WiiWare’s Greatest Hits
A celebration of the indie games of Nintendo’s first digital storefront
Indie games are now a vital bedrock of the gaming industry, with small developers lending their talents to all of the major consoles in every genre and price range imaginable. The online shops for the Switch, PS4, and Xbox One all provide a cheaper outlet for playing to gamers of every financial class or category; often times the quality of these releases are higher than the AAA ones for the price that is asked.
This wasn’t always the case though. A couple of console generations back, digital storefronts were in their infancies, and the coverage of these small releases was much more minuscule than it is in the current generation.
The late 2000s presented the first innovations in indie development in the console world, with the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 all giving platforms to these games (with my favorite being Nintendo’s shop: WiiWare). While the Wii’s unique motion controls and simplistic design allowed for a lot of shovelware to enter the gaming stratosphere, it also gave independent teams a platform to display their creativity in a way that was uncommon before.
I wanted to take this time to create an appreciation post for the WiiWare games that helped me cope with the awkward adolescent years of my life and created a lifelong love and appreciation of the art of indie development. Here are some of the best titles from Nintendo’s first eShop.
Art Style Series
These puzzle games were published by Nintendo, so I shouldn’t really put them in the same category as the rest of the indie games on here. I’m going to do it anyway, though, because they were still on the WiiWare service, and they had the style of an indie game.
From hexagonal puzzles to brainteasers involving gravity and space physics, these titles helped show the insane fun and simplicity available on Nintendo’s eShop to the world. As a middle schooler at their time of release, I felt like I was just getting into the puzzle genre and this was a really smooth introduction for a novice to this new category.
There were several other titles released on the DSi a couple of years later, but these were the originators that displayed the ability of the home consoles to have smaller, simpler titles that you could casually pick up and put back down ten minutes later!
Bit Trip Series
These games were genre-breaking and unforgettable. The first game, titled Bit Trip Beat, was a Pong-inspired rhythm treat. The follow up was a shooter, then came a platformer, and eventually a wonky space floating game in which you collect bits of dark matter to create the ultimate black hole. The episodic nature of the franchise added anticipation for the next release, with a loose continuity in style and character design between the releases.
I felt like I was playing a game series that emulated reading a book, with each title representing one chapter in the larger picture of the series. The way the franchise goes full circle back to the rhythm genre was very clever and intentionally fulfilling. It tells a story of game design without much of a plot, and that’s a unique way to build a piece of artwork, at least in my opinion.
This was the type of game that screamed “Wii!!!” if you were an observer viewing someone else playing it. You would take two separate controllers and dance to the pale, but clean figure on the screen, trying as hard as possible to copy the moves of the avatar. With an original soundtrack backing the fun and a whole living room of participants taking turns, you were sure to enjoy yourself with this one for only ten bucks.
Like most of the motion-control-heavy games on the console, your own enthusiasm for the movements asked of you is what got the most out of the title. Sure, you could wave the remote in a half-assed attempt at whatever was being shown on the screen, but what fun is that? Adding your own dance moves that weren’t required is what engaged my adolescent imagination and encouraged me to act in a way that I would have been afraid to do in public!
The Wii was a console that allowed improvisation and an expansion of your own gaming desires, and this gem was wacky and fitting of that mantra. The cheap price was also very persuasive when compared to other music or dance titles sold in physical form. What’s not to love?
This is one of the first indie titles that showed me the way small developers use environmental storytelling and atmosphere to create an experience that may not be seen from bigger releases. You control a small boy who traverses the nature and beauty around him with the aid of the wind. Using the Wii remote, you create gusts of breeze that alter the trajectory of your character’s jumps, as well as the various platforms and devices contained in the level.
Calming music and intuitive platforming mechanics made this one a real trailblazer in the independent game scene in this genre. The principal mechanic of controlling the wind to aid your character was not overdone or thrown in your face, and the motion controls were not implemented just for the sake of being there. That was a principal concern with some of these smaller titles, but it certainly was not a complaint with this beauty.
There was a sequel that followed, improving on everything mentioned here, but the original is the one that stands alone in my heart and memory. For anyone feeling a little lost while enjoying this game, the experience is quite cathartic.
NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits
This selection is pretty similar in principle to Lost Winds, as this gem also has a heavy emphasis on environmental platforming. Instead of countryside and mountainous terrain making up the gaming experience like in the former, NyxQuest takes the liberty of transporting the player to a deserted and mystical land. Players take advantage of powers from above to alter the world and advance through the levels.
I remember playing through this one in one or two sittings, as it’s not very long, but I think that is a positive for these indie games. Much like a film, a short game allows the player to experience the whole package in a single playthrough. For anyone feeling a little down and needing a pick-me-up inside a beautiful virtual world that has been crafted lovingly by an independent developer, this game would be a shining example.
Home Sweet Home
When I was in middle school in 2009, I didn’t feel I had a lot of control over what was happening in my life. I didn’t know where I was going, what I was doing, or whether I was any good at any of the things from my childhood.
Enter Home Sweet Home. At its core, this is a simple house-building simulation game. But to me, it was so much more. I felt completely immersed in the experience through the motion controls on hand, which included power tools, hammers, wrenches, and other items of the house-building sort. You completed each step in a certain amount of time, going from choosing the furnishings, constructing said furnishings, and cleaning up the mess.
The immersion for me was very important, as it made me feel productive and useful in an uncertain time in my life. Others may play this one and feel nothing though, as it’s technically a very repetitive game with a bare-bones structure. I think that’s what makes indie gaming like WiiWare amazing though; one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, as the saying goes.
World of Goo
I saved the best for last. Although it wasn’t my personal favorite of the games listed in this article, World of Goo was the most critically acclaimed title from the WiiWare service, and for good reason. This inventive and charismatic puzzler has the player build a path from one end of the level to the other with, well, globs of goo. The industrial background and colorful graphical scheme added to the appeal of this iconic hit.
The physics system used in the game was very addictive to the majority of its audience, although I personally found it a little frustrating. Regardless of my own opinion, this game made me feel vindicated to have put so much time into the WiiWare service. The number of hours sunk into these indie titles sometimes felt like too much, but the ingenuity on display here showed the broader gaming world that independent titles were to be celebrated on the Wii; they weren’t all trinket titles with no reward.
Puzzle games rarely take chances anymore, and this title was a nudge in a more creative direction. Not all games of this ilk had to be block puzzlers that tried to mirror Tetris. It has aged well and been ported to many modern consoles, including the Switch.
Thank you for going down memory lane with me. If you played any of the games on the WiiWare shop back in the day, please list your favorites in the comment section. If not, what indie games from the time were your favorites on other platforms? And if you want, you can check out my other work on the Wii and its wonderful memories that live on forever.