This is it! The last one. After this week’s entry in my series on the franchises Nintendo seems to have abandoned, I’m moving on to something else. What better way to end than on an enigma: Nintendo creates one of the best-selling video game consoles of all time in the Wii, yet fails to match its competitors’ software sales and ends up with a LOT of duds, flops, re-skins and shovelware.
One of the biggest mistakes Nintendo made with Wii, and one from which the company seems to have learned with Wii U, was the Wii Shop. A combination of lousy marketing, horrendous interface and a draconian sales minimum policy left gamers either unaware of or unable to find great digital titles, and developers and publishers were left holding the bag. In many cases, most notably those of MDK2 and Retro City Rampage, the developers poured time and money into bringing a product to the Wii Shop, only to never see a dime because sales minimums weren't met.
Nintendo is notoriously secretive about its digital sales totals and even has non-disclosure agreements with devs and publishers regarding those numbers, so we can only speculate as to how many Wii Shop titles were successful, and which were not. I would love to think that Nintendo is working on porting the entire Wii Shop to the Wii U eShop, if only so some of those really great games can finally get the attention they deserve. But Nintendo hasn't done much right with the Wii U so far, and I hardly expect them to start there.
That said, Nintendo backed a handful of decent games on the Wii Shop in its golden years, and I’ll bet you haven’t even heard of these: the IP that, for better or worse, were one-and-done in Nintendo’s awkward first steps into online commerce.
Grill-Off with Ultra Hand!
This is a great example of Nintendo exploring its storied pre-video game past to come up with a quirky concept. The Ultra Hand was a real-world product, an Inspector Gadget-like toy that would allow the user to retrieve objects a short distance away by squeezing its handles. (See the wonderful Before Mario website for more on this contraption.) Ultra Hand made its way into other Nintendo series, including WarioWare and Animal Crossing, but Grill-Off is its only solo appearance (if you don’t count the tangentally-related Game & Watch title Chef). Basically the player uses the Wii Remote to control an Ultra Hand and rotate meat on grills. That’s it. The game is still available, for free, to Club Nintendo members with 80 coin credits to burn.
Snowpack Park / Penguin Seikatsu
The Japanese title means “penguin life” and that’s a good description. Life is hard for the penguins under your care, and you have to keep them alive and happy. I guess you could say it’s a *little* bit like Lemmings, but it’s not really an RTS — more like SimPenguins. Or maybe Animal Crossing: Just Penguins.
You, Me and the Cubes
This critically-acclaimed puzzler is a little hard to describe, though you could say the premise is a bit disturbing: you play the role of a “god” who creates living beings known as Fallos, by shaking your fist (with a Wii Remote in hand). Your new creations find themselves on cubes, suspended in space and with a precarious sense of balance. If you don’t keep everything level, the cubes tip and your Fallos plunge to their doom. Fun, right? It has a simple aesthetic that would lend itself well to the 3DS, perhaps. (Hint, hint, Nintendo.) The game comes from indie studio From Yellow to Orange and was created by beloved designer Kenji Eno, who passed away suddenly earlier this year. Check it out for a nice tribute to his brilliance.
Eco Shooter: Plant 530
So the teams behind Fire Emblem, Paper Mario and Metroid Prime came together to create a light-gun FPS for Wii. Sounds like it should be incredible, right? Well, naturally that Nintendo sensibility took over and what came out was a bizarre, cutesy title in which you play a sanitation engineer firing away at piles of trash and anthropomorphic garbage with your recycling gun, defiantly ignoring Lavosier’s Law of Conservation of Mass. Hey, if you have a Wii Zapper following your purchase of Link’s Crossbow Training, here’s another game that uses it!
MaBoShi: The Three Shape Arcade / Maboshi’s Arcade / Katachi no Game: Maru Bou Shikaku
Deceptively simple in appearance, this physics-based collection of mini-games comes with a hip soundtrack and some surprisingly challenging modes. It’s multiplayer, too! I picked it up for free during a limited-time Club Nintendo offer, and while I enjoyed it, I can’t justify paying the $8 Wii Shop price. Perhaps Nintendo will have a fire sale before they close the Wii Shop forever, in which case it might be worth it to you.
Yet another aquarium simulator. As a longtime keeper of tropical freshwater fish, I can attest from watching "gameplay" videos that this actually captures the looks and (some) fish behavior in a relatively realistic way. But I’d rather spend the time and money to have real fish, you know? I've never understood what audience aquarium simulators are for, but they must be out there somewhere.
Art Style series
Released 2008 - 2010
This is not one game but five mini-games, sold separately, with unique and challenging puzzle gameplay and simple aesthetics (thus, “Art Style”). Thing is, they’re $6 each, and I’m not sure anyone should pay $30 for the entire collection. But hey, maybe you’ll enjoy them. I would like to see Nintendo continue these sorts of ventures, although perhaps at a lower price point, since very similar games can be found on mobile platforms for less than $2, or free. (Here we go again with that mobile thing.)
And there you have it! In my series I've come across about 70 different Franchises Nintendo has launched since 1977 that have since been abandoned. More are on the way, with The Wonderful 101 being the biggest example of something new, and Shigeru Miyamoto’s unannounced new project remaining a mystery. For all the criticism about NCL sticking to its best-known IP and not taking enough risks, Nintendo has created HUNDREDS of brand-new game universes and characters. For whatever reasons, though, most of them end up fading away, lost to the bargain bins and dusty cartridges of time.