What to Expect from Wii in 2011


Could 2011 be the year?

As a followup to our 2010 Wii Year in Review article I’d like to turn the calendar page to 2011, which could be a pivotal year for Nintendo’s popular home console. Speculation ranges from continued success to a sharp decline in sales; some foresee a high definition rehash of practically the same console, while others are expecting a successor announcement as early as this summer at E3. Will there be a price decrease in the first half of the year? And can we expect to see a $99 Wii sometime in 2011? Each guess is as good as the next. So perhaps it’s best to take a look at what we do know about what we can expect from Wii in 2011 so far.

First-Party Releases

In 2010, Nintendo hit us with nine major first-party releases for Wii: Super Mario Galaxy 2, Endless Ocean 2, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, Metroid: Other M, Wii Party, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Pokèpark, Flingsmash, and Donkey Kong Country Returns. And if development stays on track we’ll have at least as many in 2011, which is an encouraging sign for what some believe to be a console in decline. In first-party releases for Wii slated for the first half, we have the eagerly anticipated Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which Miyamoto himself recently described in an interview as being more than half way completed. Also scheduled for an early February release isMario Sports Mix, which will feature combined local and online multiplayer sports action for up to four players. There are two notable JRPG releases being published by Nintendo in 2011, with Xenoblade expected to drop in the first half and The Last Story expected by mid year at the earliest. First-party releases for the second half of the year won’t likely be announced until E3 this summer, as is the case most years.


Some early 2011 Nintendo-published Wii releases

That leaves room for at least four, possibly five 2011-bound first-party announcements at E3 to go into the holiday shopping season with a strong line-up. Nintendo did a good job in 2010 of hitting their core franchises (Mario, Metroid, Miis) while addressing the nostalgia gamer by revisiting classic franchises (Sin & Punishment, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby). With Mario and Zelda already well represented in the first half with Skyward Sword and Mario Sports Mix, I expect to see at least one title released that features Miis, and one or two classic franchises taken out of mothballs for Wii release. With Kid Icarus already represented on 3DS, I’m betting heavily that we’ll see the Starfox franchise make it’s first appearance on Wii in 2011. As we saw with Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, the platform is well suited for traditional on-rails shooters and Nintendo always places a strong 1st-party franchise release on the calendar to help carry the platform throughout the holidays. As far as longshots go, I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see a Luigi’s Mansion sequel on Wii, given how well suited the Wii remote has proven to be for the flashlight mechanic in games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.Luigi’s Mansion 2 would make a fantastic Halloween release. And although the appearance of Wii Party may have closed the door on the possibility of a Mario Party 9 release on Wii any time soon, the franchise has been a huge seller for Nintendo in the past and it would be a curious omission if we didn’t see it released at some point during Wii’s lifespan. Other long shots include an Earthbound sequel (Nester was featured prominently in Super Smash Bros. Brawl), as well as a sequel to the critically acclaimed GameCube release Eternal Darkness(Nintendo renewed the rights to the game’s title this past February).

Third-Party Releases

There are a few heavy hitters solidified for Wii in 2011 as far as third-party publishers are concerned, withConduit 2 from High Voltage Software headlining the group with a confirmed mid-February street date. And although their other forthcoming game The Grinder has gone multi-platform since it was first announced as a Wii exclusive, High Voltage has assured that Wii development is still well underway. Activision’s new studio Sledgehammer has been hard at work on their yet unnamed action/adventure genre addition to the Call of Duty franchise which will release on Wii along side competing platforms. Hudson’s Lost in Shadow is slated for an early January release, and has generated some great buzz as a possible sleeper hit. And the popular Lego franchise of games will be active in the first half of the year with Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars andLego Pirates of the Caribbean both scheduled for release before summer hits.


Third-party Wii titles set for release in early 2011

Other notable 2011 Wii releases from third parties include Trackmania and De Blob 2, both expected in the first quarter. The recent popularity of TV gameshow games will continue to be fed by new releases such as$100,000 Pyramid, which will be released in the earlier part of the year. Movie games will of course continue to dominate the summer release lists with two Transformers games scheduled for release on Wii, along with three games based on Marvel movie franchises Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers.

And we’ll surely see plenty of ninja releases that have yet to be announced, as well as the usual yearly multi-platform releases such as Madden, Tiger Woods, and even the Harvest Moon series which has released three installments on Wii in as many years.

On WiiWare, we’ll continue to see a steady stream of iOS ports with heavy hitters Angry Birds and Flight Control both currently being ported. Old-school PC gaming will get a surprise love-fest from Wii in 2011 with ’90’s Interplay hits Descent and Stonekeep both seeing release on the service. Interplay will also bring theClayfighter franchise back via WiiWare (and DSiWare). Other WiiWare releases for the year include Bonk: Brink of ExtinctionBomberman Live: Battlefest, and MDK 2.

Hardware

With the Vitality Sensor having been (thankfully) snuffed in 2010, we are in the rare situation of not having any notable peripheral release on deck for Wii in 2011. To even attempt to guess at what Nintendo might come up with in this area would be an exercise in futility, but I think it’s safe to say Nintendo should have something up their sleeves in this area for announcement at E3 this year. It’s also possible that Nintendo has been fully focused on the release of 3DS and that the company may focus purely on software releases for Wii in 2011. In either case, I think it’s safe to expect a few new bundles to keep pushing sales. I’m willing to bet we’ll see a limited edition gold-colored Wii to release alongside Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

And then of course, there’s the pink elephant in the room we’ve got to cover: will an announcement be made for a Wii successor in 2011? And if so, will it be an incremental upgrade (a version 1.5 of sorts) as we saw with DSi? Or will it be a true successor which completely rethinks Nintendo’s approach to the home console.


Each Nintendo home console has been announced within the fifth year of the announcement of it’s predecessor–time’s up in 2011

If they are to be believed, the clues we’ve been given from Nintendo chief Satoru Iwata and Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime all point to a longer console cycle which would erase the possibility of a successor’s release any time soon. Add to that Nintendo’s veil of secrecy–which will be as thick as ever considering the competition has aggressively copied everything Nintendo has done this generation. There is no doubt that Sony and Microsoft’s R&D teams are waiting with pen and pad in hand, ready to take notes and begin work the minute Nintendo tips their cards.

It’s the same situation with price cuts–although everyone in the industry as well as the gaming press is calling for a $99 Wii, why on earth would they do that if they are sill leading the industry in sales at twice as much? The time for a $99 Wii will come, but expecting it in 2011 is a stretch at best. Instead, expect to see Wii bundled with newer software releases at a more moderately low price point (like $149.99) over the holidays in 2011. A $99 Wii for the holidays in 2012 seems a lot more realistic.

It’s also important to note that the current console itself is still selling well. Those who want to see Nintendo fail focus on the drop in sales year-over-year the past four years, but that’s more of an indication of how phenomenally (and unexpectedly) well the console sold in the first few years. Indeed, last year at this time it looked like Nintendo was set to hand over it’s market leader position going into the holidays only to see the last 60 days of the year produce another runaway lead in sales for the year. If that holiday spike trend holds this year Nintendo will retain it’s lead for 2010 considering it’s position compared to it’s closest competitor the XBox 360. Playstation 3 sales continue to lag behind both other consoles and is expected once again to end in third place when the numbers are tallied for the year.

While it’s clear that the Nintendo Wii has declined in popularity among the fringe gaming enthusiasts who ride the bleeding edge of tech, the console is still a major seller for retailers and relatively fresh in the minds of the typical consumer.

Having said that, I tend to lean toward the “WiiHD” possibilities rather than the “Wii2” ones. After all, I would be perfectly satisfied with the platform if the HD issue were resolved and the online deficiencies (substandard WiiShop, Friend Codes, etc.) were attended to. Both of these issues could be addressed without a complete redesign, and extending the lifespan of this generation’s most popular game console makes all the sense in the world. Asking an install base the size of Wii’s to upgrade in 2011 (or even 2012) is way too premature, and an optional upgrade like we saw with DSi/DSiXL makes way more sense.

But then again, I’ve yet to find a single person who could accurately predict Nintendo’s next move as far back as I can remember. That mythical guru could make a fortune if he existed, considering how characters like Michael Prachter actually make a living being wrong time and time again.

One thing is for sure about Wii’s outlook for 2011–Nintendo’s most devoted fans will be somewhat distracted by Nintendo’s 3DS handheld debut, and there will need to be some really special releases (on the scale of Skyward Sword, even), to keep Wii on the minds of gamers who have more choices than ever to satisfy their gaming needs.