And the winner is…

The last two years have been pretty good for Nintendo. In the console wars that erupted after the release of the most recent generation of video game systems, it would seem that the Nintendo Wii has landed on top. With a worldwide total of nearly 30 million Wii consoles sold, the newest Nintendo system has blown away its competitors.

Nintendo has explained this success by pointing out that the Wii appeals to a much broader demographic than either of its high-powered competitors, the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. Before the Wii, Nintendo had received a reputation of being targeted mainly to younger audiences. Yet the latest console has garnered a much wider audience, with a strong showing from the important 18-25 demographic, as well as some interest from the older demographics. The younger audience has also remained strong.

The reason for this mass appeal is simple. The Wii is by far the cheapest console ($250 to the $400 of Xbox and $500 of Playstation), it is a fairly simple system to pick up and begin playing, it had a strong library of games worth playing upon release with plenty of other great titles on the way, and it has some interesting gameplay features.

The Wii sports one of the easiest interfaces to understand and use. After turning it on, the console goes directly to the Wii Menu, which is a grid of smaller screens representing features like the Internet Channel, the system’s settings, or the game that is currently in the console. Players must simply point their Wii Remote at the screen and click to change settings or begin playing a game.

By far, the strongest attraction for returning Nintendo gamers and newcomers alike is the lineup of classic Nintendo franchises, like Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Each franchise has made an appearance on the Wii (Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, and Metroid Prime 3: Echoes) and fared well in sales. In addition, installments of the popular Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. series were released.

On top of the familiar franchises, Nintendo has released a collection of games produced especially to make use of the unique features of the Wii. Wii Sports and Wii Play have utilized the wireless Wii Remote to allow gamers to play simulated sports and games, like tennis, baseball, bowling, billiards, and racing. The recently released Wii Fit has attracted much attention for its use of an electronic mat to monitor one’s fitness and provide feedback during floor exercises.

With a strong start, the Wii looks like it may have already clinched the console wars title. If sales stay even remotely near the level they have reached over the past two years (and the impressive library of memorable games along with the system’s quirky features seem to make this a forgone conclusion), it may not even be a contest.

Staying Power

Whether or not the Wii will stay on top of the competition has yet to be seen. Critics claim that the Wii has no potential hit games on the horizon, which have been the console’s greatest strength since its debut. There have been no highly publicized announcements of any big name titles as of yet. These are absolutely necessary to keep the Wii’s popularity, and more importantly sales, steady over the next year or so.

Without a strong lineup of new games, Xbox and Playstation could find an opportunity to overtake the Wii as king of the consoles, and it could also determine which of the two will ultimately dominate as the greatest power system.

The battle is certainly not over yet, and Nintendo fanboys will be reassured to hear that the critics of their beloved console were misinformed. There is in fact an entire host of exciting prospects on the way.

As for big name franchises, how does Animal Crossing, Castlevania, and Mega Man sound? Yes, each of these popular game series is slated to have incarnations on the Wii for 2008 and early 2009 releases.

The new Animal Crossing: City Folk will feature Wi-Fi capabilities where you can visit a friend’s town online or have friends over to play minigames. Castlevania Judgment offers a distinctly new take on the classic series. Instead of the usual 2D sidescroller, Judgment is a 3D fighting game, with fast-paced action and familiar settings and characters taken from the older games.

Mega Man 9 is a throwback to the golden days of gaming, when plot didn’t matter, the bit count for systems was still in the single digits, and the value of a game was measured solely by how frustratingly hard it was. Mega Man is only available on the virtual console, so all gamers have to do to get their hands on it is whip out a credit card from the comfort of their homes.

Along with the established franchises, Nintendo is launching sequels to some of its successful originals in addition to unique new titles. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is the second installment of the best-selling RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube. The game has a point-and-click navigation function and minigames. In Wii Music, up to four players can pick from over 60 instruments to perform classic Nintendo songs.

The upcoming year is a warm prospect for devoted Nintendo fans and new gamers alike. Returning franchises and creative new uses of the system’s inventive wireless remote and Wi-Fi feature make the Wii a sure bet for anyone looking to spend the next few months glued to their couch.