The Wii Shop Channel’s closure marks the death of a piece of Nintendo magic
- April 1, 2019
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You can’t think about the Wii Shop Channel without first conjuring up its music – that irresistible ditty composed by Kazumi Totaka, a song so infectious it went on to become a meme. And where to start with that? The remixes of Earth, Wind and Fire’s September, the brilliant mash-up of Drake’s Hotline Bling, or why not a full-blown jazz cover? What a tune; this was background muzak elevated to the anthemic.
We shop in silence now, and there’s something slightly mournful about that. When the Wii Shop closes in the next few hours, we lose more than a place to pick up games for that aging console; we lose a little slice of what once made Nintendo so magical, where fun was baked into the experience at system level. It might just be a chintzy tune, but it’s part of a broader philosophy that forms an entire identity; part of that same school of design that gave us the Miiverse, Pictochat and, looking further afield, Apple’s breathing light indicator, whereby sleeping Macbooks mimic the breathing rhythm of a sleeping human. It’s those little things that make these strange lumps of plastic and the code they run so lovable.
Satoru Iwata was an Apple nerd, of course, and the Wii perhaps feels like Iwata’s console more than any other in Nintendo’s history. It felt like his revolution, and during those initial unveils he was front and centre, first when it was met with some apathy in May 2005 and later, when the controller was unveiled that September, with bewilderment.
The motion controller was at the forefront of the Wii’s revolution, kickstarting a period of innovation as well as one of countless dead ends that already feels like ancient history, but it’s easy to forget the console was built around another key philosophy: backwards compatibility, and the promise of 20 years of Nintendo games at your fingertips. The concept of a Virtual Console, while it lives on dimly elsewhere, feels one step closer to history after today.
Given the enthusiasm that met the release of the NES and SNES Classic consoles, it’s understandable Nintendo would switch its focus, but it’s disappointing nevertheless. The Wii’s Virtual Console was never perfect – how galling it was, having suffered through the miserable treatment offered PAL SNES owners in the 90s with sub-par ports, to suffer through it all again – but it was frequently excellent.
Here were once hard-to-find games from exotic systems available for the price of a round. Sin & Punishment! Salamander! Dracula X! Last Blade 2! PC Engine games! Mega Drive games! Neo Geo games! (And that’s not to mention bespoke WiiWare exclusives such as Lost Winds and M2’s wonderful Gradius Rebirth – games that are about to meet the sad and inevitable fate of any digital release).
Today, the Wii Shop Channel shuts its doors for good.
We decided to pay tribute to the iconic service and its mostly terrible range of games the only way we know how.
By hiring a session musician to record a heavy metal cover of the Wii Shop Music.
— Eurogamer (@eurogamer) January 30, 2019
What a weird, lovable bunch that was, and for its faults – the Wii’s phenomenal success led to an all-too-familiar hubris that saw Nintendo lose sight of some of its own strengths and led to the wilderness years of the Wii U – what a weird and loveable console the Wii was. I can’t imagine mourning the departure of any other console’s digital storefront, and I certainly never find myself thinking back fondly of any. But when I’m browsing through the Switch’s list of games, presented numb and mute, I can’t help but miss the Wii Shop and Totaka-san’s bouncy music. The modern Nintendo, for better and for worse, dances to a different kind of tune.