Monday, November 19, 2012

FRAMES PER SECOND: Some thoughts on the launch of Wii U

You may or may not be aware due to the fact that Nintendo's advertising campaign has been less than stellar, but the Wii U arrived in stores in North America on Sunday. The reason I open this feature with something critical about their advertising campaign is because I don't believe that consumer awareness that a new Nintendo console is coming out to be all that high. In many ways it seems that the recent launch of Call Of Duty: Black Ops II was a much bigger deal than the launch of the Wii U. You may reject that notion until you factor in that Black Ops II generated over half a billion in revenue and sold nearly 8 million copies in it's first 24 hours on sale. Think about how many advertisements you've seen for that game on TV or otherwise compared to Wii U before you send me any hate mail you've been saving for Michael Pachter. I'm sure whatever numbers Nintendo throws out there will be astronomical and I'll be firmly proven wrong, but for now I'm going with Black Ops II feeling like a bigger deal.

The Wii U is the first entry in the 8th Generation of Consoles, which means that if you use an Xbox 360 or PS3 on the regular you are now playing what is considered to be a "last generation console". Don't get too caught up in semantics however because for all intents and purposes the hardware that powers the Wii U is hardly a generational gap from 7th generation technology. It simultaneously feels like a huge step forward for Nintendo because of the under-powered hardware of the original Wii but it's also likely that the next round of consoles (of which I firmly believe we'll see at least 1 launch in 2013) will be far superior to what the Wii U is providing from a technical standpoint. At the very least Nintendo should be praised for finally going with hardware capable of rendering in HD, which is something the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 did at launch but I digress. They also deserve some credit for abandoning the much maligned friend codes "feature" of the Wii for a much welcome gamertags/friend request system similar to their competitors .

I'm sad to report that's about as much praise as I'm going to give Nintendo on the Wii U, but before we get to that let me give you a little context.

The success of the original Wii was not something that most people foresaw back when it launched in 2006, Nintendo was following up 2 consecutive generations of under-performing and in my opinion under-appreciated consoles and it really was a make or break time for them as a company. If the Wii didn't sell well the company might not be around today for the Wii U launch, and it certainly wouldn't warrant the console getting a "sequel" so to speak.

The Wii launch did however wind up being a huge success and Nintendo should be commended for taking a huge risk on it's design. Their focus of appealing to non-gamers and the extremely casual with a console designed specifically with simplicity of control and an emphasis on "fun" over technical prowess was a huge gamble. It was easy to say that Nintendo's risk could result in another bombed console like 1995's retina burning but ambitious Virtual Boy, a console so bad that it had to be replaced just 1 year later with the Nintendo 64. I'll fully admit to being just as skeptical of the Wii's launch back in 2006 and downright shocked at the amount of success they achieved. While I love Nintendo at the same time I was never really happy with Nintendo abandoning any focus on me as a hardcore gamer. It still disappoints me on some level that they couldn't lure me to buy a Wii, as it's the first Nintendo console I haven't owned since the NES (excluding the aforementioned Virtual Boy, which shouldn't really count). I never really felt like I was missing anything with the possible exception of what I'm sure are great Mario and Zelda games. In many ways the Wii felt like a betrayal to me as a reasonably hardcore Nintendo fan.

The big problem with the Wii for Nintendo is that casual gamers do not buy software to the same extent that hardcore gamers do, and it never really resonated with serious gamers who tend to prefer bigger, more fully featured, and complex games than the Wii was ever capable of. What resulted was a console that a lot of people bought in the first 3 or 4 years and a lot of people that never had a lot of interest in purchasing content beyond Wii Sports. A lot of Wii consoles eventually just wound up collecting dust in closets around the globe when these people got bored of them.

Nintendo undoubtedly came to the same conclusion because the Wii U attempts to alleviate that problem by allowing complexity in game design along with the types of simple games (Wiimotes are fully supported provided you have the motion plus add-on) that allowed Nintendo early hardware success with the Wii. Nintendo executive Reggie Fils-Aime described the console as something that should appeal to people between the ages of 5 and 95, but I'm not so sure it appeals to anybody.

The big bullet point feature that Nintendo is touting for this new console is the 6.2 inch embedded touchscreen in the Wii U gamepad. This controller allows for DS style multiple input, multiple screen gaming brought to home consoles right out of the box for the first time ever. We've seen handhelds connect to consoles before but never before has it been integrated directly into the design of the console. It's a good idea, but It's also the most complicated controller ever devised for human hands. The Wii's success to casual and non-gamers was the fact that the Wiimote was so non-threatening. It looks like an adorable remote control and people of all ages have used one of those at some point in their lives. This idea that you can stick a gyroscope and a touch screen into a controller with as many buttons and sticks as an intimidating Xbox 360 controller and still appeal to casual gamers is an absolutely insane notion... and it's one that I feel will ultimately fuel the failure of the Wii U as a console that appeals to everyone. At the same time I think when we see what the new consoles are capable of (presumably at E3 2013) I think that any hardcore gamers who were thinking of purchasing a Wii U will lose interest.

It bears mentioning that I have not played a Wii U and have no intention of doing so. It's totally possible that any opinions I have are completely wrong and that they would be completely alleviated if I just spent $400 on a Wii U. I have some other issues that I've heard through the grapevine but I'll see what Nintendo's response to said issues is before raking them across the coals is first. To be clear it's a lot of things (design oversights, content transfers, no install feature, dumb restrictions, etc). While I don't believe the Wii U is going to be a smashing success I truly would like it to be on some level because I have a deep attachment to them as the console creator that first got me hooked into video games. I'd also like to please ask that if you're really excited about the Wii U to please ignore everything I just said. I am not the authority on what you're going to enjoy as a gamer and there's a good chance that the Wii U is going to be everything you want it to be.

Look for future thoughts on the Wii U and other gaming related topics on future installments of this feature. The plan right now is to post something video game related for you fine folks every week until I get bored of it or get so angry over rage quitting a multiplayer match that I have a brain aneurysm and die. I'm not going to be writing about music for the site as much as I've figured out over a year in that I'd much rather do this.

With that I've rambled on for way too long. I thank you for reading and hope to see you next week. Follow me on twitter if that's something you might be interested in.

1 comment:

  1. It's weird. I agree with the Nintendo hate, but the only games I've played in 2012 are Zelda and Pokemon games. Maybe it is because my gamerness is starting to wear off now that I'm busier and have to be pickier with my art and entertainment. 2011 at least had Skyrim, Batman, and L.A. Noir for me.

    Bioshock Infinite will be my big 2013 release, though.