There are two kinds of games, my friend.
Nintendo has always had a tense and tenuous relationship with 3rd party developers,
the way back from its historic days of the Family Computer/Nintendo Entertainment
System in the 1980s. The infamous iron fist of President Hiroshi Yamauchi put a
strait jacket of control on the profit potential and proliferation of 3rd party
products on Nintendo’s platforms. And to top it all off, the strict Yamauchi
forbid developers from making games for any other competitors…or else lose the
ability to produce for Nintendo’s profitable systems.
The resulting resentment has stuck with 3rd party developers ever since, and even
today as we see this with their lackluster support on Nintendo’s record-selling Wii
console. While this resentment isn’t the only reason why the 3rd party fails to
put fully fleshed-out quality games on Wii, it has to be a major factor. Never
before in the history of videogames has the leading console gone virtually
unsupported by the independent 3rd parties. The rule goes that the console with
the most sales is the console with the most support. While Wii has received the
occasional gem and exclusive title, the independents have put their fullest weight behind
the lesser-selling XBox 360 and PlayStation 3. Wii users have mostly had to
settle for 3rd party franchise spin-offs or hastily hashed together bargain bin specials.
There are reasons behind this, to be sure, but there is no reason for the
complete lack of effect and disrespect they often display for the console and
its millions of users.
But there was hope in the year 2010 with a number of high profile 3rd party
Wii exclusives. Right now let’s spotlight 3 of these exclusives with GoldenEye
007, NBA Jam, and Michael Jackson: The Experience to see what went good,
what went bad, and what went really, really ugly.
GoldenEye 007 was more than just
a hit 1995 James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan. It was the revolutionary
Nintendo 64 blockbuster from Rareware that changed the course of first-person
shooters (and movie tie-ins) forever. Trying to recreate that impact of 13 years
past would be a formidable and even forbidden feat. Mess this up and shame your
company for years to come. Skeptics were justified in expecting the worst out of
this project. After all, Bobby Kotick’s Activision’s involved.
But somehow developer Eurocom (fellow Brits like Rare) pulled off the
impossible and made a quality GoldenEye for 2010! Nothing can match the gravity
the 1997 original had on gameplayers but hey they didn’t ‘F’ it up (at least not
too much)! Once you excuse the omission of Pierce Brosnan for current Bond,
Daniel Craig, and the regenerating health feature (that’s wimpy), you’ll find an
enjoyable game that marries the features of today’s FPS games to the quality
standards set by the original.
Good single player mode, good multiplayer modes (both local AND online, thank
you very much), good variety of controller options from the Wiimote/Nunchuk
combo to the Gamecube controller, good graphics, good gameplay. Finally! A 3rd
party exclusive with big money behind it treating the Wii platform with the
respect it deserves. It lived up to the hype of Electronic Entertainment Expo
(E3) 2010 and delivered. Much better than its forgettable 360 and PS3
counterpart, Blood Stone. For once,
the HD Twins get the shaft.
Unlike with GoldenEye 007, hopes were higher for the return of
NBA Jam. That arcade and console
hit so fondly remembered from 1993 had ol’ school players saying “Boomshakalaka!”
So much had changed since those mid-90s days. Midway, the original developer,
lost the NBA Jam name to its console publishing partner Acclaim. Then they tried
to keep the Jam alive through Hangtime, Showtime, Hoopz, and Ballers waning with
each attempt. Acclaim proceeded to run the Jam name into the ground each year
all the way unto 2003. Eventually, both companies went out of business and NBA
Jam went into the depths of the memory banks forgotten. But now, on the console
known for its strong local multiplayer capabilities, NBA Jam returns! And
Electronic Arts is doing it with fanfare! What could go wrong?
Politics, that’s what (money-tics more accurately). EA was given free reign
by Nintendo to produce the game in the fashion they deemed best. Nintendo traded
their famous iron fist for a velvet glove and trusted EA’s pledge to bring a
top-rate exclusive to Wii. All the arcade action, crazy dunks, and celebrity
cameos we remember. It should have been gold. But soon rumors about EA producing
the game for the 360 and PS3 hit the grapevines. Surely, EA wouldn’t stab
Nintendo in the back like this. They got their NBA Jam booth at E3 2010 and
people were loving it.
Well forget about all that. EA soon after confirmed that NBA Jam would indeed
come to the HD Twins. But not as a full retail game on disc. The 360 and PS3
versions would be downloadable by code upon purchase of EA’s NBA Elite 11 (I
guess Live is dead). Oh and the finishing blow: the downloadable versions
feature online play which Wii does NOT. Somebody call the O’Jays to sing about
those backstabbers! Wii at least was supposed to keep the full local experience
(Remix Mode, etc.) which was absent from downloadable Jam but that didn’t hold
When NBA Elite was revealed to be a glitch-filled not-ready-for-primetime
product, it was first delayed then outright cancelled. That freed up 360’s and
PS3’s Jam for full disc release. And just to let everyone know HOW full, they
ran down each excruciating feature in a launch trailer to end launch trailers.
More stuff packed into the highlighted 360 and PS3 editions than Wii’s. At the
very end of the trailer (blink and you’ll miss it), Nintendo got the full
afterthought treatment with the words “Also Available on Wii”.
Wii’s Jam, once an exclusive, came out 6 weeks before the other versions
still lacking online play. But using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection had never
been a problem for EA’s other games including Madden NFL, Tiger Woods PGA Tour,
and the Rock Band series. It was a simple case of collusion between independent
developer EA and Nintendo’s competition. Was it the competition who paid off EA?
Or was EA purposely looking to sell Nintendo down the river from the start? It’s
not that the existing Wii game is bad (as a local game it’s still pretty good).
It’s more that EA took every possible measure to disrespect the Wii customer
base until the game lost value. In the end, what could have been glorious became
With the surprising success of Ubisoft’s Just Dance, it only seemed natural
to make a game centered around one of the greatest dancers in history, the late
Michael Jackson. The untimely (and in my opinion, criminally suspicious) death
of The King in 2009 created a massive outpouring of reverence and respect for
his humanity as well as his art. His recordings broke records even in death.
This Is It, the documentary of what
would have been his final tour, became the biggest-selling music documentary of
all time. It could only be right to make a dance game honoring the legacy of the
world’s greatest entertainer. Michael
Jackson: The Experience fit the bill.
Well if this is supposed to be fitting the bill, can I skip out on the check,
please? The sheer hokeyness of this title should alarm any Michael fan much less
those outside the fandom. Expecting any dancer to perfectly capture Michael is
an impossible order but at the very least they could get the routines right (not
to mention the outfits). Billie Jean’s definitive performance comes from his
in-concert version not the music video. So use that one and leave an unlockable
option to dance like the music video version. And I don’t remember Michael
dancing like that in Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough either onstage or the video.
He wasn’t even wearing the glove then! And don’t get me started on Leave Me
Alone. So low budget.
Could we at least Photoshop Michael’s evolving skin colors to the eras he
performed? Vitiligo wasn’t around when Mike was wearing the tux and bowtie. It’s
jarring to see a light-skinned MJ stand-in on Off The Wall and Thriller
performances. I know it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White but let’s try to
keep some historical cohesion, shall we? And why is Earth Song, a totally
un-danceable number, in this game but not Jam, one of the most danceable songs
in Michael’s repertoire? Did they not see that exhausting performance from the
Dangerous Tour: Live In Bucharest? And no Scream, the one that featured Michael
AND sister Janet, TWO of the world’s premier dancers?
So many inconsistencies and so many omissions turned what could have been an
earnest respectable tribute into Just Dance: Michael Jackson Edition. “What
omissions?” you say? Well, you can’t have a Michael Jackson Experience without
delving into his time with the legendary Jackson 5! There were plenty of J5
routines that were perfect to dance along with: I Want You Back, ABC, The Love
You Save, Dancing Machine. For God’s sake, man! Before the Moonwalk there was
the immortal Robot! For The Jacksons’ post-Motown days: Enjoy Yourself, Show You
The Way to Go, Blame It on the Boogie, Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground), Can
You Feel It, Heartbreak Hotel (Ease on Down the Road from The Wiz anybody?).
Wouldn’t it be fun to dance around with a gigantic Afro? Everybody loves Afros!
Regarding the gameplay, there could have been a freestyle dance mode
alongside the routine dance mode. You don’t HAVE to dance like Mike, you know.
The game could have been done like SingStar and have a karaoke mode for the less
danceable material. Any packed-in microphone or Wii Speak would do. He was just
as much a singer as a dancer. Different backdrops from all his TV performances,
concert tours, and music videos. It didn’t have to stay static and generic.
Unlockable outfits and costumes to reward extended play. How about a Bubbles
option where you see the famous chimp dance alongside his master for laughs?
It was a cheap cash-in of the highest order. Absolutely no love went into
this title. No background on the man’s immortal career. No bios, no factoids, no
words from his collaborators, no historical perspective, nothing. Just cheesy
impersonators hamming it up on-screen with an out-of-context glittery glove.
That’s supposed to be our Michael Jackson Experience. The Beatles: Rock Band was
done with care for the material, the mythos, and the musicians the game was
based upon. Michael gets this hot mess slapped together within the 3rd Quarter
of Ubisoft’s fiscal year for quick holiday profits (Get your extra song from
Wal-Mart while supplies last!). It’s just one more thing that makes me angry
about Michael’s death. If he was alive, this piece of crap would have never seen
the light of day! Both Michael and the Wii deserved better than this.
It’s clear that by and large the 3rd party establishment has little to no
respect for Nintendo. As soon as a viable handheld competitor emerges, it’s safe
to bet that they will leave Nintendo’s handhelds high and dry just as well.
Karma is a female dog and independent developers have the memories of elephants,
The House of Mario has surely found out. Bending over backwards to make the 3rd
parties happy is no guarantee that they will give you their best efforts.
Reducing production costs to lower risk doesn’t entice them. With few
exceptions, it’s apparent that the heavy lifting on Nintendo’s platforms MUST
come from the 1st party…Nintendo themselves. In 2011, Wii needs Nintendo Power
more than ever. For the competition is getting fierce.