A lazy reviewer’s tired cliché or a valid qualifier to bridge the generation gap? Josh unpicks the faint praise that damned a console.
It’s a common enough phrase, and it is due to its convenience that it works its way into many a review. Along with ‘for fans of the genre’ and ‘worth a rental’ its an idiom that has found its way in to games journalism shorthand which both categorises a recognisable type of game while also telling you very little about it as an individual release. Arguably, it’s par for the course in a field that relies on comparisons and accepted wisdom to describe what is ultimately an interactive, personal medium; what really needs to be asked is whether ‘good for Wii’ summarises what 500 words could not, whether we should be able to expect our gaming press to be free of such bias, and what does such a phrase even mean?
The Wii has developed somewhat of a little brother complex amongst the games community. It might be fair to assume this is due to Nintendo’s aggressive marketing as a family console, leading to it being relegated as the little brother’s room console. It’s also true that its graphical and technical capabilities are arguably lagging a whole generation behind the might of its contemporaries. Whatever the individual reasons for the Wii’s diminutive reputation, its place as a second-class console is made especially clear in multi-platform releases, where the Wii receives either the hand-me-downs adapted for its graphical limitations or specifically designed versions for the Wii/DS children’s table.
Here the comparisons are relevant and fair. FIFA, Rock Band, Call of Duty – what are ostensibly the same release in name, can in fact be greatly differing products. This gap is of course not uniquely positioned between the 360/PS3 and the Wii, nor is it simply due to the console’s capabilities (as PS3 Black Ops players will attest), but where it exists it’s reasonable to compare two games that are released under the same banner and highlight where one pails as a result. The difficulty is that such thinking is often eagerly adopted as an acceptable yardstick to measure platform exclusives that have no corresponding title. This is true in one of the most notorious evolutions of the phrase, which attempts to hide its assumptions with a misleadingly specific criticism: ‘the graphics are good for Wii’.
The widespread propagation of this statement is largely due its truth. It’s no accident that with the upcoming releases of Sony’s NGP and Nintendo’s 3DS it is the graphics that are being showcased the most. Since the days of the NES, it’s been through the wow factor of improved graphics that hardware providers have heralded a ‘next generation’ console, mainly because – with the unusual case of the 3DS being possibly the only exception – graphics have always been the easiest and most tangible improvement to present to the consumer.
In this light, even the staunchest Wii apologist wouldn’t argue that their console has the potential for the graphics of the 360 or PS3, yet one only has to look at Nintendo’s continued disinterest in any possible ‘Wii HD’ to see that graphics were never the area in which they were looking to innovate. The fact is, if ‘the graphics are good for Wii’ is an acceptable term of criticism it must follow that it can apply to any game in the assumed underclass of Wii games. Therefore, if Mario Galaxy 2 and A Boy And His Blob are attractive games they are attractive ‘for Wii games’, and if one is going to accept that these games transcend that bracket (as many reviewers did in naming the former 2010’s game of the year) you must first break the fundamental assumption that it is based on: that Wii game graphics are not just generally poorer than that of other consoles, but inherently poorer.
This argument also extends to the ‘Metroid: Other M looked good, but imagine if it was on PS3’ debate. A similar use of this logic would follow that ‘David Beckham is great at football, but imagine if he played basketball’. Taking the lid off of a console does not reveal RPG-like stats of ‘Level 6 Processor’ which can be easily compared to the ‘Level 8’ in another. Every game is specifically designed for the console it is on – hence the often underestimated difficulty of multi-platform releases and porting games between systems – and it’s for this reason that (sorry fanboys) no console war has ever had a definitive victor, and neither will this one.
The Wii’s limitations are many and well documented, and it would be ignorant to suggest that its modest hardware does not disadvantage its releases next to their higher-powered competitors. However, since this truism is so accepted in the gaming community it seems belligerent to constantly restate this paradigm by referring to games as ‘good for Wii’. Doing so establishes a defeatist attitude and does the game a disservice as surely as it would be to review Transformers as the greatest Michael Bay film. In essence, it’s Reviewing 101; if a game is good, by all means tell your reader it’s good; if it isn’t, please tell me us it’s bad, but for the love of God, stop telling us that its ‘good for Wii’, because that’s not the yardstick I measure my games by, and neither should it be the industry’s.