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Farewell, Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection

In a few hours, Nintendo DS and Wii games go offline forever. But should we eulogize the service? Or do we spit on its grave?

Article by Jeremy Parish, .

Sometime in the next 24 hours, Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service will go dark forever, a casualty of GameSpy's looming death. With it, hundreds of online-capable Wii and DS games will go offline as well.

Who cares, you may ask? After all, Wii and DS are so last-gen, right? But remember that more than 100 million of each system exist in the wild, making them two of the three most prevalent game consoles of the past decade. For many younger gamers, Wii and DS remain their go-to systems for gaming... unless, of course, they've already abandoned consoles to focus exclusively on Angry Birds or Minecraft. Which is kind of Nintendo's big problem, these days.

The big-picture view is what makes this turn of events especially disappointing. Video games don't cease to be worth playing just because they're a few years old any more than movies cease to tell good stories after they hit a certain age. The difference between movies and games, of course, is that you don't need to go online in order to enjoy a DVD of The Wizard of Oz; the movie is the same in 2014 as it was in 1939. But good luck playing Mario Kart DS the way it was intended on its 10th anniversary this October; once the Wi-Fi Connection service goes dark, you'll never be able to enjoy racing a friend online again on your DS. Considering that was basically MKDS's main selling point — finally, Nintendo acknowledged the existence of the Internet! — there's something terribly pitiful about seeing such a key component of the game gutted with no recourse.

Some might argue the loss of Mario Kart Wii is no bad thing, but that wouldn't be very nice at all.

Most online-enabled Wii and DS games won't be rendered completely unplayable. The majority of WFC games simply used the service to distribute or unlock bonus content, and enterprising hackers have already figured out how to compensate for that loss. But for other games, such as Monster Hunter Tri and Mario Kart Wii, online play formed the backbone of the experience. No doubt Capcom and Nintendo will be very happy to let you know about the Wii U sequels to those games, but that sort of short-sighted mercenary approach doesn't do any favors for the idea of perserving of games as a medium.

For all the failings of Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection system — not least of which its short-lived existence — it actually did enrich the games that incorporated it. The quirky nature of the service lent itself to unusual game experiences, wholly unique to Nintendo's platforms.

I have fond memories of the odd situations that WFC occasionally put me in. When WFC made its debut at McDonald's kiosks around the time that Mario Kart DS launched, I spent an hour perched on a sidewalk outside a McDonald's in downtown San Francisco trying to race people online as inconspicuously as possible amidst rush hour foot traffic in order to write a news story on how easy it was to skim off the free wi-fi service without actually having to eat McDonald's food. A few years later, while covering Tokyo Game Show at the peak of my Dragon Quest IX fever, I made a trip to the McDonald's in Shibuya every morning to update my DQVC sales list (and mutter with disappointment that the Japan-exclusive Ronald McDonald wig item wouldn't show up on my American cartridge).

So many empty calories for the sake of a perk I couldn't even enjoy.

I also have memories that don't involve standing around like an idiot playing video games outside of fast food restaurants, like rushing home from work every day for a month in 2008 to try and perform rescue missions in Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. But those don't stand out in my memory nearly as much as the more ridiculous feats that WFC drove me to suffer through.

Then again, maybe I'm just a snowflake, unique and beautiful in my own way. I took a poll of my fellow USgamer contributors to round up thoughts and memories of their WFC experiences. Of the few people who had ever actually connected to WFC at all, only Kat had anything to say besides, "What a load of stupid crap."

And really, WFC was crap. Why did it take so long for Nintendo to get into the online race? Sega's Dreamcast launched in 1999 with a modem built right in, and both Sony and Microsoft were well ahead of Nintendo by the time they made their halting baby steps with Mario Kart DS and Animal Crossing: Wild World. And even then, Nintendo relied on an external party to provide the backbone of WFC, which is precisely why it's vanishing from the face of the earth this week. Sadly, the company's online strategy remains inanely backward all these years later — hence the incipient arrival of Mario Kart 8 later this month, a 2014 game that lacks voice functionality for online play. Amidst all of Nintendo's other current troubles, the sad disappearance of online support for hundreds of games (with which their current consoles remain backward compatible) couldn't have come at a worse time. Not only does it neuter a massive collection of games, it creates the unfortunate impression that the company just doesn't get it... and never has.

We can take comfort in knowing that enterprising fans will continue coming up with workarounds. But what are your thoughts on the WFC situation? Is it a true tragedy? The death of a dream? Or good riddance to bad rubbish? Did WFC bring anything good to your life, or was it all simply a tragic waste? Either way, all I know is that I need to go download a whole bunch of Professor Layton puzzles, pronto.

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for SinewySimian #1 SinewySimian 3 years ago
    Jeremy, I stand proudly with you as another player who loved the online features of Shiren the Wanderer. I haven't booted that game up in a couple years now, but I'm still disappointed that I won't be able to play hero or call for help anymore. I always loved how you could send a message of thanks to someone who'd saved your hide, and even attach an item as a gift.
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  • Avatar for TernBird #2 TernBird 3 years ago
    I'm mostly disappointed because I loaned my copy of Dragon Quest IX to a friend years ago. Even if I got it back today, I'd never be able to download the endgame content ever again.
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  • Avatar for Damman #3 Damman 3 years ago
    This is a reminder of my botched decision to buy a DSi over a DS Lite some years ago. The promise of DSiWare certainly never paid off, and it sure would be nice to own a system that could play GBA games (I traded in my original GBA for it). I honestly never made much use of the WiFi, save for a couple trades in Pokemon Soul Silver and some Professor Layton DLC puzzles.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #4 benjaminlu86 3 years ago
    I downloaded the last weekly Layton puzzles earlier this month, as well as sent enough mail in FFIII DS to unlock the secret dungeon. With that, WFC can now safely go suck a bag of ducks.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #5 touchofkiel 3 years ago
    "What a load of stupid crap." That's pretty much my feeling too, to be honest - I never did pay attention to WFC. I played a lot of MKDS online back in the day, but I like Sonic All Stars for my kart fix now.

    Though well-written, I think the article is a little misguided simply because, just as online gaming is nothing new, neither is the removal of said services. Though it tends to happen game-by-game, and not service-wide, you'd be hard pressed to play older (console) games online now.
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  • Avatar for Sturat #6 Sturat 3 years ago
    I'm annoyed that Picross 3D didn't have enough save space to hold all of the downloadable puzzles at once. It's such a great game, and barring some scheme involving owning multiple cartridges to hold all of the downloads, a big chunk of the game is going to go away forever.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #7 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    I loved DQ IX bonus content.

    " Sadly, the company's online strategy remains inanely backward all these years later — hence the incipient arrival of Mario Kart 8 later this month, a 2014 game that lacks voice functionality for online play"

    I take somewhat of an issue with this statement. Nintendo's online infrastructure and store remain pretty good and really no better or worse than any other offering.

    Also Mario Kart 8 does have voice functionality, but only amongst friends in the lobby. I know personally I would not want to hear screaming during a race. Other features like youtube integration, full video editing, are actually quite forward thinking.Edited 2 times. Last edited May 2014 by Stealth20k
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 3 years ago
    Can’t say I’m going to mourn it because it was never functional for me. Can’t spit in its grave because I know a few people did take advantage of it and its death being a casualty of GameSpy rather than the natural cycle of this kind of services that just go away after the console/platform reach the end of their lives.

    Honestly, the way Nintendo managed it was always very clunky. Their current service for the Wii U seems to be steps above, but it’s still limited compared to Xbox Live and PSN. I don’t know if it is truly that the company doesn’t get it. At times it seems like that, other times it seems that they don’t want to deal with it for whatever reason (not wanting to allocate the necessary resources to implement an up to date online platform, being overzealous about protecting their family friendly image and taking a paternalistic approach to online, whatever).

    In any case, they really need to step up their game if they want to keep competing on the console space.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 3 years ago
    @SinewySimian Actually, Shiren the Wanderer threw out its Wi-Fi functionality years ago, I think sometime in 2009 or 2010.

    It's worth noting that password rescues still work, though.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #10 MetManMas 3 years ago
    I certainly don't blame anyone for disliking Nintendo's Wi-Fi connection service, especially with how the DS handled it. Friend codes were a pretty big barrier for online play in many games, as was the requirement of a WEP connection for anything that wasn't on DSi or didn't have DSi exclusive features.

    Still, it's a shame to see it go. WarioWare D.I.Y. could really use a 3DS sequel now even more than ever.
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  • Avatar for Mad-Mage #11 Mad-Mage 3 years ago
    I don't know whether to feel lament over the several Wii and DS games I liked that are now neutered, or to feel anger over having to buy Tetris YET AGAIN for no good reason, should I wish to play it online.
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  • Avatar for catstronaut #12 catstronaut 3 years ago
    I think it's a bit of a reach to say that dropping DS/Wii wifi support means that Nintendo "doesn't get it and never has." Microsoft shut down their Xbox Live servers on the original Xbox, and nobody would say that Microsoft just doesn't get it. There's a time for everything, and both platforms have their successors to focus on.

    Also, as much as I love Mario Kart DS, its online was absolutely horrid. Mario Kart Wii improved the series online to a *massive* degree, and if Mario Kart 8 manages to improve on that and MK7, it'll be a really great online game.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #13 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    While I haven't used the device for a could years now, its still a bit sad to see it go. I too used it quite a bit in DQIX, but got more mileage out of it on the Wii. My wife and I loved playing Animal Crossing with another couple we used to game with, but had moved away. It wasn't a perfect set-up (imagine using a speakerphone to call someone on a speakerphone). But, unlike any other online service at the time, the four of us could sit on our respective couches and all chat like it was the old days, without needing headphones or Gold accounts all around.
    Who knows, maybe we'll get a surprise announcement at E3 that Nintendo will re-launch the service for those using the current consoles.
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  • Avatar for mganai #14 mganai 3 years ago
    Maybe they'll distribute the server data to anyone who wishes to host it?

    Yeah, I'm dreaming.
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  • Avatar for alexb #15 alexb 3 years ago
    It won't ever change because it's in their business interests to hobble and ruin their old games so we have to get the new iterations.
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  • Avatar for unoclay #16 unoclay 3 years ago
    One factor that nobody takes into account is the environmental impact it requires to keep servers up and running forever.

    With climate change as a major problem that concerns us all, I can't really complain that I can't log in and play DS Mariokart once a year when it's 3 AM, I'm drunk, and I randomly think "hey that game used to be great..."

    As much as I dislike the loss of any aspect of classic gaming functionality, I guess there are good reasons (other than cash or maintenence) we should bid farewell to endless-online for games.
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  • Avatar for alexb #17 alexb 3 years ago
    @unoclay Nobody says they have to maintain the same capacity. But server virtualization means one server or set of servers can run services for many different games. They simply don't care to retain the functionality for specific business reasons.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #18 Critical_Hit 3 years ago
    I remembered the one time I tried to play Mario Kart DS online. There was a winner in 5 seconds, and another racer was snaking/warping around the track. Which was likely a combination of horrible connection and straight up cheating ;)

    NINTENDO WIFI CONNECTION RULED! lol.

    Okay, to be fair, it worked sometimes. Sonic All Stars Racing 1 and The Conduit worked great.

    Overall though, I won't miss it at all. There's no way it's worth it, keeping it up. Nintendo never built a game, or bothered to create an "ecosystem" for other publishers to invest in games, that used online in a meaningful way. I love Dragon Quest IX. Have no idea what the NFC features were. And I'm certain it's no excuse for a proper online implementation of said features.

    Come to think of it, I am 100% sure that the Gamecube's online implementation impacted more gamers more deeply than the NFC ever did; at least that had Phantasy Star (and stuff like Mario Kart Double Dash through tunneling software). I have amazing memories of PSO. Those memories > everything I ever played on the NFC, Wii + DS, combined.
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  • Avatar for kingiron37 #19 kingiron37 9 months ago
    Hey guys come playing Pokemon battle revolution with wiimmfi after WFC shut down. There are just a few of us but it's too much fun ;)
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