When I look back at the consoles I’ve owned, I like to think about the time in my life that they reflect on. The GameCube came out when I was a junior in high school, when I had the most disposable income I’ve ever had in my life. I had my first job, no car and no girlfriend. And, most importantly, I had no bills. I bought more games during that generation than in any before or after. I played everything, including a few games I’m embarrassed to admit I owned. But, times change. When the Wii came out in late 2006, I’d been in college a few years. I had bills. A girlfriend. And, shortly into the system’s lifetime, I would have my first “real” job. Suddenly, I just didn’t have as much time or money for games. And this is why the Wii was the perfect system for me.
These days, the term “casual gaming” is more loaded than a baked potato in a steakhouse. When we hear it, it stirs up frightening imagery of shovelware and discount bins at Walmart. But, as my mid (and now late) 20s hit, I started to realize that I didn’t have as much time for 40-hour epics any more. If I had time to play a video game, sometimes it was an hour a day. Maybe only 20 minutes. Or maybe I wouldn’t have time to play for a few days. The two and a half hour gap I had between 8th period in high school and my 5-9 shift making tacos was now gone. I had responsibilities. So I started to embrace games that I could sit down with for short bursts and still feel accomplished. And the Wii had a plethora of those types of games. And, while some people see that as a bad thing, I’m here to argue otherwise.
The Wii’s pack-in game (and its follow-up) will always be the one most associated with it. And, with good reason. Wii Sports showed us exactly what the Wii could do and it leveled the playing field so that the casual and hardcore could all play together. For years, one of my favorite watering holes even had the game set up so patrons could play bowling or tennis between beers. That’s the closest thing I’ve had to an arcade experience since the early ‘90s. But one of my real favorite moments playing the Wii was the day my then 8-year-old goddaughter kicked my butt in Wii Sports Resort. To this day, I still think the Wii Sports games are a lot of fun. But the Wii had more than just that.
The Wii reintroduced me to an old friend: the sidescroller. There had been plenty of sidescrollers between the Super NES and the Wii, but, for the first time since those halcyon days, I felt like these games represented the better franchises in gaming. Nintendo put a lot of focus into rebuilding that fallen genre, and my love for it was rekindled. Suddenly, we had games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Rayman: Origins. When I’d sit down for a half an hour with these games, I’d walk away feeling accomplished. I’d have a few levels under my belt, and I wouldn’t have to worry about feeling lost if I couldn’t come back to it for a few days.
It wasn’t just sidecrollers and “waggle”-centric titles, though. The Wii had games like Wii Fit, where I felt like I was multi-tasking. Not only was I gaming, but I was working on shedding a few pounds, too. I fell in love with third party titles like DJ Hero, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and House of the Dead: Overkill where I could just sit down and have a little fun for a few minutes. I still loved sprawling epic games like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3, but I was thankful to have so many other options for the time-impaired.
During the days of the Wii, “casual” became a 4-letter word in this industry. There was this sudden fear of games that were easy to pick up and play. Gamers were now insecure about their console of choice and whether it was “hardcore” or not. But someday, we’re all going to have a few more responsibilities than we’re used to. It doesn’t mean we have to stop playing Zelda. It just means that it’s okay to have something else we can pick up for 20 minutes before bed. And that’s why I loved the Wii. Because it let me do both.