Sunday, May 26, 2024

Let’s admit that Wii Sports is the best game ever made

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What is the greatest video game of all time? In the early 2000s, it was a heated debate between The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VII fans. The conversation has widened since, with no real critical consensus to speak of in 2022. Maybe it’s Breath of the Wild. Heck, maybe it’s Elden Ring. Perhaps there’s no answer at all, because trying to pick the “best” game, as if there’s an objective metric for what makes art good, is a flawed exercise.

But in my opinion, all of those answers are wrong and no one can convince me otherwise. The older I’ve gotten and the more video games I’ve played, the more ready I am to die on a very specific hill: Wii Sports is the greatest video game of all time.

Wii Sports was an unlikely success story for Nintendo. Included as a free pack-in game with the Wii in 2006, the sports anthology was less of a game and more of a tech demo. It was a simple way to get new Wii owners comfortable with the idea of motion controls by having them mimic familiar actions. The result was an incredibly fun and intuitive game that everyone and their grandmother could play, quite literally.

It was almost too good at what it set out to do. Wii Sports quickly became a social sensation, smashing sales records (though it’s a complicated metric to judge). It started the motion control era out on an incredible high that Nintendo was not prepared to capitalize on. No Wii game after it could capture the same magic; Nintendo had gotten a hole in one on its first swing.

The more time that passes, the more I’ve come to accept what a colossal achievement the game is. That was easy to take for granted in 2006. At the time, it felt like a modest gimmick, especially since it launched alongside the glitzier The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Games like Gears of War edged it out of the “game of the year” race, but Wii Sports debatably won the marathon. Its immediately satisfying gameplay gave it a long-term appeal that modern games with far more compulsory hooks struggle to maintain.

Simplicity is its secret weapon. The fun of Wii Sports came from the fact that you could hand a Wiimote to just about anyone and they’d be able to start playing and have fun in seconds. That design helped break down gaming’s hardest barrier for entry. Anytime I hand a modern controller to someone who doesn’t play games, they stare at it like it’s an alien device. As someone who plays a lot of games, I always forget just how complicated even the simplest game controls can be.

Wii Sports famously eliminated that confusion, unlocking an entirely new “casual market” that helped broaden the industry’s appeal. It’s the most important seismic shift the gaming industry has seen to date.

Disrupting the industry
In 2006, then Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata summed up the company’s strategy in a GDC keynote speech prior to the Wii’s launch. “Some people put their money on the screen, but we decided to spend ours on the game experience,” Iwata said. “It is an investment in actual market disruption. Not simply to improve the market — but disrupt it. We believe a truly new kind of game entertainment will not be realized unless there is a new way to connect a player to his game.”

That philosophy explains the lasting significance of Wii Sports. The game ushered in a new era of approachable design that made both players and creators see the medium in a new light. And it accomplished that by bucking industry trends and bankable formulas, allowing Nintendo to convincingly deliver on its promise to disrupt the gaming world. As I look at today’s gaming landscape full of tired live-service games and repetitive open-world retreads, I find myself appreciating those warm afternoons bowling in my living room even more.

Is Wii Sports my personal favorite video game? No, and honestly I’m not confident it’d even crack my top 50. But at this point, it’s hard to deny that it should be placed in the history books next to phenomena like Pac-Man and Tetris. It’s a historic accomplishment that’s transcended Nintendo’s ill-fated Wiimote gimmick and it’s high time we put some respect on its name.

If you’re looking to relive your virtual tennis glory days, Nintendo Switch Sports launches on April 29.

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