The Nintendo WiiWare Media Summit
On the 16th of September 2009, Nintendo held their WiiWare and DSiWare media summit on the 31st floor of the Centre Point building in London. Having arrived fashionably late, I gingerly shuffled my way to a good vantage point amongst the heaving hordes of eagerly waiting press, just before Laurent Fischer (Nintendo Europe's Managing Director of Marketing and PR) kicked off proceedings. Firstly was the obligatory release date schedule for a plethora of upcoming titles as well as news on Nintendo's Connection Ambassador Promotion (more on this later) that rewards propagators of the online service with Nintendo Points and games.
Fischer's emphasis was on creativity and the ability to use WiiWare and DSiWare platforms to publish unproven and unusual games that would otherwise not see the light of day. He said: "It's easy for developers to have a lot of creativity and to finalise the games the way they want and then to reach our consumer with the DSi and WiiWare systems. For us, we're very happy because we can gather a lot of new talent and a lot of new developers, which reach exciting and creative ideas. For us, this download world has nothing to do with the retail world. The retail world, the games that we sell on cartridge or disc, is the heart and the core business of Nintendo.
"We think that DSiWare and WiiWare are able to have additional content, something that has no direct competition in the existing retail market. The fact that you don't have to bear the same number of risks as a developer is the entry point to help all these people to go and develop unusual ideas, quirky games and things that would never have a chance in retail stores."
We were then expecting to see a trailer for the next instalment of Monkey Island but instead were treated to the new fan produced flash video from MajusArts:, and the first of the guest speakers David Grossman took the stage. Grossman is the Design Director of the Tales of Monkey Island series and co-writer and programmer of the original Monkey Island games. Grossman explained that the opportunity to produce episodic games has had a large effect on creating an involved fan community, as proven by the video and the reasons behind bringing an episodic version to the Wii: "With Monkey Island, there were four games that came out over a period of 18 years, meaning the average wait time between games was four and a half years. What we're doing now is a series of games that come out monthly, and that gives you a more engaging experience. You play the game, it takes a few hours, and by the time you're done talking about it with your friends there's already another one out. Nintendo has always had the best sense of casual, fun gameplay that fits the Monkey Island series."
Fischer rejoined the stage to mention 'One of the highlights of the WiiWare launch.' LostWinds from developers Frontier, before showing a trailer of the sequel, Winter of the Melodias. David Braben (of Elite fame, for those of you who can remember) joined Fischer to describe the effort that has been put into the sequel: "The key thing that we've been trying to do is to move forward, where we've got all the abilities from the previous game still there, and we've added to them." Braben went on to describe how publishers wouldn't take a chance on the original game due to its unusual control scheme, and how he was grateful to have a service such as WiiWare that allows original ideas to reach the market.
The last guest to appear was gaming legend Kenji Eno who had just flown in from Japan to promote his new game You, Me and the Cubes. Eno has been developing games since the days of the Famicom and has worked on Altered Beast and the survival-horror D series. Eno expressed his love for the Wii remote and after having first seen it knew that he had to develop a game for the Wii system.
Finally, Nintendo unveiled the Nintendo Ambassador promotion. Nintendo are obviously pushing to get more of its Wii owners online and there are now some awesome perks for doing so. This reward scheme gives you bonuses for introducing other Wii owners to the console's online services. Each person you introduce will net you 500 Wii Points. Introducing 10 people provides Gold Status and free access to Nintendo's first party Virtual Console NES catalogue. Recruiting 20 people grants you Platinum Status gaining you free access to all first and third-party Virtual Console games on NES, SNES and N64, now that is some incentive to get canvassing.
Whilst Nintendo's Wii has often been slated for its frugal release schedule and games that do not appeal to the more hardcore gamer, the WiiWare service appears to be making up for it with a very busy release schedule in the run up to Christmas. Without being too cynical, I am guessing that the titles that were on show were those deemed the cream of the crop by Nintendo and if using this as a benchmark then the future is looking bright for WiiWare. Here are our first impressions of the pick of what was on offer:
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias
The first game was a runaway success on launch in 2008, the sequel looks to build on this, by adding new moves, new enemies, and introducing seasonal game mechanics. Frontier have not revamped the game, instead they have concentrated on refining and adding to the gameplay experience. This without a doubt was one of the prettier looking titles on show and will be well worth a closer look on release.
Tales of Monkey Island: Chapter 2
Having played the original (back in the day... I am showing my age), I am happy to say we are getting more of the same point and click gameplay liberally sprinkled with double entendres and joviality that defines the franchise and now in episodic format.
You, Me and the Cubes
Eno's take on the puzzle genre is an original concept. You play on a series of interconnected cubes that you have to throw people off, without screwing up the balance of the cube you ejected them from, another simple yet addictive title.
Super Meat Boy
Definitely one of my favourites on show, a mix of irreverent and random humour (come on, the hero is a slab of raw meat and his girlfriend is a bandage called Bandaid Girl), carried out over some two hundred levels of platforming goodness. Navigate your hero over buzz saws and other gruesome traps to be reunited with your loved one. Did I mention the villain is named Dr. Fetus?
Max and the Magic Marker
Think nursery school drawings coming to life crossed with Kirby Canvass Curse. This is shaping up to be a lot of fun as you have to navigate Max across various levels using his trusty marker pen to thwart enemies and puzzles.
The next instalment of the decidedly retro Bit.Trip series is a hypnotising blend of the old school and music beat games Think Rez but baser. You control a pixelated black dot collecting other black dots whilst avoiding white ones. Sounds simple and maybe a little bit crap? Not at all, as you collect black dots, your black dot grows bigger and eventually fills the screen making avoidance of white dots increasingly difficult. You only get points if you decide to bank the dots you have collected, otherwise losing them if hit by a white dot. Developer Alex Neuse from Gaijin Games explained gleefully 'It's all about greed, do you keep on going or bank your points?'. Simple and addictive.
Another beautiful looking game, that plays like a 2D version of Marble Madness. You control a ball and have to navigate it across the gorgeous looking 2D landscapes using the environment and special powers to do so.
And Yet It Moves
An interesting game from devs Broken Rules that has you navigate your character throughout a world that can be turned 360 degrees in any direction, hopefully allowing you to fall past obstacles without dropping too far and dashing your brains out for the trouble. The game has a distinct scrap book feel to it; even the character seems to be hand drawn. Asking Jan Hackl from Broken Rules about this, he amusingly explained "we did not have any proper lead artists to design the world, so we tried it ourselves. Realising that we were not any good at drawing either we decided to go through old books and hunt the Internet for interesting textures."
Zombie Panic in Wonderland
Just like Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ on the DS, this title has you at the bottom of the screen as hordes of the un-dead and ninjas try to take you out. Perfectly inane carnage, but time will tell if twelve levels of the same thing could get repetitive.
Worms Battle Islands
Worms are back! Did they ever go away? This was originally going to be a disc release and it is crammed full of stuff, you are seriously getting a good bang for your buck. As usual the normal Worms game is here, along with some tactical twists that aims to freshen up the whole experience. Players can compete for each other's abilities as well as build custom weapons (also custom nameable, now that should be fun online; B.F.G. anyone?) that can be stolen, all along with an easy to use level creator.