Monday, March 26, 2018

Thanks For the Memo-Wii-s

I've been fascinated by the Wii since before it launched in late 2006. I had an opportunity to try the Wii before it came out while at a mall in Connecticut. I got to do some bowling, Wii Sports-style, and instantly fell in love with the platform. As a former league bowler, I loved using the motion control aspect of the Wii Remote Controller-- or Wiimote, for short-- to impart hook on the ball, much like I'd rotate my wrist and then hand through the ball upon release to add rotation and cause the ball to break to the left. It felt natural, and the simple graphics were fun to look at.

I wound up getting a Wii at launch, but didn't hook it up to the internet consistently for another few months after getting it. Wii Sports held my interest for a long time post-launch, along with Excite Truck, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, and Trauma Center: Second Opinion. I knew about internet connectivity, but wasn't living in a place with Wi-Fi until the summer of 2007. Once I was logged in, though, I began to experience features of the Wii that were once personally exciting... and are now, unfortunately, either currently or soon-to-be decommissioned.

The Wii's Weather and News Channels were, to me, pretty neat. Sure, I could just jump on a computer to check the weather or news of the day, but the Wii's Channel interfaces made it all the more interesting to me. I checked these channels often, right up until I traded my Wii towards a launch day 3DS in March of 2011. Admittedly, I took these channels for granted and gradually spent less and less time playing with the extra features. For some strange reason, I never stopped to think that one day they might be taken offline. When they were shut down at the end of June in 2013, I didn't have a Wii at the time... and practically ignored the fact that it was happening.

The Everybody Votes Channel was another frequent stop for me.The premise of the channel was simple enough: A closed-ended question was asked, and channel visitors would move their Mii toward which answer they chose to lock it in. Results for each question were shown, both at the time of answering and then again when the window of time for the question ended. Results could be sorted by country, and I thought that was really cool. Like the News and Weather Channels, this too was shut down in late June 2013.

Fast-forward to late 2015. By this time, I was three years into building my library of older video games and consoles. I finally (re)bought a Wii in November, while working for GameStop. I went all out, buying a ton of games (thanks to a Buy 2 Get 1 sale that was happening at the time) and putting together a formidable library right away. I also began to buy games from the Wii Shop Channel. These were mostly Virtual Console purchases, including several TurboGrafx games such as Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood, Lords of Thunder, Gate of Thunder, Alien Crush, Devil's Crush, and others.

One thing that struck me when getting reacquainted with Wii during that time was that the News, Weather, and Everybody Votes Channels were dead. It was sad to see the icons for news and weather on the Wii menu, only to have them error out when trying to open them. It's still sad, made worse by the fact that Nintendo doesn't allow users to delete these channels from the Wii Menu. Instead, the icons stand there, like virtual tombstones. When I stare at these, I'm reminded of times when I used to check these channels out-- and it's unfortunate that I can never do that again.

While these other channels were gone and relegated to memory only, the Wii Shop Channel stood fast. Over the course of the next 27 months, I gradually added to my library of Virtual Console and WiiWare games. I continued to fill out my TurboGrafx library, while also adding NES and Super NES games to the mix. I bought Final Fantasy (Formerly and Later Known as IV) II. I bought Chrono Trigger. Both games cost me $17 after tax combined; buying both carts for Super NES would have cost me around $120 combined, so this was the better deal. I bought the three NES Ninja Gaiden games. Then I expanded further to Genesis (Splatterhouse 2 and M.U.S.H.A.) and Nintendo 64 (Mario Party 2, Smash Bros.).

I added a few WiiWare games, like the pair of Target Toss Pro games and Carnival King from Golden Tee gurus Incredible Technologies. I bought the awesome trio of ReBirth games from Konami, giving me refreshed experiences in the Gradius, Contra, and Castlevania universes. I grabbed the quirky Tomena Sanner. I bought the Wii revivals of Alien Crush, Adventure Island, and Star Soldier from Hudson.

Then, this past week, I got the reminder about Nintendo shutting off the ability to buy Wii Points, starting at 4pm Eastern today, March 26th. I splurged on a ton of games to try and beat the clock. I admit that I spent more than I should have, trying to make sure that I had all of the games that I had thought about buying before I couldn't buy them anymore. I bought Riot Zone. I bought Fighting Street. I bought Muscle March. I bought Excitebike World Rally. I grabbed a few more Super NES games.

All told, as the curtain closes on the Wii Shop, I will have bought 74 games. I'm aware that, once my system dies-- and it could at any time-- I lose them all. It's the risk that comes with buying digital, even moreso from Nintendo for the Wii. Nintendo had no account system in place for the Wii, so games can't be transferred from one Wii to another. If my Wii dies sometime in the next nine months, I *might* be able to get my games transferred if I send the old one and my replacement one to Redmond, WA-- but that's not a guarantee. It can be argued that this has been a complete waste of money, so the odds are pretty good that once my console dies, the money spent will be lost for good.

But, see, here's the thing: the Wii Shop Channel, despite its lack of an account system and its weird Points system that required some extra math work to make the point allocations work without having any left over, has been Nintendo's best storefront-- in terms of content. No Virtual Console service to date, spanning later platforms like the 3DS, Wii U, and New 3DS, has been as varied as the one found on Wii. More troubling is the fact that Nintendo has been exceptionally evasive when it comes to plans for Virtual Console on the Switch... if there are any plans at all. The Wii Virtual Console offered games for eight different platforms: NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, TurboGrafx, Genesis, Master System, Neo Geo, and coin-ops/arcade games. The Wii U comes close, but doesn't quite match this variety. The 3DS and New 3DS are worse.

I admit that losing the Wii Shop Channel is a sad thing for me, personally. After years of checking in when I had some extra money and picking up a game or three on impulse, I'm not going to be able to do that anymore. After January 2019, I won't even be able to just visit the Wii Shop, browse, and listen to that catchy shopping tune that's been in my head for 11 years. (The tune is so catchy that I have it as a ringtone for my iPhone.) Browsing through the Wii Shop over the years has often conjured memories, such as when I remember certain games being announced for the service or when I hit on a lottery ticket and had some extra money to grab a Wii Points card from the store.

Soon, the entire channel will be just a memory, like the News, Weather, and Everybody Votes Channels before it. When I turn on my Wii, I'm going to see those icons and know that they symbolize what used to be, instead of what is. Systematically over the past few years, the Wii has been cut down to half of what it once was: channels are gone forever, online play is gone, and the console's internet connectivity feature is now little more than fuel for Netflix or Amazon Video.

The Wii has the dubious distinction of being the first console that I own which doesn't perform exactly as it did when it was new. Inevitably, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3-- the Wii's brethren from the seventh console generation-- are inexorably marching toward the same fate. Many of the Wii's games are still fun to play, but there's no denying that there will always be something missing from the overall experience-- and that's perhaps the saddest thing of all.

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