Of all Nintendo's various achievements, surely its most consistent is in simultaneously pissing off and delighting its faithful European customers. For twenty-five years the company has wowed us with innovative technology and wonderfully robust and inventive games, filling reservoirs of consumer goodwill in a way few other multinationals manage. In tension with this, interminable localisation delays, sloppy, bordered conversions and,- most heart-breakingly - an ever-slim line-up of releases has made it clear that Europe is literally the least of the Japanese company's global concerns.
Never has the conflict been so obvious as it is with Wii in 2007. On the one hand the decision to bypass the HD race and instead invest in new ways to allow people to interact with their televisions is cause for celebration. But the months of waiting for titles like Paper Mario or Trauma Centre to make it from America to the UK is simply unacceptable at a time when simultaneous worldwide releases are commonplace on other systems.
Most Wanted lists like those featured in this series bring out the worst in a readership (as 300-odd furious comments in our previous two articles demonstrate with car-crash appeal). For many gamers who own just one of the three main players, defending their chosen machine is not just about fighting for its honour but also about justifying their own wisdom as a consumer. Gamers who have eschewed Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 for a Wii may well fight with similar (also pointless) vigour, but with so few games in the Wii's catalogue, they certainly have a lot less ammunition. Newfound gaming grannies and mainstream press column inches don't pack quite the same punch as a Halo 3 or Metal Gear Solid 4 in the playground debates.
Still, few players, deep down, really want Wii to fail. Its approach is - as with so much of Nintendo's output - brave and refreshing and alternatives and competition are always a good thing. But European gamers rightly feel trodden upon by Nintendo Europe's leisurely approach to releases, and whatever the internal politics or reasons for this, the frustrated consumer should always remain right.
Who knows whether the following games will make it out this year? In the battle between our anticipation and our impatience towards Nintendo, it's imperative that not only the majority of these games appear before Christmas, but also that they exceed their ever-dating promises. Anything less and core gamers (a demographic Nintendo effectively created) might leave and never come back - albeit with a DS tucked snugly in their back pocket.
Super Mario Galaxy
In some ways it's the only release here that really matters. Wii Zelda has been, gone and, on reflection, disappointed a little bit. But Super Mario is to videogames what no single film could be described as being to film. It's a name and face and style and pace totally synonymous with the medium and for good reason. The company's flagship series defined the lines of risk and reward that almost every videogame has traced since.
Each new iteration's innovations have shunted games forward with a force few others have managed. If Miyamoto's game follows in the footsteps of its forbears it will demonstrate where the limits of the hardware stand and how best to break them. Wii devotees pray this will be the game to realise the Wiimote's weighty potential in ways that other titles have only alluded to.
Platform games might not be the most important videogame genre any more, but the core Super Mario series has increasingly flown high above such clumsy distinctions. If all goes to plan, this will be a masterclass for all developers and genres to watch keenly. That all-important third word in the title is telling. 64 and Sunshine be damned, it's time to leap from Super Mario World into the Super Mario Galaxy, a titular boast that must be fully met to cement Wii's reputation as something more than a jumped-up Eye-Toy machine amongst dedicated gamers.
Super Paper Mario
Over five months on from its American release, Nintendo's platform-RPG has lost little of its appealing hype. The hybrid 2D/3D game mechanics - whereby environments can be popped into and out of 3D to solve puzzles - bring to mind SEGA's recent PSP triumph Crush. But, unlike that game's brooding visuals, Nintendo's bright palette and story will likely convince a far wider audience of the idea's merits.
The Paper Mario games have, in many ways, revealed that there's another, more appealing and accessible way to explore the Japanese RPG (and remember that the first title, Super Mario RPG, was in fact designed by Squaresoft themselves). Indeed, despite the Fisher Price looks and sheen, these have been some of the very best examples of the genre, perhaps because they adhere to scant few of its aged rules. If Super Paper Mario can continue the graceful and enjoyable arc started by its GameCube forbear, it will be have been a worthwhile wait.
Metroid Prime: Corruption
Where Konami has routinely struggled to make sense of Castlevania's beautiful 2D gameplay in a 3D world, US-based Retro Studios has been more successful with Metroid's transition. While the previous two games divided fans, on the whole they were enjoyable first-person adventuring titles that wisely placed more emphasis on exploration than on frantic shooting. Despite being set shortly after the events of the GameCube's Metroid Prime: Echoes, this third titles looks to have shifted the focus of gameplay onto first-person shooting, to the delight or horror of watching gamers.
In part this is thanks to a new control scheme that should prove faster and slicker than on the Cube. The Wiimote pointer will aim Samus' arm cannon while the nunchuck will control the grappling beam allowing for a faster pace and, according to the developer, gentler difficulty. Undoubtedly the game will still showcase the non-linearity (or at least the illusion of non-linearity) that has marked the series to date, but whether the shift in mechanical emphasis adds to or subtracts from its fanbase remains to be seen.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Aside from its recent brush with jihad, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure is coming in to what looks to be a successful landing. One of the few exclusive, third party, new IPs for the Wii, Kristan described it earlier in the year as 'a title of immense quality'.
The eponymous Zack and Wiki are on a quest to resuscitate deceased pirate Barbaros by piecing back together his scattered body parts in order to then steal his treasure. As a third-person action-adventure one of the most exciting elements to the game is its apparently varied and inventive use of the Wiimote. Context-sensitive actions within barmy scenarios promise to keep the action fresh and engaging as you work through a series of self-contained missions.
The game's puzzles appear to be logical and sensible, which should in turn lead to this being a satisfying experience. Despite the loss of Clover Studios, with Zack and Wiki Capcom demonstrates its continued dedication to innovative and different videogames, and it's perhaps only natural that their most adventurous work looks to be hosted on Nintendo's hardware.
Fire Emblem: Goddess of Dawn
- Release Date: 2007
Intelligent System's Fire Emblem series is basically an Advance Wars costume drama for obsessive-compulsive nerds with a saviour-complex. Unlike the company's other strategy series, lost units (who here are characters with names and eyes and stories) are lost forever, cut from the plot and team leaving a gaping void where their skills and dialogue once played out. Many are the players who've never made it through to the end of a Fire Emblem game for want of a mean streak.
Goddess of Dawn seems to be a logical evolution to the previous game in the series, the GameCube's excellent Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. There are scant few innovations here but for many fans of the series, consistency is all that's required. 42 characters return from the previous game with an addition 30 new ones populating the game's 45 chapters. For players unable to move on from a battle in which a comrade fell, this might be videogaming's greatest challenge yet.
- Release Date: 2007
If the BBC's Blue Planet failed to convince, Namco's enjoyable PlayStation title Treasures of the Deep opened gamers' eyes to what an ideal setting realistic, underwater worlds make for a videogame. Forever Blue, the first scuba-'em-up for some time, plunges players into the deep and beautiful oceanic universe of the fictional Manaurai Sea. Controlled exclusively by the Wii Remote, players point an on-screen cursor to guide a diver through shoals of fish in a search for rare sea-life and of course, sunken treasures.
New Zealand soprano Hayley Westenra provides a lilting soundtrack to accompany what looks to be an experience rich with beauty and danger (in the form of sharks, rays and whales), although MP3 support over an SD card will allow players to swim to Sepultura should they be so inclined.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
The original Nights game, released in 1997 for SEGA's Saturn, received a flurry of abuse for simply not being Sonic enough. Fans looking to justify their platform's dominance over upstart PlayStation wanted another Green Hill zone, all point-making speed and fury. But Nights' purple-y, dreamlike world of flight and magic was something altogether different. For better or worse, opposite expectations exist today. A slew of sub-par orthodox Sonic titles combined with Nights' retrospective acclaim amongst cognoscenti has expectations acutely raised for this unexpected sequel.
That this game should find its home on Wii is only natural - this world with that interface is a match too perfect to be passed on. The androgynous jester will be controlled with the remote, with or without an analogue stick as you glide gracefully through the inimitable world of Nigthtopia. Naofumi Hataya is involved as musical director, a wise decision as the original's music was both haunting and excellent. The game will integrate with the Wii's Weather Channel - presumably whereby weather conditions in the game mirror those outside your window (an evolution to the original game's use of the internal clock to change level themes). Masks alter your abilities, and there will be a breeding element to the game, but all these additions will be for naught if Sonic Team cannot keep the game's delicate soul safe and unaltered beneath these surface alterations.
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles
With Masachika Kawata producing (the man behind the PS2 version of Resident Evil 4) and numerous members of now defunct Clover Studios (the team behind Viewtiful Joe and Okami) on board for this Wii exclusive, expectations are high. The last Resident Evil game to debut on a Nintendo console proved to be one of the very best titles not only in the series but also in the videogames canon, but whether such a dramatic success can be recreated with an on-rails shooter seems unlikely.
Compatible with the forthcoming Wii Zapper peripheral and taking in classic locations from Racoon City, the game promises (along with every other Wii iteration of a well-loved franchise) to combine series traits with the system's revolutionary control system. So expect green herbs for regenerating your health and shotguns for depleting theirs. Whether the game can successfully manoeuvre itself off the on-rails path its chosen genre encourages is unknown, but failure to do so might brand the game as little more than a House of the Dead also-ran.
Pokémon Battle Revolution
This is a game of firsts: the first Pokémon title for the Wii; the first Wii title to use the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection in America and Japan and the first Wii game to wirelessly interact with the DS. Still, for players sick of Nintendo's Gotta Flog 'Em All approach to the franchise, it's possibly the last title on their Most Wanted lists. Set in a theme park called Pokétopia the game has you battling your way through eleven coliseum's worth of opponents
Rare Pokémon can be won in the game and transferred back to the recent DS titles, widening its appeal to those currently besotted with their handheld breeding programmes. Trainers can be customised and, along with six Pokémon, taken online to do battle either against friends or random opponents.
Despite these fan-pleasing features the game appears to have dropped some of the elements that made previous titles in the Stadium/ Coliseum series popular (e.g. the RPG mode). For players without an all-important DS and a copy of Diamond or Pearl, these reduced features appear all the more ungenerous.
Mario & Sonic At the Olympic Games
Is there any event more suited to bringing two rival mascots together for the first time than the Olympic Games? The sheen of global unity and understanding bombastically masks any fierce competition. Still, Mario and Sonic might be on a poster for the first time ever, but all rivalry remains intact - at least in the minds of their fans. Despite the companies having been working together for some time, it is jarring to see their iconic characters sharing the same space and it's unclear if the pairing will fit well together.
But then who better to make it all work out than Miyamoto himself who's overseeing the implementation of a slew of different Olympic sports supposedly including Judo, Table Tennis, and Swimming through to the usual line-up of track and field events. Still, one wonders quite how the traditional furious button mashing of athletic-themed games will translate to the Wiimote. Perhaps pasty-faced gamers will end up with some beefed up forearms by the end of the summer after all.