NEW YORK — Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America president, is a man on a mission. His mission is to sell the red-hot Nintendo Wii and make sure people who have them love them.
“Are we feeling good about our success? Do we think we can have more success in the future? Absolutely,” he said during a stuffed 40-minute interview with MTV News in a hotel just south of Central Park. “I do think that highlights a difference between us and our competitors: We’re not arrogant. We don’t view success as a right. We feel we need to earn success every day. And we’re going to do that by being true to the gamer.”
In the same hotel 51 weeks ago, Fils-Aime gave MTV News an early handle on the Nintendo Wii controller (see “First Look: Nintendo Revolution Controller Feels Smooth As Puppet Strings” ). Now he’s ready to talk about any Wii topic under the sun — to a point.
“We’re looking at this as about eight days into the mission,” he said, opening with a report of the company’s recent success. Nintendo has sold 600,000 Wiis in North America and nearly half as many extra Wii controllers, Fils-Aime said (see “Wii Unmasked: Nintendo Reveals Price, Launch Date, Lineup Of Games” ). The company has also sold more than 450,000 copies of “The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess.” He said “Red Steel,” “Rayman Raving Rabbids” and “Madden” all have sold well, as has the surgery game “Trauma Center: Second Opinion.”
He offered a preview of the Wii’s winter lineup. In addition to support from third-party game developers, Nintendo will publish three more titles for the Wii by the end of March: “WarioWare: Smooth Moves,” “Wii Play” and “Mario Party 8.” The first two will be released in January, the latter in March. All are compilations of shorter games.
“WarioWare” is a continuation of a popular series that barrages players with seconds-long games. “Wii Play” contains nine brief games, including an homage to “Duck Hunt,” and will come packed with an extra Wii controller (but not a nunchuck). Nintendo has shown contraptions that turn a Wii controller into a “Duck Hunt”-style gun or, in the company’s terms, a “zapper.” “Wii Play” would seem to fit the bill, but Fils-Aime said, “We want the right title” to introduce it with.
Word broke of that early-2007 Nintendo trio earlier this month. Some fans complained that there weren’t any meaty adventures on the list and predicted a winter gaming famine similar to the one that followed the launch of Nintendo’s last two consoles. “I disagree with the comparison,” he said. “I wasn’t here for the GameCube launch, but there was a time period when there were no titles. There wasn’t even titles you could or could not sink your teeth into. ‘Wii Play’ and ‘WarioWare’ are going to be hugely fun titles.”
And for people who want more of an adventure to sink their teeth into once March passes? “Of the next batch of Nintendo releases, ‘Metroid’ is going to be next on that list,” he said. And “Super Mario Galaxy”? Fils-Aime said to expect it any time between the end of March and next Christmas.
He fielded every question, even if he couldn’t always give a rosy answer. People want Wii controllers bundled with nunchucks? If people start buying them in a one-to-one ratio, Nintendo would consider offering a bundle. Is there a DVD-playing Wii coming to the U.S. any time soon? “The answer is no.” Will third parties start using the Miis — Wii player avatars — in their games? Fils-Aime said developers outside Nintendo now have the ability to drop them into their games as well, but,”Is there anything I’ve seen? No.” Does he think the Reggie Mii his colleagues at Nintendo made looks like him? “The one they made had more of a scowl than the one I made.”
Fils-Aime hyped an upcoming baseball game from 2K Sports as a perfect title for the Wii controller and said that “Godfather” Wii from EA is “very interesting.” And he leapt to the defense of the weakly reviewed but strong-selling Ubisoft Wii game “Red Steel.” “I think a lot of the reviews have been overly critical. Does it take you a few minutes to get used to the control scheme? Yes. Once you get used to it does it play extremely well? Absolutely. I think a lot of those reviews are overly harsh. Just like the, what was it, the IGN review of ‘Wii Sports.’ They’re negative on the graphics of the game, but we always said what the graphics would be. I think that’s people just being hypercritical.”
Some gamers are panting for the Wii to offer online play. Where’s that? “The first online game will be ‘Pokémon Battle Revolution’ in Japan, so that is certainly a candidate in the U.S.” He said there are other unannounced online titles in development. “For the consumer who is saying, ‘Gosh, when is Nintendo going to get on board with online play?’ The answer is very early in 2007.”
Nintendo had promised something called Virtual Console Mondays for the Wii, a weekly release of vintage games downloadable onto the Wii. This past Monday only saw one new title added to Virtual Console. “On every Monday, you can expect between one and five titles … essentially on an ongoing basis.” Fils-Aime said the company is still planning to release about 30 titles by the end of the calendar year. That’s about 20 fewer than Nintendo is releasing in Japan, which Fils-Aime said is because some games “may make perfect sense in Japan but we don’t think in our marketplace have a lot of potential.”
[UPDATE: Readers have noted that some games slated for the Wii Virtual Console in Japan and not for the U.S. by year's end include surefire American favorites like "Super Mario World." On Tuesday, Fils-Aime addressed that point: "I do think here in the Americas we want to be a bit more strategic in how we use the titles ... If there's a month where we don't have a fantastic lineup of Nintendo-packaged software, that's where I want to release a great SNES game or a great N64 game to maintain the momentum."]
So how about some American favorites like “Tecmo Super Bowl” on the Wii’s virtual console? Fils-Aime said licensing rights for old sports games can be tricky. “We’re focused on the big titles that the pain is worth the gain.” Naturally, then, the mammoth Nintendo 64 hit “GoldenEye” would be worth it even though the game’s developer is now owned by Microsoft and the James Bond license was recently snatched up by Activision? “Would I love to see it on virtual console? Absolutely. But there are a lot of issues there.” He made it sound like there’s a chance. “Suffice it to say we would love to see it, so we’re exploring all the rights issues.”
Fils-Aime confirmed that Wiis connected to the Internet will automatically download surprise bonus material from Nintendo, but he wouldn’t detail what kind of unexpected messages or channels might pop up. “I’d hate to ruin the surprise. Is there activity that we’re working on for before the holidays? The answer is yes.”
For Fils-Aime, some of the projects he’d love to see happen in the U.S. can only be executed by his bosses in Japan. As a result, part of his job is to lobby for what he thinks American gamers want. “The piece that I am more and more involved in is really looking longer-term and making sure the full range of games are being brought to the Americas. Making sure we have core gamer games like ‘Metroid,’ like ‘Galaxy.’ Making sure we have our types of market-extension games not only for Wii but for DS. Where’s our analogous cooking game? Where’s our analogous ‘Brain Age 2′ for DS?”
Fils-Aime said he’ll be doing some lobbying in Japan come January. Around that time, he also expected a “plethora” of Wii announcements. But 40 minutes into his interview, he was clearly done revealing company details.
So to shift gears, we asked a question not for Reggie the American face of Nintendo, but for Reggie the man: Have you been injured playing the Wii, as the occasional reporters and bloggers have been? “I have not suffered any Wii-related injuries,” he said. He offered three tips for safety: “One, when your hand gets sweaty, wipe it off. Second, you have to make sure you’re using the wrist strap appropriately. And third, don’t let go of the Wii remote when you’re pitching in the baseball game or bowling.”
Now be safe. And be ready. More Wii developments are on the way.