This content originally appeared in issue #3 of the Nintendo Fun Factor zine. The issue is available as a free download here; check it out!
Nintendo’s Wii console, released in late 2006, proved to be an enormous success for the
company, outselling its competition and becoming one of the most popular video game systems of all time. However, many of the console’s critics appear to believe the Wii achieved commercial success by ignoring the tried and true fans of hardcore games who stuck by the company through its less prosperous N64 and GameCube eras. They argue the company instead focused on a “blue ocean” strategy and casual gamers, meaning more experienced gamers looking for traditional, niche, or core titles were left behind by Nintendo.
However, we here at Fun Factor disagree with this assessment. Not only did Nintendo cater to fans of their “core” (…ugh) franchises with games in the Mario, Metroid, Fire Emblem, and Zelda franchises, third parties stepped up and released many high quality mid-budget titles in “dead” genres. So please, join us in celebrating what we consider to be the best niche(ish) titles to grace the platform over its six plus years on the market.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
Support the troupes in this charming/deep/replayable/wonderful musical-mecha-strategy-
RPG-dating-sim. Well-written, acted, and presented, the only localized game in the longrunning fan-favorite Sakura Taisen is definitely worth your time. While the Wii version lacks the Japanese voice track that the PS2 one includes (booo), it does support progressive scan (yaaay, the PS2 version is only 480i), so this is the better looking of the two (especially on an HDTV).
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Emboldened by the success of the original Nintendo 64 game’s release on Virtual
Console, Treasure and Nintendo teamed up to create this wonderful Wii sequel. Star Successor combines an excellent control scheme (thanks to the IR functionality of the Wii Remote) with the insane action and wonderfully bonkers art direction of the original to create a game even better than the first.
Ghost Squad is a game where you hunt terrorists as a member of an elite squad of highly trained soldiers, but don’t let that turn you away. The story is pure goofy 80s war popcorn film material, as seen through the lens of legendary developer Sega AM2 (Virtua Cop /
Fighter, Daytona USA, Afterburner, OutRun, etc). The action plays out not unlike other fast paced Sega light gun games such as Virtua Cop or House of the Dead – you know what to expect- but the game offers plenty of branching paths and odd unlockables to keep you coming back when you need a fast and fun gaming experience.
The Last Story
The Last Story finds Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu (original Final Fantasy series creator and composer, respectively) attempting to reinvent the genre that they popularized. For the most part, they succeed. From an immediately likeable cast to interesting combat
mechanics, it’s one of the freshest entries into the genre in years. Come for the pretty art and music, stay for the alcoholic heroes.
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
The first Tenchu game by series creators Acquire since 2000’s Tenchu 2 gives fans what
they want: thoughtful traversal, rewarding stealth kills, and a variety of ninja tools and techniques at their disposal. The motion controls are interesting, but not always ideal, and can annoy at times with their imprecision. Thankfully, the game offers multiple difficulty settings and a reasonable checkpoint system (with mid-mission saves), to keep frustration to a minimum.
Monster Hunter Tri
Next time you hear someone running their mouth about how “people only played the Wii for a half hour every few months” or whatever, kindly direct them towards the average per person playtime in Monster Hunter Tri (which when last checked via the Nintendo Channel, was right around 90 hours). After spending 100+ hours with
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (which is based on the Wii game), I can see how someone could put in that much time with Tri – it’s deeply rewarding and absolutely packed with content.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
This “Director’s Cut” version of the point and click adventure classic includes a host of updates to the original, including a new prequel scenario and artwork from Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. The Wii controls are perfectly suited to the game and the artstyle allows the game to still look great on an HDTV, making this arguably the definitive version of this memorable adventure. Not bad for a game that came to be from a fan petition on the internet.
The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces
This Wii flight sim is based on an anime based on series of Japanese novels, and yes, I said “Wii flight sim.” Developed by Project Aces (Ace Combat) and Access Games (Deadly Premonition), the game has you switching the Wii
Remote and nunchuck into opposite hands to manage the pitch, yaw, and other flight terms that I honestly don’t really know the meaning of. While
the presentation of the game may not impress, the mythology of the world and ambitious attempt to recreate (expensive) flight simulator controls definitely does. However, if you don’t care about the story, you can skip all of the movies with the press of a button (though you’ll be missing out on some beautiful anime cutscenes from Production I.G), and if you want a simpler, more Star Fox/Rogue Squadron-style experience, the game can be played with a Gamecube or Classic Controller.
No More Heroes / No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
The primary appeal of Suda 51’s No More Heroes games is the series’s trademark stylized violence and ridiculous premise (it follows comic book and
pro wrestling loving protagonist Travis Touchdown’s quest to become the world’s number one assassin, mainly so he can copulate with the competition’s beautiful recruiter). Travis slices and dices his way through hoardes of enemies using his beam katana as players control the combat heavy gameplay through a well-balanced
combination of motion and button control. The first No More Heroes attempted to combine its heavy focus on action with an open world cityscape (known as Santa Destroy), though not altogether successfully. Both No More Heroes titles use minigames to complement the series’s core action game play, and those in the second game are a real highlight; each features an 8-bit presentation and is quickly and easily accessible once unlocked. The series’s extreme violence and unique premise make No More Heroes the direct antithesis of the idea that the Wii was only home to sanitized or family friendly experiences.
There was a moment in Xenoblade, while exploring a town that seemed to just keep expanding vertically, when it really hit me- this game is enormous. What makes Xenoblade a classic is not simply that the game world is large, but that everything, from NPCs to trees is intentional. The world of Xenoblade feels authentic, with its own rich history, rather than sterile and soulless- it’s a great place to lose yourself for a hundred hours or so.
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon
Once you get past the interesting, but poorly told, Saturday morning cartoon-style story, you may find quite a bit to like in Chocobo’s Dungeon. The dungeon-crawling is standard fare for a Chunsoft rouge-like, but the extra touches in the periphery elevate Chocobo’s Dungeon above its peers /
brethren. Extra cute versions of Final Fantasy character designs, remixes of classic FF tunes, a collectible card game (playable online!), and some
fun minigames make Chocobo’s Dungeon worth checking out for both Final Fantasy and Mystery Dungeon fans.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
This complete re-imagining of the original Silent Hill is an absolutely unforgettable experience and possibly my favorite third-party Wii release. Shattered
Memories makes smart (but not entirely unique) use of the Wii Remote as a flashlight and phone,
making it well-suited to the hardware. While some sections of the game may frustrate (the chase sections are more difficult than they need to be), it’s worth persevering in order to experience the story. Focused less on violent, grotesque horror and more on psychological and human themes, no matter which ending you get, it will resonate with you. I’m still thinking about it.
Gunblade NY / L.A. Machineguns
This disc contains two SEGA-developed lightgun shooters, Gunblade NY (originally released in 1996) and LA Machineguns (1998). Both games are dizzying affairs (as you are a helicopter gunner, the camera constantly swoops around the action), with visuals only a mother (or Virtua Cop fan) could love. What the games lack in visual pizazz they make up for with sheer charm. The enjoyable (albeit simple) gameplay is coated with some goofy story elements (you will fight terrorists in mechs) and some classic mid-90s Sega arcade music that really round out the package.
Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
Set in a dark and depressing post-apocalyptic world, Fragile Dreams follows Seto, a boy
who may be the last human in the world, on his quest for understanding and companionship. Unrelentingly
bleak, this is a game all about the journey. Through Seto’s hardships and sadness, I found myself
empathizing with him more than most game characters. After a few hours, I was so invested in the world and his situation that I knew I needed to stick
out the quest (and the clunky, but thankfully rare, combat). It’s well worth devoting a weekend to this memorable experience.
Phantom Brave is a strategy RPG from Nippon Ichi Software (Disgaea, Rhapsody) in which you play as a teenage girl who changes inanimate objects into
“Phantoms” that fight for her. Sound niche enough for you? The premise is not all that makes Phantom Brave unique, however. The game eschews the grid combat of its turn-based contemporaries in favor of free character movement (within a circular
range). While not exactly technically impressive, the large, detailed sprites are charming and full of personality (especially in story sequences) and the soundtrack can be quite lovely at times; if you’re into this type of aesthetic, the game holds up
remarkably well today. Definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre or NIS’ better known works.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
A game based on one one of the most famous characters and brands in entertainment may not exactly scream “niche” or “hardcore,” but this underappreciated gem deserves mentioning. This colorful and legitimately funny take on Batman (based on the animated series of the same name) provides classic 16-bit brawling that evokes memories of Konami’s Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Super
Nintendo. While The Brave and the Bold doesn’t have the noir/art deco style of that SNES classic, it is a gorgeous game, showcasing the fantastic 2D developer WayForward known for. The Brave and the Bold is an entertaining adventure well worth checking out for fans of great 2D art and animation, the brawlers of yesteryear, or Bat-Mite (who, awesomely, has a significant presence in the game).
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World
While far from a niche series in Japan (the most recent console entry, Xilia 2, has sold over 500,000 copies) Tales games barely register on the sales charts in the West (if they are released here at all). Newcomers to the series may not be blown away by the story or cutscenes and series vets may not fall in love with the Harry Potter by
way of Shinji Ikari protagonist, but there is still a lot to like about Dawn of the New World. The clean visuals are attractive, expressive, and still look good on an HDTV. The game is filled with charm and unabashed optimism, primarily exhibited through the series’ trademark skits. While you’ll get the most out of Dawn of the New World’s
story if you’ve completed the original Tales of Symphonia, a passing familiarity with the events of that game should be enough for those wanting to check out one of the only
action-RPGs on the Wii.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Arguably the most beautiful game on the Wii (right up there with Okami and Kirby’s Epic
Yarn in my most humble opinion), Muramasa is absolutely striking when you first see it in motion. The hand-drawn visuals combine classic Japanese art styles like watercolor and woodblock printing to elegantly create a game word steeped in Japanese mythology. Muramasa doesn’t just coast by on its looks though; there is a solid side-scrolling action game with plenty of content underneath the gorgeous exterior. Lite RPG elements combined with two different playable characters and multiple difficulty levels will keep you busy in the game world- and the visuals will make you happy to stay.
Shiren the Wanderer
This iteration of Chunsoft’s only original Mystery Dungeon may be the most accessible yet, thanks to its “Easy” difficulty option (which lets you keep your items and levels after dying). Unlike the
Pokemon, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy versions of Mystery Dungeon games, Shiren takes place in a mystical feudal Japan. The dungeon
crawling and combat are the same as ever, but feel a bit more polished and satisfying here thanks to the excellent weapon animations. Despite the simplistic visuals, the game still has style, with great music and art (the hand-drawn cutscenes and world map are particularly beautiful). If you’ve ever been curious about this series, but were turned off by the licensed versions, this is a great jumping-on point.
And for Mystery Dungeon purists who crave the risk of losing their items upon death, there’s always “Normal” difficulty.
Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaro’s Treasure
Arriving less than a year after the Wii’s release,
Zack & Wiki was a bright and beautiful new IP as challenging as it was creative. Capcom’s first Wii game took advantage of the unique capabilities of the Wii Remote to breathe new life into an oft-neglected genre on consoles. The game’s point and click adventure gameplay can be
difficult, but its control is intuitive and the addition of a two-player mode means it can be enjoyed alone or with a group.
Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
While Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom may not be a tournament-level mainstay fighter such as
Street Fighter IV or Virtua Fighter 5, it still has a lot to offer. Deep, fast paced combat and online play make it worth checking out for hardcore fighting game fans, but TVC also has appeal for non-EVO folks as well. The game sports an impressive character roster to pore over- while the Capcom
side consists of familiar faces like Mega Man (preparing for his appearance in the next Smash Bros., no doubt), the
Tatsunoko characters will likely have you visiting Wikipedia at least once. In addition, Capcom even saw fit to team up with Mad Catz to create an official arcade fightstick
for the game (which also works on Wii U)!
Castle of Shikigami III
As the title implies, this is the third Castle of
Shikigami game, and actually the third to be released in North America. But while the first two games were PS2 budget titles with butchered, so-bad-it’s-good localizations, III is the first time a game in the series has actually been given a proper release, thanks to Aksys Games. Not only is all of the (insane) story intact in this version, but all of the game content is as well – and there is a lot of it. Multiple modes, difficulty levels, and playable characters (each with their own style of attack) give this unique bullet hell shooter plenty of replay value. And yes, there is even a TATE
mode. If you are the type of person who cares
about TATE (or even knows what it is), then you
should definitely give this a shot (pun intended).
There are so many hardcore and niche games on the Wii that we still haven’t played them all! Here are the ones in our backlog (thank the maker that the Wii U is backwards-compatible):
Arc Rise Fantasia
While maybe most notorious for its
poor voice acting, Arc Rise Fantasia is a good-looking game with some serious developer pedigree. The director, Hiroyuki Kanemaru, is a Telenet (Valis, Cosmic Fantasy) veteran who also worked on Tales of Symphonia and the music in the game was at least partially composed by Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenogears). While Arc Rise Fantasia was met with indifference by Western reviewers, the Amazon.com consumer reviews tell a different story, with plenty of positive comments and a 4.5/5 star overall rating. If you’re in the mood for a colorful, traditional JRPG on the Wii, it seems that Arc Rise Fantasia isn’t a bad choice- just be sure to turn off the voices.
Rune Factory: Frontier / Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny / Harvest Moon: Animal Parade / Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility
Natsume was a fairly prolific publisher on
the Wii, releasing multiple versions of
their charming life sim / RPGs on the
platform. All of their games (aside from the seemingly lazy Gamecube port of Magical Melody) appear to be well received by their very devoted, diverse, and passionate
Unfortunately christened as “the RPG for babies,” Opoona got a lot of flack at release for its simplistic gameplay, cute visuals, and motion controls. However, it was developed by ArtePiazza (Dragon Quest) and features a soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII / Tactics, Crimson Shroud, Tactics Ogre, and Vagrant Story), so it may be worth picking up for fans of its creators.
Trauma Team / Trauma Center: New Blood / Trauma Center: Second Opinion
Personally, I was always drawn to the Trauma series by the Shigenori Soejima character designs, but
turned off by the difficulty and subject matter. However, the series has many fans who still chime in whenever a new Atlus game is being teased with a “I hope it’s Trauma Center” comment (which is then swiftly buried under a sea of “IT BETTER BE PERSONA 5”s).
A Boy and His Blob
This reimagining of the NES puzzle-platformer is one of the most charming and beautiful
games on the Wii. While the puzzle platformer is far from a niche genre these days, A Boy and His Blob deserves hardcore cred for its gorgeous hand-drawn 2D visuals.
Created by the sprite-masters at WayForward, the game is every bit
as lovely as you’d expect. It even
includes a “hug” button, that allows the boy to give the blob a hug. What could be more heartwarming than that?
Little King’s Story
One of the highest rated third party titles on Wii (87 Metacritic score, if that sort of thing impresses you), this life-sim/strategy /
role-playing exclusive is beloved by critics and fans alike. It’s not difficult to see why, considering the game was developed by a certifiable all-star staff including Yasuhiro Wada (creator, Harvest Moon), Hideo Minaba (artist / character designer, Final Fantasy V, VI, IX, XII), Kazuyuki Kurashima (monster / character designer, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure), and Youichi Kawaguchi
(programmer, Dragon Quest VIII). Man, I really need to play this game one of these days.