Ask any gamer who has the most catching up to do in the online service department and the majority will point to the house that Mario built. But is it really that bad?
Of course, when looking at any of the home console’s online services you have to do a compare and contrast to what is currently the best, which happens to be the 360’s Xbox LIVE service. But I’ve decided to have a closer look at Nintendo’s system, and see what they were offering a lot more objectively than simply saying, “Oh, there’s no voice chat, in-game messaging, or achievement system. It sucks!” I chose to go through my experience with the games I’ve played online, downloaded, and the services offered and to give you my assessment on whether the Wii’s online offerings are complete a waste time, so-so, or capable.
The past can be a good measuring stick for the future
Online gaming first cracked the home console mainstream with the last generation of systems. SEGA’s Dreamcast was the first of the systems to really play up this point, but while the vision was there sadly the market and support wasn’t. The PS2 jumped out of the gate with the promise of online gaming and while there were some games that had begun to toy with the feature through the use of a ethernet adapter that also let you use dial-up, it was games like the Socom series, Madden, and Final Fantasy XI that helped bring the vision of online gaming front and center to it’s user base. And who can forget the original Xbox? With the introduction of Xbox LIVE, it can be said that the popularity of Halo 2 combined with the easy unified implementation of the system helped to further usher us into the groove of online gaming.
While all of this was happening, Nintendo’s GameCube was lacking behind the other systems. Sure you there was a broadband adapter but the games that took advantage of the feature were few and far between. Besides some Phantasy Star Online games, there was virtually nothing that the mainstream audience could get into. This was also hindered by the systems low user base, add all those factors up and things were really stacked against Nintendo in terms of the online market.
With the introduction of the 7th generation of gaming systems, the foray into online gaming was pretty much a foregone conclusion. All systems had outlined plans for online gaming, and Microsoft struck first blood and drew a definitive line in the sand with the introduction of Xbox LIVE for the 360. This would be the measuring stick that Nintendo and Sony would have to live up to and Sony did its best to start the out as close to the standard set by Microsoft as possible, as well promise their user-base expanding services (HOME).
Then there was Nintendo (which was the point of all this to begin with). Nintendo’s online plan for the Wii first piqued my curiosity around the time the system was announced. First off Nintendo promised us the system would be ready for online “right out of the box,” and they didn’t disappoint. The Wii was the first out of all three system to include Wi-Fi for every system sold. Period. No add-ons, or high end more expensive systems selling the feature. And the thing that had me hook line and sinker was the promise that you’d be able to play all of Nintendo’s classic games from the NES to the N64 all on the Wii via downloads. Then there was the promise of different channels, all adding further functionality to the system to round out the Big N’s first real attempt into having an online service. It really seemed as if they were headed in the right direction.