If Nintendo brought the same innovation to their software titles as they did to their hardware development, they wouldn’t need to make ten Mario games a year with some Zelda, Kirby, StarFox, and Metroid thrown in for good measure. At this year’s E3, Nintendo announced their next generation console, the “Wii U”. Let’s just get past the awful name. Nintendo says it has to do with personalization (and then they showed nothing at their presentation to reflect that personalization) and I guess that means “iWii” and “uWii” were out.
But the name doesn’t matter. The games matter…insofar as they show off Nintendo’s latest hardware innovation which is a controller that has a giant touchscreen in the middle. Hit the jump for more on the Wii U, Nintendo’s E3 presentation, and my thoughts on both. [Updated: We've now added footage of the presentation, which you can check out after the jump.]
The Wii U controller does a lot. It has an 6.2-inch HD screen and Nintendo bragged that you can continue to play games on it even if someone comes in and changes the channel to watch TV. I imagine that’s wonderful news for parents who want to watch their giant flat screen but little Jimmy or Sally is playing the new Zelda game. Of course, if your kids want to play a game with motion controls, they’re shit out of luck, but they don’t pay the bills so to hell with them.
The controller will also “display information on its screen that does not appear on the TV” and “the information and viewpoint can also change in the new controller based on the orientation of its gyroscope.” For multiplayer games, the personalized screen can display exclusive information and thus change the competitive structure of a game.
All of this sounds like a creative boon to developers, right? Here’s a little truth about 3rd party video game developers: they don’t want to specialize to a single console. There’s a reason a lot of titles go on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and never make it to Wii. Not only does the Wii lack the graphical hardware, but the game has to be designed around motion controls while the PS3 and 360 have essentially the same controller.
It’s worth noting that while Sony and Microsoft were playing up the motion control gaming of their upcoming titles, Nintendo—the pioneer in that field—has apparently done away with them. The touchscreen and camera embedded in the controller are new, but you still have two thumbsticks, a D-pad, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons. My guess is that more 3rd party developers will warm to the Wii U than they did for the Wii, but that the touchscreen will get minimal play outside of Nintendo titles. However, the only 1st party titles announced were a new Super Smash Brothers game and a new Zelda game. The Wii U is still over a year away so there’s plenty of time for Nintendo to actually show these games (and that’s assuming they’re launch titles) and add more to their line-up.
It won’t just be Nintendo games but it won’t be new franchises either. Here’s a list of 3rd party titles announced for the Wii U:
- Darksiders 2
- Batman: Arkham City
- Assassin’s Creed
- Lego City Stories
- Ghost Recon Online
- Aliens: Colonial Marines
- Metro: Last Light
- Ninja Gaiden 3: Razer’s Edge
It’s worth noting that by the time the Wii U comes out, Batman: Arkham City will likely be around a year old. I’m sure they’ll find a way to integrate the controller, but it will still be the game that 360 and PS3 owners are playing this October.
If you bought a Wii and still own it (rather than trading it in), you’ll be happy to know that the Wii U is backwards compatible with all Wii games and accessories. However, there was no mention of what happens to all of the Virtual Console games.
Most perplexing is that despite all of this innovation when it comes to a controller, Nintendo made no mention of how they plan to handle online gaming. I’m no fan of online gaming, but I like having the option and it’s something almost everyone wants. I like that Nintendo promotes physically getting together with your friends to play a game, but they can’t invite 3rd party developers onto their new system and then say “Ditch the multiplayer” or to base that multiplayer on shoddy to non-existence online infrastructure. Nintendo knows how to sell their games online, but they continue to show no interest in actually bringing people together online. It’s a future that Nintendo seems uninterested in and it’s eventually going to cost them.
Furthermore, they’re not keeping up with the gamers of today. Kids love the system, but I don’t look to kids as the arbiters of quality. A gaming console should appeal to everyone and while I don’t have much love for the Kinect, you can see that Microsoft is making a clear effort to appeal to everyone. Kinect is being integrated into major franchises and M-rated titles but there was also a new Sesame Street game and Disneyland Adventures. Nintendo wants to bring in 3rd party developers to achieve the same wide appeal, but those developers may not want to play with Nintendo’s wacky control schemes because they can’t be ported over to the 360 and PS3. It’s a difficult balance between the two but other consoles not only manage that balance, but they also have a steady stream of non-shovelware games year-round. By comparison, Nintendo usually has one marquee title every three to four months.
Which leads me to my biggest problem with Nintendo: that marquee title will be from a franchise that is at least ten years old. The company continues to trade on nostalgia and rather than try something new, it’s always Mario, Mario, Zelda, Mario, Luigi, Mario, Mario, StarFox, Kirby, Mario, Metroid, Mario, Mario, Mario, Mario. And all of those games usually have to adhere to the same structure. A Mario-only game is a platformer, a Zelda game is an action-adventure, Starfox flies around in space, etc. There are some deviations, but rarely anything radical or that would redefine a franchise.
We’re still a long way from Wii U and we’re even further away from seeing how it will perform. It took a year from its launch for gamers to realize that the Wii was a stagnant console that was only giving them a worthwhile game every six months or so. And Nintendo has had great success with the system in terms of sales. They’ll probably have the same success with the Wii U if it hits the right price point. But in terms of games—the lifeblood of any gaming console—I fail to see how the Wii U will significantly change Nintendo’s appeal for anyone other than kids and parents who want to be popular with their kids.