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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.

Everyone and their grandmothers can “get” the Wii.

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!

The Wii U comes with a strange new controller people can’t quite wrap their heads around.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.

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Posted on November 27, 2012, in Opinions And Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. First, you’re right, they’ve got a lot of work to do to prove that the console is going to be worthwhile. Second, my brother managed to get one before Thanksgiving and the family got to play it together. I have to say, I was impressed and had a blast on Nintendoland. We didn’t even manage to play anything else because we were too busy trying out what Nintendoland had to offer. Learning how they split the experience up with the tablet and the controllers was interesting, and for whatever reason chasing Mario in a virtual game of reverse tag was a hell of a lot of fun. That said, how will it stack up to the next generation of games? Will the XBox 360 and PS3 really be the powerhouses of the next generation? How much more room is there to grow? Perhaps for me the biggest question is “Why should I care?” There’s a bigger conversation to have about the future of game consoles in general. For many years I’ve found myself a console gamer, but more recently I’m finding myself pulled back to the PC. After all, I can hook up multiple (XBox) controllers if I want that console like experience, or I can use the keyboard and mouse to play games that consoles just can’t seem to do right, like RTS games or MMORPGs. That all leads me to the question of “Why get another console?” How many games are going to be released on them that aren’t released on Steam or another online platform? The interesting part of this is that I’m seeing more and more friends and family leaning the same way, and I’m beginning to wonder if we’re going to see a shift back from the console to the PC for a unified game experience (even as I write this I admit my skeptical meter is creeping into the red, but let’s humor the thought a bit longer). If the PC isn’t powerful enough, I just upgrade a component or two instead of buying a whole new console, and there’s not really any concern about backwards compatibility. The only thing that saves the consoles becomes first party, console specific titles, and if that’s the future then Nintendo’s strong first party line up surely trumps the offerings of the other powerhouses. Obviously this is all speculation and I’ve gotten way off topic, but I really am beginning to wonder what Sony and Microsoft could possibly bring to the table to make me want a new console from either of them. I love my PS3, but I can’t really imagine the experience being any more than what it is now, just with better graphics and, as a direct result of the time needed for graphic development, probably shorter games. I’m interested in where you think the future of consoles are going in general.

    • Awesome comment Mike! I feel I’m in a similar boat. I’ve been a console gamer for as long as I can remember. I love being able to just pop a disc in and start playing. But the fact is the PC really does offer the only truly versatile gaming experience. I think the main reason the PC hasn’t been able to overtake consoles is exactly what you said: first-party games that can’t be found anywhere but a specific console. But I think it also comes down to a discrepancy between gamers: some gamers have a rock-solid PC, others don’t; some have a ballin’ gaming rig, keyboard, mouse, etc…, others don’t; some know their way around a computer, how to upgrade most efficiently/cheaply, others — hell most — have no idea. With console gaming you can dress your XBox and living room up all you want but everyone, fundamentally, is having the same experience.

      I was already thinking about following this post up with another on next gen consoles in general. Thanks for the well thought out reply!

  2. it’s gonna come into it’s own at some point i figure. the first party stuff’s gonna be solid as usual, i still doubt much of the third party support will be any good and i mean really the third party shit hasn’t been up to snuff since Microsoft stole rare….it’s kind of like call of duty i think….you know what your getting into with the wii u. about 3 or 4 solid games a year and shit ton of shovel ware. as you said….there replicating the wii

  3. The wii u is so good. I am having so much fun with mine. I can only recommend it

    “he “failure” of the Wii ”

    Never failed. Most sales, most exclusives

    The wii u launch lineup, is the best in console history and your complaining?

    come on dude

    your complaints are little more than wishy washy generalized statements

    • Oh I know the Wii was a financial success. That was the point of the article. When I said “failure” I was referring to quality. (Keeping it quotations was to distinguish that from monetary failure.)

      Look at the top scoring games for the Wii vs. PS3 on Metacritic:

      http://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/score/metascore/all/wii?year_selected=&sort=desc&hardware=all&view=detailed

      http://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/score/metascore/all/ps3?sort=desc&view=detailed

      The Wii has 14 games that score 90 or higher. The PS3 has 45. Additionally, the Wii is donezo. Another game or two might be added to that list, if Wii owners are lucky, but it’s not a stretch to say — with Bioshock Infinite, GTA V, Metal Gear Rising, DMC, Dead Space 3, GoW: Ascension all launching in 2013 — the PS3 will probably end up with around 50-55 games that score that high by the end of its life cycle. Let me be totally clear: I’m not saying Metacritic is the end-all-be-all indication of quality, but that is a huge margin. As I mentioned in the article, a handful of Wii games were as good or better than what Sony and Microsoft had to offer, but the aggregate quality of all the games was far, far lower. I also disagree on it having the best launch lineup in console history, but I suppose that’s a matter of taste. Hope that clarifies some of my “wish-washy” generalizations.

  4. Hello, just a quick correction:

    “the Wii was released a year before its competitors”

    This statement is absolutely not true. The Xbox 360 was released first in late 2005. The Wii and PS3 were both released at around the same time, about one year later at the end of 2006.

    Regardless of the error, it’s a solid article. I must admit that I did pre-order the Wii U, but mainly on the basis of a pricing error on Amazon that has given me a significant discount (33%) on the Deluxe set.

    The thing that worries me most about the Wii U is Nintendo’s arrogance and consumer hostile policies. Their game pricing has consistently been higher than that of competing platforms for those who are not day one release buyers of brand new releases, just because they can get away with it. Compare the price of Virtual Console games with PSOne Classics. Nintendo also rarely do discounts or offers on digital games.

    I really liked the idea of Virtual Console – playing classic SNES games on my TV – but there’s no way I could justify the cost per game that Nintendo are asking after buying Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection with almost 50 games of the same era for less than the cost of two SNES games on Virtual Console.

    NES and SNES games should be a dollar each. N64 games should be no more than two-three dollars (for the record, I don’t pay what Sony asks for PSOne Classics either, but at least they often do 50% discount sales, which I’m willing to jump on).

    WiiWare also had a policy of limiting the price of games to a minimum of $5, which is quite expensive when you consider that each game is limited to a maximum size of 40MB.

    • Thanks for your comment! I’ve made the edit to Wii’s launch date as mentioned in the editorial. My bad as I totally missed that during edit.

    • Thanks for the comment Martin. I completely spaced on that point. When it comes to consoles I strictly go the PS3 route, so I tend to think in those terms.

      I agree about the Virtual Console. A lot of the games felt as though they were priced way too high, especially when you take into account that they had their heyday and made their money (well, most of them). Every classic on the Virtual Console is nearly 100% profit for Nintendo.

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