Man, it's been a while since I wrote anything about Nintendo. In my defense, aside from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (which I still have not played) and a shaky 3DS launch, the house that Mario built lacked story potential lately. Put another way, as both a gamer and a journalist, I honestly feel Nintendo wasn't feeding the beast.
At least, not until a few fat, juicy rumors dropped around their upcoming Wii U console. Many offer conflicting accounts of the hardware's quality. Others nailed down its supposed release date: November 18, 2012…just five days ahead of Black Friday.
The Wii U Porn demo did not go well.
Now, I've played around a good deal with the Wii U, and I loved its "tech demos," two of which deserve to graduate up to bundled games. It's smartly designed — particularly from an ergonomic standpoint — just like most Nintendo products, and the potential of its asymmetrical gameplay options cannot be overstated. But honestly, if I owned any Nintendo stock, I'd sell it right now. One way or another, the Wii U will land with a colossal thud just in time for Thanksgiving.
I outlined my three reasons you won’t buy a Wii U a while ago, and they all still apply. Now several developers anonymously threw some gasoline on the fire. "Overall, the Wii U just can't quite keep up," according to Game Industry's source, puncturing early reports suggesting a machine with twice the Xbox 360's horsepower. If it doesn't measure up to current standards, while Microsoft and Sony prepare to bump up to new-generation hardware (complete with their own motion-control solutions), that's a serious concern. The Wii U already carried a reputation as the catch-up console, and the word on the street claims it's not even keeping pace.
That said, other developers have gone on the record to praise the new platform, notably Randy Pitchford of Gearbox (Borderlands). Though it should be noted many of them have confirmed games (Aliens: Colonial Marines, in Gearbox's case) destined for the Wii U.
Shoulda nuked the business plan from orbit.
Nintendo does have a history of yanking the technology rug out from under its developers. When it pulled back from releasing a CD-ROM disc-based system in favor of a cartridge-fed Nintendo 64, it cost the company the Final Fantasy franchise — starting with blockbuster Final Fantasy 7 — and ceded Nintendo's market dominance to Sony for the next decade.
Fine, graphics aren't everything. The Wii produced some of the best titles of this console generation, so a puny chipset doesn’t bar excellence. I don't doubt for an instant that I'll see some fantastic games on the Wii U…hell, I already have. I just wonder how many other people will.
See, Nintendo hit the karmic jackpot with the Wii. Everything came together. It was new and different. It was cheap. It was intuitive. Its games had universal appeal: boxing, baseball, tennis, bowling. It filled a void people didn’t even know they had: how to play video games with your friends when none of them play video games. Once someone who would never, ever pick up a PlayStation controller took the Wii for a spin, they instantly understood what they were missing.
What is missing that Wii U will fix for those people?
Exactly the right moment to bust out the boomerang.
It won’t be new: The Wiimote controls make a big comeback, and tablets aren’t exactly unusual anymore. It won’t be cheap: Even if Nintendo downgraded the chipset, it can’t completely offset the WiiPad’s cost. It won’t be as intuitive: A tablet controller doesn’t fit in as seamlessly as simply waving your arms around.
So if someone out there still enjoys playing Wii Sports on a regular basis, what will Wii U offer that they don’t already have? If their Wii’s collecting dust in a closet, why would they spend money on another one?
Brand-faithful gamers will show up on launch day, and I highly doubt they’ll be disappointed…at least, not so long as the good games flow. But the Wii built its massive success on non-gamers and became a cultural phenomenon. The Wii U can’t help but suffer in comparison. And if it doesn’t deliver on the promise of a ramped-up console experience unlike any other, some of the faithful might balk.
But either way, even counting a big bump from tapering-off Wii sales, the Wii U numbers will start off far lower than its predecessor did. It might do well long-term, but the Wii U won't ever hit the Wii's numbers, period. That, de facto, will feel like a failure.
Usually the teleprompters just read "OBEY."
No, it’s not fair, but people aren’t fair. We demand that you follow a success with another success. Nintendo should’ve known it would have this problem, that they would be up against the monster they created. In fact, they just experienced a teeth-clenching preview of things to come via one rough Nintendo 3DS launch. Unfortunately, targeting the Wii U right at the same people who put them on top — instead of, say, beefing it up for core gamers while parallel-supporting the Wii for casual players — feels like a head-in-sand move. One that could prove disastrous for another decade. Or more.
With any luck whatsoever, I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want Nintendo running a distant third again. But they need more than a lightweight gaming iPad to avoid a return trip right back to the cellar, and thus far, more is nowhere in sight.