No. Wii’re Not.
On the subject of the Wii U, after having a couple weeks to process everything revealed about it. Thank you Nintendo, but your services will no longer be needed. I’d maybe get one if I had kids. But I don’t. And to be honest with you, with Kinect around, I am thinking that if I actually had kids, I’d hand-me-down my Xbox 360 + Kinect to them, when I get a proper next-gen console for myself, before I’d waste money purchasing a Wii U. And this coming from a gamer who has purchased every game console, on it’s day of release for every generation since 1989.
But honestly, after the last three Nintendo consoles (the N64, the Gamecube, and the Wii) which each got progressively worse (from a gamers’ perspective) with each successive system, I was already apprehensive going into E3 2012. But I figured that Nintendo would pull out all stops to secure the loyalty of the core gamer. I mean after the way Nintendo all but completely abandoned the core gamer with the Wii, only to fall flat on their faces for doing so, as their marketshare, software sales numbers, attach rates, revenue, and stock valuation plummeted over the last couple of years without core gamers around to buoy up those numbers, one would figure that Nintendo would not risk continued alienation of those same core gamers. So even though I was apprehensive going into E3, I was also quite hopeful for Nintendo to really shock and surprise gamers by pulling out all the stops, and giving even Xbox 360 and PS3 owners at least one legitimate reason to pick up a Wii U this holiday . . . you would think.
Don’t get me wrong, the Wii U seems like great hardware, but let’s face facts. Come 2013, the Wii U will be little more than the Fisher-Price version of the next Xbox. And the one point the Wii U could have succeeded (at least at interesting core gamers outside of the diehard Nintendo crowd), is if they had made a definitive focus on core games. But as it stands, even the 3rd parties who promised to bring software to Wii U, themselves seem to be standing on the fence about the console. Many of them either choosing not to show their Wii U games at E3, or hedging their bets by making sure their Wii U games were multi-console. And even more deafening, was the number of 3rd parties choosing not to support the Wii U at all.
Which just brings up another issue. Even had those same 3rd parties taken the Wii U plunge heads first, what exactly does the system offer to encourage the near 150 million gamers who already own a Xbox 360, or a PS3, to spend another $250 to $300 on a Wii U? Touch controls where you have to take your eyes off the TV screen in the middle of a game to utilize? I don’t think so. The one area that Wii U could have been a smashing success out of the gate, is if Nintendo had spec’ed the system high enough, so that the definitive versions of all 3rd party games would be the Wii U versions. So far, we only have Randy Pitchford promising that when Aliens: Colonial Marines ships three to six months late on the Wii U, that it will be the definitive version of that game – and that’s about it.
No one was ever expecting a Nintendo console to ever again be a state of the art hardware, but we were at least hoping Nintendo had learned some lesson from the last six years with the original Wii, and would give a little something more than what we can already get today. Had Ninty spec’ed the system high enough to at least run EVERY current-gen 3rd party game at native 1080p, or perhaps at native 60fps, then we’d actually have something to get excited about. Or maybe given the system that little extra umph that would allow the Wii U to run the games with higher res textures, or better lighting engines than the PS360 would be in order? Something. Anything! Hell, I think most of us (and yes the core gamers NOT purchasing the Wii U do outnumber the Nintendo fans who are buying one) would have been extremely happy with 1080p, better textures, and better lighting. Not true next-gen better, but at least good enough to get pixel perfect copies of the PC versions of these same games, without having to spend the hundreds of $$$$$ necessary for a quality gaming rig. But we did not even get that, despite the fact that given existing tech, it should have been possible for Nintendo to deliver such a system within that price range. And the irony is, there are at least two dozen “must buy”, high profile, current-gen, 3rd party games shipping to PS3 and Xbox 360 between the fall of this year, and the launch of the Xbox 720 and PS4 next fall. Games like Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider (2013), Dishonored, Metro: Last Light, Hitman: Absolution, Far Cry 3, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Grand Theft Auto V, and Rainbow Six Patriots. People don’t purchase game systems for a single game, but they do purchase game systems for a lot of games. And if the Wii U hardware was at least spec’ed high enough to guarantee the definitive versions, not merely ports that you can already get on the current consoles, just now they have touch controls tacked on as after thoughts like Arkham City does, but instead, versions of the games that are pixel perfect to current-gen gaming PCs. I could honestly see the core console gaming community actually getting excited for a system that fit that description – excited enough to spend money on it come this holiday season.
I think Ninty has once again cheaped out on developing the Wii U. And as the Wii has proven, cheaping out in and of itself would not have been a bad thing if you actually had any clue what you were doing. However this time, I think Ninty developed the Wii U too cheap. And as a direct result, wound up cheaping out on core gamers yet again – probably for the last time. Ultimately, Nintendo is going to have to be satisfied with only die hard Nintendo fans, and the few casual gamers who are not migrating away from the Wii brand, to the greener pastures of Kinect and SmartGlass, as their customer base moving forward. I think we will look back on this moment a decade from now, and note that unlike SEGA with their Dreamcast, Nintendo did not go out with a bang, but instead went out trying to pander too much to the same group of casual gamers who have been tanking the company’s bottom line for the last two, to three years.