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October 23, 2012

Slate: How Nintendo saved itself from irrelevance

(Continued)

That had been Microsoft's vision, once. "The power of Xbox isn't just for the popular racing and boxing games," Bill Gates said before Microsoft released the first Xbox. "Its possibilities are wide open. There will be games that women like, while there will be others that capture the hearts of the elderly." But neither the Xbox nor its games could deliver that revolution, and that was clear even before they hit the shelves.

The Wii, once codenamed "The Revolution," could do it. It was, at $249, cheaper than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which retailed at $299 and $499 respectively. Its launch titles targeted a variety of audiences, and it came with Wii Sports, a paragon of casual gaming and a powerful demonstration of the Wii's capabilities. Anyone who knew how to play tennis or golf or bowling or basketball could learn how to play Wii Sports. The same could not be said of most of the Xbox 360's launch titles, such as Call of Duty 2, Perfect Dark Zero and Quake 4. The Wii's crisp, clean, white, Apple-ish appearance rendered it accessible, playful, and futuristic without seeming toylike or cheap.

The Wiimote controller was more important than any of that.

To video game veterans, the Wiimote was cool even before Nintendo released it. Motion-sensor gaming would open up new depths of interactivity and gameplay, while somehow making video games more intuitive and natural. Swordplay meant swinging. Racing meant steering. Shooting meant pointing and pulling a trigger. The Wiimote seemed futuristic but also nostalgic. Turn the Wiimote sideways and it would look and act like a classic Nintendo controller. Pair that with the online store, where you could download decades-old Nintendo games to play on your Wii, and you could take a trip back to a childhood of arcade-style space shooters. If you were too young, you could be retro.

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