unique quest full of challenge, sharp off beat humour and fourth wall breaking commentary. To this day, Earthbound has one of the fiercest cult followings of any 16-bit game, which has still not been enough for Nintendo to publish its recent GBA sequel (Japanese titled Mother 3) in Western territories. But still, even with Nintendo's stubbornness, Mother 2/Earthbound is all but inevitable on Wii's virtual console, with a mooted mid to late 2007 release; although I can only hope it's sooner and strong sales make the rumoured Mother trilogy compilation a reality.
Flashback - Super Nintendo/MegaDrive/Genesis
Sequel to innovative Amiga title, Another World, Flashback was popular enough to be converted from its home computer roots into the console domain with a large degree of fanfare and critical acclaim. It was one of the few games that used the concept of stealth and misdirection long before it became the gameplay norm via Metal Gear Solid, punctuated by slick action scenes and great, if at times baffling, cut scenes. Perhaps more at home with the classic controller than Wii's remote, Flashback would offer a modest and distinctive charm to the virtual console catalogue.
Shadowrun - Super Nintendo/MegaDrive/Genesis
The forthcoming Shadowrun game coming to Xbox 360 may not turn out as bad as some may be hoping it will, but there's no denying it feels a little of a lost opportunity given the pedigree that preceded it. Both 16-bit versions were totally different yet offered a similar level of innovation and relatively non linear interaction. Non Player Characters could be killed at the expense of karma, terminals hacked for information and money (both of which could offer varying levels of help but were non-essential to your progress), AI driven team dynamics were commonplace, an intelligent and open ended dialogue and item system kept the puzzles and script fresh and involving, and your character's progression and trait building was often utterly different to anyone else who owned the game. In short, a brilliant RPG that more than stands up to some of its contemporaries. Certainly more inimitable than the first-person styled team shooter with benefits that it's seemingly morphed into via a next gen overhaul. Given its 360 presence, it would make sense to re-launch the originals to cash-in on the popularity boost.
Chrono Trigger - Super Nintendo
Sure, another RPG, but if you've played it you'll know why exactly it's banded around with such reverence. Gorgeous to look at with an amazing soundtrack, Squaresoft (pre Enix merger) really created something special that melded the better aspects of Final Fantasy and its sister RPG, Secret of Mana, while keeping a strong sense of identity to make something that stood apart from both. Despite being well crafted, subsequent sequels and spin offs never managed to capture the same elements of a cohesive time travel driven storyline, slick pacing and perfected combination attacks, leaving Trigger to be the lasting legacy of the franchise and ripe for virtual console inclusion given its strong hardcore following.
Of course this is only a small selection off the top of the dome and everyone has their selection of must have virtual console titles, which is the point of having such a massive library to pick from. It also means patience is the key. Just because we've not seen anything of the above (or indeed your particular killer app) doesn’t mean it's not on the way. These are games that will be used to fill the gaps in any barren spells on the Wii's main release schedule, as well as tying in to any relevant promotional excess that is currently doing the rounds to help boost sales. It's all about waiting. Then screaming from the hills if that doesn’t work out. But be safe in the knowledge that regardless of how frustrated you may be that your favourite game has yet to come out yet, you're still doing a damn sight better than the unlucky thousands who are still waiting to actually own a machine in the first place.
Now if you can excuse me, I have a Wii to protect from certain people with sticky fingers. I guess that ironically means at least I won't have to worry about the remotes flying from their hands into my TV...
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