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Wii U, The Future, And Seriously?

21 Jun 2011

I won’t go into Nintendo’s stock dropping soon after E3, nor will I deny the fact that Nintendo is at least trying to be hardcore. It is, however, a bit akin to the moment where you realize your best friend; The one whom has a huge legendary high school reputation for heroism and fearlessness, has slowly matured into a middle-aged coward.

Now, this isn’t to say that Nintendo (or Miyamoto, whom is incredibly difficult to dislike or insult) doesn’t have a vision and genuine desire to create a console that everyone can enjoy. It also doesn’t mean that they are in the correct position to be making the decisions of what the consumer actually wants, especially due to their repeated (and obvious) ignorance towards the western audience. Reggie Fils-Aime does very little to help their case. Who are they using for their demographic studies?

Now, as a Journalist, and as a writer for Gamer Escape it is my job to be unbiased. Unfortunately, all humans have some form of bias. In this case I am not attacking Nintendo so much as poking fun, or perhaps even showing heart-felt disapproval. Or would this be disappointment? No, it’s too soon for that. After all, wasn’t the original Wii going to be hardcore? Remember when we were promised online play and patches over the Virtual Console, much like Xbox Live Arcade? Heck, online play in general became but a myth for the Wii, and even if the Wii-U eliminates friend codes, does Nintendo really understand that you cannot game online without giving up at least a nominal amount of privacy? That’s social networking. Not only online, but also in real life. Meeting a stranger, introducing yourself, giving them your business card – This is all as revealing as linking to your facebook profile. Sure, it may be harder for the person in question to dig up dirt on you, but they could – and will – just as swiftly if they ever had a reason to.

What we do know:

1080p, HDMI capabilities, full backwards compatibility with the Wii (however, not the Gamecube), and 4 USB2.0 slots.

What we don’t know:

Are we only getting wifi, or will we get a built in ethernet port as well? Is Nintendo still going to shy away from online gaming, or are they going to half-ass it much like the Nintendo 3DS and alienate a huge chunk of their market share? Let’s face it, you might love Zelda. However, how many other offline games do you actually play? And just how thick is that layer of dust on your original Wii?

The bad:

Still no hard drive. Only flash memory. This is a huge sign that online gaming is still a no-go. I was hoping for SSD. For me, personally, that makes it a no-buy. It will possibly be the very first Nintendo Console that I do not buy on launch day. Coming from someone whom has owned pretty much every console release since the NES (including the Atari XE, and TurboGrafx-16), this is a stance of defiance. I recently had someone call me weak because of this. “Oh, you won’t buy it because of poor online play? So you’ll give up Zelda, Mario, all those franchises just because the console doesn’t have a tiny feature you won’t even use? That shows you have weak character.”

Well, yes, absolutely. If weak character is standing behind your convictions. I nearly exclusively play online games these days, and after playing bombs like Twilight Princess, and Super Mario Galaxy, I can comfortably say that Nintendo’s in-house IP’s are not good enough to earn my money anymore. I want a full console experience, and the Wii-U is still going to miss target, and often, if what we saw at E3 is really a translucent idea of the final product. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for surprise announcements and features/functionality.

Next topic… why is it attracting the hardcore titles?

Well, because the fans have been clamoring for it. The press has chastised them over it. Unfortunately, it feels like Nintendo has misinterpreted our pleas. It also feels temporary.

For starters, it’s jumping the gun. Any developer is going to race onto a console with the power the Wii-U is boasting years before it’s competition. If the Wii-U really does meet it’s 2012 deadline, that gives it until at least 2014 to woo and aah the general public with it’s graphical prowess before being overshadowed. As a long lasting device, however, it will wear thin. There are many reasons why, so let’s begin:

The Fantastic Voyage of Wii-U

Either stick to your roots, or join the crowd. The Wii-U is floating somewhere in the embarrassing middle, at least with what we know of it’s technical specifications. It can’t make up it’s mind. According to E3 attendees the device does not have an ethernet port. I don’t care what kind of internet connection you have, but gaming over wifi – Even dual band wireless-N – Well, it doesn’t work very well, to say the least. Latency tends to be the largest catalyst, not actual transfer speeds. Sure, it works, it’s do-able, but it’s certainly not optimal.

What we can rule out:

Competent (competitive) online gaming.

DLC like we have seen on last gen consoles (namely the 360 and PS3).

A “true” family device.

Now, on the plus side, Nintendo may have some tricks hidden up their sleeves that we do not know about yet. Early development prototypes rarely reflect the final product. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and it seems that many developers are bypassing Nintendo’s social networking phobia in favor of developing their own community services for their Wii-U titles. That’s not even a bad idea, if Nintendo is behind it, and especially if they find a way to network it all together. The issue is, how are we going to play these hardcore games?

The Wii Remote Pluses just are not cutting it. Neither are the classic controllers, normal or pro. We now lost our Gamecube controller, unless they plan to implement another “classic” controller meant for these style games. (And, by classic, I more so mean something up to speed with the 360/PS3. Perhaps even an official Gamecube-to-USB adapter.)

The Wii-U Remote, unfortunately, is not a suitable device for playing hardcore games. Much like the DS, it is still a casual interface. So even with these hardcore titles (and I’ll admit, there’s an impressive amount being developed) on the conveyor belt, are they all being designed with the Wii-U Remote’s gimmicks in mind? Doesn’t that make them watered down versions of the games we will ultimately receive on future (or even current) competing consoles? Because, in my experience, the Wiimotes and Classic Controllers just aren’t that good. The Wii-U remote… Well, it isn’t suitable. It’s more like an accessory, not the controller. By the time we’re done with the Wii-U gamers are going to need to rent out a storage unit just to store all the peripherals required to play games on the console. Shouldn’t we be simplifying, Nintendo? Motion based gaming is a waning interest among ‘hardcore’ gamers (sorry Microsoft & Razer!) and even if we have the choice to play the way we want to play, well, maybe there’s simply too many choices. Even worse, what if none of those choices are the correct one? What if my choice is that I never want to use a Wiimote ever again?

Perhaps it is just my opinion that Nintendo can no longer survive off of first party IP’s. I don’t feel they have released a truly special, or outstanding game in at least a decade. They have even been outsourcing their best franchises (Metroid, for example) or just plain flunking on execution. (Star Fox Assault comes to mind. Oh wait. Wasn’t this outsourced too!?)

But… Maybe the Wii-U wasn’t made for us after all. It was made for the family.

I can accept and live with that evolution of Nintendo, but once again, they prove this to be false. Most glaringly, the poor thing cannot even playback DVD movies, something even the Wii was fully capable of (after flashing the firmware, alas.) Likewise, why the lack of Blu-ray, or any other consumer-desired media support that would actually keep the Wii-U the centerpiece of the home theater environment? Instead we have a console that is trying too hard to blend the lines between portable and console without any of the convenience of a home media center or fun of a retro device.

Yes – Just the fact that it doesn’t support popular media formats limits it’s usability. This is not comparable to the “Cartridge Vs. CD/DVD” arguments we had back in the 90’s. This is more a case of a console becoming inconvenient, and even clutter.

That’s the problem in a nutshell. Usability. The Wii, and the Wii-U both lack simple things that make modern consoles convenient: Social networking, online play, downloadable content and movies (where would you save them on the Wii-U?), DVD and Blu-ray playback, rechargeable batteries, and proper input hardware for “hardcore games”. Instead we are being offered a giant iPad controller, the option to use flawed Wiimotes (again), possible absence of ethernet, a trivial amount of flash memory, and most likely tedious friend codes over sub-par netcode. Again. Part 2.Yet, all this, and we can’t even watch a standard DVD movie to make up for it… Is this device truly for anyone? It feels more like a conceptual tech demo. My PS2 was a DVD player!

To be fair, licensing Blu-ray may be expensive, and Sony may not even want competing consoles to have it. This I empathize with, but considering that even DVD support is absent here, I do not believe it to be (entirely) the case. Nintendo thinks pulling these features is “simplifying”. Meanwhile, they’re making a gaming console that is more cluttered than ever. You can’t even say that the price of the drives aren’t coming down, especially when you consider the bulk quantity they would purchase at.

It’s frustrating to see Nintendo go in this direction, and I realize it doesn’t matter. Whatever they produce will ultimately become solid gold because people want to play the intellectual properties that they grew up with, even if they have become watered down husks of their former vibrant selves. Perhaps most gamers reading this, or really making their voices heard online, are simply too young to understand what it was like before Halo existed. Maybe I’m just a crotchety old gamer that can’t appreciate strolling around aimlessly just because the environment is pretty and amplifies my prozac dosage. I don’t know. Maybe you do know. Maybe what I thought of as “challenge and skill” has been replaced with “wonder and cinematics“.

Maybe that’s what gamers prefer.

My heart is telling me it isn’t so.

Unfortunately, unless Nintendo reveals some huge surprises prior to the Wii-U launch, I can see them coming down with a horrible case of the Dreamcast syndrome. They’ll have a great first year or two, sure, but once Microsoft or Sony release their next killer rig, the Wii-U will be in a very dire situation. Of course, at this point, I have to question if Sony will even be up to releasing another ‘traditional’ style console… Now, now, settle down. That’s a discussion for another post.

In conclusion, I hope I eat my own words. I love Nintendo. They cannot, however, strike lightning twice. The Wii-U (or should I say, the Wii 2.0) offers very little to current Wii owners looking to upgrade. Sure, the idea of having a “giant DS” in the form of a traditional (and powerful) console does have it’s appeal, but even the DS (and consequently, the 3DS) are starting to slowly plateau on creativity. The hardware alone should not be the motivator for fun, innovative software. If anything this is distracting developers. I’m calling for Nintendo to do what they were formerly famous for: Creating a blank slate, giving it to developers, and saying “knock yourselves out!” While, meanwhile, creating their own games – their own software – that really set the bar for what these other developers could (and should) be doing. I can’t even remember the last time Nintendo did this. Super Mario Galaxy certainly did not.


P.S. Nintendo, your console needs multimedia playback and solid online play/social networking. Have I rubbed this in enough yet? Also stop screwing up your own franchises!