There are too many crappy games on the Wii.
So says the global boss of 2K Games, Christoph Hartmann, and at least in the opinion of video game critics, he’s on to something. Using figures from review aggregation site Metacritic.com, almost half of Wii games released since the console launched in 2006 have scored below 65%, compared with about a third of Xbox 360 and PS3 titles. And 65% is a pretty crappy aggregate score, considering that many game review sites rarely score below 50%.
Raise the bar to 85%, and the difference is even more pronounced: 360 owners can play twice as many games rated above 85% as Wii owners, while the PS3 nearly triples Nintendo’s numbers.
Broadly, this problem isn’t Nintendo’s fault. In fact, without sterling first-party games like Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the Wii’s situation would be far worse. Nintendo-developed games, with the possible exception of Wii Music, are a beacon of quality in a sea of, as Hartmann so indelicately puts it, crap.
Fortunately, this situation isn’t lost on most consumers. According to game sales authority NPD Group, the top ten best-selling Wii games — titles like Mario Kart, Wii Fit, and last year’s number one game, Wii Play — accounted for about 44% of all Wii game purchases in 2008. The remaining 56% spanned over 400 other titles.
That’s not the worst of it. Sales of Wii games that reviewed poorly (including 2K Games’ own Carnival Games, which aggregated a dismal 56%) eclipse those of many of the Wii’s real gems, including the breathtaking Okami, the superb Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and even the lighthearted, family-friendly Steven Spielberg project Boom Blox, which should have been a perfect fit for the Wii’s unprecedentedly broad audience. The Wii has a curious ability to make big hits out of low-scoring games.
Perhaps it’s the critics’ fault. Do video game reviewers, who typically boast decades of gaming experience and a deep affinity for the integrity of video games as a serious pursuit, miss the point of casual-friendly Wii sales hits like Carnival Games? Perhaps, but the connection isn’t as tempting as it might appear. Because Roger Ebert lists La Dolce Vita and Aguirre: Wrath of God among his top-ten films, should we assume, when he slams Bride Wars, he’s doing it because he’s elitist and doesn’t understand movie consumers? Or maybe he just knows what makes a crap movie.
By and large, consumers do, too. Who, once burnt by a tempting but terrible Wii game like Ford Racing Off-Road or Jenga: World Tour, would not be hesitant to take a chance on a genuinely outstanding title like Zack & Wiki or Boom Blox? If they buy games at all, consumers will limit their picks to reliable names, while the delightful upstart games to which the Wii is so suited will sink beneath the tide of crap. At worst, they’ll be so disgruntled that they’ll shelve the Wii altogether, relegated to a dust-gathering embarrassment that’s pulled out for a token Wii Sports or Wii Fit session once every few months.
So what can you do about it? Get educated. Without good resources, your odds of dodging bad games are not favorable. Sites like metacritic.com and gamerankings.com both provide great jumping-off points for research. Best of all, take a web-enabled phone with you to the store and you can look them up right before you buy. Although it’s true that some reviewers miss the point of broad-appeal titles like Tetris Party or Monopoly, the majority will at least help you dodge the crap.
By Mike Smith