Casual, hardcore and the significance of 1/22

hands1.jpgWhile plodding past towering white curtains and glaring at dangling chandeliers of Mii characters, something finally snapped inside of Jem Alexander. As the Joystiq writer emerged from the ivory-coated Nintendo booth at Leipzig last August, the frustration boiled over.

“While Microsoft and Sony both held press conferences during the Leipzig Games Convention, Nintendo decided to take a more personal approach and conducted three booth tours,” said Alexander. “After all, telling an entire audience that they’ve been dumped should be done face to face, right? The booth tour served as a way to let us know that, no, we’re no longer needed and, yes, we’ve been traded in for a different audience.”

Five months later, Alexander’s comments are representative of an even more widespread opinion. Similar complaints have been spreading like an infection throughout the gaming community and are coming from both consumers and developers alike. An increasing number of so-called “hardcore” gamers are losing patience with Nintendo, its supposed “revolution” and the software supporting it.

And aren’t some of their frustrations justified? After all, as our Infendo gurus have discussed regularly on Infendo Radio, the Wii has yet to prove itself capable of an intuitive online gaming experience, sacrificing ease-of-use for an abstract definition of “safety” in an apparently predator-infested world. And while major franchises like Resident Evil prepare for their next major installment, they seem to cover all available platforms…except Wii, which usually gets a “PS2-tacular” afterthought or some sort of half-baked spin-off.

Like the very terms “hardcore” and “casual” themselves, gamers have discussed these issues ad nauseam since November of 2006. And regardless of which side of the arguments we fall, it is fairly obvious that the Wii software library is lacking traditionally minded, “hardcore” titles. While games like Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3 and Super Mario Galaxy have reinvigorated their respective superstar franchises and certainly appealed to the “hardcore,” they virtually stand alone amidst a massive stack of Wii-hashes, shovelware and (gasp!) family-friendly “casual” games.

And if we learned anything from the GameCube, it was that Mario, Link and Samus can only carry a console so far.

But today is a very special day in the history of Wii. Perhaps even more significant in implication than the release date of Galaxy and the exciting announcements of E3 presentations from years gone by, this ordinary January 22 afternoon may (cross your fingers, Infendo) be the first step toward Nintendo, third-parties and the industry as a whole finally reaching an understanding of the Wii phenomenon.

As we deliberate, shipping trucks all over the United States are carrying two Wii games together, in the same cargo load, that could very well represent the perfect compromise between the split-interest market Nintendo has cultivated with their innovative new hardware.

No More Heroes and Endless Ocean.

While these titles certainly aren’t on the level of, say, Bioshock, Mario Galaxy or Call of Duty 4, they are just as important for Wii owners in terms of what their simultaneous release represents. In a satisfying breath of fresh air, both titles attempt to realize the “revolutionary” promise of Wii by offering remarkably unique entertainment experiences not only through innovative gameplay, but through something that has been painfully sporadic on Wii thus far:

Innovative ideas.

From the infamously bizarre mind of developer Goichi Suda, Ubisoft’s No More Heroes takes players on a nihilistic journey through the murderous fictional city of Santa Destroy and has been met with extremely positive early reviews thus far. Protagonist Travis Touchdown wants to be the best assassin in the world, and to help him fulfill his dream, players need to kill lots (and lots) of people with a faux-lightsaber and obscure Mexican wrestling maneuvers.

Has there been a more deranged, yet perfectly suited given the hardware, “hardcore” concept on Wii yet?

Nintendo’s own Endless Ocean affords players the opportunity to explore a rich underwater world brimming with spectacular scenery and bustling wildlife. Players are immersed into peaceful marine communities as they swim with dolphins and marvel at majestic whales and gorgeous environments. With a soothing soundtrack and free reign of deep sea exploration, Endless Ocean is about as “chill-ax” a concept as gamers have ever seen.

Has there been a more unique, yet perfectly suited given the hardware, “casual” concept on Wii yet?

While it may initially seem the antithesis to Suda’s demented new adventure, Endless Ocean shares more in common with No More Heroes philosophically than gamers might think. Both games set conventional wisdom aside and take bold steps to offer gaming experiences that simply cannot be realized nearly as gracefully on competing consoles. They are both, truly, Wii games.

Most importantly, they release side by side.

Let this be the symbolic peace gesture the less frustrated among us have been yearning for since 2006. If today’s releases are indicative of what we will see over the coming weeks and months on Wii, it is entirely possible that the Wii will prove itself more than capable of appeasing both markets simultaneously…even on the same day.

Believe it or not, there is enough room for everyone on Wii. The potentially pivotal 1/22 proves it.