48 Days Later: Wii MotionPlus Release Has One Odd Minus
For a while there today, it seemed like Nintendo had made a large timing error with the planned release of its long anticipated Wii MotionPlus accessory. Initially, it looked like the $20 Wii Remote add-on (which is still listed for listed for $25 at Gamestop for some reason) would be literally useless between its
June 8 release and the June 16 release of its first compatible games: EA Sports' Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods PGA Tour '10. The apparent gap, which was pointed out by MTV Multiplayer and the San Jose Mercury News, among other outlets, was made all the more confusing by the announced 48-day gap between the release of the MotionPlus and "killer app" Wii Sports Resort on July 26 (as part of a $50 bundle with... a Wii MotionPlus unit!)
Of course, the situation wouldn't be totally unprecedented for Nintendo. When the Nintendo 64 was released on Sept. 29, 1996, it shared shelf space with extra controllers and Controller Pak memory cards that would be literally useless until the Oct. 31 release of Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey (impress your friends with that trivia factoid at your next cocktail party). Back in the present, Sega made the entire "accessory without a game" situation moot later today when they confirmed
earlier rumors that the May 19 release of Virtua Tennis 2009 would indeed support Wii MotionPlus. So instead of having an accessory available without a compatible game for a week, we'll instead have a game available without its (optional) compatible accessory for a few weeks. The timing is still a bit inelegant, but at least it's not totally nonsensical.
What I'm still questionable about, though, is why exactly Nintendo decided to split the release of the MotionPlus from Wii Sports Resort. The game and accessory have been nearly inseparable in the public mind since their dual roll out at E3 2008, and Nintendo has a history of bundling new hardware accessories with big-name, first-party titles designed to show them off to their full effect (see: Star Fox 64's N64 Rumble Pak or Mario Party 6's GameCube Microphone, among others). Does Nintendo really want a trio of third-party sports updates to be the public face of the Wii MotionPlus for its first month-and-a-half of existence?
What could be behind this odd 48-day release gap? Maybe Nintendo's rolling out the hardware early to mitigate expected shortages when Wii Sports Resort finally hits (everyone's gonna want a second MotionPlus to play that sword-fighting mini-game, after all). Maybe the game needed to be delayed for quality control reasons, but the hardware had to be released on time to meet promises to Nintendo's third-party partners. Maybe Nintendo justs wants to see if its branding is strong enough to briefly sustain a new piece of hardware without a marquee first-party game.
In the long run it probably won't matter. I doubt all that many gamers will be lining up early to spend $20 just to be among the first to play a slightly more realistic version of Virtua Tennis. Most Wii owners will probably wait for Wii Sports Resort to take the MotionPlus plunge, and it's the game that will no doubt be most responsible for the success or failure of the accessory. Still, it seems a bit silly and out-of-character for Nintendo to allow third parties to show off their new controller technology before they've even had a chance to really show everyone what they had in mind.