Tag Archives: sports

FGC #543 Mario’s Tennis

Mario!Nintendo feared that the recent collapse of the videogame market would mar the launch of its first videogame device in North America, so the Nintendo Entertainment System was marketed primarily as a toy. It came with a videogame, yes, but that game also came with a home shooting gallery and a robot that would haunt your dreams. As videogames as a concept regained its footing, the NES dropped the robot (forever), but kept the gun and the plumber. The intention here seemed obvious: Super Mario Bros. is a videogame’s videogame, with abstract monsters and gameplay where you literally have to learn to walk. But Duck Hunt? That’s just aim and shoot. So whether it’s Wee Bobby or grandpa at the console, you’ve got at least one game that is going to sate your very real need to kill chestnuts and/or ducks. But videogames were much more established by the time we saw the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, so that console was bundled with only (“only”) Super Mario World. Besides, why did you need to bother with the “casual” crowd at that point? Nintendo had already conquered that market in the portable sphere by bundling Tetris with the Gameboy. Going into 1995, Nintendo had a perfect record in America with bundling carefully selected games with their featured systems.

And then there was the Virtual Boy. Then there was a new Mario game, and it was… Tennis?

It is illegal to pen an article about a Virtual Boy game without noting that the Virtual Boy is the product of bad decisions. It may be hard to believe today, but, when the Virtual Boy was being developed, many industry analysts believed that iterative videogame systems were a dead end. Sure, the Super Nintendo was a success after the “regular” Nintendo, but Sega Genesis tried to solder all sorts of upgrades unto its base, and it got nowhere. Hell, you could make the argument that Sega never had a successful console again (you’d be wrong, though, because we can’t discount any hardware that hosted cannon spiking). Then there was the parade of “other” systems that barely put a dent in the market. The Atari Jaguar? 3DO? Playdia? The prevailing thinking of the time was essentially that there was nothing wrong with these new consoles (like their complete lack of decent games or omnipresence of Primal Rage), and people simply didn’t want new home consoles at all. In such an environment, Nintendo had to do something wholly different. Sony was obviously going to send its new Playstation straight to the junk heap like all the others, but Nintendo was going to try to do something absolutely new. Nintendo was going to launch a portable virtual reality machine.

… And then they released something that was neither.

Now servingThe Virtual Boy has so many problems. Right off the bat, the controller is theoretically a shining step between the perennial SNES controller and its important N64 descendant… but it is absolutely terrible for a system that 100% precludes the player from actually seeing the controller. Sure, you’re going to be able to easily find that second crosspad on the right, but the players of 1995 were still getting used to shoulder buttons, and now you’re going to toss a pair of buttons behind the controller? It’s a controller that probably worked really well for the designers that had been tinkering with the thing for a year, but it was terrible for a kid that has to shove their attention up the system’s virtual ass. And speaking of which, the Virtual Boy was a big ol’ beast, and about as portable as a St. Bernard duct taped to a cow (look, I don’t know where you grew up, but I’ll never forget my junior homecoming dance). It didn’t require a TV hookup, but it was a bulky battery beast, so you were more likely to be tethered to an outlet than the Gameboy’s “play it anywhere” access. And we have to address “the red thing”, right? How it was so eye-searing, there was literally a warning every twenty minutes that you were supposed to stop? Could you imagine playing Final Fantasy 6 on the Virtual Boy? You’d be incapable of seeing blue before you saw your first moogle!

But, most of all, the Virtual Boy was damned by the fact that it was all based on a lie. The Virtual Boy looked like what we all imagined a Virtual Reality head seat was going to look like, and it was, ya know, named Virtual Boy. But was this humble videogame system from 1995 a “Virtual Reality Machine”? Hell no. It was a Gameboy with modestly 3-D graphics. There were no sprawling polygons or intricate worlds contained within the Virtual Boy, there was only… red. There was not a single game on the Virtual Boy that couldn’t have been easily adapted for any other system of the time. We understand how three dimensions work, Nintendo! We didn’t need new hardware to figure out Mario Clash!

But was Mario’s Tennis, the Virtual Boy’s own/only pack-in title, yet another Virtual Boy mistake?

Look at these losersIt is… difficult to say Mario’s Tennis was a good choice for launching a system. For one thing, this is a Mario game, but it’s not a Mario game. This is not an experience like Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario World. This is a sports game that happens to have a Mario veneer. Were there “real” Mario games available? Well, Mario’s Tennis launched right alongside Mario Clash, which was at least closer to Mario Bros. if not Super Mario Bros. And, during the Virtual Boy’s abbreviated lifespan, Wario eventually offered a more traditional platforming adventure, so there could have been a Virtual Super Mario Land. But once you get past the “I wanna Mario” factor, Mario’s Tennis doesn’t fare all that well as a Mario sports title. The characters are varied, but not in any interesting or exaggerated ways. Put it another way: this is the same cast as OG Mario Kart (minus Bowser, as no one wanted to figure out how that shell works in 3-D), but there isn’t a red shell or turbo mushroom to be found. And the most egregious issue: this is a competitive sports game on a system that never got around to having a 2-player option. There was eventually supposed to be a link cable, but it never materialized, and it certainly wasn’t available at launch. Sorry, Mario’s Tennis players, you’re stuck fighting against the AI from now until Mario’s Tennis 2: Red Racket Boogaloo.

Double troubleBut while Mario’s Tennis may be limited from a Mario perspective, it is a good sports game. While we would have to wait decades to see a chain chomp wielding a racket, the actual “tennis” part of the equation knocks it out of the park (that’s a good thing in tennis, right?). Matches are quick and simple, but also include all the tennis moves you’d expect, like…. Uh… that lungey one? And the overhead… smash? I’m not thinking of another game, right? Smashes are a thing? Whatever! Look, I don’t know from tennis, but this feels like tennis, and that’s what a good tennis game needs to do. And, what’s more, at a time when the majority of sports games felt vaguely slow for following the rules and encouraging play selection and alike, Mario’s Tennis moves at an exciting clip, and you’ll be done with a match within minutes (as opposed to nine innings of agony). And, ultimately, that is a great way to make videogame sports fun for people who don’t like sports. The other uncontested best sports game of the era took a similar approach to making a digital recreation of physical activity actually fun, and, while we might not have any flaming hoops in Mario’s Tennis, it is an exceptional, zippy tennis experience.

But does that make it a good launch title? Is a game that is best described as “doesn’t overstay its welcome” the right choice for trying to sell an entirely new, untested videogame console? Could friggin’ tennis ever be a killer app?

Well, there was that time that tennis kicked off the entire industry…

TENNIS!

And that time when, about a decade after Mario’s Tennis, when it was part of the biggest pack-in game of all time…

TENNIS!

And I want to say that Mario has had a few good runs with Tennis of late…

TENNIS!

So could have Mario’s Tennis been a success? It certainly seems that history has been kind to tennis titles, so that’s a yes. It might not be flashy or extravagant, but Mario’s Tennis could have simply been a good tennis game launching with a good videogame system. Unfortunately, the Virtual Boy’s other crimes are numerous, so Mario’s Tennis was damned to be another one of its parent system’s failures.

Sorry, Mario, you can’t always have a smash hit, but it’s not always your fault (oh God please tell me I got that pun right. I can’t think of any other way to end this article).

FGC #543 Mario’s Tennis

  • System: Oh man I forgot what system this game was on. Was it the Turbo Grafix-3DO? No, that doesn’t sound right.
  • Number of players: Successful tennis titles are two players. This was not a successful tennis title.
  • Wee ToadMario’s Face: It doesn’t impact the gameplay one iota, but Mario’s Tennis doesn’t get enough credit for having the most expressive versions of the Mario cast until approximately the Gamecube era. This seems like the logical progression of the canned animations in Super Mario Kart, but before the polygons of the N64 forced everyone back to being animated like white boards for a generation. You really feel Toad’s disappointment when he screws up a serve, and that is not something you would see again for about a decade.
  • Favorite Character: Princess Peach is adorable in this title, but Donkey Kong Jr. has the badunkadunk to end all dunks. And he’s such an expressive ape! It’s a shame he was either never seen again, or usurped his father’s throne, as he really did know how to rock a onesie.
  • Did you know? This is technically the first “Mario Sports” title, so all future times Mario picked up a baseball bat or kicked a soccer ball can trace back to Mario’s Tennis. This also means that, without Virtual Boy and Mario playing tennis, there would never be a need for the one and only Waluigi. Imagine a world without our greatest hero…
  • Would I play again: No. What? This was a great game for its time, but it has fallen behind practically every other game that involves both Mario and a ball of some kind. And it doesn’t help that the whole damn system gives me a headache…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Combat for the Atari 2600! Pew pew, we’re gonna fight some stuff! Please look forward to it!

Bad monkey

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

TENNIS!It’s kind of amazing when a videogame helps you to learn something about yourself.

I am not a sports guy. I am not one to stand around and tell people playing sports that they’re stupid for doing so (this is a lie), nor am I the type of person to judge someone for spending their Sunday afternoon watching spandex clad beef monsters smash into each other (this is a more obvious lie). For years, I was just under the impression that I never really gained the “sports gene”, and things like ball-watching would never appeal to me. After all, I fit the profile, right? I’ve been playing videogames practically as long as I’ve had thumbs, I’m clearly on the more “intellectual/please don’t take my glasses” end of the spectrum, and, obviously, I have roughly the same muscle mass as a newborn. I’m a nerd, okay? I know it, you know it, Tansit know it, and I’m pretty sure my fashion sense lets everybody else know it. Sports are not my bag, and that’s the way it was always meant to be.

And it’s here that I’ll note that my father has always been disappointed in that fact.

To be absolutely clear, I have a wonderful relationship with my father. Particularly now that we’re both adults, we can sit down, talk, and, if either of us would actually drink, we would be like two friends having a beer. And, honestly, it feels like bragging to say such a thing, but I feel like my dad “gets me”. We have generally similar personality types, we have compatible interests in a lot of media, and we are very analogous when you compare our average sense of humor. Actually, that last bit probably isn’t an accident (or genetic), as my father exposed me to a lot of his own favorite movies when I was a kid. When you spend a decade laughing at the same things, you’re probably going to reserve those chuckles for the same situations.

SPIKE ITSo, not unlike my exposure to “his” favorite movies, my father tried to expose me to his favorite sports. I’m almost certain my dad was never a football or baseball “star”, but he certainly played those sports as a kid/teenager, and one would suppose he thought I would have a fun time experiencing these same childhood joys. I did not. And, to my father’s credit, he never “made me” join the local sports team or whatever, as, I’m pretty sure by the time I had dropped out of soccer at the age of seven, my dad knew Sports Son was dead and buried. But this isn’t to say my dear ol’ dad never again tried to get me off the couch. Oh no, I certainly wound up with him in the backyard playing any number of “one on one” type sports.

My father, analytical man that he is, was able to identify my “problems” from a young age. First of all, I seem to be naturally ambidextrous. Or that’s just a lie to make me feel better. It would likely be accurate to say that I have zero arm coordination, and thus flail around like a quaking pot of spaghetti whenever a ball or similar object ventures into my periphery. This, obviously, made simple games like Catch exhausting trials for both of us. And, because I could never settle on a side, golf (or at least mini golf) was difficult to practice (which was a real shame, as I seem to live in the mini golf capital of the East Coast). And, beyond that, I have terrible depth perception. This has been a problem identified by my optometrist since I was roughly five, and, yes, it may have meant I took a few footballs to the face for no good reason. They looked further away! Combine these two inexorable parts of my own physical prowess, and you can maybe understand why, despite trying at least once weekly, my father quickly became frustrated with my sports aptitude. Or maybe he was just frustrated because, after far too many basketballs to the face, my nose really wasn’t supposed to bend that way…

OOG LIKE TENNISBut there was one game where I excelled: bad mitten. Wait… it’s called badminton? Weird. Anyway, my father picked up a pair of badminton rackets and a tube of birdies one day, we gave it a shot, and surprisingly, I was good at it! Okay, “good” might be a bit of an overstatement, but I didn’t suffer any grievous injuries during our first game, and that was an excellent start. As time went by, our Sunday afternoon badminton games became something I actually looked forward to. We didn’t have a net, and neither of us were ever going to be anywhere near pro level, but we had fun, and it was… easy. A badminton birdie (does that have some kind of real sports name?) isn’t going to take out my cheekbones, so I didn’t have to tense up every time the “ball” got close, and the racket sort of forced me to use one hand with some kind of consistency. Somehow, it all came together, and we were able to enjoy our weekly badminton volleys.

Pocket Tennis Color reminds me of those times.

Pocket Tennis Color is a Neo Geo Pocket title from 1999. It seems to follow the SNK pocket format of a fighting game, as it has an eclectic cast of kooky characters (There’s a maid! With a frying pan instead of a racket!), interesting if entirely cosmetic backgrounds, and easy, simple gameplay that is ideal for a portable system with two buttons. In this case, the match is tennis… and it’s just tennis. There are no super moves or hyper gauges or last-minute transformations, it’s just tennis. Hit the ball, wait for your opponent to hit it back, and then repeat until you realize why Pong hasn’t hit the next gen consoles. It’s extremely simple, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s Tennis, in color, that you can play in your Neo Geo Pocket (Color). Thank you for your time.

GO FOR ITBut, in my time playing Pocket Tennis Color, I certainly had fun. In fact, I had a lot of fun just batting the ball back and forth. I wasn’t trying to win, I didn’t need to conquer a tournament or unlock the secret characters; I was just having fun playing tennis. Back and forth, back and forth, eventually someone scores, but keeping the volley going was a lot more interesting than the winner’s screen. This is by no means a high-stress, you-must-win-or-the-Earth-explodes style tennis game. This whole experience is just an amusing game between friends, and it is fun for that exact reason.

And that’s about when I realized that that’s all I want from sports.

As a masculine, ripped, and perfectly mannish man, I have a hard time admitting to such a thing without fearing some kind of reddit-based reprisal, but I’m not a very competitive guy. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason I like videogames is that they’re games, but not a competition. Bowser and I are just having fun! I don’t need that platinum trophy. And even when we get into fighting games, ostensibly “competitive” titles, I drift toward the games that are more interesting from a design/character perspective, and probably use random select a lot more than anyone would expect. No, I don’t have a “main” so I can “git gud” and “actually beat my opponents”, I just kinda like tossing gigantic fireballs all over the arena. It’s fun! Videogames are fun!

GET IT!?And that’s probably a big factor in why I like badminton and tennis (and tennis pocket games). You don’t break every five seconds to huddle up and discuss your next strategy, you don’t spend all day switching between offense and defense every other inning, and you don’t tear off your gloves and have a fist fight every time the other team calls you a hoosier; it’s just… playing. Sure, it would be nice if you win, but it is fun to bat the ball/birdie back and forth for as long as possible.

So, thank you, Pocket Tennis Color, for reminding me where I can find fun in sports. I’ll be sure to remember that for when I finish this 16-hour Netflix binge.

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

  • System: Neo Geo Pocket Color. SNK is really missing a chance to put all the Neo Geo Pocket Color games on the Switch. Come on! SNK Gal Fighters is at an all-time popularity high!
  • Number of players: Two! Technically! I’ve never seen such a thing, but I’m sure it’s possible.
  • Favorite Character: It’s not unusual for an “anime character” to have bright pink hair. However, it is a little different on the NGP, where a character basically is their palette color. Thus, Lucy is the living personification of the color pink, and my favorite player.
  • Favorite Court: The desert canyon stage is pretty interesting, because the tight walls make the ball bounce everywhere. Except… that doesn’t really impact the game at all, because tennis really only cares about the first bounce… so it’s just fun to watch. See! This game is just silly.
  • GET READYDid you know? There are two unlockable characters, and one is Amiba the Amoeba. She’s a giant amoeba. That’s it! You cannot tell me she wasn’t a dummy character during production that got “promoted” because someone was bored. You can’t even see her racket!
  • Would I play again: I might play tennis again, but Pocket Tennis Color isn’t going to see much play. It’s a very limited game on a very limited system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR: Gestalt! And we’re NieR a milestone, so it’s probably going to be a little different than the usual FGC fare. Please look forward to it!

FGC #334 NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Let's get ready to rumble?I’m a gamer. I rather loathe that moniker, but the shoe does seem to fit. And, as you’ve no doubt noticed, I’m a gamer that cares about videogames. It’s not about the physical cartridges or discs or the history of gaming or anything so concrete; no, I care about actual fake videogame people and concepts. At any given moment, I’m worried about what Ryu is getting up to. I have cried over fatally kabobed JRPG heroines. I have spent a great deal of my life logging the goings on of one moron with a key-sword. And these are all not “default” settings for the human brain. Had I never “gotten into” gaming, I’m sure I’d be worried about other, more mundane pursuits, like how often I get laid, or how I could totally crush it at beer pong. Also, I might give a damn about sports. I’ve always been confused by that one.

Before we go any further, I want to make one thing clear (and spell it out for myself so I don’t meander later in the article… eh, that’s probably inevitable): I am not the kind of person that sees “I don’t like sports” as some kind of higher calling. It’s very easy to insult any given sport for being “a bunch of adults that get paid millions to play a children’s game”, and I want to be absolutely clear that that is not how I see it. I don’t like sports, but it’s not somehow the corner of my belief system or identity. I’ve been to a couple baseball games, I tried watching college basketball with an ex, and I was dragged along to a number of marathons by another ex. Did I think these events were wastes of time? Or perhaps that the players involved would be better off applying their phat physical skills to, I don’t know, repaving my driveway? No, of course not (though if any NFL stars would like to repave my driveway, please give me a ring. I’ll accept estimates). There are people that think Shigeru Miyamoto has not actually contributed to the betterment of mankind, and there are people that think the same of Babe Ruth. They’re both wrong. In my opinion, if you make people happy with what you’re doing, and you’re not hurting anybody while doing it, then you’re doing a good thing. I’m not going to lambast anyone just because they’re not specifically making me happy.

He's on fire!But, as a giant nerd, I’ve always wondered why I didn’t like sports. It’s not because I have the physical coordination of a beached manatee, because I know plenty of people that can barely leave their couches, but adore the sweet sciences. It’s not because of some lingering obsession with “jocks” and “nerds” from high school, because some of my best friends were jocks (when you have spindly little arms, you learn pretty quick to make friends with people who could, twenty years later, please move your couch). And I can’t imagine it’s because I didn’t have parental encouragement, because my dad tried to get me to throw the ol’ pigskin around roughly 20,000 times before he finally realized I wasn’t going to stop cowering at an incoming ball-shaped object. And I did always enjoy gym class and “playing sports” and such… even if I wasn’t any good at anything. Look, I was a kid, I couldn’t even beat Castlevania, I knew I wasn’t that great, and I didn’t have high hopes for my soccer career. Oh, and I’ve always enjoyed swimming. That’s a kind of sport, right? I like sports, maybe! Kinda!

But I’ve never liked sports games. And it’s not for lack of sports games entering my orbit as a child. Tecmo Superbowl was played quite a bit, and I believe it was NES Baseball that taught me the wonders of following a ball’s shadow. Ken Griffey was on the cover of at least one of my beloved Nintendo Power issues! Sports was all around me, but… It just never really registered as a “fun” thing. Was it simply because I found watching sports to be incredibly boring, so “playing” said sports on my television was equally dull? Or did I not care about a bunch of anonymous randos known only as “catcher” and “pitcher” on “blue team” when I could be playing a perfectly good adventure game starring an elf? I’d play sports games, but I wouldn’t salivate for them like some of my more preferred “sports”, like bombermanning or beat ‘em upping.

And then there was NBA Jam.

I don't get itNBA Jam is ostensibly a sports title. It’s a basketball game. It features real basketball teams. It stars authentic, live basketball players like that one guy that is our ambassador to North Korea. You score three pointers and dunks. Passing is important, traveling is not allowed, and getting that last toss off at the buzzer is as important as ever. This is basketball. This is unmistakably basketball, one of those sports things that doesn’t do anything for me.

So why did I play NBA Jam, NBA Jam TE, and NBA Hangtime for approximately 100 billion hours?

While it would be easy enough to blame my peer group (we were all nerds, but some of us were nerds with delusional aspirations of becoming some manner of sports hero just as soon as that all-important “growth spurt” finally hit [“Vinne, your dad is like 5’ 3”, don’t kid yourself”]), but I think NBA Jam is something much more simple: it’s basically a fighting game. It’s 2v2, but that second player is only on your team for passing along the ball when things get crowded. Once you get past that, this is basically just a one-on-one fighter with rad dunks substituting for jabs. And I understand fighting games! This isn’t about “plays” or “stats” or whatever the heck happens in Hockey (what the hell is “icing”?), this is about scoring hits on your opponent and blocking every time the offense gets offensive. You’re only as behind as your score (formerly health) allows, and even the turbo works as a sort of “super meter”. Throw in a kombatant or two, and this would be indistinguishable from some of the other arcade offerings of the time. And I know every game at the arcade.

BOINGSo that, evidently, is what it takes to get me to care about sports. I might not give a damn about the Celtics or the Knicks, but I know that any videogame where I get to play one-on-one with my archrival is going to get my attention. No homeruns, no commentary, just two opponents, and a seesawing score card that is ruled by a turbo meter. That’s what I like to see from videogames, and that’s what I like to see from a sport.

FGC #334 NBA Jam Tournament Edition

  • System: Super Nintendo is dear to my heart, but also available on Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Sega 32X, Sega Game Gear, Playstation, Jaguar, and (dear God no) Nintendo Gameboy. Also, there’s an arcade version, because that’s where it started.
  • Number of players: Two for realsies, but there’s probably a version out there that allows for four. Did the arcade? You’d think I’d remember such a thing.
  • Port-o-Call: I don’t own the original NBA Jam, because I think I rented it until it just became one with my SNES. TE came out at just the right time for a gifting holiday, though, so that actually wound up in my collection. I believe TE started the substitution system, and also included the “crazy” powerup/extra point options, but who cares? It’s all basically the same (fun) game.
  • Favorite Team: Is there a single person who played NBA Jam and didn’t just choose the Chicago Bulls every single time? I know nothing about basketball, and even I knew that was the team to play.
  • GET IT!?Greatest Loss: Somehow, there was never a NBA Jam/Space Jam crossover. However, you are welcome to listen to the Space Jam soundtrack while playing NBA Jam. I mean, if your Jock Jams tape is busted or something.
  • Hidden Players: This is somehow the second game of the FGC to make weird, innocuous jokes at the expense of the Clintons. In retrospect, we all should have expected a Clinton loss in 2016, as she’s been the butt of random jokes for two decades. Good thing our current president hasn’t been the subject of media mockery since the 90’s.
  • Did you know? Most people know that the Mortal Kombat 2 incarnations of Raiden, Reptile, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion were all cut from the arcade game. But did you know that we also lost the Grim Reaper, King Kong, and some dork with a weird nose named Elviscious with that same update? NBA Jam… is a weird game.
  • Would I play again: Maybe! Like, if I’m suddenly twelve and stuck in my old life again, NBA Jam would certainly be on the menu. Otherwise, no, probably not. Not a big sports fan.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rayman 2! Pirates and frogs ahoy, mateys! Please look forward to it!

Jazzy

FGC #246 Wii Sports

GOALYou always wonder if you’ll know gold when you see it…

I don’t consider myself a videogame critic. Heck, I barely consider myself a “videogame writer” (the purpose of this site is dubious and baffling). If forced to label my relationship with videogames, I consider myself simply an avid, lifetime hobbyist (though I likely take a small pause after rereading the phrase “my relationship with videogames”). I like videogames, I’ve played them all my life, and I probably will continue to do so; however, I don’t feel like that makes me an expert on the subject. This is a hobby, and if there were some sort of “Videogame SATs”, I feel like I would fail. I always screw up on the section about block puzzles…

However, as I’ve mentioned before, I have something of a social anxiety when it comes to my videogame opinions. I want to say it started sometime around the PSX/N64 era, and it has led to this bizarre, creeping fear that one day I’ll have to pugnaciously defend my general distaste for the Resident Evil series. Other franchises that I have never absolutely enjoyed: Animal Crossing, Doom, and Fire Emblem (though I did enjoy that time Fire Emblem was actually Persona). It’s not a matter of “these games are bad” for me, either, it’s just that none of those franchises ever really land for me, and I’m left saying things like, “Sure, it’s fun, but…” or “That’s cool, but I’m going to play some trashy anime shooter now”. And, all the while, those games sell millions of copies, top everyone’s “best of the year” lists, and are eventually sold at Target for $20 bucks with a complete “all DLC included” edition. Okay, that last thing shouldn’t be a measure of success, but I don’t see House of the Dead sticking to the shelves longer than about two months. Popularity is longevity, one way or another, and the world has all but forgotten Time Gal.

PLOPSo, while it impacts nothing, I have this general unease about not being able to see a good game when it arrives. I picture myself out in the cold, huddled around a Sega 32X playing Knuckles Chaotix while all the cool kids talk about their FPSs and racing simulators and whatever the heck is popular with those damn cool kids and their warm jackets and perfect hair and showering every day. Argh! I wouldn’t know the next big thing if it crushed me under its next big thinginess.

Then again, I might be in good company.

The Nintendo Wii Launch was… basically my one big console launch. Let’s see here… the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis were all released when I was way too young to expect anything but a birthday/Christmas present, and the Playstation (1) wound up being in the same boat. The N64 I dedicatedly saved my allowance for months to purchase at launch during the day at Toys R Us. My grandmother drove me, so it wasn’t exactly a high-octane affair. The Playstation 2 was another, much later (in my memory) Toys R Us reserve… and I ebayed that system almost immediately because of focused, teenage greed. The Gamecube, as previously mentioned, had its midnight launch opposite the premiere of the Justice League cartoon, so there were other things to do. The various Xboxes and Playstations of later generations always forced me to wait for a price drop and/or hardware revision, and the WiiU decided to be released well after my friends started having kids and jobs and reasons to actually wake up before 8 AM. But! In that tiny window of life when you and your friends have financial and physical freedom, but not all the lovely burdens of being a useful member of society, Nintendo decided to release the Wii. Hooray for one big system launch in my lifetime!

OWIEAnd “big” in this case simply means that my friends and I were all available to hang out at midnight and play the dang system immediately afterwards. Actually, come to think of it, one of my friends was working at the local videogame store at the time, so… hijinks may have ensued. A cardboard “our princess is in this castle” life-sized diorama may have been built. Liquor may have been passed around. And, not saying this did or did not happen, but, thanks to there being no “release minute” limitation on strategy guides, I may have threatened an entire line full of people with an oral reading of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Player’s Guide so as to properly inoculate a group of superfans against spoilers. What? I didn’t actually do it, it was just a warning to keep people well behaved. I swear.

But eventually the “launch event” ended (later than for most people, as we all dutifully waited for our friend that was working… and we may have also had to disassemble a castle), and we retired to my friend’s den to actually play this newfangled Wii system. While there weren’t any spare controllers available at retail (why are there limited peripherals opposite every Nintendo launch? I remember not being able to score a second N64 controller for weeks…), we were able to crack open our collected systems and gestalt together four active wiimotes. Now let’s get to playing these brand spanking new games!

Everyone was, naturally, excited about LoZ: Twilight Princess, but we were all experienced gamers, and no one has tried to make Zelda a spectator sport since that time Rich made us all watch him play Ocarina of Time and he wouldn’t even listen when we told him there’s a gold skulltula up that vine wall, we can hear it, geez when can we go back to playing Rampage. I’m a raging iconoclast, so I was most excited about the new Wii Metal Slug collection. That would have been ideal for a room full of guys anxious to try out a new system… but the damn thing got delayed. Boo. So we decided to give this Wii Sports thing a try. We were all used to the typical “game that comes with the system that is a damn useless demo” nonsense, but, hey may as well at least try this disc so insignificant that it didn’t even bother to ship in a proper DVD case.

Yay!And… it was fun. Boxing was probably the biggest hit, because it allowed all participants to spaz out like a flailing magikarp and claim that the sweet science was taking place, but bowling and tennis also saw quite a few rounds. Golf was right out. And baseball was tried, but that necessitated creating a full team of Miis (okay, it wasn’t completely necessary, but the impulse to make an entire team of Jesus Miis was there). It was enjoyable. It wasn’t an earth-shattering experience, but it was a fun way to spend 3 AM on a Sunday.

And then, the next time we all got together, we played Wii Sports again. And again. When I played videogames with other groups of friends, we played Wii Sports. When I played videogames with my girlfriend, we played Wii Sports. When I had to awkwardly hang out with my girlfriend’s friends, we played Wii Sports. When my father asked, “What’s this Wii Sports thing everybody is talking about?” we played Wii Sports. The last time my dad touched a controller, he died to a goomba on World 1-1, and never looked back. And here we were, on my couch, bowling. When you throw in office parties and family outings, I want to say that, by 2008, I had played Wii Sports with literally every person I knew. Well, except my grandma. She never much cared for those ‘intendas.

Of course, by the time that happened, everyone knew Wii Sports was gold. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was long forgotten, and even the typical Nintendo party games of Mario Kart and Smash paled in popularity to the game where you can play tennis without getting up. Even the (vast army of) naysayers had to admit that Nintendo had “won” that console generation, and it was almost entirely thanks to one game. One game that didn’t feature Mario, Bowser, or even so much as a mushroom. It was a flimsy little pack-in game, and it wound up being the most important game of the 21st century.

Huh.And did I see it coming? No. Did anyone see it coming? Maybe yes, but I can safely say that, of the people in line at that Wii launch, not a single one was on the edge of their seat for that game where they might get to play a little golf. And playing Wii Sports for the first time, was that a world-shattering experience? Heck no. But it was fun, and maybe that’s all it ever needed to be.

Maybe I’m not the kind of person that will ever be able to identify gold, but at least I’ll be able to bowl 200 along the way.

FGC #246 Wii Sports

  • System: Nintendo Wii. Wasn’t there also a “HD” version of some kind for the WiiU? Does that count? Did that ever count?
  • Number of players: Four is the maximum number of tennis participants, so I’m going to claim that’s the max number of players.
  • Track and Field: There are so many stats and “tracking” graphs in this game, but they’re all completely inaccurate. Sure, you’ve saved all my bowling scores when I played as this Mii on this Wii, but what about all those perfect games I bowled on my friend’s Wiis? See? Did you think of that, Nintendo?
  • LOOK OUTHe’s a Character: Mario and Link may have sat this game out, but Wii Sports is the premiere game for the character find of 2006, Reckless Wiimote Guy. Look out, everybody! He’s coming this way!
  • Further Wii Memories: For better or worse, I purchased a Wii system four times in five years. There was the initial launch in 2006, a Christmas gift for my (then) girlfriend in 2007 (which was a generally selfish gift, as it was purchased mainly so I could escape having to bring my Wii over every time we stayed at her place), a Christmas gift for my (still) mother in 2008 (thanks Wii Fit!), and then a Christmas gift for a friend in 2010. This is compared to nearly every other system I’ve ever owned, which have generally only gotten a second purchase thanks to hardware failure. And one extra PS2 to replace that one I ebayed.
  • Did you know? You can still go back and read old Wii Sports reviews criticizing the graphics. In other news, some gaming journalists have criticized the ocean for not also offering free smoothies.
  • Would I play again: This is the most important videogame in recent memory… but I think I might be over it. I mean, it’s not like I play with my ol’ Bop It anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to being truly random and has chosen… Gravity Rush! I suppose I can squeeze a Vita game into some wild Switch sessions. The sky’s the limit! Please look forward to it!

DAMMIT
DAMMIT!