Why Wii Shop Channel Matters: Looking Back At Nintendo’s First eShop

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

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It’s finally happened: phase one of the Wii Shop Channel’s shutdown has taken place. As of March 26th, 2017, you can no longer add any point currency to buy new software. To those thinking the shop is dead, it’s not dead yet. Until January 30th, 2018, you are able to spend what money you have left on software and re-download anything you may have previously purchased. This digitized loss follows a similar fate to the DSi Shop, which died last year, and echoes a similar beat from 2014 when Nintendo shut down the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, also a feature on Wii and Nintendo DS.

The Wii Shop Channel need not die in vain. It marked Nintendo’s first worldwide foray into digital distribution. The company’s made gentle stabs at the concept of buying or downloading software digitally before with the Satellaview, Famicom Disc System, Nintendo Power re-write service, and the iQue in China, but the Wii let you download games more accessibly than those earlier efforts. With this, the Wii not only saw the release of classic games from previous Nintendo and non-Nintendo hardware, but original software and apps, too. The Wii Shop Channel also holds the distinction of making the Wii the first game console to host a port of the immortal Cave Story.

The push for WiiWare and Virtual Console came at the right time in the industry, but the execution was a faulty first step. 2006 through 2008 saw the slow steady rise of small, original and retro downloadable titles, which the Wii Shop had in droves. When the shop kicked off on the Wii’s launch day, Virtual Console would go on to make fans out of a new generation who’d yet to experience the halcyon days of NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, and many more platforms of yore. It was the perfect storm of popular favorites, re-releases of expensive rarities, and imports that were never seen outside of Japan in North America and Europe. It was a cornucopia for a while, and then the transition to original downloadable WiiWare games coincided with the popularization of games like Braid and Castle Crashers.

Charitably, the Wii Shop Channel could be described as inflexible. In contrast to its brethren storefronts Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store, Nintendo’s shop was slow, lacked features such as saving a payment method, and never had discounts or sales. The 500 point prices on NES games in 2006 stayed that way in 2018. And you didn’t pay with real-world money, but with the dreaded points system, back when Microsoft also used fake currency in a way that made little consumer sense. And have you heard about the dreadful size limits of WiiWare, going up to 42 MB? This among other reasons led to the shop’s exclusion of larger-sized releases like Super Meat Boy.

Those omissions hinted towards Nintendo’s desire to not devalue their product combined with a lack of experience with digital distribution. By their own admission, Nintendo has learned a great deal in the years since (DSi Shop excepted, as it had the same kind of limitations as the Wii did). In time, Nintendo has begun to play nicer with indie developers, including lifting size limits, opening up to more kinds of content, and allowing for more flexible pricing.

And what would the Wii Shop be without the games that played up the Wii’s identity? From 2006 to now, we’ve seen new releases that embrace a retro style, use the Wii controls to take cute advantage of the system’s potential, and other surprises from PC and the like. This goes without mentioning that WiiWare included almost as much shovelware as the Wii itself did at retail. As we sunset the Wii Shop Channel, here are some of the best games you should already own, and if not, are worth remembering.

Mega Man 9- Capcom and IntiCreates gave us not one, but two Mega Man revivals a decade ago, the days when series co-creator Keji Inafune still led the franchise’s fortunes. If you’re to play either Mega Man 9 or 10, the former is the better game. Crafty, challenging, and an exquisite match to the NES originals. So why play it on Wii when it’s also available on other consoles? You can use the NES Classic’s included controller with the Wii Remote and have an authentically 8-bit Mega Man experience. Mega Man 9 just feels right on a Nintendo platform.

LIT- WayForward delivered this loving homage to Korean horror films. LIT makes clever use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck as you navigate a student through darkened classrooms, using the pointer to fire at windows to light the darkness. If you cross into that darkness, the monsters will get you. The later mobile port is delisted, so Wii is the only way left to play this unique project from the typically 2D studio. It’s a little rough around the edges, but LIT oozes atmosphere and uses the Wii’s controls in smart ways.

And Yet It Moves- A PC port that is arguably better on Wii. You navigate your squiggly-drawn character through levels by manipulating gravity via tilting the Wii Remote. You not only have to consider how gravity will affect yourself, but the environment as well, lest you fall to your death or get crushed by a boulder. It’s short at 20 levels but a sweet, and often cerebral, experience.

MotoHeroz- For that Mario Kart aftertaste, MotoHeroz is a must-have. A cross between Excitebike and puerile kart racing, its online play is long dead, but you can still rock the story mode, local multiplayer, and more. With friends or solo, MotoHeroz one of the deeper WiiWare offerings you’ll find with oodles of replay value and rich karting mechanics.

Fast Racing League- If you’re wondering where the Switch racer Fast RMX came from, it starts with thWiiWare original from the wizards at developer Shin’en. One of the best-looking games on WiiWare and just as difficult as its successors. And if you’re somehow anti-Wii motion, it supports the Classic Controller too, but is no less challenging with normal controls.

You, Me, and the Cubes- Known best as the last console game from the late Kenji Eno, YM&tC is an ingenious physics-driven puzzler. Your job is to fling hapless people (fallos) onto a formation of cubes to keep the structure in balance across dozens of levels. The way to load those fallos up? Shake the Wii Remote, point at the cube, and fling. If you’re a connoisseur of artful games, this is an eccentric WiiWare exclusive not to be missed.

Art Style Orbient- The art house Art Style series got its start on Game Boy Advance as the Japan-exclusive bit.Generations series in 2006. Wii’s digital distribution gave the brand a chance at worldwide release, courtesy of developer Skip, Ltd. The whole series is worth checking out, but for the purposes of this article, be sure to check out Orbient. You navigate an orb in space using gravitational pull or push to create orbits around planets. Using only the A and B buttons on the Wii Remote, it’s intuitive to play and gets very cerebral, as navigation requires expert timing and propulsion.

Lilt Line- An unsung gem in the WiiWare library, Lilt Line sticks out for its use of dubstep music at a time when the genre was becoming mainstream. That same music becomes the levels you have to navigate a simple line through without dying. Using Wii Remote tilting, Lilt Line is a clever hybrid where audio and level design collide in a unique way.

Konami Rebirth trilogy- From a bygone time when publisher Konami made fan-favorite games, the Rebirth trilogy on WiiWare brought rejuvenated life to Castlevania, Contra, and Gradius under the development chops of M2. These throwback games match the look and feel of their 16-bit installments perfectly. Having gone almost a decade with nary a re-release anywhere else, the Rebirth trilogy deserves to be in your WiiWare collection.

Lost Winds- One of WiiWare’s western launch games remains a standout. A light adventure where you use the Wii’s pointer to guide a gust of wind to move your playable character, manipulate fire and water to solve puzzles, and attack foes. A year-later sequel added and improved on the original with a season-changing mechanic, but for the purest expression of Lost Winds, play the original first.

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits- It’s not Kid Icarus, but NyxQuest does the Greek mytholgy job well. NyxQuest is a platformer, but the progression reveals physics puzzles underneath, with assistance brought on with the Wii Remote’s pointer. It’s also on PC and mobile, but only the WiiWare original has the intuitive pointer controls and co-op.

WarioWare D.I.Y. Showcase- Released in tandem with WarioWare D.I.Y. on the DS, no WarioWare fan should be without this TV-sized companion piece. It not only includes its own set of microgames, you can also transfer your microgames from the DS game into this one and play them on the telly. It’s a shame then that with its online features gone, WarioWare D.I.Y. Showcase is half of what it was intended to be.

Bonsai Barber- As pure of a distillation of the madhouse, art house mentality that characterized WiiWare, Bonsai Barber has you caretake a clutch of wacky creatures to…give them a haircut. Who better to have concocted its silly sensibility than ex-Rare developer Martin Hollis, who spent over two years on the download game. The way it plays out could easily pass for a mobile game now, but its use of the Wii Remote to trim, shave, and brush hair is delightfully silly that you can’t not have a smile while playing it.

Pokémon Rumble/My Pokémon Ranch- For you Pokémaniacs out there, WiiWare saw the worldwide release of two exclusive titles (Japan got a third one not mentioned here). The Pokémon Rumble side series got its start in 2009 on WiiWare in a game featuring only critters from Red/Blue and Diamond/Pearl, while My Pokémon Ranch was the Generation IV storage program. All the WiiWare Pokémon games got around the service’s storage limits by redesigning the then-493 Pokemon with a cute origami look. If you’re a Pokémon completionist, you know what they say: gotta catch ’em all!

Sin & Punishment

Virtual Console imports- Whatever game you choose, the fact that Wii’s Virtual Console was the first place to purchase copies of Japan-only gems was a revelation. The list is mighty and impressive, with the high-octane Sin & Punishment and the original 1986 Super Mario Bros. 2 from Nintendo standing out. Also of great import are Hudson’s late-Super Famicom gem DoReMi Fantasy, Konami’s Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa, and the first-ever English release of Monster World IV. Wii remains the only place where many of these classic imports ever got a proper western release, so consider yourself lucky if you got them here.

Pulseman– From the maestros of Pokémon, Game Freak’s Pulseman was “technically” released in North America, but never in cart form. Pulseman was exclusive to the Sega Channel distribution service long ago through the magic of dial-up, but via the Wii Shop Channel, it can be yours for-seemingly-ever. A fun and intense platformer where you richochet around levels as a burst of light, Pulseman looks and sounds as great as it plays. If you’re a scholar of Game Freak’s lineage, this was a no-brainer.

Super Mario RPG- Not to forget our friends in Europe, the Wii marked the first time they could officially play the acclaimed 1996 collaboration between Nintendo and Squaresoft. Skipped over in Europe back in the day due to a late release date and tons of text to localize for the region, they had to wait no more at 800 points a pop. Still as rewarding to play as it was in the months before Super Mario 64‘s launch in 1996, Super Mario RPG is what launched a spin-off dynasty that continues to this day with Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi.

Chrono Trigger- Forget the PC port: outside of the DS update, Chrono Trigger‘s most authentic re-release was on the Wii, a pixel-perfect way to experience one of the greatest RPGs ever made. What else can be said for the collaboration of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama and their time traveling opus? Chrono Trigger has been around the block in the 23 years since its release, but the Super NES version remains definitive.

Super Smash Bros.- If you’re looking for a digital release of the Nintendo fighter that started a cross-over dynasty, Wii is the place to be. For some reason, the N64 original of Smash Bros. never got a release on Wii U’s Virtual Console. The best part about its release on Wii is compatibility with the GameCube controller, making it a breeze to control. The original Super Smash Bros. may be small in content, but it’s no less fun to play than it was 19 years ago.

Fun fact: The Wii Shop Channel’s disabling of adding funds comes ten years and a day after the Japanese launch of WiiWare. Whether a coincidence or not, there’s been lots of games both good and bad to grace and disgrace the Wii Shop Channel since its heyday. But even if you didn’t like those games, we shouldn’t forget them. Once the shop goes under next January, many of these games are going to vanish, never to be seen or played again. As video games are considered more of an art form with each passing year, losing the games released on WiiWare and only on the Wii’s Virtual Console is contrary to the needs of game preservation.

Nintendo had to go through the growing pains of the Wii’s online shop to get where the Switch is today, whose eShop is the fastest-growing platform of all the company’s eShops to date. Wii Shop Channel will soon be gone forever, but its legacy of launching Virtual Console and the host of original game content it birthed cannot be understated. Wii Shop, we’ll miss you.

About Alex Irish

When he's not writing about games, Alex Irish is an illustrator and animation expert. His favorite gaming franchise is Pokémon, full-stop, but his favorite game of all time is Resident Evil 4. He attended the first-ever IGN House Party and is a five-time attendee of the Ottowa International Animation Festival.