As many of you may know, this month marked 10 years since the launch of Nintendo’s revolutionary Wii console. Regardless of how old it made many of us feel, it was great to see the discussion sparked from this anniversary about the system’s diverse library of quality titles, including some of its greatest undiscovered games. The discussion quickly turned to WiiWare, the Wii’s original downloadable selection of titles introduced in 2008, two years after the console’s launch. It too played host to a wide selection of impressive games, many of which were even more criminally overlooked than their retail counterparts, that to this day have not received the recognition they deserve.
One noteworthy title that came up on several occasions was Grill-Off with Ultra Hand!, a unique cooking game released exclusively to members of the late Club Nintendo in Japan and North America. Themed around the Ultra Hand, a toy created by Nintendo in the late 60s, the game saw players use the titular grabbing mechanism to manage a seemingly endless supply of grilled meat at a virtual barbecue. The gameplay itself was simple, as expected of a free game, in fact comparable to a meatier version of the Game & Watch game Chef – pun possibly intended.
Whilst Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! can hardly be considered the gold standard for WiiWare games, it’s easy to appreciate it simply for the fact that it exists – a bizarre and unpredictable title that simultaneously parodies suburban Americana whilst paying homage to Nintendo’s pre-gaming past, as well as one that has sadly become unavailable to today’s players, at least through legitimate means. The promotional video linked above is similarly eccentric, capturing the game’s quirky spirit in a manner that, to some extent, could be considered unnecessary – much like Grill-Off itself, it’s almost impressive that this advert was ever made.
Perhaps there is something that can be learned from Grill-Off. It stands testament of a particularly experimental phase in Nintendo’s recent history, one where the risk of a free game with an offbeat theme was one that could more easily be taken. Of course, there have been some recent examples of this approach from the company, especially on the 3DS – Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball and Steel Diver: Sub Wars come to mind, two titles similarly overlooked that explored themes straying far from Nintendo’s more high-profile offerings, whilst not lacking in their trademark charm and presentational excellence. Considering the often unconventional subject matters of these smaller games, it hardly emerges as a surprise when they become the most overlooked parts of Nintendo’s colossal software library. However, those who do appreciate the nature of these titles should be sure to champion them, if only to encourage the development of more games that show just how far the creative boundaries can be pushed.
Grill-Off also raises the issue of game preservation, a prime example of a title by a high-profile developer no longer available officially that, if not for a dedicated fan community, could easily have become lost to time. The recent collaborative effort to preserve four Kirby games released exclusively on the Super Famicom’s Satellaview add-on was one of few to receive widespread coverage in the wider gaming media and some comparisons can be drawn between the position of those games and a title like Grill-Off – both are the creations of high-profile studios, yet the general audience was likely completely unaware of their existence.
It’s relieving to know that the idea of Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! being beyond preservation remains a mere ‘what if?’ scenario, and the theoretical future generations who want to sample its peculiar blend of outdoor cooking and Nintendo’s past will luckily be able to do so. However, it does draw attention to the fact that there is still work to be done to secure the futures of many titles, regardless of their quality. Like any form of artistic media – including games about grilling meat with a Japanese toy from the 60s – video games and the charting of their progression through history should be treasured and protected.
Interested in learning about Satellaview and other game preservation? Visit these sites:
Game Preservation Society (Japanese) | The Video Game Preservation Dump
Elude Visibility | Satellaview.org | BS-X Project