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A year of Wii: The PAL verdict


Being a devotee of Nintendo in a PAL region is probably a bit like marriage (I'd urge you to stick with me here, because I've thought this analogy through for at least four minutes). For years, you slog away at the relationship, mildly irritated by the other person's foibles and imperfections, like that weird bumpy mole on their back, or how they noisily slurp soup, or how they insist on playing nothing but Keane during long car journeys.

Then every so often, you have your disputes, arguing about the merits of Magnolia Eggshell and Cream Eggshell in the aisle of Lowe's. And sometimes, these disagreements might build up to something bigger in your mind, begin to fester, and perhaps you occasionally think, "Is this it? Is this the rest of my life?" But then, something strange happens -- every so often, the other person does something really fantastic, something that reminds you exactly why you got hitched in the first place, and why you settled on this individual as your soul mate. And suddenly, everything is well with the world, or at least until it's soup night again.

The point of this long-winded comparison being: as a gamer in the UK, that pretty much sums up my relationship with Nintendo. For years now, PAL region gamers have often been treated fairly shabbily by Nintendo. I'll freely admit it doesn't take much too rile us -- we hardcore types are notoriously tough to please -- though Nintendo doesn't always help itself. Its insistence that we receive games or hardware late, or not at all, or borked ... well it's just plain infuriating is what it is. The prices, as well, leave a lot to be desired. And totally rad free gifts? Yea, forget about those.

Yet every now and again, Nintendo gets something right here, something that makes us PAL gamers remember why we support the company. And the Wii, on the whole, is actually one of those things. As I began writing this article, I was gearing up for a venomous diatribe about Nintendo's continuing neglect of those countries that aren't the Americas or Japan. But get this: I can't do it. I can't do it, because when it comes to the Wii, Nintendo suddenly seems to have noticed that Europe and Australia actually exist. It's true! Both are real places and everything! We have our own flags!

OK, it's not all roses, and improvements can still be made. Both hardware and games continue to be priced somewhat disproportionately -- you lucky American folk pay $50 for a new Wii game on the high street, while in the UK we pay £40, the equivalent of $85.

But those accursed delays? They're largely gone, or at least massively reduced from the dark days of being a PAL GameCube owner. A quick flick through Wikipedia shows some horrendous hold-ups when it comes to first-party software on the GameCube. We waited an extra five months for Metroid Prime. We only got one of my very favourite titles, Pikmin, six months after the US. Animal Crossing? In Europe, we waited two whole years for that awesome game. Two fricken' years! (Though admittedly, the "lucky" Aussies "only" had to wait a single year).

So far, remarkably, the Wii has been a different story. We waited a mere four days for the recently released and totally awe-inspiring Super Mario Galaxy. And even the wait for the Wii itself (three weeks) was nothing compared to the period of thumb-twiddling we endured for the 'Cube (er ... six months). Those three Wii-less weeks were still fairly hellish, particularly as US sites were merrily posting reviews of the titles I'd have given my molars to play (resisting the temptation to read said articles was actually humanly impossible). But compared to the six months I had to endure before I got my hands on the purple lunchbox and, um, Luigi's Mansion, those three weeks were a breeze.

(Speaking of which, an aside: my own Wii launch experiences didn't contain a notable story to match Candace's enjoyable tale of queuing and bonding with fellow Nintendo loons. That's not to say I wouldn't have done it; after all, I'm crazy enough about Nintendo to queue for six hours to meet Miyamoto. But this time last year, I was on the other side of the counter from Candace and everybody else who wanted Nintendo's white box -- yep, I was a sales monkey for UK retailer GAME, and thus reserved my console way in advance. On my way out of work at the end of the day, I can recall being offered £250 (just over $500) for my new toy by one desperate parent, though politely declined.)

This more PAL-friendly approach is working wonders for Ninty. Countries outside the Americas and Japan have snaffled up well over 4 million Wiis in the last year, almost a third of all the Wiis sold worldwide, and you may have read recently how they're still very much in demand over here. Which is great, because for a good decade now, both Europe and Australia have been Sony territory. Now, with the help of the DS (and, perversely, an increasingly complacent Sony), the PlayStation blue that covers the region is being gradually swamped by ... whatever color represents Nintendo, I suppose.

So, I guess my conclusion must be: Nintendo, you're doing alright here. Like an infuriating spouse, you irritate the hell out of me sometimes with little slip-ups, but that's all they seem to be nowadays: little. There's been no Animal Crossing-style disasters yet, you even gave us the odd title early, and your handling of the Big Stuff in the past year -- the console launch, Galaxy, the things most of your customers care about -- well, you've got those spot-on. You reminded me why I stuck with you.

There, I did it. I praised Nintendo's approach to PAL regions. Now watch Mario Kart Wii get delayed here until 2009.

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