Image: "The Conduit"
Sega
Sega's shooter "The Conduit" puts players in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., blasting alien invaders. But does the Wii need more shooters?
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 3/11/2009 8:56:21 PM ET 2009-03-12T00:56:21

Nintendo has made gamers out of third graders, PTA moms and senior citizens. But Simon Jeffery, president of Sega, says there’s one big audience the Wii hasn’t captured yet: the traditional, hard-core gamer.

While it’s true that Nintendo has made a mint selling the cutesy console to families, it’s also true that most serious gamers think the Wii is lame.

Sega hopes to change that perspective with three new games: “House of the Dead,” which launched in February, “MadWorld,” which came out on Tuesday, and “The Conduit,” due out this summer.

There is a dearth of decent shoot-em-ups on the Wii. But this is the console that brought you “Super Mario Galaxy.” Inviting gunplay and bloodsport onto the Wii is a bit like bringing Rob Zombie onto “Dancing With the Stars.”

Still,Jeffery believes that the Wii haters are looking for a reason to believe in the Wii. He cites Sega’s research, which shows that a lot of hard-core gamers actually own a Wii alongside their Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. “The core gamers will buy a system when it’s cool, and it’ll go in the closet when it’s not cool.”

Nintendo doesn’t quite see it that way. Denise Kaigler, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, wrote in an e-mail statement that “It’s been clear since the day that Wii launched that so-called ‘core’ players have enjoyed games from ‘Wii Sports’ through ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ to ‘Super Smash Brothers Brawl.’”

“So-called ‘core gamers’” grew up playing Mario games on Nintendo game systems. And they feel betrayed that their beloved company has, in their opinion, thrown them over for the shiny mass market.

How do I know? I sat in the Nintendo briefing at the 2008 E3 game conference, surrounded by hard-core gamers waiting for a new “Zelda” game. (Which Kaigler says is in “in the works.”) These same gamers looked aghast as company execs Cammie Dunaway and Reggie Fils-Aime dorkily demonstrated “Wii Sports Resort.”

It doesn’t help that many of the Wii games that initially tried to capture the core gamers were clearly just rushed-out ports of the same game on other platforms.  Jeffery contends that Sega immediately saw the promise of the Wii — and set out to create games specifically for it.

“We were pretty much the first of the third parties to adopt the Wii at a time when the third-party community in general was … dismissing it as a toy.” Jeffery cites “Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games,” one of the Wii’s best-selling titles, as proof. 

Still, critics on the fan sites — the audience Sega now seeks to win over — awarded “Mario and Sonic” a lackluster 67 average score, calling it mediocre and overly complicated. Will the new games fare any better?

Jeffery describes “House of the Dead: Overkill,” as a total, ground-up remake of the company’s much-beloved arcade game. The game, which launched last month, has a new “grindhouse” look, old-school music and uses the Wii Zapper for better zombie obliteration. Dialogue includes liberal use of the F-bomb.

Reviewers awarded the madcap zombie shooter with solid reviews, dinging it on the difficulty level and the graphic quality. (Hey guys? The Wii is last-gen tech. We know this. Get over it.)

“MadWorld,” which shipped Tuesday, fared even better. Fan site IGN praised the comic-book-style and its over-the-top action. The ultra-violence and spurting red blood earned the wrath of the National Institute on Media and the Family which slammed Nintendo for allowing its release. Nothing gets hard-core gamers to the cash registers like angry watchdog groups.

Unlike “MadWorld” and “House of the Dead,” which both sport mature ratings, Sega’s going for the teen set with “The Conduit,” a first-person shooter that comes out in June. Not as much blood and gore in this one, but still, you get to shoot up giant insect-looking aliens in a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C.

It’s not Sonic the Hedgehog, but Kaigler writes that she’s “excited to see great core content from our third-party publishing partners.”

“Sega’s upcoming releases as well as the recently announced ‘Dead Space Extraction’ from (Electronic Arts) and ‘Cursed Mountain’ from Deep Silver are great examples of Nintendo and publishers creating experiences that will excite the core.”

What do you think? Does the Wii need more games for serious gamers? Or should it stick to its knitting? Drop me a line and let me know what you think. Responses may be published in a subsequent story.

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