This is a good time to be a shooter fan and a Wii owner. GoldenEye is proving to be just as enjoyable as the original and the best Bond game since, well, GoldenEye 64. Call of Duty: Black Ops is possibly the best entry in that stellar franchise and it is easily the most feature-rich entry to find its way to Wii. In addition to those two great titles, The Conduit 2 is just around the corner and looks to be a major improvement over the original thanks to a much more dynamic campaign and persistent character customization across all game modes; in other words, it will be a thoroughly modern shooter in addition to having the fully customizable controls that made the first game worth playing.
Unfortunately, times like these don’t come around on Wii nearly as frequently as they do on other consoles. The Conduit proved the Wii Remote works great for shooting and Call of Duty: World at War proved Wii could smoothly handle intense online multiplayer, but developers still seem hesitant to thoroughly explore this generation’s most popular genre with core gamers on Nintendo’s system.
Looking back to the initial revelation of the Wii Remote, everyone immediately thought about how incredible its pointing abilities would be for shooters-– a console would finally offer mouse-like levels of precision. Ubisoft saw the potential as well and started work on what would be one of the system’s most anticipated launch titles, Red Steel. Among third part launch titles, Red Steel easily had the most hype leading up to launch; the new remote promised to be great for aiming guns and swinging swords, and this was the only title that offered both. Upon release it became tragically clear that Red Steel needed more time in development; while taking down enemies directly in front of you with precise shots was fast and enjoyable, turning was awkward and the Wii Remote simply didn’t offer the level of precision gamers had hoped for when it came to the game’s disappointing sword fights. Regardless, Red Steel actually sold fairly well, most likely by the grace of its considerable hype and the fact it was one of the few launch titles aimed clearly at the “serious” gamer.
I honestly believe Red Steel’s commercial success is a major contributing factor to the continued state of the FPS genre on Wii. To the early adopters who picked up the game, it was a major disappointment; not just as a game but as an example for the system’s ability to deliver superior shooting experiences. As for the many gamers who didn’t pick up the game at launch, they got to witness the game’s critical backlash. Some critics gave Red Steel decent ratings, but many in the press and the general word of mouth marked the game as terrible and placed it on a pedestal of all that was wrong with gaming on Wii. Right out of the gate, the image was once again created that Wii would be another system that only Nintendo would make good games for.
The next several years did not help the FPS cause. Shooters are naturally a genre that appeals most to the core gamer demographic, so Wii’s groundswell of popularity in the casual market only served the purpose of driving those gamers away. While moms, dads, grandparents, and little kids were gobbling up Wii Fit and Carnival Games, the Wii became so synonymous with casual gaming that many amazing titles were overlooked, some of them great for everybody and a few geared more toward shooter fans. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition managed to buck the trend, but Metroid Prime 3: Corruption didn’t sell nearly as well as it deserved. The Nintendo faithful gave it its due respect, but the game’s incredible controls, graphics, art design, and soundtrack would have enthralled even the hardest of hardcore gamers had they been willing to look beyond the mountains of party games and shovelware.
And then came The Conduit. The folks at High Voltage saw a place for higher quality games on Wii with better graphics and better controls and they worked like crazy to realize that potential. High Voltage built a new engine from scratch that still cranks out some of the system’s best visuals, created a ridiculous number of ways to customize the pointer controls, put it all into a game and then worked tirelessly to show the gaming world what had been created. As a result, The Conduit actually received a significant amount of attention from the press leading up to its release, even though the final product didn’t quite meet the high expectations. While Red Steel was a major let down for many, The Conduit only suffered from being a bit too generic; the controls were great and the weapons creative, but they were thrown into a rather straightforward experience featuring linear level design, uninspired aliens, cliched conspiracies, and the voice of Kevin Sorbo. Commercially, the game did well enough to warrant a sequel, but it wasn’t a blockbuster hit, and realistically probably wasn’t quite good enough to deserve to be.
Of course one really can’t talk about shooters on Wii without mentioning on-rails shooters. The Wii Remote has proven to be a great substitute for light guns, and the system is easily the best thing to happen to the genre since the glory days of the arcades. However, as great as House of the Dead: Overkill and Dead Space Extraction may be, the simple fact is that on-rails shooters really are a hard sell. No matter which game you are talking about, the gameplay is inherently straightforward and limited in its ability to offer any sort of variety and depth. Considering this, it is hard to convince any gamer aside from genre junkies to drop $50 on such a game. On-rails shooters will always have a place in the industry and Wii easily offers the best in recent history, but they simply don’t offer the same depth and variety that gamers can get from the better mainstream shooters.
As it stands now, shooters on Wii can compete with their HD brethren. Xbox 360 and PS3 will always offer the more intense audio and visual experience and can shove more players into an online match, but that is the extent of their objective advantages. Judging how well one controller works when compared to another is entirely subjective and there will definitely be those who prefer a traditional gamepad to the Wii Remote, but I can’t help but wonder how many people have actually bothered to play more recent Wii shooters with more customizable controls.
Some people simply wrote Wii off after suffering the disappointments of Red Steel. Others are nearsighted fanboys and vain, “hardcore” gamers who can’t admit that Wii might actually have some great games suited to their tastes without suffering an aneurysm-inducing bout of cognitive dissonance. If these gamers were to give Wii a quick glance, they would see that Call of Duty plays just as well, GoldenEye features a brilliantly crafted campaign on par with the best of today’s shooters, and even Red Steel redeemed itself with an almost universally acclaimed sequel that has amazing visuals and utilizes Motion Plus to realize the potential we had always hoped for. In other words, keeping their blinders on is entirely their loss.
But really, who needs them? The fact is that there are enough Nintendo fanboys and serious gamers who either prefer Wii or don’t have access to other consoles maintain a very healthy FPS-loving community. I am comforted knowing that I could hop on GoldenEye’s multiplayer right now and find a match within moments, and I have little doubt that by the time you read this the same will be true for Call of Duty: Black Ops, just as it has been for World at War and Modern Warfare Reflex.
These next few months will be great for FPS-loving Wii owners, but it would be nice if Wii could have the number and frequency of great shooters as 360 and PS3. Hopefully, The Conduit 2 will get its due respect and more publishers will notice all the online activity on GoldenEye and Call of Duty and realize that there really is a market on Wii. Though it may not be that big right now, there is still plenty of room to make money and encourage growth, which ultimately leads to more money. Publishers: you need to invest in the FPS market to realize its commercial potential. Gamers: you need to support great titles like Red Steel 2 and The Conduit 2 to encourage developers. If both parties play their parts, then nobody will have to complain about a lack of shooters on Wii again.