In 2006 my family played hooky: All 5 of us. It was a Monday in November. The previous day I had gotten-up very early to stand-in line at the local Target. It was rumored that they would have about 100 Nintendo Wii consoles available first come, first served. In my pocket was $450 dollar in cash that I had earned from publishing an article about Atari history Gamasutra.com. I used that money in particular because I felt it was like the changing of the guard: old invested into new. I was an Atari kid, and because of that, I had never owned a Nintendo system in my life. I went from Atari 2600 directly to an Atari 800 computer, and then an Atari ST. I bypassed the Nintendo age completely. Because of this, there was no nostalgia in my heart for the Nintendo brand. The Wii was going to have to live on it’s own merits: there were no 20 year old memories that would help float it into the success column in our house.
The line at Target moved very quickly, and when I got to the front, I picked out a Wii console, Wii Play (packed with an extra Wii-Mote), Elabits, Legend Of Zelda Twilight Prinicess, and an extra Nunchuck. I packed it all into my car, took it home, and hid it from my kids for Christmas. Then the yearning started. I needed to try it. I decided I wanted to play the console to make sure that it worked. Christmas would suck if it didn’t work, right?
I asked my wife Dawn what I should do. She reminded me that we already had enough stuff for kids for Christmas, and suggested that I open the console and set-it-up to play immediately. To be honest, I could tell that her interest was piqued too. She had never had a Nintendo console herself (save for the one at the Teen center she worked at in the mid 1990’s), and we had both been impressed by the Wii demo DVD I brought home from E3 that year. I needed no more convincing, however I still hesitated because imagined the Wii would make an awesome Christmas surprise (though the kids were had never really expressed an interest in it). I waited all day Sunday, and finally opened up the console and set-up Sunday night for everyone to see.
My family was instantly interested. Dawn and I spent most of the night creating Mii representations of ourselves. Before it got too late, we put in the Wii Sports disc to try it out. The first game we tried was Bowling, and my family was pulled into the contest immediately. We played through one game (and Dawn kicked my ass), and then realized it was too late to continue. I imagined we all went to bed that night with Wii dreams dancing in our heads, but in reality, it they were probably just in mine.
When I woke up Monday morning, I ran down stairs and started-up the Wii so I could test another one of the games on the Wii Sports disc. The first game I tried was golf. My 8 year old came down the stairs, and asked to play too. It was still early so I said yes. Soon after my wife came down with the baby, and sat on the couch next to us. Just a bit later, my 4 year old sleepily walked down the stairs and ask to play. I don’t recall the exact events that transpired, but the decision was soon made that no one was going to work or school that day.
Wii decided to play hooky.
The rest of the family made Mii characters. My 4 year old tried to spell her name with the Wii-mote, but it came out “DC Nughman”, and that stuck as her nickname for few years until she got really tired of it . After that, we tried out the other Wii games I had purchased. This is where I should have gotten a clue, but it passed me by. All of the other games were, honestly, not successful. Elebits was supposed to be kind of like Katmari Damacy, but proved too frustrating to play. Wii Play was like demo disc of failed controller experiments. Even Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess left me cold. Since none of us had any built-in nostalgia for the Zelda franchise, the game came came off as slow but promising. However it was single-player game and we were having such a good time playing as a family, we quickly went back to Wii Sports. Outside of maybe one other session, none of those three game were played in our house after that day.
Still, Wii Sports was good enough. We continued playing all day and into the afternoon. We traded the Wii-motes back and forth for Bowling, Tennis, Golf and Baseball. We even tried Boxing, but it proved a bit too much with the nunchuck tether slapping us in the face as we tried to do battle. Still, it was a great family day, one of the most memorable we’ve had, and the Nintendo Wii had given it to us. I thought it would be the first of many such days we would spend as family together with the Nintendo Wii. I had never been a Nintendo fan-boy, but at that moment, I was sold. I had the urge to get ALL the games for the Wii, and then use the Virtual Console, go back and play all the games I has missed too.
Soon after though, things started to fall apart. My next purchase, Excite Truck failed to set the family alight. Warioware Smooth Moves proved far too difficult for the family to play ,and Cooking Mama just did not control as well as the DS game. While both Carnival Games and Williams Pinball showed some promise, Mario Party was a mess that got played exactly once, EA Playground simply did not hold the same appeal as Wii Sports, and Metroid Prime 3 was too traditional to appeal to the family.
I recall Dawn telling me one day, as we tried another failed game, and went back to Wii Sports that she felt the Wii was a “Bait And Switch.” It had a lot of promise, but the games after Wii Sports never lived up to it. She had a point. At the time I was playing Williams Pinball religiously, but it was not really a “Wii” game at all. (It remains my favorite game on the console.) We also bought a ton of kids games, but most were simply awful. The worst game we ever bought for the Wii was iCarly 2, a game that I don’t think was even play tested before it was released. With games like that, the kids expected that the games we bought for the Wii would be hard to control, look terrible, and not be fun to play. Bait and Switch indeed.
However, I was not ready to give-up. I started buying Virtual Console games in earnest in an attempt to rekindle the fire with some classic Nintendo Goodness. The original Super Mario Bros. was the first, and it proved to be a mild success. Dawn had spent many days playing the game with the kids at the Teen Center when she worked there in the 90’s, and we had a few good sessions until it proved too difficult to continue. I also bought the first few Zelda games, hoping to see what all the fuss was about, but to be honest, I just did not see it. They were were Okay, but they did not really interest me. I was not immune the fact that the game was a huge advance in console video games when it was released, and putting my head into that of a 10 year old in 1987, I could see why they would have liked it or even loved it. However, that same year I was playing Dungeon Master on my Atari ST, such a vastly superior game in every way, there was no way I would have been drawn into Zelda or the Nintendo console. In fact, most of the the NES and Super NES games I bought from the Virtual Console (Save for Super Mario Bros. 3) were disappointing when compared to the Atari ST and PC/DOS games I played ion the same time period when they were originally released. So much for manufactured nostalgia grabbing me. As well, there was something else that really irked me about the Virtual Console: the almost complete absence of American and European games. It was as if the paltry eight Commodore 64 games available were Nintendo’s big middle finger to all the games and history of the 80’s that both influenced their creations and made their success possible.
Still, I was not ready to give up. So I bought Wii Fit and it became a sort of Wii Rennasiance in our house. Again, all of us were in the living room trying to ski or balance stuff, or hula-hoop. However, it too proved short-lived. For all of it’s usefulness, Wii Fit was mostly a single player game. The promise of the entire family playing together was lost in the cumbersome interface of switching players. More games were bought, and played once: Super Mario Galaxy, Animal Crossing, Wii Zapper, Thrillville, Big Brain Academy, and many others. Even Super Paper Mario, a sequel to Paper Mario 1000 Year Door , agame my daughter and I had bought used, played and loved on the Wii, failed to gather much interest. The only successful games in our house, versions Karaoke Revolution, Guitar Hero, games that we could truly all play together but also titles that were available for any game system. Watching my wife and daughters sing songs in those games made me feel a bit that that first day we played hooky with the Wii. I wanted the feeling to continue.
So, I kept believing in the Wii. In 2009 I bought game that I figured would change everything, and for a while, it did. Boom Blocks appeared to be the game the Wii was made for. It used the Wii-mote perfectly, and the whole family could sit around and play it. Encouraged, I invested in the Wii Sports Resort and Wii Motion Plus in the belief that Nintendo was finally getting back to the roots of what made the Wii great, and by extension, what my family loved about it. However, for some reason, that game never made a huge impression. I, myself, loved the sword fighting, but the family lost interest quickly. Furthermore, the Wii Motion Plus drained the Wiimote batteries at an incredible rate. When Nintendo failed to follow-up Wii Sports Resort with any significant Wii-motion Plus titles, I removed the devices for good. The last full retail game I bought for the console was Wii Party, and it was similar failure in my house. Since then, besides cheap, red-tagged, marked-down games found on the end-caps at Target bought for he kids as fodder for cheap afternoon of entertainment, I have pretty given-up on the Wii.
Last year I bought the Kinect for our Xbox 360. Instantly, the same old family feeling entered out living room. We all played Kinect Adventures together, and Kinect Sports was a huge hit. While the Kinect has its’ own particular issues, it was successful and accessible enough to get the whole family interested. While we don’t have a lot of time these days to play Kinect, when we do play as family, it works out pretty well. My middle daughter, (“DC Nughman”), is currrently obsessed with Fruit Ninja. My oldest daughter loves Ping Pong on Kinect Sports. My youngest is now begging for the Seseme Street game for Christmas after we played the demo. At the same time, My wife and I play games like You Don’t Know Jack and we all watch Netflix in HD on the 360. As well, all sorts of games are available for download instantly for the 360, in all genres and from all around the world. Sure there are no Nintendo games, but then we have all those already anyway don’t we? In a sense, the Xbox 360 with Kinect out-Wii’d the Wii by actually delivering the whole family entertainment experience that the Wii promised but never delivered.
When the Kinect arrived, I moved the Nintendo Wii to the small TV upstairs, relegating it to obscurity. It’s still hooked up, with Boom Blocks firmly set as the game that is played the most…but not very often . Still, I was not ready to give-up on Nintendo. Not until I saw the Wii U at E3 and realized that they have pretty much lost the plot. The Wii was a great system in search of software that did not exist. In the end, it might have been the best bowling simulator ever made, but it’s promise of pulling the family together was lost in sea of shovel-ware and empty promises. Still, I’ve got the memories of that first glorious day, the day my entire family played hooky so we could all experience the Nintendo Wii together. Even if the console never lived up to its’ promise of of truly great family experiences, I am still thankful for that first, best time playing Wii Sports and imagining the greater gatherings to come.