Nintendo has problems with its online services. You know it, I know it. The big N has struggled with being behind the curve for awhile now, but especially in this area. While it has made leaps and bounds since the days of the Gamecube's broadband adapter, it still has a long way to go. That being said, I also believe that Nintendo's online services have been greatly overlooked over the years. Now, in hindsight, I hope that we can take a good hard look at the upsides of Nintendo's online offerings from 2005-2014 through it's Nintendo Wifi Connection service, a service that just died today.
I've never been your typical video game player. My first game console was n NES when I was 11... in 1998. My second was a Game Boy Pocket that same year. While I always liked consoles (I got REALLY into PSOne RPGs... in 2001) handhelds were my bread and butter. I've always preferred the small, personal, immersive, strange experiences that handhelds offer over their console counterparts.
So, when the Nintendo DS launched 10 years ago in 2004 (wut), I was right there to pick up on launch day. One of the most exciting features to me were its wireless multiplayer capabilities. I'll always cherish the memories of my friends and I playing Mario 64 DS and Yoshi's Touch N Go together from across the gym during finals. I still remember how excited I was when I heard that Mario Kart DS would be including online multiplayer. The thought of playing my DS online while I watched TV in the living room, or sat on the toilet was really cool to me.
While I had experienced a small amount of online multiplayer when playing Phantom Dust (represent) on Xbox Live, I had never really had that big experience that convinced me it was the future or anything. When I finally got Mario Kart DS into my hands, I wasn't that convinced either. Sure, the service worked fine, but matchmaking took too long, friend codes (one 12 digit code PER GAME) were the worst, lag was pretty rough, and races were extremely limited both in number of players and playable tracks. I was a bit disappointed. My dreams of 12 player, fully functional online Mario Kart would have to wait until another day. Still, there I was playing a fully 3D game online through my handheld, it felt like the future.
Nintendo quickly began to garner a lot of criticism in regards to its online functionality around 2005-2006. Microsoft's Xbox 360 had just rolled into town to school everyone on the future of digital purchases and online multiplayer. Those early days were exciting weren't they? Microsoft offered friend lists, voice chat, a party system, quick and easy to use matchmaking, when you played Call of Duty 2 with your friends, it felt like they were there.
Then came the Nintendo Wii, with it's promises of WiiConnect24 or whatever, better online functionality, a digital store, and more. Now listen, the Wii was/is great, probably the most underrated console ever. I will stand by that, but let's face it, Nintendo Wifi Connection was still a mess.
College started in 2007 and I got very poor, very fast. My DS soon became my go-to console because the games were cheaper and went on sale more often. My Wii still got some love in those early college days, but my DS was where it was at. I soon came to accept the fact that it looked like I was going to be pure Nintendo throughout college.
I couldn't afford to buy a new console and my PC wasn't powerful enough to play most of the things I wanted to try out. Also, most things just didn't appeal to me. Folks played Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and Mass Effect. I played No More Heroes, Zak & Wiki, and Super Mario Galaxy. I was fine with it. My friends had PS360s and I could always try out the newest thing in their dorm room.
Nintendo Wifi Connection still continued to struggle, but for me it really picked up steam when it was my only option. I don't even want to know the hundreds of hours I spent online in games like Phantasy Star Zero, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and Pokemon. The Wii began to pick up steam as well! Before too long I was absolutely hooked on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Monster Hunter Tri, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and Goldeneye 007. Folks would tell me what I was missing out on, but I honestly didn't miss it. I was spending hundreds of hours online, playing competitively, and not paying a cent for it.
Some folks would wander into my dorm room, watch me playing Tatsunoko vs. Capcom online and complain that they it wasn't available for their PS360. Same with Monster Hunter Tri and Phantasy Star Zero. These games worked around Nintendo's limits to create free, functional play that rivaled the best. When Dragon Quest IX came out, I was so hyped. The biggest entry ever in my favorite series ever, exclusively on my favorite console ever! It had amazing online features like a special shop that updated daily, free weekly DLC, and more.
Lots of Wii and DS games had really interesting, unique online functions that you wouldn't see much on other consoles. Final Fantasy III had an online messaging system that would help you net the most powerful equipment in the game. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass had a super fun competitive online multiplayer component. Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars let me trade drugs online! Animal Crossing: Wild World let me visit friends' towns and smack them with fish nets. Even Shiren the Wanderer had the ability to call for help online when you died and lost everything in its roguelike dungeons. The Last Story had both competitive multiplayer and extremely challenging co-op bosses that unlocked unique equipment and dyes for your clothes.
Blue Dragon Awakened Shadow, the Professor Layton games (I never played), Alien Crush Returns, Chocobo's Dungeon, Mario Kart Wii, the Conduit, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Bleach: Dark Souls, Custom Robo Arena, Avalon Code, Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2, Metroid Prime Hunters, so very many online leaderboards, and dozens of other Wii/DS games I played over the years and still play to this day will never be functional online again.
Nintendo Wifi Connection had a lot of issues, but it was a free service used by a lot of amazing games in unique ways. I can go back and play Chrono Trigger to this day and it will function the same as the day it was released. Not Tetris DS, not Wario Ware DIY, not Contact, or Jump Ultimate Stars. These games are classics and these games are important. These games are games that I want to show to my children, but portions of these games have been lost to time. Forever.
I don't know if you ever actually used Nintendo Wifi Connection, or if you just mocked it in comment sections. I don't know if the service was worth hanging on to, or if no one was actually using it. I don't know if this is a result of Nintendo pushing folks to its Wii U and 3DS systems. I don't know you or where you're coming from, but I want you to imagine never being able to play your favorite games in your favorite way ever again.
What I know is that I will miss playing Tatsunoko vs. Capcom online until the end of my days.
What are your favorite Nintendo Wifi Connection memories? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
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Kyle MacGregor Burleson 1