Wii's summer line-up looks worryingly anaemic for the hardcore demographic. The sunny season is never a particularly significant one for the games industry as a whole, with many titles released during such time being early fiscal year fodder, summer sports/movie licence tie-ins, or titles that would usually not stand a chance in the forthcoming autumn/winter deluge.
There are a few reasons why publishers tend to stay away from pitching their best titles in summer, although the fact so many of them stay clear is one of the great frustrations that linger within our fair medium. Because obviously, if there's no big games released, where do all the gamers who cant enjoy the sun (a particular sticking point for us in the UK) go for new titles? All it takes is one big game to clean up the market during that quarter, but few are brave enough to take that risk, knowing that even the good sales garnered by a strategically placed hit during summer would easily be eclipsed by the potential of releasing it during the amply more profitable winter season.
With that said, there are a few significant examples on the way for Wii that may have slipped through the cracks of attention, and perhaps more intriguingly, they have some hardcore appeal too… although that doesn’t come without some reservations. But we'll get to that little point later. In the meantime, here are some big names to keep watch for in the next couple months.
Manhunt 2 - Rockstar - July
Whether or not you feel Rockstar's stealth survival horror (in every sense of the genre's definition) is 'appropriate', there's no denying that it's eagerly anticipated for several reasons. One, it's Rockstar's first big game on a home Nintendo format in… well, years. Two, it's one of the more violent titles on Wii, testing the boundaries and audience's desire for such a visceral example of gaming on the format – if it does well, it could spell a very lucrative and potentially exciting relationship between Nintendo and Rockstar. And finally, three, it's actually been built almost from the ground up for Wii, meaning some effort has been put into not only making it look better than its PlayStation2/PlayStation Portable stablemates, but also compliment the motion control advantages afforded; which should make an interesting contrast to those who profess Wii's remote capabilities are often 'tacked on'.
Once it hits retail, Manhunt 2 will cause ripples, whether it's good or not – but early reports suggest it may well fulfil it promise and offer an engaging, if utterly disturbing gameplay experience (ripping off genitals? Eww). If it does well, not only will we see more Rockstar titles grace Wii (Bully 2, please, kthxbye) but we're also likely to see a wider demographic of stealth/survival horror type software emerge because there will be a clear demand. Although it's far too early to tell whether this will be the case. We'll see in a month or so.
Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition - Capcom - June
One of the best titles of the last generation, Resident Evil 4 has gone on to triple dip its pleasure by emerging now as a Wii title after a successful stint on both GameCube and PS2. Cynical and money hungry, yes, (this IS Capcom, remember), but if there's any game worthy of such tactics, it's RE4. And thankfully, we've been promised the definitive version of the action classic, with all the features and extras of previous iterations, with motion control aiming, weapons and Quick Time Events.
Already released in Japan, RE4:WE is garnering good reviews, with both highly recommended accolades lauded on it by Famitsu and EGM. Hands-on impressions appear to hint at an adjustment period for the control difference, but ultimately it's an essential purchase, especially given its budget price-tag.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon - Midway - May (US)/June (PAL)
One of Wii's few fighting games, and along with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, it shows that the genre CAN be done decently on the format. The spine-ripping beat 'em up uses motion recognition for some moves, which apparently work well barring a couple issues. Reviews have put it down as one of the better games of its type on Wii, and something of a must for Mortal Kombat fans looking to get their first hit on the little white machine. Although given there's likely to be more coming in the future, it's probably a matter of patience in seeing if the whole Kombat system can be refined further.
Scarface: The World is Yours – Vivendi Universal – June (US)/July (PAL)
A potential sleeper hit if there ever was one, in the same mould as Electronic Arts' fantastic The Godfather: Blackhand Edition. If Scarface manages to be as well made as that, then we could have another illustration of just how well Wii is suited to the action genre. Previews have shown it could end up being the best version yet, as long as the controls (which include chainsaw slashing, gun aim and motion activated taunts/swearing) are tight and responsive. The greatest glimmer of hope for Scarface is that it was actually rated higher than The Godfather when both titles were released on other formats, so Wii could end up with something even better than EA's filmic showcase. Take a read of <a href="http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/23122-scarface-world-yours-q.html" target="_blank">Wii Chat's Q&A</a> for a little more information on this enticing prospect.
Driver: Parallel Lines - Ubisoft - June
Duly forgotten by most media outlets through the sheer lack of information about it, Parallel Lines remains a mystery… and given how inconsistent Ubisoft has been in its Wii conversions to date, it's probably no real surprise. It could turn out to be as excellent as Blackhand Edition, or it could end up being a total waste of time and effort. Although it does have one thing going for it - the original PS2/Xbox versions weren’t that bad a game. With the sandbox action genre slowly expanding on Wii, its avenues of competition are growing by the month, so it will have to offer something a little different from the norm to stand out, beyond pointer targeting.
The only major issue with this batch of titles comes down to a rather prominent, if predictable trend within Wii's early catalogue; ports. Of all the above, only Manhunt 2 really has Nintendo's machine in consideration from its development conception, which is bound to raise a few eyebrows with anyone not convinced by Wii's software credentials. While August and September will offer the delights of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Battalion Wars 2, respectively (both exclusive and original), all these third-party efforts do seem to be attempts to make the most of being caught off guard by Wii's success and perhaps taking advantage of the machine's architecture proximity to its GameCube predecessor.
However, it bears noting that for Wii to be in a position where publishers are playing catch-up in the first place, it must be carrying a modicum of clout to make it worth the relative effort. A cursory glance at the above and you'll realise that both Scarface and Driver were excluded from GameCube's library, while Manhunt wouldn’t have even been suggested for the Nintendo machine in the first place. Even in these early days of first generation software, it's a good sign of commitment, providing the audience responds.
Which is a question in itself. I may persistently extol the virtues of The Godfather: Blackhand Edition (which you really should pick up if you've not given it a try), but it didn’t sell very well at all, advertising vacuum or no. Should similar titles befall the same fate, even if they're actually good, it could create a worrying bone of contention for future software.
So, support is all. And in this 'circle of life' (sans cheesy Disney song), it's important that we all play our part. If a developer makes a good game that falls outside the remit of what the average person thinks Wii is capable of, don’t be shy in promoting and sharing it. Because that's the only way you're going to get more of that kind. The games industry is like any other in that respect; circular and self prophesising: if a developer thinks a particular type of game will sell, it will make more of them, which in turn creates the perception of the machine by force of numbers, regardless of what the reality of that machine may be.
If you want Wii to have more sandbox games, shooters and so on, get out there and buy the good ones that exist – there's a few already that may have not got the press they deserved. After all, Red Steel may have had very mixed reviews, but it sold more than well enough for a sequel to be in the works right this very moment. It's in your hands to make the difference, and the power as always rests in your wallets – cliché, but forever true; and it's never more important than during this formative stage in Wii's still developing identity.