Nintendo's Wii has dominated video-game hardware sales since its debut in November 2006, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In March, U.S. stores sold more Wii consoles than Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s combined.
And now that shortages of Nintendo's machine seem to have abated, there's nothing to stop its momentum.
Or is there? Consider that almost all of the best-selling Wii games, like "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" and "Super Mario Galaxy" have been published by Nintendo. Games from other companies haven't done nearly as well.
Some publishers have grumbled that Nintendo hasn't done enough to support their products. But the real problem is more obvious: Most of the Wii's third-party software doesn't measure up. There are a handful of good non-Nintendo Wii games (like Capcom's remakes of "Okami" and "Resident Evil 4"), but an awful lot of lackluster junk is being shoveled onto the platform. And gamers are the ones getting burned.
"Opoona" (Koei, for the Wii, $49.99): Koei, known mainly for historical epics like "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," deserves some credit for trying something different with "Opoona." It's a lighthearted role-playing game with a distinctively whimsical style, but it's not quite lively enough to hold the attention of the younger players in its presumed target audience.
After his family's spaceship crashes on the planet Landroll, Opoona comes to in a high-tech colony that under siege by "Dark Rogues." You'd think his rescuers would help Opoona find his parents and siblings, but no — they send him alone into the wild to battle the monsters. Fortunately, he has an "energy bonbon" floating above his head, and he can heave it at the bad guys to knock them out of commission. The combat is fairly innovative, requiring only the Wii's nunchuck; you hold back the joystick to determine the bonbon's power and distance.
It's all the stuff between fights that drags down the experience. Landroll's bureaucracy is a little too sprawling, so you spend a lot of time wandering between offices while you're trying to figure out your next mission. And you're encouraged to make friends with every colonist you meet, but they don't help you toward your goal. "Opoona" has some promising ideas, but the game overall feels half-baked. Two stars out of four.
"Baroque" (Atlus, for the Wii, PlayStation 2, $39.99): I had high expectations for Atlus' first Wii role-playing game, thanks to the publisher's reputation for memorably off-kilter adventures like last year's "Persona 3." "Baroque" is enticingly bizarre, but it's so fundamentally flawed that it will tax the patience of even the most avid Atlus fanboy.
It begins in a world that's been devastated by a cataclysmic event called "The Blaze." The neighborhood mutants blame your character for the disaster, although you can't remember anything. The only way to atone for your sins is to descend into a dungeon called the Neuro Tower.
There, you fight hundreds of monsters and occasionally get an ambiguous clue about the apocalypse. Eventually you die, and get another vague hint. Then it's back to the beginning of the tower. The rewards are parceled out so stingily that it's hard to get excited about another round of repetitious combat. I really wanted to know what happened in the world of "Baroque," but not enough to endure the same dungeon over and over. One star.
"WWII Aces" (Destineer, for the Wii, $39.99): Of all the small companies that have tried to make a buck off the Wii, Destineer may be the most consistent, churning out dependably awful games like "Monster Trux Offroad" and "Rig Racer 2." They're the sort of products that gamers instinctively avoid, although well-meaning but clueless gift givers may be more easily suckered.
"WWII Aces" is, obviously, an aerial combat simulation, in which you machine-gun the flying targets and bomb the ground targets. Flying and fighting are a lot harder than they should be, thanks largely to awkward controls. There are dozens of missions, which sounds great until you realize you're doing the same thing over and over.
Different models of planes are pretty much indistinguishable from each other, and the scenery is so bland you might as well be dogfighting over Iowa. "WWII Aces" may not be the worst Wii game on the market, but that's only because Destineer has given it so much competition. No stars.