Nintendo's Peripheral Play
Miyamoto demonstrates how, in the future, all coin boxes in Mario games will be replaced with money-minting balance boards.
You might have heard of the Nintendo Wii. It's the cheap console with a control set simple enough for anyone to use (especially women and the aged, as Nintendo's press conference emphasized ad nauseam, to our bowel-twisting embarrassment). The Wii has gone off the charts precisely because the hardware's price point and simplicity appeal to a hardware-shy new group that wouldn't know a Steel Battalion controller from a laser disc of "Steel Magnolias."
And for that audience, the Wii Balance Board is probably a great accessory. We've got a dusty one over in the corner that still bears scars from the Scott Jones' Wii Brew test, but it's a great concept. We Ski was an acceptable first step down the path to milk more use out of the board, but now we're seeing the peripheral pop up all over the place.
The first- and third-party '08/'09 lineup is all about balance. The only aspect of Wii Music that doesn't look like utter nonsense is the emulated drum kit, which uses the board extensively. Fitness games are beginning to proliferate. And UbiSoft loves it. As Steve Steinberg notes, both Shaun White Snowboarding and Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party make use of the peripheral.
Let's re-tally the Wii's appealing price point. Want to play the company's new flagship games? Tack an extra hundred bucks onto $250. For a system with such an anemic game library, suddenly the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 look a lot more appealing.
Price aside, this is a logical move on Nintendo's part. Failure to implement the balance board into other software would be foolish. We've already got a box of awkward white plastic bits that isn't going to take itself to the Salvation Army. But make the balance board an integral part of the system and the console's profile undergoes a drastic change.
So Nintendo is painted into a corner. Do they rebrand Wii Fit as the Wii Balance Board to make the peripheral look like an essential controller rather than a game boxed with a fancy bathroom scale? How about going all the way, bundling the console and board into a single box? Then consumers wouldn't take a copy of Raving Rabbids home only to discover full functionality comes with a $90 price tag?
It's the new Rumble Pak for 2008!
And then there's the Wii Motion Plus (WMP). This pretty white plastic cube shunts into the end of the Wii remote, purportedly to enhance tracking. With the WMP in place, a greater range of movement can be registered by the system, so on-screen characters likewise have a greater range of movement. You'll get one WMP with each copy of Wii Sports Resort, but a standalone price hasn't been revealed, and there's no hint of a full remote redesign on the horizon (though you know a new remote incorporating the WMP tech is coming).
Thanks, Nintendo. Time to re-tally the price again. A console ($250), balance board ($90), extra remote and Nunchuk ($60), and let's guess $15 per standalone WMP puts a solid two-player Wii setup at just under $450. Not only is the price for a solid two-player console setup 200 bucks higher than the Wii's attractive low list price, the collection of gear is sprawling and unappealing. How did a $399 PS3 and Dual Shock 3 start looking so tasty?
Point/Counterpoint - Steve Steinberg thinks the balance board peripheral is on its way to becoming a Wii essential -- and that it's a good thing. Check out The Wii Balance Board Looks to Shed its "Peripheral" Status.