Part of the strategy that Nintendo have with the Wii-U is ‘Asymmetric Multiplayer”, the idea two or more people can be doing different things at the same time in front of the TV. And that’s a nice idea in theory, but in practice I think Nintendo should put more effort into online gaming, rather than worry about asymmetry…
I can be commanding an army on the U-Pad, whilst some poor friend is locked into a first-person shooter view on the TV.
The idea for a kind of “Games Mastering” type of gimmick for the Wii-U is one that does on the surface sound very appealing, because there is still quite a romantic notion about four-way split screen gaming. Not least because I remember fondly having friends around for Mario Kart 64 sessions, and the riot we had on Goldeneye 64. Now you can have FIVE people, four playing the split screen and one helping or hindering on the U-Pad! That’s a wonderful idea, no?
Thing is, as an adult I have to ask if Nintendo really want to shake off this ideology of appealing to the “Child In All Of Us”. Because sure, I have an inner child like everyone does. But I’m thirty-*mumble*, I’m disabled and me and my friends all have very separate, very different lives that run on entirely different schedules and in their own different ways. I have friends who have moved abroad because that is where their jobs took them, others have moved across the country in search of work and then I have a schedule that involves annoying doctors and nurses at least twice a week, if not slightly more. I can look back at the romantic fun and jollity that I had with some of these wonderful friends in the past, on split-screen gaming or winner-stays-on Tekken or whatever. But I am an adult. I am (mostly) a mature adult who has and understands others have lives, and that’s what bothers me about Asymmetrical Gaming – it assumes you can get people together very easily. And the reality is, for a lot of us grown-ups, we just can’t.
Not to say that it’s a terrible idea because I genuinely believe that there is a very real case to be made for Asymmetrical Multiplayer, and maintaining a split-screen mode for those occasions when you do get people around for a blast, or when the family is around on Christmas Day/Boxing Day. But these aren’t your day-to-day gaming needs. They are a nice extra, but that is what they are and should be – an extra. Nintendo Land, for all its joy, has ‘stamps’ (readas; achievements) specifically tied down to the Asymmetrical Multiplayer which you can’t play solo. Which means that for some of us, that content is locked away until we can somehow manage to pull the right people around to get these things done and then spend long enough playing it that we can tag all the stamps and… it’s just not good enough. I hate games on the PS3 and X-Box 360 that demand I play the multiplayer for full gamerscore; and not just briefly, in some cases asking me to survive without being shot. It’s a bloody FPS Deathmatch! What are the sodding odds my latency will be superb and everyone else will run at 4fps and have recently had a frontal lobotomy so they can’t see me properly? I’m sorry, but that’s the sort of stuff that encourages exploitation and glitching and general stupidity. People get what they need and they never return. That’s not good multiplayer. That’s not even bad multiplayer. That’s just a waste of our time and their development money. It’s a disgrace!
On a day to day basis, we need what I’d call “Standard Multiplayer”, and that for me is defined by playing someone I know, or have come to know, from the Internet.
It’s not as if this is a complicated beast; the Miiverse is clearly a great step towards a socialised gaming platform, even if it is currently just an enhanced sort of message board. Set up friends, get to know people, make more friends and engage in “Jolly Co-Operation!”, as a certain Knight would put it. That all it takes is for us to be online at the same time makes it so much more straight-forward; poke them. “Hey, you up for a couple Tekken rounds?”, with the response “Sure, I’m kinda finishing a pizza. Gimme 2min!” – you know, that kind of nice means that we used to do years ago before it became “Give me my achievement points and give them to me yesterday you nubs!”. That many games have pushed it, including some on the Wii-U itself, is a good reminder that such things can be done but these need to be its priority. It’s bread and butter sort of deal, for online gaming to work it really does need to ensure that all of these things tie together into an unforgettable and amazing experience.
Even there, I don’t tend to have lots of friends from the Internet; or put many in anymore. There was once a time I shared my details with others on forums and piled my friends lists high with people I actually didn’t know and truthfully probably had no intention of getting to know. They often left, never to return, into the void of wiping the console clean and starting again and so I eventually stopped doing that. It is no replacement for a good socialised system where we can ask each other for a few games. Miiverse has that potential, and I hope it capitalises on that.
But when it comes to the Asymmetrical Gaming, most of the time I am alone. Not lonely, for friends on phone and e-mail and friends lists do ensure I’m never inherently in solitary confinement, but I live on my own and I enjoy living on my own. I am thankful I am still just-independent enough that this is an option. So when it comes to multiplayer and wanting – and at times needing – some human contact when the meds and the leg is getting me down, I need to know the people I love and know and give a toss about are there. I need to know as well that strangers aren’t going to be horrible as well; I don’t want to play with a rude person and frankly, I don’t think many of us do. I cannot ask some of these people to come around so we can knock out a few stamps on Nintendo Land; that is exactly the sort of thing that the Miiverse and online gaming is made for, built for, so we can all benefit from it rather than just one person. It’s unnecessarily cruel; and quite unforgivable when there are so many clear examples of doing this and doing it so much better.
Which is the real issue; Nintendo can do better, and we can see them doing better, but their flagship demonstration in Nintendo Land is unfortunately tied down to an antiquated, romantic view of nicer times in the mid-to-late 90s, when the Spice Girls were popular and Justin Timberlake wasn’t considering an acting career ever. They think that we can still carry on into this changed landscape in old ways, that we can still gather together easily. But we can’t. For some of us, the friends we know and love are miles away, if not continents away. Our lives are very different now. Who we are is very different now. And yes, I am sure that Nintendo Land will get a lot of use when my brother comes back to visit, with his fiancée and mates and their kids in tow. It will probably be the biggest talking point. But it’s so situational, and so specific, that it feels somewhat like a wasted effort than a real demonstration, like something you only bring out on those occasions when it works. And it shouldn’t be the keystone to what amounts to showing off what your system can do, because quite frankly it is so limited and so situational that what some are likely to be left with is a game that they can’t experience in its entirety; a game which they will eventually toss aside and never feel the need to revisit, because there’s no point.
Asymmetrical Multiplayer sounds like a modernist concept, but sadly it’s tied to 90’s ideals and archaic principles of social gaming and media. It cannot and should not be something Nintendo try to push willingly and earnestly, because it’s an evolutionary dead end. Heck, we can SEE IT being an evolutionary dead end. It’s a gimmick that simply has no other purpose than to effectively wall off content to a very specific niche of individuals who are super-popular and have an open house policy. Which is great if you are, but I suspect if such a person WAS going to spend money right now it might not be on the Nintendo Wii-U. Just a thought, anyway. You can’t keep appealing to a niche. You have to appeal to ALL niches, which means that it’s good to have it there as an optional part of something but the moment a game demands Asymmetrical Multiplayer and walls off content as a result is the moment it actually fails in its duty to appeal to all.
The Wii-U is hardly lonely; with so many people and so much good to it, it’s perhaps a shame Nintendo Land has already been consigned to the drawer of “Trade In Sometime”. And all because it wants us to believe that Asymmetrical Gameplay is a reasonable notion. Zombi-U, for me, is Asymmetric Gaming . It uses both screens. And yet it “isn’t” asymmetric gaming. So what is it?* I think we need to be careful of the tag. Because more like Nintendo Land and less like Zombi-U would be crushingly disappointing.
It’s not the future. And if Nintendo had any sense, this is a novelty they’d be wise to file under “M”. For “Mistake…”
* edited bit; Just occurred to me that Zombi-U is Asymmetric Gaming as well, and it’s the multiplayer I most have an issue with. I like Multiplayer. I’m just not sold that we can keep doing Mario Kart 64 forever.