With only a week to go until I get my hands on a Wii-U proper, I find myself having that horrible sinking feeling that usually accompanies any major purchase; this is £300 of my money, after all. What if I don’t like it? What if third parties end up abandoning it? And where are Nintendo’s big names?
Whenever you are primed to make a particularly big investment in new tech, there’s always a sensation of worry.
You’d think being quite a gadgets and gaming fan that somehow over the years I would have grown accustomed to this feeling of impending dread; I’ve lived through it with the Sega Saturn, the Sega Dreamcast, the Neo-Geo Pocket, the Atari Jaguar and more. In most cases I look back at them quite fondly. But it is worth noting that buying any new piece of hardware entails a certain selection of risks and complications that are hard to shake off. When it comes to Nintendo, you’d think I’d have enough faith by this point in them to find myself eagerly camping at my front door, waiting for its arrival to my doorstep. Except, no. I have my concerns.
None of this is perhaps new, but I wanted to go through at least a few of the reasons why I’m a little hesitant. I’m sure it’ll all be fine. I’m sure there is no cause for alarm. But sometimes you just have these silly fears, right?
1. WILL DEVELOPERS USE THE U-PAD?
Perhaps the most easy and ready concern when you look at what happened with the Wii.
Now, I still say the Wii Remote was a great bit of kit. Until you’ve played Resident Evil 4 with it, you’ve not played the game at its finest and best, intuitive and still somehow utterly brilliant. But even Capcom ended up not really trying to use the Wii Remote as anything more than a glorified light-gun. Indeed, very few studios found good uses for the Wii Remote, even the FPS titles managed to fluff it. How can you fluff a control mechanism that is pretty much designed for your genre? Well, go ask Activision. They have those answers.
This leads me into the problem of proprietary hardware; and make no mistake, the Wii-U and the U-Pad, with its touch screen, is proprietary hardware. Its rivals will not really be able to be seen copying it directly which means that this is unique to Nintendo, it is their baby. This also means that there will be an expectation to actually use the touch screen, much like the Wii Remote. It’s the unavoidable entry point to the machine; it is bundled with the machine and therefore is the de-facto controller. Even if you CAN use the Wii Remote and/or the new Classic Controller, those who go that road will find themselves between a disapproving Nintendo and a userbase that is expecting every game to find new and inventive ways of delivering new content.
This could be great but there is also a danger that feeling you MUST use something, even when you can’t think of a good way to use it, will end up doing more harm than good and therefore the expectation to use the U-Pad exclusively will find developers turning away from the machine. There is no question they will use the console regardless of its power – the industry has proven that power in this sphere is irrelevant if you have the market share to go with it. But if they see the Wii-U and the U-Pad as a chore, rather than an interesting Unique Selling Point, then the Wii-U will find its release schedule as barren as the Wii’s was. That will be a terrifying prospect for Nintendo. It really does not want another quiet third-party era.
2. Where are Nintendo’s big name titles?
This is an interesting point to make because whilst New Super Mario Bros. U is absolutely tempting, it is still traditional Mario. And for most of us, as people who have followed Nintendo for years, can be forgiven for wondering why Nintendo would play so safe so early on with a 2D Mario game, no matter how good it is?
Last year, we saw something that literally took our breath away. It was The Legend of Zelda Tech Demo, and even those who were otherwise cynical of the machine and Nintendo all conceded that it did indeed look utterly stunning in every single regard. It practically sold the Wii-U then and there as a machine with an actual future to it. So, with such a positive reaction you’d think Nintendo of all people would want us to be kept in the loop of this new Zelda title, right? This game that everyone wants so desperately. Except… no. We’ve heard nothing about it. In fact, when it comes to most Nintendo brands, there’s pretty much nothing on the radar at all except Pikmin 3, which even Nintendo purists would say has taken too damned long!
Where is Metroid? Retro Studios did an unbelievable job on the Gamecube getting that series into the 3D world and most of us would happily buy a new one, or even an HD update of the first game! Where is Donkey Kong, I know it’s been quiet since Rare left you but come on, we do want some more of that please! The Legend of Zelda we have covered. How about a new F-Zero? A proper full-on console Pokémon game? Star Fox Reborn maybe? Or maybe a new Golden Sun trilogy. Heck, some of us would pay good money for an Earthbound update! And then there’s Eternal Darkness, a franchise many still love and thought was dead with the end of Silicon Knights.
Note that that is quite a diverse range of franchises. I think we know that there is no real sensible way of Nintendo getting all of these titles out within the next year or so, even their resources are too limited for that, but that so many favourites have been so quiet and reserved is a huge worry for those who want to buy a Wii-U. For as much as Nintendo wants third parties to push the Wii-U, there’s an argument that the machine will not fly until there is a Wii Sports, a Mario Kart or one of these franchises out there for it. People want Nintendo games, and as much as we buy the machine for my next point, we want Nintendo names we are familiar with. The lack of courage to just show them off right now makes me rather nervous. Nintendo can’t afford to hide them for too long.
3. Where are the JRPGs?
If the Wii did one thing right in its lifetime, it was that it became the unofficial home of the JRPG.
And we’re not talking Final Fantasy here. The X-Box 360 did get some quality JRPGs like Resonance of Fate and Tales of Vesperia. All of them shared one singular fate; they flopped on the hardware. The Western world has kind of fallen out of love with the JRPG, and the X-Box 360 isn’t big enough in Japan to sell these games either. Which is a crying shame as they were good. So, in the twilight years of the Wii, it took the genre on and we got Monster Hunter Tri, Tales of Graces, The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower amidst others like Muramasa: The Demons Blade, and for those of us with import tendancies, Shiren the Wanderer. In short, the Wii became a very strong place for the traditional genre of the JRPG.
Now, admittedly, the US and Europe aren’t always terribly good at seeing the JRPG for the diverse demon it is. Most assume it’s Final Fantasy and that’s where it ends, but each of these games and titles offer unique styles, stories and mechanical divisions. It also meant that the machine was viable in Japan for a lot longer than it would otherwise have been, and saw itself beset by campaigns from the States demanding these titles be released to the American market. Clearly, there was a market there still and where others had written the machine off, the resurgence of a genre that most had felt was on its last legs was a welcome and indeed, pleasant surprise.
So you’d think that considering the effort that went into courting the genre that this would be one of the keystones of the Wii-U’s launch to diverse gamers around the world. But yeah, about that… Monster Hunter 3-Ultimate is coming for the Wii-U, as is Dragon Quest X (now officially tied down to Nintendo). These are two huge JRPG names for Nintendo (yes, Monster Hunter is considered a JRPG. I’ll let that one sink in!) but it’s a far cry from the diversity it had courted, and it’s a real shame, because it would be brilliant to see third parties push the genre once more on the Wii-U. Time will tell here. I’m just saddened that there isn’t more about this on its release than I feel there should be.
4. A-Symmetric Gameplay? It won’t last.
I totally love Nintendo and its insistence that we can still enjoy a good multiplayer in the comfort of our own homes with friends and perhaps family. But here’s the thing; I’m a thirty-something year old man with a leg that is rotting away Resident-Evil style and friends and acquaintances who all have families of their own and therefore less and less time for us to spend together socially – when we can, sure, we’ll get together for a movie, or a day out. The last thing any of us want is to sit down and multiplayer Mario Kart. When we’re in our group, we like to spend it out doing something special.
This isn’t to say some of them aren’t gamers though, but we’ve discovered this wonderful invention that allows us to have some fun together when we can’t otherwise get the day free to have a proper excursion out somewhere – it’s called the Internet, and more specifically, online multiplayer. We play World of Warcraft, Rift, we have organised Dark Souls teams and more. For children, A-Symmetric Gameplay will probably be an interesting concept (that will ultimately be lost on them). But this is a £300 new machine. And its main userbase from the off will be… well… grown-ups. And adult life means far less means of just getting your mates around for beers and Tekken. When you’re a student, this is very easy (although the beer is likely more tempting than the Tekken!). When your friends are now a Solicitor, teaching in a Primary School and a Secondary school respectively, a sales rep, a telecommunications engineer, a working mother of two and a Catalogue model – putting out the call for the same session is a hell of a lot harder.
I’m not ABOVE the idea of it though, and I do think it’s a wonderful little gimmick but that is how I see A-Symmetric Gameplay; gimmicky, unpolished and aimed at a demographic that perhaps isn’t representative of the adult nature of the average gamer (whose average age is now 34!). The Internet makes things easier, quicker and simpler. Sure, this will be great for your average 2.4 Kids family but even that isn’t really a true descriptor of families in the modern age. It’s a gimmick that seems to have an incredibly small niche that for most of us will require some serious tweaking. On Christmas Day, I’m sure it’ll be fun with the family and friends all around but come the new year, when all will go back to their usual lives, you’ll find titles built around this concept won’t be able to hold up to solo-play scrutiny, and that is kind of the issue I have. It’s too niche, too selective, too situational to be anything more than a distraction from far more pressing problems facing the games industry today. It’ll be a blast when you can, but it is hardly a reason to buy the console. Unless you are a student and still do that whole Beers and Tekken thing. In which case more power to you! Just remember, if you’re doing a drinking game with it try to lose after the third win, otherwise you’re going to really feel it in the morning…
5. The U-Pad holds a charge HOW LONG?!
This is quite an obvious one. We all knew the U-Pad, its screen and what it does was going to be an energy drain but the general consensus right now is that once fully charged, it will last a couple of hours of rigorous usage. And for a controller of the future, this is a problem.
Not because you can’t charge it – you can, but it will be via the mains as there is no cable leading from the pad to the console. Now, I don’t know about others here but I’ve been known to consider an hour in Dark Souls at 7pm, start it and then discover magically that it’s 3am! Good games can do that, and the last thing that you want as a gamer is to continue to have to worry about how long your controller has left in it.
Now, you might be able to argue that you can leave it plugged into the mains, but then, you are aware of how to take care of these in-built batteries right? They are designed and built on the principle that you drain them completely before a recharge, and constantly pushing power through it by leaving it in can shorten the lifespan of the battery quite considerably in some cases. Some may lament having to put batteries in their wireless controller every month or so, but the U-Pad will need to be treated properly and if it does go wrong (and these in-built batteries often do go wrong!) then you’ll find yourself waiting for a replacement from Nintendo, which might take a few days, or buying a new one – which could be nearly £100. For a new controller. Which is a lot.
Now, I like wireless but if we’re going to go the route of putting multiple and copious quantities of various crazy crap into the controller, then we should for the moment consider going back to a wired setup. Because otherwise we’ll end up with controllers pushing their own technical limits in the next few years and just draining the juice faster than should be permitted. I like progress, and I know progress comes with its own inherent problems to overcome, but in this case there is a solution – a cable, from the controller to the console, maybe about a metre or two long. If we’re going to push controllers forward in this manner, then what we need to do is take a step back and realise that Wireless isn’t the way we’re going to do this. Wireless works when the controllers don’t have much to do but control. When you need it to show a display and handle a microphone, a sensor bar, gyroscope and a whole bunch of other gizmos, then you’re asking it to do the jobs a console would otherwise be doing. And that means it’s going to require a better power supply solution than a battery that can’t hold a charge for at least twelve hours, if not a day.
6. Storage Wars!
Seriously Nintendo, I’m all for keeping it simple but we need to talk about storage. And having problems recognising external hard drives.
Now, I do understand that games run quite well from discs and the Wii-U happens to be quite good at minimising the stresses and strains of the load timer, but if you’re going to sell games via your e-shop, then we need to talk about storage. Now, the 3DS was quite easy actually, because SD Cards are quite cheap. Indeed, I’d not mind an SD Card slot, I still believe in the future the SD Card will overtake the CD as the de-facto storage mechanism for a new era. I also accept it’s cheaper to get external hard drives than built-in proprietary hard drives. People pay £90 for a proprietary 360GB X-Box 360 HD, when yes. I accept that you could easily buy a one terabyte hard drive for a third less than that. I think it is a good idea to look at this outside the box. We shouldn’t be limited.
But the limit is inside the box in this case. Now, the Wii-U is going to work on the firmware not recognising certain brands, or not using space. But the small internal storage space is, frankly, a little stupid. Sure, it cuts costs and gives the consumer a chance to put the money towards a nice external one but when you can’t download full games on the basic model, you’ve gone a little too far in cutting the costs. It can’t have cost that much more to actually put in some proper storage space into the machine, an extra $20 or so for a 120gb for example (certainly a decent amount of storage to start with!). Technically we can understand not going overboard, or forcing us into a proprietary system that means we can only use your products (which would be overpriced). But it’s just… that. It’s a problem. And something that shouldn’t be a problem in this modern day and age.
7. Has Nintendo Learned ANYTHING?!
The final issue I have with the Wii-U is knowing that the Wii had such barren spots, knowing they’ve gotten the Wii-U a little wrong and knowing they overestimated the 3DS, I have some minor concerns that for all this talk of doing new stuff, that Nintendo is marching far too much to the beat of its own drum and not listening to people trying to point out how dangerously close to the cliffs edge it is.
By that I don’t mean that Nintendo will go bust or anything, but there will be a point where Nintendo and the Wii-U have to prove that they can be tuned into the thoughts of gamers of all kinds. Whilst Nintendo helped to fracture the games market six years ago, it did so without planning its long-game. It helped shatter the landscape and create fractured pockets of genres floating around the void of space and time that is the games market, but only really found itself exploring a limited amount of those islands. This meant that many others felt that they were no longer wanted by Nintendo, and this cannot be a mistake repeated.
It needs to be on the money consistently. It needs a healthy turnover of games and sales. It needs to make absolutely sure it improves its firmware in the way its users want it to. It needs to realise that limitation isn’t the way to do business anymore; it will have to find a way of ensuring that it is open and honest and communicates well with its users, be it via the Nintendo Direct video features, Twitter/Facebook or by asking for feedback in the Miiverse feature. Nintendo also needs to realise that third parties may be afraid of it in terms of games, but it can’t afford to be shy with its own games either. The industry itself may have to man up and actually try taking on Nintendo at its own game here.
There are clues that Nintendo may be doing some things better – it’s already instigated a bit of a review of its firmware after users found themselves wanting, and has agreed to lift some account restrictions because locking it to one console only will cause problems in the future. It’s not much, but it’s a start. One step on the road to really doing something brilliant. Sure, the Miiverse will find itself very early on with a bunch of people drawing big phallic objects protruding from Mario’s forehead. Welcome to the Internet Nintendo! How it handles the bumpy road in the next few months will be essential to working out what Nintendo plans to do in the long-term. You never have a second chance to make a first impression, after all. If Nintendo can show that it means to do right by gamers of all genres, then the slight lack of power will be a moot issue. People will clamour to buy the machine and therefore the industry will find it hard to ignore it as a force, rather than dismiss it because so many gamers have dismissed it.
Which is kind of the keystone here of the whole Wii-U argument; if we, as gamers, go for it then it will be a success. Nintendo has to prove it can do this, and prove that it isn’t afraid of the industry either. It needs to have its own brands, games and ideas out there. And others will have to raise their game, rather than be terrified of being in its shadow. There is the chance that this could be an amazing machine if everyone very quickly latches on, gets it and is willing to do great things with it, be its own little generation. But to get that future, Nintendo has to convince us, as gamers, that this is the place to be. This is the machine to support. This is the party of the future, that change happens here.
So far, there’s just more criticisms of Nintendo than ever before from people who genuinely hate the company for whatever reason. And until it starts addressing some of those, however unfounded and stupid they may be, I fear that the loud and vocal portion of the gaming world that really has always had it in for Nintendo will continue to convince other gamers and the industry to leave the machine to its own devices, and stick with what THEY want – more powerful machines driving costs up exponentially.
That would be a shame though, because I don’t believe the future is one of power… but until Nintendo can prove this right, the Wii-U can’t claim to be progress in the industry. That will only be confirmed by sales.
And whilst they look good right now, you never can predict the future…