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February 11th 2013 3:59 pm

Did Nintendo go in the wrong direction with the Wii mini?

In December Nintendo released the Wii mini, a pared-down version of the Wii. It retails for $99 CDN, just below that $100 threshold that turns it from a purchase you might have to think about into an impulse (just as $0.99 is a sweet spot for song and game downloads). Unfortunately, to get that price point, they eliminated a lot of features. GameCube backwards compatibility was removed, but it had been missing since the 2011 redesign, which also took out the controller ports. Only composite video is available, so even though the Wii isn't known for its great graphics, the games that do have good graphics suffer. And most glaring at all, there's no online connectivity. No WiFi, no Ethernet port. No way to connect the console to the Internet at all.

That means no Wii Shop. No Virtual Console. No WiiWare. No online play with friends (via the very horrible Friend Codes). So that Wii Menu stays very, very empty.

Sure, there are still over 1200 games to be bought and played on disc. But it cuts off access to over 400 Virtual Console games, and almost 350 WiiWare games. Over 750 games that were ported, or developed specifically for the Wii have been tossed aside. If you're doing the math, that's almost 40% of the total available Wii games, and that's not counting the library of GameCube titles.

Because of the limited functionality, the Wii mini has garnered some pretty bad critic reviews, and doesn't look to be much of a hot seller either. After all, why buy a hobbled system when a regular Wii can be found for just a bit more (and even cheaper if you buy a used one)?

Given the poor reception, I can't help but wonder if maybe Nintendo went in the wrong direction. They wanted to release a product that was cheaper, but considering the number of people who already own a Wii, and the fact that the Wii U is backwards compatible, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of use for a system that plays discs. Especially as Nintendo announced that they have no new Wii games on the horizon.

So why not eliminate the disc playback and make it a download-only console? That would save even more money on parts, given that the disc mechanism can be one of the more expensive (and fragile parts of the system). It also means they could make the system much smaller—the Wii mini isn't actually that much smaller than a regular Wii. And the popularity of the Ouya proves that the public would in fact, be interested in such a device.

Unfortunately, the reasons to not do it are pretty hefty. There's the obvious brand confusion: someone buys a Wii mini and then is disappointed to discover they can't play Wii Sports on it. Of course, it probably wasn't a good idea to release the Wii mini around the same time as the Wii U; I wonder how many kids asked for the "new Wii" for Christmas and got the Wii mini instead?

Another reason is that WiiWare sales haven't been great, maybe because of a lack of public awareness, or maybe because Wii owners were more interested in the disc-based games, but whatever the reason, sales haven't been enough to justify the time developers have spent making or porting games for WiiWare, and there's no compelling reason for them to continue when there are much more fertile waters to be found.

But the real biggie is this: Nintendo still doesn't get the Internet. The DS and Wii both required ridiculous "friend codes" to connect to other players. The Wii didn't come with enough memory to hold all the games a user might download, and transferring them to an SD card wasn't enabled at first. At first, you needed a disc to stream Netflix! The different systems use different shops. And while your purchases can be tied into a single Club Nintendo account, the games are tied to a Nintendo Network ID that is unique to the system, not the user. So if the system breaks or is stolen, you're screwed. And while Nintendo lets you transfer games from the Wii to the Wii U, the process is a real pain in the ass, and the games are left isolated in their own little corner of the Wii U, meaning that they too, live and die with that particular piece of hardware.

To make a download-only system Nintendo would have to loosen their restrictions; how many gamers would buy a cheap system just for access to the Virtual Console? But they need to know that they can take those games with them elsewhere should the need arise. A 30-year-old NES game can be plugged into another NES console when the first one fails; the same can't be said of anything virtual, especially if it's locked down to that hardware on purpose.

The Ouya comes out in June, so it remains to be seen how its download-only, curated approach will work. But what Nintendo had going for it was a classic library of games that users would pay for access to, and as every gamer knows, it's always about the games.


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4 replies

This may be because I grew up with old consoles, but I would rather have a system that can only play virtual console games than one that can only play wii games.

I see so many wii mini's on store shelves still, and I just cringe at the thought of it. Even the 2011 redesign was questionable to me. However Nintendo isn't really the only company to regress in features. Sony removed PS2 support relatively early in the console's lifespan, and "other os" support not long after.

I also admit, I have invested in the virtual console enough (to re-buy my old snes/n64 and so on) games that I dread the day my Wii dies, because porting them to the Wii U seems like you said, a pain in the ass. I really wished the Wii U would feature virtual console in the forefront.

I realize I am straying from the topic of this discussion, but maybe this is a factor in slow Wii U sales, that or the lack of Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, or other fantastic Nintendo titles.

Let Nintendo make its mistake, The Wii Mini will sit on shelves next to the PSP go (is that even still on shelves?)

And holy crap, I just remembered about this, Nintendo made the same mistake 7 years ago:

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I had a Game Boy micro (and still have it, actually), and it's actually a reaLly nice piece of hardware. Sure, it wasn't backwards compatible and it required all new accessories (AC charger, link cable, etc), but it really was a nice-looking device and super portable (I kept mine in a leather coin purse). By the time it came out there was a decent library of Game Boy Advance games that the lack of original Game Boy/Game Boy Color games wasn't that glaring an omission. The Wii mini is different in that the original Wii was selling itself on a lot of the online features, so the inability to access any of those is a rather glaring omission, especially when faced with a stark Wii menu.

The PSPGo was discontinued. You're right though; these are all products that honestly, there was no pressing demand for. Both the GB micro and the Wii mini suffer from poor timing as well; do they want people to reinvest in the old generation, or upgrade to the next?
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I missed the detail of it being Composite only. That's pretty ghetto. The only Wii specific games I would be longing to play in the future to the extent I would be willing to buy a Wii Mini for archiving with the discs would be RPGs, which all have decent enough graphics that I would want to have Component output. I guess this is a rather cynical move by a company who is clearly losing touch with the audience it hopes to sell to. I agree this might have worked with Virtual Console support, but now it looks like it misses every possible target it was aimed at. All they have really achieved here is to ensure that the emulator scene will remain alive and well without a cheap and convenient alternative.
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You wasted entirely too much time thinking and writing about the Wii. Move on. The Wii U is the next thing.

Most of the time these late gen improvements are so the device can be sold cheaply to overseas markets and aren't really marketed for US customer base.
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