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Opinion: On Japan, The Wii, No More Heroes & Super Smash Bros

Two key Wii titles in Japan are the just-launched No More Heroes and the about-to-launch Super Smash Bros Brawl, and Gamasutra's Japanese correspondent JC Barnett looks at the reception for the former and how it maps to the latter - is _SS

January 24, 2008

4 Min Read

Author: by JC Barnett

[Two key Wii titles in Japan are the just-launched No More Heroes and the about-to-launch Super Smash Bros Melee, and Gamasutra's Japanese correspondent JC Barnett looks at the reception for the former and how it maps to the latter - is SSBM too 'hardcore' to be an all-time top seller?] "I wasn't expecting that Wii would be a console targeted only for non-gamers", says Goichi "Suda51" Suda of Grasshopper Manufacture, the man behind Killer 7 and the recent No More Heroes in the wake of massively disappointing Japanese sales of the latter. In a recent interview he claims, like so many others, that only Nintendo can sell games for the Wii, which may be because only Nintendo is targeting this "non-gamer" market properly. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Suda followed up with an attempted clarification on the Grasshopper Manufacture website, but it's unclear whether his comments in defense of his statement actually contradicted it.] The Wii's audience is vastly different from the other consoles' and previous generations, that much should be obvious by now. The undisputed major titles are Wii Sports and Wii Fit, aimed squarely at, what we mistakenly and slightly patronizingly call "non-gamers". I guess the term should be "previously non-gamers" or “differently interested gamers” but ideally the real terminologies should be "gamers", people who enjoy games of any shape and size, and "hardcore gamers" those of us who spend too much money on games, own more than one console and have vastly inflated opinions and feelings of entitlement when it comes to our favourite titles. Just because the new main target market is less interested in killing generic alien invaders or level grinding doesn’t mean they are “non-gamers”, if you ask me. The reality is that the regular gamer market has outgrown the hard-core one, in terms of numbers at least, and that the hard-core is becoming increasingly niche. All this is widely known, or at least quietly realized, and has been written about before. No More Heroes, even though it is fun and a game I'd recommend to any Killer 7 fan, is niche even for a hardcore game and sales have proven this. But the near future will see an interesting event to further explain how the Wii market is divided in Japan. Next week sees the Japanese release of Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii, or "Sumabura", as the cool kids here call it. This game is the ultimate in fan service, a fanboy's wet dream of IP crossover and a deliciously retro 2.5D beat'em up. It is hardcore, but it is popular hard-core. But is it a fit for the Wii audience? My guess is: not so much. The media hype machine is in overdrive. Leading Japanese game magazine Famitsu gave it a perfect score and bundled last week's issue with a separate, quite thick informative booklet on the game's characters. To be played best, allegedly, you will need to purchase a classic controller or dust off your old Gamecube controllers. It possibly requires a lot of time to unlock all the events if it's anything like its Gamecube prequel. As a spurious prediction I’d say we may see a promising start with the usual drop-off over the next few months and sales figures that would make anyone proud but that are still lower than expected, a bit like Super Mario Galaxy. If "Sumabura" doesn’t sell that well it would be proof positive that the Wii isn't a hard-core friendly platform. I suspect already that it isn’t, but a title like this could prove it once and for all. And that’d be a shame. With lower development budgets for Wii titles it offers a good platform for niche or truly original hard-core titles, as opposed to the mega-projects that make Xbox and PlayStation development so risky these days. But if nobody buys them, what is the point? The Wii will have painted itself into the casual corner once and for all, but seeing the sales figures that is not a bad corner to be in at all. This also means the Wii is out of the “console war”. It has its own market distinctly different from its competitors, whom must fight amongst themselves for their own top spot. Both Microsoft and Sony are making wooing noises to the casual market but they’ll have a hard time stealing customers from the big N. So any publisher looking to make money on the Wii must squarely look at casual and avoid hard-core at all costs. Also, they must make sure they have a title which is easily shortened for the Japanese fans, like “Kinhar” (Kingdom Hearts), “Grantsu” (Gran Turismo) or “Durakuwe” (Dragon Quest). [JC Barnett is a pseudonym for a previous Gamasutra contributor and a Western developer working in Japan - his Japanmanship weblog regularly runs articles such as this.]

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