What I'm about to say is likely to upset a few people.
So, if you're of sensitive disposition, prone to sudden outbursts or fits of anger when it comes to videogames, it may be best to avert your gaze for 10 minutes. For everyone else, well, we’re going to take a stroll down hypothetical lane. Pack comfortable shoes, summer clothes, a healthy imagination and an open mind. The latter two essentials are going to be especially important.
Okay. So, off we go.
If you've been paying close attention to this new generation of gaming, you'll have probably have noticed a growing trend. Mainly older games/franchises getting a new lease of life, either through a machine's virtual console capabilities, or finally receiving a long awaited sequel. It's a trend that makes sense when you factor in the increasing costs of software development; titles take longer and cost more to create, especially as technology increases, and because of that risks are getting more dangerous. At the same time, videogaming's audience is expanding to the point where a well-timed dig in the medium's history can reap rewards, renewing an old franchise with some fresh blood that appeals to more nostalgic fans while attracting new ones.
This isn’t an easy strategy by any means, and many companies have failed miserably to capitalise, but at the same time it's still an attractive option compared to the alternative of making a new property that flops the first time around, regardless of quality (poor Beyond Good and Evil, we knew you well).
Which leads me to the main point. Between its virtual console function and GameCube compatibility, Wii has been blessed with an instantly great back catalogue from an early jump, which is particularly advantageous to any software company looking to bring in nostalgic gamers while potentially getting some of that 'new/lapsed gamer' pie at the same time. But even better is the chance to create sequels on the newest generation's fastest growing platform with fewer risks than before, coupled with fresh control methods. It's a potent combination that has seen Sega already decide to finally make its much loved, if commercially shaky franchise, NiGHTS, Wii bound. Other companies are also thinking of following suit, although it's a tad early to say if they'll see this through.
That said, there have long been rumours of a new Shenmue title in the offering. Sega's ambitious action adventure series has been victim to scuttlebutt the past few years in a very similar fashion to NiGHTS, with very little in the way of concrete facts emerging.
So I ask the question: what if.
What if Shenmue is being entertained on Wii?
I don’t say this simply off the back of Sega being increasingly friendly with Nintendo these days, although obviously that is an important point. But my musing more circles the practicality of it, given the above.
The Shenmue rumour has been bouncing around for a while now, but realistically there's been a fair few problems in seeing a newest instalment to the franchise to date. Putting aside the additional stress of the Shenmue Online project (which ties up series designer and brainchild, Yu Suzuki), the clamoring for a 'true' Shenmue sequel are complicated by sticking points of time, money and risk. The original was said to have cost around $20 million to make, although obviously reusing assets would help make that less of an issue. But that's taking into account a sequel not straying too far from its original production backbone, which is firmly set in prior generation technology, given the sequel that followed was also on Xbox a barely a few years later. And it's unlikely that anyone would be happy in Sega making something that looks like a Dreamcast game on PlayStation3 or Xbox 360.
Can you see where I'm going with this?
While Wii's visual prowess is generally underutilised, it could easily manage something that would keep the beautiful style of Shenmue (if not slightly improving it) while maintaining low costs. The first couple games were impressive to look at in their time -they're no real slouches now, mind- but it would take a substantial notch upwards to keep the game on par with some of the more brilliant looking titles on PS3 and Xbox 360, not only taking up more time but also more money for Sega to expend. As backhand a compliment this may be, Wii's comparative graphical deficit would work to its advantage here, allowing Sega's game to maintain a level that sits comfortably with other software of its ilk without appearing backward or archaic. Perhaps a little harsh, but it's true. On a purely visual level, Shenmue would fit perfectly at home on Nintendo's machine with little extra costs to keep up with the graphical joneses.
Along with that is also the 'time' issue. A lot of time has passed between Shenmue's prior exploits and now. And since then, many other games have strip-mined the franchise of some of its best ideas, making them more commonplace and predictable. Grand Theft Auto is currently king of its own sandbox in terms of broad third-person action games with persistent worlds, regardless of being of different ken to Shenmue, which means Sega would have to step things up a fair bit for the franchise to compete on a purely perceptional level; albeit mostly to those who may not have any history with the games to realise their differences. While a new Shenmue game may be unfavourably traded against the bright eyed bushy tailed GTA franchise (among other copycats) there's far less competition on Wii for that, with currently -although we'll have to see how long this remains the case- no GTA juggernaut to steal sales. Given that previous Shenmue titles have historically not sold well, the less chance for thunder stealing the better. Especially if it means not having to pump as much green into its production.
While a glorious High Definition version of Shenmue would be amazing, what makes anyone think Sega will be willing to take another financial risk in spending a ton of yen, development resources and years to create another title in a series which has stumbled at retail a couple times already? Wii offers more attractive alternatives on all those levels. Obviously it wouldn’t magically cost nothing – there's a risk associated with the creation of any new game. But in putting it on Wii there's inherently fewer question marks than putting it on PS3 or Xbox 360. As much as it may hurt some, Wii is indeed a more viable machine for dicer development propositions like this, especially today where dev costs are incredibly high and the pitfalls of achieving a return are more perilous.
So as a business decision it makes sense. But that won't shift units on the shelves. Which leads me to the big design reason as to why Shenmue would be a great Wii title; the inevitable Wii remote possibilities. Naturally this would be a case of combining the Nunchuk with the remote, so the former allows you to move around, freeing the latter for actions. The series' legendary Quick Time Events could be variable, asking you to shake the Nunchuk or flick the remote in a certain direction, as well as any button presses – the sheer breadth of alternatives would keep them fresh. A fighting system similar to Godfather: Blackhand Edition could also be adopted, allowing for dual hand punching and grabbing.
Minigames like darts and even pool would be perfect with the remote. Arcade games? Not a problem, given the ease of how featured 8-bit titles would only need a flick of the Wii remote to its horizontal configuration. Hell, the motion controls of the system could potentially make even Shenmue's most tedious activity -forklift driving- fun. Or at least, a lot more fun than it is with a standard controller.
WiiConnect24 holds all sorts of potential too, with the weather channel affecting in-game atmosphere (something NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is said to do). What about winning custom designed Sega Miis that you can collect via subgames like a crane/grabber machine, and then use in Wii Sports? The possibilities are massive.
Even the problems associated with series chronology doesn't have to be a setback, given Sega could realistically re-launch Shenmue's prequels on Wii to help rebuild its fanbase. It could test the waters for interest, at minimal costs. Sega could even do what many other developers are considering with their back catalogues at the moment and put them out with motion controls instead, which would revitalise the franchise and set the stage for the newest sequel which takes advantage of Wii more. It's all there if Sega truly wants it; because I imagine there's one or two fans who do already.
It's probably fair to say that if I've thought of this, numerous people within Sega have entertained it as well. It's a no-brainer, really. Although there's a lot of barriers between thinking about something like this and actually going through the process of getting it done. Which is likely where Sega is at the moment, going through the vast number of ifs, buts and maybes for viability. Kikizo's Adam Doree has long persisted that a new Shenmue has been lined-up for development on a new console. Which means that if the game has been indeed sitting in development hell for a while, there's a chance we'll see it within the next couple years. I'm personally confident we will. And if Wii continues to sell large numbers while improving the relationship between Sega and Nintendo, all the above factors would make it a fairly easy choice as to which system another Shenmue will arrive on.