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 Wii Ware: Is This Nintendo's First Blunder?

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PostSubject: Wii Ware: Is This Nintendo's First Blunder?   Thu May 29, 2008 3:59 am

Wii Ware: Is This Nintendo's First Blunder?
By Mike Smith

Nintendo's Wii console unveiled its own slate of original, downloadable games this month, and the service promises to broaden this unique machine's appeal still further. With low distribution costs and little barrier to entry, it's a hit among smaller, risk-averse developers.

But after being bewildered by bizarre interfaces, confused by storage limits and inexplicably accosted by orange Marios, we're left wondering: could this be the Wii's first blunder?

Packing a launch portfolio containing some surprisingly compelling titles, WiiWare, as the new service is called, certainly has all the right ideas behind it. It's intended to support smaller developers in much the same way as competing services on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Distributing games directly to consumers via digital download services cuts out both publisher and retailer, meaning developers can afford to take more risks, and -- in theory -- give consumers like us a better deal.

Try it out, though, and you'll find some big problems. The interface is average at best, and the limited storage of the Wii console means trouble for heavy users of the machine's Virtual Console service (which lets you download classic games), who are suddenly going to have to make some tough choices about which games to keep. With only 512 MB of on-board storage, players are running out of room, and although you can store games on an SD card, you have to copy them back before you can play them. If keen players are already reaching the limit, what's it going to be like in a few years?

The interface is average at best, and the limited storage of the Wii console means trouble for heavy users of the machine's Virtual Console service.

This is, to put it mildly, a shame, because there are already a couple of gems waiting for WiiWare browsers. Despite having a title long enough to fill up the Wii's memory on its own, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King is harder to quit than crack cocaine and a real bargain at $15. LostWinds, an innovative platform game from a small British developer, is receiving some decent reviews and clocks in at only $10.

That's assuming you have the patience to get them downloaded in the first place. Compare and contrast the Wii's Shop interface with similar offerings on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and you'll see that although Nintendo is unquestionably the master at building easy-to-use, appealing hardware, it has a lot to learn about interface design.

Here's a hint: make it easy for us to give you money. The Wii Shop won't save credit card information, which probably makes it slightly more secure, but inputting all those numbers with a remote control is silly and tiresome. That's nothing next to the inconvenience of having to fill out the billing address every time, though, and the Wii makes you do that in minute, exhaustive detail. Hey, Nintendo: If my Wii gets stolen from my front room, it's a safe bet the culprits already know where I live.

OK, so you've juggled memory around to make space and filled out enough forms to give a mortgage broker nightmares. Surely things get better when you actually start downloading games, right? No, Nintendo has a treat in store for you there as well. Once you've purchased your chosen game, you'll be greeted with a cheery (and, for some reason, orange) Mario running repeatedly across the screen grabbing gold coins. What purpose this serves isn't immediately clear. Presumably it's some type of progress bar, but -- as far as we're aware -- there's no apparent relationship between fat Italian plumbers, orange or not, and download progress. Maybe Mario's interminable transit symbolizes Nintendo gobbling up the revenue from your purchase. Who knows.

Moreover, why are we still watching him? On the 360, we could be playing Grand Theft Auto by now, simply waiting for the helpful pop-up notification while a whole stack of games download in the background. Coin-grabbing Mario, as he sucks down my dollars, looks awfully happy about this state of affairs, but we're not.

Seriously, Nintendo, we're delighted you're supporting independent developers (and Square-Enix) and encouraging yet more innovation on what's already the most novel and exciting games platform out there. With the Virtual Console and WiiWare, you're well on the way to beating the selections of the competition's download services. But did you have to make it such a pain to use?

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