The Worrying Wii U
My worries are not so much about the Wii U as they are brought about by the Wii U.
You may have heard that the Wii U launched last week. I have to admit to being a bit baffled by the thing. I want to believe that the Wii U is yet another notch in Nintendo’s creative belt and not what I fear: a lazy, opportunistic cash grab. As it stands the Wii U has me puzzled.
I see its appeal; a new Nintendo console means a slew of new first-party Nintendo games: The Legend of Zelda, Mario Galaxy (U-niverse, maybe?), Metroid, etc… will surely be released over the next few years to stellar reviews. (And just might even be enough to convince me to buy the damn thing.) Let’s flashback to 2006: the Wii launched and everyone and their mother could see its appeal. In fact, it’s precisely because everyone’s mother — and father, and uncle, and grandma, and little brother — saw its appeal that it became such a mind-boggling success.
Read on after the break.
Nearly everyone I know purchased a Wii at one point or another (myself included), and why not? Its overall quality not living up the hype of its sales has been well documented by this point, but let’s face facts: the motion controls were new and exciting, it was affordable even at launch, and a handful of its games — the Mario Galaxies, Twilight Princess/Skyward Sword, Xenoblade Chronicles, Brawl, the No More Heroes’ — were as good or better than anything Sony and Microsoft released this generation.
But the release of the Wii U has received some resoundingly shrugged shoulders.
Its first few games — almost entirely sequels and remakes — have been getting middling reviews. There’s no Link, Mario, Samus, or Kirby to trot the horse out of the gate. IGN recently awarded the system a rating of 7.6, a figure which indicates, by their standards, “good” — faint-to-damning praise in the gaming world.
Many of its design choices are highly suspect: if you want store anything externally be prepared to format your USB or external hard drive to your console; no, not the Wii U — only that specific Wii U. If you want to transfer information to your buddy’s Wii U you’ll need to reformat and lose everything. The most shocking thing has to be the OS. The mandatory unboxing download eats up roughly 5GB. That means anyone unlucky enough to have bought the 8GB barebones package will be left with about 3GB — not even enough to download some of the games from Nintendo’s eShop. And the OS reportedly runs at a very slow sleep.
Let me be upfront: this is not a complaint about the Wii U’s technical shortcomings. My worries stem from the Wii U — at least at this very early stage — appearing to be a cheap excuse for Nintendo to get in before Sony and Microsoft.
It’s clear at this point that the “failure” of the Wii was due to the majority of third party developers being unable to wrap their heads around Nintendo’s philosophy of simplicity before everything, and fun before simplicity. Nintendo’s first party games kicked holy butt. I in fact admire Nintendo greatly for catering to a different taste than its competitors. They take risks, and that deserves respect.
But do you remember that first blast of Wii-mania? The obscene lineups? People paying into the thousands just to have a Wii beneath the Christmas tree? Stores regularly out of stock for more than a year? Nintendo’s net worth rising, rising, rising? The Nintendo execs must have felt like gods. They learned from the perceived failure of the GameCube and dove headlong in a ballsy new direction. They laughed at the pitiful ants at Sony and Microsoft from their golden mansions atop their mountains of money.
And they just maybe they got addicted to it.
The Wii U is the very picture of a product created by a capitalist, profit-or-perish mindset. Its release is an attempt to recreate that of the Wii.
Digress with me a minute. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of a conservative — I mean a stereotypical conservative: profit-driven, Romney-licking, Jesus (just barely) >; Ayn Rand Republican. Have you noticed their obsession with trickle-down economics? Its the supposed theory that creating A LOT of money in industry will mean the rich get richer, yes, but them becoming richer means bigger companies, more jobs, more opportunities for middle class Americans — and more happiness.
And it totally doesn’t work at all. Nearly every reputable study has disproved the theory as a nice sounding fantasy, but fallacious to its core. But capitalists really, really, really want it to work, and who can blame them? It did. For a while. A very short while. But that was a really cool time and they made tons of money and everyone was happy and life was perfect and wasn’t ‘I Ran’ the best song ever and Ronald Reagan and the bible.
Look at the dinosaurs who run Hollywood and the music industry: their efforts to combat piracy are worthless and doomed to fail. They refuse — or refused, since they’re kinda starting to get that they don’t have a say in the matter — to accept that the internet razed their old business model. Instead of finding a creative, organic way of changing the way they work they’re fattening the old one up: 3D! Higher frame rate! $200 concert tickets (because obviously no poor people want to see The Police reunion tour, damn you Sting, I’m still sore about that)! Sequelize everything! Autotune!
See, capitalists believe that the model that used to work — or seems to have worked for a time — will work again if they just make it. Now look back at the Wii U. Everything about the Wii U seem like a weak attempt to recreate the success of the Wii:
- Technical: the Wii boasted technical specs barely superior to the PS2, XBox, and GameCube. The Wii U boasts technical specs barely superior to the PS3 and XBox 360.
- Hardware: the Wii came with a strange new controller people couldn’t quite wrap their heads around. The Wii U comes with a strange new controller people can’t quite wrap their heads around.
- Style: the Wii emphasized localized multiplayer, playing games with your friends/family in the same room. The Wii U emphasizes localized multiplayer, playing games with your friends/family in the same room.
- Release: the Wii was released a year after the Xbox 360 and the same year as the PS3. The Wii U has been released (at least) a year before its competitors.
- Even its name — the Wii U — is aping the Wii’s: The Wii had a strange new name that brought to mind friends, inclusion, and bringing people together. The Wii U takes that name and adds a strange new component that brings to mind friends, inclusion, and bringing people together. (Okay, that’s a cheap point. It’s not like Microsoft or Sony are that creative when naming their consoles.)
- The lineup: the Wii U’s launch lineup is middling perfected. Head over to Metacritic. Its top two games are re-releases (U-makes?) and the third — the only other game to score over 80 — I feel like I’ve seen somewhere times before.
Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to be wrong. Nintendo is great. There might be some incredible potential in the Wii U I’m completely missing. (Heck, it’s only been released a week, talk about crying wolf, Joe.) I’ve had some of my best gaming moments with an NES, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, GameCube, and Wii. I’d like to add the Wii U to that list. But at this stage I don’t see it happening, not for a long time.
Nintendo is, for me, a company that succeeds because it understands the pure joy of playing video games. I think another reason the Wii was so success was because it was uncynical. It tossed aside superficialities and the “You’re in the middle of the battle field! Knifing brown dudes in the face is radddd! Check out this explosisnaosbdnahkdbfshjbvfjh”-mindset that typified so much of this generation’s successful output. It may have been rocky, but damn if I didn’t have a good time flying through space with Mario.
In conclusion, impress us, Nintendo. Nail us to the wall with Bayonetta 2, rocket us into the stratosphere with your first-party rogues’ gallery, and make that damn tablet seem even a little worthwhile.
What are your thoughts on the Wii U? Let us know in the comment section below.