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Nintendo misses big with Wii mini

Published November 28, 2012 by |
Wii Mini

Much to everyone’s surprise Nintendo announced a smaller, redesigned and cheaper version of their Wii home console this week.

Known as the Wii mini, the tiny machine is set to debut in Canada on December 7th, sporting a fun new look, supporting a back-catalogue of over 1,300 games and launching at an attractive price point of just $99. So, what could go wrong?

Obviously, many are questioning whether the launch of new hardware so close to the Wii U’s introduction could be potentially damaging for Nintendo, possibly causing confusion in the marketplace. You can imagine it: “I’d like the new Wii please”, “The U or mini?”. However, in a world of nano’s, slims and minis, this isn’t the biggest issue that the Wii mini faces.

Wii Mini

Revamping old hardware is not exactly a new concept — all of the major console players have dabbled in it, from Nintendo’s SNES, Sony’s PSone and Microsoft’s redesigned Xbox 360 to name but a few. Traditionally refreshed hardware is brought in with the intention of extending the shelf-life of an ageing machine, with a low price-point set to lure in a slew of new customers. As is typical, these overhauled consoles usually achieve their cheaper price tag by losing a few features.

Sadly, Nintendo’s choices on what to exclude from the Wii mini, most remarkably the lack of online support, make it seem like something of a missed opportunity.

The Wii’s online features may not have been as comprehensive as that of rival consoles, but one surprising hit feature was Netflix. More Netflix subscribers chose to watch streaming video via a Wii than on any other consoles — it was a shock hit. (Update: The PS3 has since overtaken the Wii to become the most popular streaming device for Netflix.)

The Wii mini can’t offer Netflix. You can’t play Mario Kart online. The Virtual Console is very much closed for business here. If you want to play Smash Bros. with your pal in Scotland, then you’re out of luck. Support for the bizarrely timed, recently added YouTube app is non-existent.

This curious, frankly staggering, lack of online support results in an offering that leaves a lot to be desired. With the inclusion of online functionality the Wii mini could have been a compelling alternative to the $99 Apple TV / set-top-box crowd.

Imagine the Wii mini as a cute little unimposing box that sits under your TV for streaming your favourites via Netflix, which also gives you access to a great library of games, and the $99-offering immediately seems all the more palatable.

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime recently told CNN in an interview that the company’s new machine, the Wii U, is aiming to be the “entertainment system” at the “center of the living room”. Fils-Aime specifically mentioned the wide range of video-on-demand choices that the console supports, including Netflix. He added that due to this variety of services Nintendo hopes to see the Wii U becoming a device that will be “used everyday”.

Yet the Wii mini clearly does not subscribe to this apparent living room focus, and nor can it. Wii MiniMaybe that is the point? Maybe this slimmed down revision of seven year-old hardware is not meant to be the centrepiece of your home entertainment system. Instead, if you view it as a simple and affordable way to get Wii’s into more bedrooms, you’ll have more kids playing Mario. Win, win for Nintendo right?

Well, at the heart of it Nintendo is staying true to their mantra, as the Wii mini is undoubtedly all about the games — it does nothing but. However, online features are an expected standard. The idea of no online connectivity at all in a new console in 2012 is a frankly baffling one.

The glaring lack of online, along with no USB ports (meaning no Guitar Hero for you) and no SD card storage make for one very unusual miss-step. For many Nintendo’s Wii mini will not be a compelling product, which is unfortunate as it so easily could have been.

It’s telling that Nintendo are choosing only to launch this machine in Canada. It speaks volumes – have they little faith?

The Wii mini launches in Canada on December 7th, 2012 at a MSRP of $99.99. Nintendo have not announced plans to launch the console in the UK.

UPDATE – February 26th, 2013: The Wii Mini will now launch in the UK on Friday, March 22nd, 2013.