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Wii Mini: A Missed Opportunity

After being outed earlier by Best Buy, Nintendo’s Wii Mini (which I keep dyslexically wanting to call the Mii, naturally) has now been confirmed by the Big N itself. With a flashy red Wii Remote and Nunchuk to accompany a matte build quality that recalls the original NES, the Wii Mini is a funny marriage of old and new school – almost like one of those revamped Sega Geneses sold by Urban Outfitters.

No, it doesn’t play DVDs. No, it doesn’t play GameCube games. And no, it does not connect to the Internet. Welcome to 1994. To be fair, the Wii Mini is intended as a redesign of the original Wii, packaged for an affordable $99, starting Dec. 7, 2012 (at least in Canada – no word on a stateside release yet). Nintendo has consistently embraced casual gamers with moves like this one, which simplify the gaming experience while exploiting Nintendo’s unique retro legacy, rich IP library and distinctive approach to hardware.

But even a fanboy like me may have to scratch his head at this device. It’s less feature-rich than even the original Wii, much less the Wii U. Its only key advantages are price and simplicity – for $99, you can open the lid and start up Wii Sports right away with your stylish scarlet controller. I can only surmise that the target demographic here is children (or, more accurately, their cost-conscious parents), who may not care about the lack of connectivity, Nintendo TVii, Netflix, and the like. Although, iOS devices occupy an outsized space within young imaginations, so even that demographic may not be as solid as it seems on first glance. Also, you can get a lot for $99 – a Nexus 7 or a Nokia Lumia 920, for example (ok, the second one is a stretch, I admit – I wouldn’t buy it, either).

Still, Wii (non Wii U) sales were surprisingly strong over Black Friday week, indicating robust interest in the console’s signature remote-based input and non-HD graphics. Nintendo could have stood pat and just ridden the vitality of their older devices (the 8-year old DS line sold well last week, too), so why redesign and strip down the Wii into this “Mini” variant? One possibility is that Nintendo thought it needed to do more to combat the ongoing popularity of ancient platforms like the Xbox 360 and PS3, by refreshing its own legacy line. But Nintendo doesn’t seem like the type of company that does things defensively – the Wii Mini is no iPad Mini, in that it doesn’t respond to any major trends (legacy popularity of old consoles is the product of a lack of change or forward momentum on the parts of Sony and Microsoft more than anything) and it won’t usurp the Wii U or 3DS as the company’s flagship product.

A media player Wii Mini (i.e., a simple gaming device that could also playback DVDs and Netflix at the bare minimum) could have become something akin to Nintendo’s version of the iPod Touch (its product tag is “Big Fun,” not far off the iPod Touch’s “Engineered For Maximum Funness”). As it currently stands, however, the Wii Mini is a missed opportunity that may be an impulse gift buy, but won’t be at the heart of Nintendo’s finances or product vision moving forward.

-The ScreenGrab Team

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