Wii-Vaporware: The Uncertain Future of Nintendo’s Motion Control Games
It’s hard to imagine a world in which Super Mario Bros. was lost and forgotten a few years after its release. Even if Nintendo had failed to re-release it in some form on nearly every subsequent platform it produced, there are still perfectly functional SMB cartridges and Nintendo Entertainment System consoles and NES clones to allow for continued enjoyment of this landmark game. Plenty of PC emulators exist to offer this and other classic games in a dubiously-legal format. We don’t have to worry about losing Super Mario Bros. forever.
Incredibly, we may face a situation in the not-too-distant future wherein the best-selling home console game of all time is essentially unplayable, remaining only in the memories of players and YouTube videos.
Wii Sports and hundreds of other motion-controlled games for Wii and Wii U have an uncertain future. The NX, Nintendo’s replacement for the not-quite-good-enough Wii U, arrives next year. At some point around that platform’s arrival, Nintendo will cease manufacture of Wii and Wii U consoles. Unless the NX maintains full backwards compatibility with both of those systems and, crucially, the Wii Remote controllers, it will effectively trigger a time bomb that will effectively kill all Nintendo games that depend on motion controls.
This is purely speculative, but it is a point worth considering, as Justin Davis writes for IGN: what happens if these games are trapped forever on the Wii and Wii U? Within 30 years, it’s likely most of the original Wii and Wii U consoles will have been junked, no longer functioning properly, or completely incompatible with whatever video display / TV format is in use by then. Optical drives will almost certainly have been a relic for decades at that point. Will there be enough demand in the retro / classic gaming hobby to maintain them? And what of Wii remotes and sensor bars? Will a manufacturer continue to make them available?
The pre-CD era of gaming is well suited for the retro collector, as the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles from Nintendo, SEGA, Atari, and others were solid-state. They have no moving parts, aside from the odd power or eject buttons, and they are easily renovated or recreated. Disc-based systems, on the other hand, are innately more complex. So far, we haven’t seen a market for cloned PlayStation 1 or SEGA Saturn systems, though many of the original consoles remain in use. More importantly, a significant number of games for those systems have been re-released over the years and can be easily emulated on modern platforms, with ordinary controllers.
Motion controls are a different beast, and thus the concern for the longevity of Wii and Wii U software. As Davis notes, VR may hold the key to preserving the gems of those generations, assuming Nintendo has any interest. But it’s still very early to worry about this problem; if nothing else, the history of gaming has shown us that eventually, technology provides a solution.
That being said, I plan to keep my Wii and Wii U consoles in pristine shape for many years to come.