[Feature] An Ode to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection – Saying goodbye to DS and Wii’s online (part 1)
On May 20th, GameSpy ceased all maintenance for multiplayer services that they previously hosted, marking the end of online support for Wii and DS titles and the end of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (WFC) era. Since its launch in November 2005, the little blue circle on the boxes of our beloved franchises have signified the ability to participate in matchmaking online and experience Nintendo’s first real take at online gaming. From Friend Codes to Nintendo branded Wi-Fi dongles, let’s take a look back at some of the best WFC had to offer in all its WEP encrypted, Wii Speak glory.
Mario Kart DS (November 2005)
Christmas of 2005 was a special time for many Nintendo gamers and it’s thanks to a little game called Mario Kart DS. The fifth entry in the series was a milestone, not only because it was the first Mario Kart title with online support, but for many of us Nintendo diehards it was our first real exposure to online multiplayer in the console space. The chaotic madness of Mario Kart was limited to playing on the couch with your buddies no longer. Finally we could take one of the most beloved party game franchises of all time online for matches with real people around the clock… but the fun was not to last.
Mario Kart DS became a haven for hardcore players and if you weren’t getting lapped by the RSI suffering maniacs who used the notorious “snaking” technique, then you were probably getting destroyed by the guy with the flash cart giving himself a million golden mushrooms. That aside, Mario Kart DS was extraordinary at the time and it’s been interesting to see how the series has evolved and learned from what it had to offer.
If you were to try and pitch Clubhouse Games to someone who hadn’t seen or played it, you would sound like a crazy person. Bridge? Backgammon? Darts? At face value it was just a collection of traditional and obscure mini-games – the type of thing that you’d expect to see limited to a cheap shovelware bundle, not something you’d want to rush out and buy on your shiny new Nintendo platform. Apparently that couldn’t be further from the truth. Clubhouse Games became ridiculously popular, especially in the online community for its comprehensive and easy-to-use matchmaking, allowing users to jump in and switch between the games’ whopping 39 different multiplayer offerings with ease. Nobody could have ever guessed that a collection of board and card games would become one of the system’s ‘must-have’ titles, but Clubhouse Games was just that and its online play was to thanks (not to mention teaching us the dozens of games we can now play with REAL cards!)
For many at the time, the Metroid Prime series was an obscure change of pace for the classic Nintendo franchise and Metroid Prime: Hunters took that a step further. When the DS launched in 2004, it came bundled with a demo for the game titled Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. While not unheard of at the time, it did mean that an uncharacteristically early build of a Nintendo game was out in the wild for the public to not only try, but keep. The game took the first-person perspective of the Prime series to the portable system, flooring everyone with just how easy it was to traverse your way through the world.
As for the multiplayer? It was fantastic – a handheld FPS title developed and set in a first-party Nintendo universe, complete with multiple game modes, lobby support and an impressive amount of customization that players had to experiment with. It’s also worth mentioning the fact the game had seven different playable characters, each with their own unique abilities and alternate forms. Unlike Metroid Prime 2, these were legitimate alien characters you could use to blow Samus up with. It was a somewhat uncharacteristic risk for Nintendo to take and it’s one I hope we see them return to in the future.
Jump Ultimate Stars was a precious gem in the DS library that, due to licensing issues, was hidden from all of us outside of Japan. It’s an arena-based fighting game in a similar to Smash Bros. with a unique hook. The bottom screen is used to access Koma (“panel” in Japanese), which are player created decks on a 4×5 comic strip. Decks can be built using a combination of 3 different Koma types: Battle, Support and Help Koma. Battle Koma represented playable characters, Support Koma represent non-playable ‘assist’ characters and Help Koma provided players with different buffs and debuffs that can be called on in matches. Battle Koma each have their own nature (Knowledge, Strength, and Laughter) and this worked like a rock paper scissors mechanic; Strength beat Knowledge, which beat Laughter which was strong against Strength.
If this sounds like a pretty hardcore offering, that’s because it really is. It had a cult following that spawned a number of detailed translation guides circulating the web to help make it playable for the Western audience (even if it did amount to reading a 50 page text printout you held next to your DS every time you played). It’s a shame that licensing issues prevented this game from reaching a wider audience, because it’s a game that those of us who took the chance to import remember fondly.
A Grand Theft Auto title. With a ton of licensed music. And a drug dealing mini-game. On a Nintendo handheld? Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was another title from last generation that really raised a few eyebrows over the course of its release. It was an oddly mature addition to the DS library, but ended up being a risk that paid off in a significant way; it was one of the highest-rated and most-loved games created for the system.
Chinatown Warse saw a return to the classic top-down perspective from the early GTA titles and featured all of the disturbing madness we’ve come to know and love from the series. There were a heap of different vehicles, weapons, locations and plenty of stuff to do, and it was impressive just how much content Rockstar was able to fit on the system. Online gave players access to a heap of different competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes: Race, Stash Dash, Defend the Base, Gang Bang, Liberty City Survivor, Season Race and Single Race. It was absurd just how much there was to do, from racing to traditional shooter objectives to the just straight bizarre modes you would only ever expect to find in a Grand Theft Auto game. It was a mature sandbox masterpiece and Nintendo handhelds had never seen anything quite like it before.
(You can find part 2 of this feature here)