Every generation of consoles revolutionizes something about the industry. The PS1 and N64 developed 3D gaming, and the Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox introduced online gaming and evolved many genres around two thumbsticks.
Last generation brought online gaming and digital downloads into the mainstream. Online multiplayer was no longer something exclusive to PC players, or something you had to hook up through cumbersome external adapters. It was something you could flip on the second you got the console (pending you paid a subscription fee for the Xbox 360 at least) and you could be gaming with friends immediately.
But it's worth noting the best selling console of the last generation: the Wii.
While the Wii may have sold like hotcakes, not many people talk about it fondly. Often ridiculed for its motion controls and shovelware-riddled library, it is pretty much referred to mostly nowadays as a console that signaled Nintendo's spiral into hardware gimmicks and inability to catch third-party developers... though the same could be said about the WiiU.
Though I'd argue, of the three previous-generation consoles, the Wii was by far the strongest, even if it was behind the times.
Before you saw these ads, admit you had no idea it was pronounced "Wee"
But first let's admit what the Wii wasn't, because it wasn't a lot of things.
First, the Wii was not an online machine. Despite having online capabilities, and having quite a few games that took advantage of them, it was incapable of competing with the PS3 and Xbox 360. Troublesome friend codes and a lack of online chat features meant it was never going to have as robust an online feature set.
And while the eShop contains quite a large selection of Virtual Console games and interesting indie experiments, its competitors blew it out of the water in terms of digital storefronts.
The Wii also is far less graphically impressive than its brethren. While many people say its only a slight step up from the generation before it, I do think its a gross oversimplification. While it may look about the same on the surface, the Wii was capable of much better lighting effects, and had a far better ability to handle more things happening on-screen.
Also, just look at some of the better-looking games for the system. Goldeneye shows how the game managed to handle realistic-looking graphics, and while facial animation may not be too fancy, the environments in that game are incredibly immersive. Meanwhile Super Mario Galaxy shows off big-bubbly environments with very soft, vibrant characters and worlds.
While the Wii wasn't as large a step up as the competition, it certainly was a step up.
Goldeneye's Archangelsk level shows off impressive snow and fire effects.
But a system isn't made by its tech, as Nintendo has managed to prove at times. It's made by its games, and the Wii had some great games.
Right out of the gate, I probably won't be mentioning too many first-party games, because while a few of them are great, I either haven't played them, or find other games take better advantage of the technology. While Skyward Sword is a beautiful game, it's not exactly a great example of how the tech really works.
Though there is an incredibly impressive library there. As I already mentioned, Goldeneye and Mario Galaxy are real lookers, as well as being very solid games. Goldeneye is a very worthwhile game to play, outshining the original as the definitive James Bond experience.
You also have Silent Hill Shattered Memories, a psychological horror game that pioneered the genre of running instead of fighting. It also had some very impressive snow effects.
While a departure from the Silent Hill series, Shattered Memories is a must-own for horror aficionados.
Metroid Prime also made an appearance on the Wii, both as Metroid Prime 3 and Prime Trilogy. While some prefer the original games, I think there's nothing more immersive than wandering around the worlds of the Metroid Prime games, pointing at ancient ruins and desperately firing at enemies with your blaster.
And there's also No More Heroes 1 and 2, Twilight Princess, Red Steel 2, The Conduit, the Trauma Centre games, House of the Dead Overkill and the definitive version of Resident Evil 4.
And in terms of first-party games, there's also two wonderfully adorable Kirby games and Punchout's fabulous return.
But what do all of those games do that make them great? Well, most of them use the motion controls the right way. Not as a fancy gimmick, but as a way of improving existing genres, or translating them in interesting ways.
Let's look at the example of using the Wii controller as a gun.
While Red Steel was supposed to make sword and gun combat feel weighty and energizing, all it did was set up other games to do that better.
The Wii became a great console for the return of the on-rails light-gun shooter. Not since... ever, actually... has there been a console which has excelled at this genre. While other consoles have dabbled in light-guns and Guncons, never has there been a system that screamed "Hey, light-gun games, come here!"
As a result, the hilarious House of the Dead Overkill came to be, as well as ports of House of the Dead 2 and 3. We also got Resident Evil Darkside Chronicles and Umbrella Chronicles, which retell the convoluted Resident Evil series as on-rails shooters.
And on-rails light-gun shooters are great. They're fantastic multiplayer games, just like they were in the arcades, because they're dramatic and cinematic and have friends competing for high scores. When I plug in my Wii, the first game I go to when I play with friends is House of the Dead Overkill. Everybody gets a laugh out of the B-movie grindhouse atmosphere, and things get loud and tense when zombies begin barelling towards us and we start gunning them down.
Or look at other games which translate shooting in new ways. The previously-mentioned Goldeneye, The Conduit and Red Steel 2 all show how simply aiming a gun can be fun again.
Waggle all day and all night, baby.
In Goldeneye's stealth segments, it feels wonderful to aim steady, take a deep breath, and pull off two quick headshots on guards so no one hears or sees it. Or to get behind the barrel of a sniper rifle and hold the Wii controller with both hands to get a head shot from 100 meters away.
Or in The Conduit, with its more arcadey, Perfect Dark-esque feel, to wave your Wii remote back and forth as you spray bullets across the screen.
My point is this: shooters have been around for decades, and the genre hasn't really gone past 'gun in centre of screen, gun moves with camera.' With the Wii, you can aim and look elsewhere. Even something as small as pointing your gun to peak around corners has an effect of making the player feel more involved in the game world.
And that's what the Wii became a master at: interaction. It made the player feel involved with the game for the first time since the analogue stick made movement feel accurate and translate to the motion of your thumb. You didn't just press a button to have Mario spin around, you jiggled the controller around and moved with him. It's a small gesture, but it adds up to a large part of feeling engaged with your game.
I'm sure many people will disagree with me and say the Wii made easy controls complicated, or introduced gimmicky motion controls when they weren't needed. And sure, a button press or the slight push of a thumb stick is effective and simple, but for some games you want to feel like you're participating in the game.
Remember that microwave corridor from Metal Gear Solid 4, where Snake was bombarded with radiation as he crawled through it, and you had to mash the triangle button to get him to the other side. By the end, you were mashing so hard, so desperately and getting so tired, you sort of felt like Snake as he barely crawled his way through to the end.
While I'm not a big fan of MGS4, it's one of the few examples of quick time events done right.
That's what the Wii felt like at the best of times. Like you were desperately waving around your flashlight, looking for a way to avoid the monsters chasing you. Or that you were a super spy, masterfully pulling off headshots with your steady hand. Or you were a futuristic bounty hunter, making wide turns around corners because you never knew what lied in wait.
Were there crap games? Oh boy, yes there were. And the system's strengths were also its weaknesses. For every game that used motion controlls well, there was one that misused them, or didn't use them at all.
And so much of this is down to personal preference too. I'm not saying I'm a huge motion control guy. I think the Kinect is a huge waste of money (and so does Microsoft at this point) and the only reason why the PS Move exists is for some dirty ports of some good Wii games.
But at the very least, the Wii had a pretty solid library once you looked past the shovelware, and got you to interact with your games in new ways. Was it always intuitive and beneficial to the experience? Not really, but sometimes it clicked really well.
Ultimately Nintendo walked away with a mixed reception to the Wii. While the system sold really well, gamers felt like Nintendo really doubled-down on hardware gimmicks and appealing to the demographics of families and soft-core gamers. The WiiU certainly did not help with any of this, with its own hardware gimmicks and complete lack of a game library.
And the PS3 and 360 had their own problems. While online integration became a thing, it also arguably and irreversably changed the industry. We now have mandatory subscription fees for multiplayer and day one passes. We have games releasing broken with a 'fix it later' attitude. And we also had a homogenizing of game styles, and while I feel the current gen has been working to make games feel unique and reinvigorate older genres, the PS3 and 360 had very samey looking games.
If you can tell me what game this is from, I will give you a cookie.
So while the Wii had its own share of problems, the highlight games for the system felt distinctive, or used the tech in ways we either hadn't seen before, or in ways that interpreted old mechanics in a new light. Contrary to the belief of many game devs, there's more than one way to shoot a gun or swing a sword than by pressing a button.
But hey, you could also argue the library is full of cheap party games, the technology is imprecise and the third-party support is spotty, and you'd be right.
At the very least, I think the Wii tried the most new things and was the tightest console of the three. Ultimately I think we'll see more retrospectives on the Wii than the other two consoles, and that's a good thing. As an industry, we should learn from the games that tried interesting things and potentially failed, than the things that never tried anything interesting at all.