Why the Wii U could be the greatest console ever made (and how Nintendo is screwing it up)



Filed under : Consoles, Nintendo

Many people get the wrong idea about me.  They think I’m a Nintendo fanboy.  After all – I sung high praises for the Nintendo DS, 3DS and Wii; all great market sellers – but not the most accepted gaming systems by the “core gamers” out there.  Fighting with me about why HD graphics don’t make a game and how being able to point at the screen and use motion control is a brilliant combination for controls?  I could almost forgive the mislabeling.

Those that have known me awhile understand that nothing could be further from the truth.

My Nintendo History

This section is not required to enjoy the article, but it gives you a little back story on how much of a so-called “fanatic” I am about Nintendo.

When the console gaming market crashed in the early 80’s, it shoved game developers to home computers (such as my beloved Commodore 64) and for awhile, this medium reaped the rewards.

When Nintendo showed up in the USA with the original NES, it was curtains for home computer development from big dedicated gaming companies.  We stopped getting arcade ports.  We didn’t get licensed IP type stuff.  We ended up with what I affectionately call ‘PC Games”.

I blamed Nintendo squarely for taking developers away from personal computer development and I really hated them for it.

Then when I got over it and explored the NES closer, I realized that the “arcade” ports they were getting weren’t arcade ports at all; but extended, reimagined versions of the games (yes, I know – many Nintendo enthusiasts say these versions are BETTER than the arcade – but that’s a different discussion; I want arcade Punch-Out … not Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out).  I really hated Nintendo for that.

I also hated that anything that went up against Nintendo failed.  I owned an original Gameboy for about 6 months until the Atari Lynx came out and blew me away with INSANE arcade ports like Road Blasters and Xybots.  Hey, I was a GB Tetris whore like everyone else – but … C’mon, look at the graphics and sound on this Lynx!  KLAX WAVE!

Then came the Gameboy Advance.  Great library of games – but how UGLY was the GBA?  The screen required direct sunlight to be usable, the console itself was ugly … and while I was quite interested in the games available, I was still pissy with Nintendo and I couldn’t see myself buying something I couldn’t play in the dark.  About that time, the Afterburner aftermarket light up kits were becoming available – and that was tempting.

On one of my shows or blogs or forums (hey, I’m getting old … sue me) I told Nintendo exactly what they had to do in order to get me to buy a Gameboy Advance.

I gave them a lot of direction; but mostly – make it smaller so I can pocket it easier and light it up so I can play in the dark – but keep the battery life up.

Shortly thereafter the GBA SP came out – and I fell in love.

Look, when a major game company gives you EXACTLY what you ask for – bullet point by bullet point, you tend to get enamored with them.

I jumped on the Gamecube bandwagon late … pretty much as Nintendo was lubricating the defibrillator paddles … and while I got a ton of love playing Resident Evil 4, it left me a bit frosty.

I truly believed in the Wii.  While it left an ugly stink in the hands of 12-button-leetz0r-pwnd-u-pixel-counting-space-marine gamers – the system was rife with gaming possibilities and many came to BRILLIANT fruition (see my list of top Wii games – then read Alex’s top Wii games).  Unfortunately, the pixel snob gamers poo-pooed on these fantastic renditions and the Wii just stopped getting them.

That being said – I STILL love Elebits and ExciteTruck.

I held fast on my stance of the 3DS too – being not only an early adopter and Ambassador – but also a huge supporter.  Check out my list of top 3DS games – then check out Alex’s list.

I wasn’t born a Nintendo fanboy.  I wasn’t even converted into one.  But like a layman and fine art; “I know what I like” – both from games and the companies that make them.

And I like Nintendo.  Not NES/SNES/GB Nintendo.  I like “Nintendo Lately”.

Now that we’re done clearing the air on my “irrational love of Nintendo”, let’s get to the heart of things.

Why The Wii U Is Great

Oddly enough, the number one reason the Wii U is great is because there is nothing inherently wrong with it like it’s predecessors.  High def graphics?  Check.  Robust online?  Check.  Standard “core gamer” controls?  Check.  Hard drive ready?  Check.

On paper, the Wii U has no real blemishes.

In fact, Nintendo’s habit of “disruption” actually brought something incredible to the table that cannot be dismissed as “waggle” or “gimmicky”; at least not by anyone sane.  The GamePad is unique.  Not by nature of its construction or presentation – but rather by the technology behind it  No other console (or console + handheld solution) can do what Nintendo has made the Gamepad do; pure, lagless rendering.  Nintendo spent a year perfecting it – and it is perfect.  This seemingly simple bit of magic unlocks so many possibilities exploitable by developers – not just in core game mechanics, but also in terms of asymmetric game play (which is more than a buzzword – and hardly a new concept per se, but the delivery means is).

Off-screen play makes the Wii U far more accessible to families that share the living room – and that’s a lot of us.

The fact is – the Wii U is brilliant in hardware design and has nothing missing from the equation this time around – and it brings an unique experience to game developers and gamers alike (a trait that apparently isn’t revered much by either group).  As a bonus, the GamePad doubles down the bet – allowing migration of mobile gaming and home theater “X TV” functionality.

I call it the spiritual successor of the Dreamcast – the last console with a “soul”.

What The %$#@ Is Wrong With Nintendo?

I’ve had over a decade to watch Nintendo and how they work.  They are like Cartman on South Park; “Whateva … I do what I want”.  It is hard to argue with Nintendo’s logic because they are laying on a stack of cash that makes Bill Gates look poor.  The “It Prints Money” slogan has surrounded Nintendo’s latest creations as you can see by this Google Search.

But the Wii U isn’t printing money.  In fact, it isn’t even close.  WTF happened?  They went from mad Wii money to no Wii U money.  The 3DS finally took off, so they have that nice income … but how do you go from hero to zero with the Wii line?

The problem lies squarely on Nintendo’s shoulders but it is exacerbated by hypocritical third party developers.  Let’s list the issues and who to blame.

The Name Confusion Factor

Everyone comes down on Nintendo for using the “Wii” name for the Wii U – citing it causes confusion.  Is this a NEW Wii?  Is it an add-on tablet controller?  What is it?  From user to media giants like CNN – people just don’t realize that the Wii U isn’t just a Wii accessory.  At the same time, what’s the problem?  Microsoft reused Xbox.  Sony has reused Playstation.  Why does Nintendo get smacked for reusing a successful IP?  In fact, they got HOLLERED at for not using the “Gameboy” moniker with the DS line.

The blame falls on Nintendo.  Those that followed the Wii U closely before its release knows that Nintendo did everything short of covering the console with a drop cloth ANYTIME there were press photos or an event to show off the system.  Not only did they refuse to put the box front and center, they made it LOOK like the old Wii and then went on to NEVER discuss the raw capabilities of the machine under the hood – instead focusing ONLY on the tablet controller.

They just wanted you to see the tablet controller; again and again.

Unfortunately, this was probably the biggest overall mistake that Nintendo made that started the domino fall of Wii U confusion and mediocre sales.

Fault: Nintendo

Wrong Advertising to the Wrong Market

The Wii was designed to capture NON-GAMERS; bring them back into the fold with simple, easy controls anyone could use – AND games that ANYONE could adopt and play.  The viral marketing (aka Wii Bowling) carried the unit passed the uncomfortable awkward early stages and turned it into a household name; ANY household.  The cute “Wii would like to play” campaign wasn’t effective – but it didn’t need to be and it always felt more obligatory than anything else.

The Wii U wants it all; the casual, the indie and the hard core gamers – and it has everything necessary to do it.  But there is no Wii Bowling (Nintendoland is great, but it isn’t something you can bust out when grandma and Uncle NoGamer come over for Thanksgiving) and the many faces of the gaming market aren’t being represented with Nintendo’s strategy to promote the console.

Nintendo is effectively bringing a knife to a gun fight (when they show up at all).  Their TV commercials don’t attempt to target anyone – nor do they bother to inform the potential buyer in any way that would help remove the confusion they themselves created.

There is nothing to sell Wii U; no viral Wii Bowling.  No hard core game exclusivity.  No clear direction on how to sell the unit (to developers and gamers alike).  No sudden price drop.  The Wii U might be a near perfect console – but nobody knows, understands or believes it.

Fault: Nintendo

The Wasted Premature Opportunity

The Wii U had a full year head start – and they have absolutely NOTHING to show for it.  In fact, they have lost exclusives and lost support because of (or as a result of) it.

Wii U had a lot of growing pains and a rather lackluster launch selection of games.  Sure there were a couple of nice titles in there; Zombie U, Call of Duty … but along with that we got severe shovelware like Game Party and “better than before but still year old rehashes” like Batman.  Even that is forgivable.

What isn’t forgivable is the wasteland of software thereafter.  The systematic removal of exclusive tiles (like Rayman), failures to deliver, launch “window” promises broken and extremely limited Nintendo first part support isn’t just a straw to break the camel’s back; it’s a 200lb dumbbell.

Fault: Nintendo

Third Party Failures

You third parties should be ashamed of yourselves.  The rabbit hole of blame and shame runs deep among you and it is high time you be called out on it.

Nintendo over saturates their hardware launches with their own first party titles that hurt our third party launch sales.  When Nintendo listened to you when they shipped the Wii and held back key titles to not “compete” with your launch titles – you didn’t ship jack squat.  What you did ship was crap.  Overall, that’s exactly what you did with Wii U’s launch too.

We will consider Wii U development when there are more units sold.  But you’re developing titles right now for consoles that aren’t even out – but supporting Wii U isn’t possible until there are more units sold?  You know what sells Wii Us?  Software.  Point the finger at Nintendo all you want – you’re still a larger part of the problem.

Our engine doesn’t work well enough on Wii U so we’re not going to support it.  I seem to recall Treyarch and others managed to get serious engines like COD working great on the original Wii – and if you’re making engines that work great on Xbox and PS3, the Wii U should have no problem keeping up.  This is a complete cop out.

We have no comment on DLC releases for Wii U.  Hey, if you weren’t going to give us Die Rise or map packs on the Wii U version of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 you could have told us before we bought it.  Or even told us when we point blank asked you over and over and over again in your support forums.  Don’t make us wait around and invest time and money into your product if you have no plans to support it.  This “all platforms (except Wii U)” crap is pissing gamers off and removing trust in your product.  At this point, I might wait on COD: Ghosts because of the screw over of post sales support of BO2 Wii U.  In fact, I might get it used – how do you like them apples?  If you’re going to cripple the title’s expand-ability, price it accordingly.  On a side note, if you can live without DLC – Black Ops 2 on Wii U is fantastic and remains one of the most played games on my system thanks to off-screen play.

We have no Wii U games in development at this time.  That’s an incredibly RESPONSIBLE comment to make, isn’t it? And anyone with any sense at all knows it’s a complete lie. Leading game publisher basically pulled down their pants, squatted down and left a steaming pile on top of the Wii U – and in the next paragraph complain about poor install base; not pointing the finger at themselves but saying that it’s Nintendo’s fault.  Of course this was retracted, apologized for, etc. after the fact – but nothing builds consumer confidence and trust in a platform like Electronic Arts dropping a deuce on Nintendo.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  While I point the finger in this section SQUARELY at third party developers, Nintendo has the power, money, clout and respect to have helped ease this.

I said from the beginning – over and over again – Nintendo should have backed a Brinks truck into Activision’s parking lot and dropped $50M on them to make Black Ops 2 a Wii U exclusive for six months.  That act alone would have trumped every dollar they have spent in useless advertising, mall tours and meet and greets.  Cite my proof?  The OUTCRY that Bayonetta 2 is going to be a Wii U exclusive is loud and echoing on the Internet – and that title holds practically NEGLIGIBLE sway in The Big Picture of franchise gaming.  Nintendo needs to play the same sneaky, under the table deals-with-Satan that Microsoft and Sony play with third party publishers if they want to influence and gain from the third party market.

I wish I could roll back time and see a different timeline of where the Wii U would be now if BO2 had been a Wii U exclusive.

Fault: Third Parties (with no resuscitation from Nintendo)

How to Fix the Wii U

I’m not the type that bitches without offering solutions.  Here are mine.

Nintendo

Hire a different advertising company.  Perform TARGETED advertising per demographic.  Let’s stop phoning in your commercials.

The commercials need to cover:

  • The Intended Audience (Casual, Hardcore, Indie Gamer)
  • The fact it is not an add on product
  • The fact that is is modern; featuring robust graphics and tech
  • Promote asymmetric gameplay to the right group (casual, indie) and promote online play to the hard core

Entice exclusives.  A console cannot live on first party exclusives alone; even Nintendo’s.  Microsoft and Sony put out a lot of cash for exclusivity.  Time to tap the endless coffers of Nintendo cash and get some third party exclusives on board (esp. when your own line up is slow).

Come down on developers trying to derail your product integrity.  Someone should be at Activision right now asking for someone’s head for not delivering DLC to BO2.  Someone should be at Ubisoft smacking someone for allowing the exclusivity to drop on the Rayman game.  Anytime a third party tries to treat your property like a red-headed stepchild at the picnic, you need to be there finding out why and helping make it happen.  It dilutes the platform.

Third Parties

Stop blaming Nintendo.  They gave you what you wanted; good, high specs.  Real controllers.  Hard drive and patch support.  Online play.  Maybe stop whining about Nintendo not shipping a new Zelda game and start releasing compelling software for the platform if you would like to see it grow.  No more of this “last year’s game with add ons and tacked on tablet use”.  The Wii U hardware is amazing.  The possibilities are incredible (see my list of ideas – feel free to pilfer, just throw me a credit somewhere in the scroller).  It’s all here – Nintendo shouldn’t have to show you have to build games with cool new hardware.

Consumers

Stop waiting for your pet first party Nintendo game to come out before you buy.  There are some great titles on Wii U – both retail and even more so in the eShop as indie games.  There are some good deals out there right now – pull the trigger and contribute to the user base that third party developers want to see.

Petition your favorite developers to consider Wii U development.

Complain profusely when “every other platform but Wii U” gets DLC, extra features, etc.

Final Words

I want “one console to rule them all” – and the Wii U COULD be that console; I have no doubts.  But until both Nintendo and third parties come to grips, it’s the consumer that will lose.

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About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

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