Keeping with a tradition I’ve had of writing an end-of-year article on what to expect from Wii in the coming year, I have to admit that I considered not writing this at all. That’s the kind of year Nintendo has had across the board, with a last minute surge of top-shelf Mario and Zelda releases saving the year from being completely unremarkable. Indeed, had The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword not made its November release date, 2011 would have been a complete wash for the Wii. And for most, even that stellar release is not enough to change what can only be described as a complete fall from grace for a system that was once the hottest console this generation.
For those of us in the US, that distinction now belongs to the Xbox 360, who’s steady sales over time have resulted in long-term, more sustainable success that the Wii’s “rocket out of the gate” approach that offered an appealing low price at the cost of early obsolescence. It’s important to take note of Microsoft’s recipe for success, as we may see glimpses of that roadmap from launch through the lifespan of Nintendo’s forthcoming Wii successor, the WiiU. The typical myopic gamer will consider anything less than Wii 2007/2008 sales numbers a failure for WiiU, when in reality one smart approach would be to emulate what Microsoft did with the 360. They launched at an expensive $499 (and that was almost 7 years ago), ushered in the era of $59.99 retail games, charged extra for basic features such as WiFi, and had horrible hardware issues with more than half of all launch 360’s falling victim to the dreaded “red ring of death”. Pile on top of all that the looming shadow of the PS3 which Sony claimed at the time would be at least 10 times more powerful than the 360, passing off CGI movies for gameplay footage to further support the illusion. We all know that the “superiority” of the PS3 never panned out, in fact in most cases cross-platform games looked and played better on 360. But back in 2005 when the 360 launched, lots of players believed the hype and when coupled with the red-ring issues, the 360 was off to a rocky start. Oh, and let’s not forget the little console that could—the Wii swept in and for the briefest of moments, gamers and grandmas alike remembered why we play games in the first place. Fast forward to the start of 2012 though, and Microsoft seems to have done quite well over time. By the time the books are closed on 2011 it will mark the first year since it’s launch that the Wii will not be the best selling game console of the year.
But this article isn’t about the 360. The point I’m making is that people seem to be calling for the wrong things out of Wii U, once again threatening that it will fail if Nintendo does not comply with their demands.
“It had better be $299 or cheaper, or it will be dead on arrival” is the most common one, fueled by Nintendo’s missteps with the 3DS. And yes, the last thing Nintendo needs is a WiiU Ambassador Club (I really hate that condescending name, Early Adopter Who Got Screwed would have been more accurate). But a cheap WiiU means Nintendo will be cutting corners on the thing, which I think will be a huge mistake. $399 seems closer to the mark—and honestly, I wouldn’t blink if it launched at $499 like the 360 did so many years ago. The key this time around should be to address the longevity of the console, which means investing in good tech now. Sony and Microsoft will no doubt leapfrog whatever tech Nintendo serves up a year or two down the line with their own new consoles in terms of pure benchmarks, but if the gap is too severe Nintendo could once again find themselves missing out on key cross-platform releases.
You see, as a Nintendo fan, I have one goal with WiiU and it’s not about new experiences, new controllers, or expanded audiences. I want to buy one console next generation that meets all my needs, and I want it from Nintendo. Sure, I know I won’t get franchises like Uncharted, Halo, God of War, and Gears of War—I can live with that. But there’s no reason I should have to miss out on franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Bioshock, the Batman games, Borderlands, etc simply because Nintendo’s hardware can’t keep up with developers. Nintendo has pledged to work well with third parties moving forward, but if the hardware can’t handle the games, they simply won’t come.
I give Activision a lot of credit for delivering three Call of Duty games (Modern Warfare Reflex, World at War, and Modern Warfare 3) that were practically identical experiences on Wii to their 360/PS3 counterparts, while conforming to the standard def limitation. But not every game maker is going to put a dedicated and talented team like Treyarch on a separate project to pump out the same game for a system that can’t handle the full experience as it was intended to be.
And honestly, if all Nintendo is going to deliver with Wii U is a Johnny-come-lately 360/PS3 equivalent simply because it makes them “HD compatible”, I really don’t see the point.
“WiiU better make use of that (presumably) expensive controller in every game or I’m not interested” is another common gripe. You know, I don’t agree with this. Like the Wii Remote, the tablet controller should be used with games built from the ground up to take advantage of it’s unique features—that’s where it will work best, not being shoehorned into every game simply for the sake of doing so. As far as I’m concerned I’d be perfectly happy if cross-platform games ignored the controller’s unique features altogether, leaving those for other exclusive games that were intended for it. Some of the Wii’s best games practically ignored motion and/or IR pointing (or at least gave you the option to play with traditional controls). Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Punchout!!!, Mario Kart Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros Wii, and Kirby’s Epic Yard were all arguably better when played with the Classic Controller or with the Wiimote turned on it’s side like a regular NES controller. We learned recently that WiiU will likely support up to two of the new controllers locally and simultaneously. Although I like that the Wii Remote will be supported, I think we need to see the return of the Wavebird wireless controller with WiiU, revamped to include the two analog circle pads the tablet controller will sport.
Sure, I want some great games that make use of the tablet controller. I think the new controller needs its “Wii Sports” hit not only to make the system popular but to give developers a clue as to what can be done with the thing. Otherwise all we’ll get is a bunch of fps’s using the screen as a scope and a bunch of rpg’s using the screen as a map. However, if WiiU is going to stay relevant it’s going to have to deliver the great franchises and unique experiences Nintendo is famous for and deliver the great cross-platform releases that competing systems offer.
And that’s asking a lot from Nintendo, a company that traditionally has zigged while competitors zagged. Asking Nintendo to be more like Microsoft or even Sony is an exercise in frustration. But they’d be wise to learn from what the competition has done to not only survive but to take the market lead this late in the game.
And Nintendo has mostly been saying all the right things. WiiU was introduced at E3 2011 by a marketing reel showing some of the industry’s most respected game makers singing it’s praises after receiving closed door demos of the system. Nintendo also promised feature-rich online services for the console, pledging to ease restrictions on developers that have hampered development of online games in the past. They’re promising a viable, modern online shop in contrast to the joke that was the Wii Shop. Indeed, they’re telling us everything we want to hear. The problem is, while they make all of these promises for the future, they continue to contradict themselves with their actions today.
I’m talking about the 3DS. Sure, it’s come a long way since it debuted, but it’s yet another disappointment for Nintendo fans that were promised so much more before the 3DS launched. They gave us the friends list they promised, sure. But that’s all it is—a list of your friends that lets you know if they are online and what they are playing, but there is no way of communicating with them. They recently added a “Join Game” button, but you have to wait for the precise moment when your friend is in Mario Kart 7 (for example) in an online lobby waiting for people to join in order to use it. How about a simple messaging system that lets you see who’s online, suggest a game, and allow you to organize a meeting in a game lobby? This is all basic stuff, Nintendo. The kind of functionality that will need to be there day one for WiiU to make the right impression with gamers who will need to make a decision about whether to invest in this platform or not. I don’t want to hear about future firmware updates promising more (but still incomplete) functionality, either. Nintendo needs to stop showing up for the prom with their zipper down and their cummerbund in their pocket and deliver a complete and competitive experience day one with Wii U. Unfortunately, their recent track record with 3DS indicates that they are not willing to invest some of those DS/Wii millions they made in making that happen.
If they continue their recent legacy of delivering just enough to get by, my guess is Nintendo will limp along this next generation like they did with the GameCube (and are currently doing with Wii). Sure, I’ll be along for the ride, but I’ll likely have to resort to owning the other consoles as well (again) and dividing my gaming dollars between companies.
And what about the original Wii? WiiU isn’t expected until the second half of 2012, and is likely slated for a November 2012 release. That’s almost a year away, and Wii fans will want something to play in the meantime. Well, it’s not looking good folks. The first quarter of 2012 promises only Rhythm Heaven Fever, a Pokepark sequel (don’t ask), and Mario Party 9 which offers nothing in the way of online functionality or anything we didn’t see in the GameCube versions other than 16:9 aspect ratio. More “doing just enough to get by” from Nintendo, and more indications that they simply won’t deliver on their promises to offer competitive experiences. Surprisingly enough, US gamers were informed that Xenoblade Chronicles will indeed see a stateside release in April, bringing hope that we may also eventually see The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower here in the US as well. That would certainly do a lot to reinforce an otherwise barren release outlook for Wii in 2012, but there is no commitment from Nintendo of America on what to expect other than Xenoblade and the above mentioned family games. Gamers are left to guess for themselves whether Skyward Sword was the system’s swan song or not, and whether it’s time to drop their Wii off at Gamestop and focus on the 360 or PS3 until Wii U launches.
And I think it’s fair to call out Nintendo of America on the horrible job they did in 2011 compared to a fantastic 2010. Aside from Skyward Sword, the first-party releases were horrible, and it wasn’t for lack of potential games either—Nintendo of America actively chose to snub Xenoblade and ignore a legion of fans in 2011 while waving in craptastic abortions like Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident. Nintendo of America has hobbled along behind Japan and Europe in communicating with fans, dropping the ball at every opportunity and further eroding the confidence of it’s most important customers. Frankly, it may be time for a change at Nintendo of America—Reggie was an entertaining character for a while, but false claims of kicking ass and taking names while exposing his own ass for the kicking has pushed US Nintendo fans far beyond the honeymoon period. Nintendo of America needs leadership that understands how to communicate with it’s customers in the age of social media. As an example, Nintendo of Europe and Nintendo of Japan alerted 3DS Ambassadors about the GBA games release date days in advance, while Nintendo of America was silent on the subject. We received word from NOA after the games became available, when most of us had already learned from other trusted sources like GoNintendo that they were already available, and were probably already playing them. What the heck is going on in Redmond? Sorry Reggie, it pains me to say but it’s time for a change. Go kick ass and take names someplace where you haven’t wasted away whatever credibility you may have once had with fans.
Kind of a grim outlook, huh folks? Well, all is not lost. Over the last 30 days or so I’ve gotten to enjoy some of the best new Nintendo games I’ve played in a long, long time. Super Mario 3DLand and Mario Kart 7 on 3DS helped dull the pain of having only one respectable first-party Wii release from Nintendo for 2011 in Skyward Sword. And the lineup for 3DS looks great for 2012 with Luigi’s Mansion, Kid Icarus: Rising, Animal Crossing, Paper Mario, Mario Tennis and more coming over the course of the next year. Let’s hope Nintendo learned from its 3DS mistakes and avoids a weak launch lineup for WiiU. Let’s hope for a complete experience day one for WiiU, one that doesn’t rely on promises for future firmware updates that always come up short. Let’s hope Nintendo finally embraces the social nature of gaming and delivers feature rich online components to franchises that need them like Mario Party. Let’s hope Nintendo goes back to the kind of risk taking that made them so successful in years past. Let’s hope their innovations are accused of being gimmicky rather than end up having actual gimmicks being sold as innovations. Let’s hope Nintendo of America steps up its game, improves its relationship with gamers, and commits to more transparency and communication as opposed to canned statements that always end in “no plans at this time”.
Indeed, that’s what Nintendo and the future of the Wii platform is all about. Hope in 2012. If the Mayans weren’t right, things may just turn out fine.
Any thoughts? Leave them in the comments or hit me up on Google Plus or in the MonroeWorld forums.
And the previous year: http://www.monroeworld.com/forums/content.php?199-Review-Lagoon%92s-Wii-2010-Year-in-Review