Let’s get this out of the way: The Nintendo Wii completely flattened every other seventh-generation console with room to spare, and then it took few victory laps around the planet.
In terms of dollars, anyway. If you start talking about games and gamer satisfaction, the line blurs pretty fast. For a system coming up on its fifth birthday, the catalog of quality games looks pretty thin. The list of successful quality games looks positively anorexic compared to what Microsoft or Sony offer.
Somehow, Nintendo intends the Wii U to fix all this. I'm not convinced.
Wii U B FUBAR.
The console itself still hasn't gotten an official debut, but I sat in the auditorium as Reggie Fils-Aime pulled up the curtain on the Wii U's tablet-like controller, and I spent a lot of hands-on time with it. No lie, the WiiPad's a drool-worthy piece of tech. But the more I see, the more concerned I get. A good product never gives anyone two reasons not to buy it. Unless you're a super fan who's pre-sold on everything Nintendo does, the Wii U's got three strikes against it, and they're all pretty convincing.
1. It's the same damn thing
Here's a red flag to consider. Why spend a major E3 reveal on a game controller and exclude its system? Answer: Because the controller's the exciting part. The console itself isn't.
Only the controller's got a few issues, too. A lot of the coverage skipped over this part, but all the big concept demos featured asymmetrical gameplay…that is, one player on the WiiPad, the rest on old-fashioned MotionPlus-equipped Wiimotes. Nintendo later came out and said the Wii U will only support one WiiPad. Put another way, they're recycling last-gen controllers (even if MotionPlus comes integrated this time), sticking 3/4ths of your party game players with the boring old stuff, and marginalizing the new hotness.
It also wouldn't shock me if most developers fixate on Nintendo's return to a dual-stick configuration, minimizing (or completely bypassing) all the new controller's other possibilities. What's left after removing that from the equation? Not enough.
Wii U can't just be an Wii HD. We've got two of those already — Xbox 360 with Kinect and PS3 with Move. With those options around and minus any brand loyalty, I don't see casual players upgrading…unless everybody's dying to see Wii Play in high-def.
Do not waggle your Wiimote at the Dark Knight.
2. What third-party support?
Word broke last week that Nintendo's not bringing Wii U to GamesCom 2011, the largest industry trade show in Europe. Either A.) Nintendo's losing confidence in the platform, or more likely B.) They don't have anything new to show. That's an even worse sign. Those third-party developers they flashed up in their E3 sizzle reel aren't porting month-old 360/PS3 demos to the Wii U configuration? Really? Is that the kind of third party support we can expect, or are we finally ready to admit that people buy Nintendo for Mario games, period?
Anyway, let's address that sizzle real for a moment. You've got Assassin's Creed but not Assassin's Creed Revelations. Dirt but not Dirt 3. The other big names — Darksiders 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Ghost Recon Online, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Battlefield 3 (teased by not confirmed) — are all cross-console, and they'll all release well before Wii U does. What will the new controller offer that might get me to wait for a Nintendo port? I don't know…so I won't wait.
Weak release schedules proved Nintendo needs third-party support to keep its console fed, but the support to date is all sizzle and no steak. It reminds me of Electronic Arts's 2007 decision to throw weight behind the Wii, just as they now have for Wii U. Their last significant Wii-centric release was EA Sports: Grand Slam Tennis back in 2009. And it bombed, just like all the others. Nobody's sticking their neck that far out a second time, guaranteed.
It can't be a Nintendo game unless someone's jumping.
3. It doesn't have a clear purpose
I laid out my criteria for a successful Wii successor, and Wii U missed every condition. Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata still wants a console that crosses the hardcore-gamer/casual-player divide, but he spent five years trying to crack that puzzle with only two true successes: Mario Kart Wii and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. He expects Wii U to rake in a colossal casual install base while bringing alienated fans back. Neither will happen.
Intentionally splitting Wii U's attention between those two demographics risks taking it straight over the same cliff the Wii sailed over. The full story's right in that new controller. It feels more casual-friendly than gamer-driven, and the casuals almost certainly won't feel the need to upgrade. They're still enjoying Wii Sports Resort.
So what's there for the hardcore crowd? Well, the WiiPad's very light, so don't sweat holding it for hours. That said, the face buttons live in a very strange place, just below the right stick. You've got to move your entire hand to hit them. The current accelerometer doesn't support twitch gaming, either. I'd rank the latency I experienced while motion aiming as slightly worse than the original, non-Plus Wiimote. So if casual players don't need it, and hardcore gamers can't use it, who's this thing for?
To be clear, I don't want Nintendo to fail. I want cool games presented in awesome, even innovative ways, and I'm not particular about who delivers them. And hey, things could go right. The brains at Bitmob came up with a list of cool game uses for the WiiPad, so it's possible a developer will capitalize on the possibilities. Maybe Nintendo will beef up the accelerometer, form real partnerships with Western publishers, and guide the technology in smart, creative ways. But I doubt it.
C'mon, Nintendo. Prove me wrong. Please.