I recently saw a vision of Wii's future. You may have seen it too.
It involved an image of a big pink alien… thing, dressed in 70s gear, dancing to the rhythm of the funky beat.
Bizarre. And somewhat scary. Yet, this visualization could well end up pushing Wii into stratospheric sales levels. Who'd have thunk it?
And who'd have thought it would be from Electronic Arts?
You've probably already seen the rather… imaginative, delights of Boogie, EA's strange but appealing rhythm action/karaoke/party title for Wii. Coming this autumn/fall, Boogie is a freaky beast that capitalises on three of the fastest growing genres in gaming, and squishes them all together into one rather bulging whole, complete with Wii remote control compatibility and a USB microphone packaged into the bargain. The aim is to offer a title where you can sing or dance along to around 40 numerous cover versioned hits (including U Can't Touch This by MC Hammer, ABC by The Jackson 5, Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite and Don’t Cha by Pussycat Dolls). Obviously singing requires the mic, where you're judged by pitch, tone and accuracy, as seen in Sony's excellent SingStar series, but it's the dancing mode that could offer the most novel (and potentially painful) experience.
EA is using the motion sensing capabilities of Wii's remote and Nunchuk, to allow you to strut your stuff in time to the music. Waving and twisting the former activates certain dance moves, while the latter rotates your on-screen character's head and triggers its mouth to lip-synch the lyrics. Naturally, a wide variety of moves and combos can be pulled off to keep things fresh, which will probably go well with the challenge of trying to avoid smacking any bystanders in the noggin while you do your thang (and make your body sing).
With multiplayer (co-op and competitive) modes, the ability to record your performances, and outfit your characters in various costumes, Boogie may well be Wii's biggest third-party hit this year… and I say that without sarcasm. It's designed to capture the mainstream audience that is currently so well-tuned into the console, and by mixing both singing and dancing components, it does something no other home title has tried before. Meaning even if it doesn’t manage to be as good as it has the potential to be, the sheer lack of competition in its genre will make it popular merely by default. If you've seen how big SingStar and Dance Dance Revolution have been with casual and non gamers on PlayStation2 (a feat mimicked by the superlative Guitar Hero series, which is also Wii-bound) and then add them together, multiply by Wii's popularity and then take away the relative impracticalities that unfortunately come with large dance mats or even bulky pseudo instruments, and you have something that is destined to be a massive hit.
Making this all the more certain is EA's rather cynical mining of fashionable pre-teen franchise, Bratz, in the design of Boogie's more human characters. The similarities are pretty shocking, but it seals the game's success by marketing directly to the oft neglected young female demographic. Consider that age/gender group is rarely ever targeted on a whole by the big videogame publishers, AND that currently both Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 are perceived to be very 'male' machines in their software library (rarities such as SingStar notwithstanding) and it's clear EA knows exactly what it's doing. As an exclusive title, the company will be pushing Boogie massively on TV and other media, making it THE game for the ever expanding non and casual audience which is increasingly important to Wii's growth.
Boogie is arguably the greatest example that EA, of all companies, 'gets' Wii. It understands the machine, the demographics, and most of all, its potential. Even though the much maligned third-party was a little slow off the mark in providing titles for Nintendo's console, it's managed to recover quicker than its competition and thus slot into place as one of the machine's most dominant software partners in terms of both output and most surprisingly of all, quality.
Along with a superb iteration of Madden NFL, The Godfather: Blackhand Edition was among the first notable signs of EA's keen perception, given its fantastic show of how Wii can elevate and evolve the third-person free-roaming action genre. In fact, Blackhand Edition became the most critically accepted version of The Godfather, warts and all, leaving gamers wondering just what an original Wii game of the same ilk (or maybe just Grand Theft Auto) could provide if this is just a first-generation title.
Since then, EA has followed up with its expected sports franchises, such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour and SSX, which have wiped away the more bitter tasting -if not terrible- examples of Need for Speed Carbon and Medal of Honor that graced Wii's launch line-up. While not as sterling as Blackhand Edition and Madden, none have been as bad as many would have guessed, certainly outshining most other third-party offerings which were expected to be more consistently first-rate but have faltered in getting to grips with Wii's hardware. It's a strange, bizzaro world when EA is making better use of innovation than its rivals, but Wii seems to have awakened (for now) its verve; revealed by the fact many hardcore gamers are actually looking forward to the next instalments of the cash-in franchises they once disparaged, because these sequels can hopefully expand on the substantial promise shown in this early batch of Wii games so far.
Even the forthcoming Harry Potter tie-in, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is creating a buzz from promising impressions. A combination of sandbox gaming and Wii remote controlled magic could well result in an essential purchase will be extremely difficult to ignore, should the fantasy potential of magic wand = remote, follow through competently… especially when you consider how this is among the many much-requested 'dream match-up' ideas for Wii's unique controller (along with it mimicking a lightsaber, sword and bat… hmm, sensing a theme here).
It's perhaps slightly ironic that EA, the company known for bleeding its intellectual properties and licenses dry to the point of creating apathy within the hardcore gaming community, would now be among the forefront of exciting Wii development across the board. But it makes perfect sense, in a way. The company is easily one of the most powerful and resourceful in the games industry, and thus has less to lose in taking risks (even if it's not a publisher known for large gambles). It can afford to throw a little more money into Wii development, knowing franchise power alone could allow it to break even, as long as the game isn’t catastrophically bad.
In fact, while Blackhand Edition is arguably EA's best title on the Nintendo console, it's sold the worst by far -although not helped by the sheer lack of advertising-, yet the company knows it can take the financial hit by expanding things further with sequels and related titles. And for once, gamers may not mind if it means the next Godfather game can be built from the ground-up using Wii's capabilities. Just to cap things off, the icing on top of this grand cake is EA's usually high production values, meaning we'll likely be seeing some of the best visuals on the machine, too.
Whether or not Electronic Arts manages to keep this momentum of decent-to-excellent Wii games remains to be seen, but few would have predicted this would even be a valid question barely six months ago. Which says a lot for the California-rooted developer and publisher. However, one thing is certain; with its high profile licenses, shrewd design choices and presentational polish, most of its titles WILL sell well. And as EA shifts more of its resources into Wii development, the chances of creating a well crafted hit become higher, making it the third-party to beat in terms of consistency, output and effort. Bizarre -somewhat like a big strutting pink alien- but totally true. So if it means EA is going to lead the Boogie-driven beat for other companies to follow… so be it.
Let the industry dance-off begin.