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The hardcore Wii

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No respect, I'm telling ya … the Wii U gets no respect at all.

Sure, retail preorders for Nintendo's new console (releasing November 18 in the U.S.) sold out and now the grey market's gouging a few suckers for all they can, but I just don't sense much excitement around the Wii U. Nobody I personally know burns to possess one for anything other than business purposes. That's not a commentary on the quality of Nintendo's new machine, either. I've logged plenty of hours on a Wii U, and I know it's a solid platform with real potential for creating amazing experiences. But in a rapid-fire release season — new Halo, Hitman, Assassin's Creed, and Call of Duty titles all drop within weeks or days of each other — nobody's focused too hard on hardware.

And that's the thing. Some of those games arrive on the Wii U, too, but that's largely an afterthought. Call of Duty: Black Ops II releases on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 … oh, and Wii U. A few days later. If you don't mind waiting.

That's fairly standard for Wii U releases. If feels like second-class treatment, and I suspect that's led to a (likely undeserved) second-class perception. Why aren't more people frothing at the mouth for a Wii U? What must the Wii U do to be the hardcore platform it wants to be and get the respect back?

 

Ninja Gaiden 3
Nintendo certainly wants core gamers returning to the fold. Take a quick look at the Wii U's launch lineup. It's heavy on the violence, light on casual fare (the bundled Nintendo Land pretty much does all the work there). It's also tough to ignore how its much-publicized third-party support tends toward games I played months ago. I'll admit to some curiosity on whether Ninja Gaiden 3's quality resembles that of sewer paste as closely on the Wii U as it did on the PlayStation 3, but I'm too busy with new Halo, Hitman, Assassin's Creed, and Call of Duty games right now to really give it another passing thought.

I'm also not re-committing to Mass Effect 3, Darksiders 2, or Batman: Arkham City anytime soon. So while its launch games (not to mention the technical specs) make the Wii U absolutely look like a hardcore box, it also looks like a hardcore box from 2009.

Too much about the Wii U already says "Me too!" in slightly uncomfortable ways. It's HD! …finally. It's tablet gaming! …already a past notion. Where the Wii inspired others, the Wii U draws inspiration from others. It needs to take a leadership position, and to do that, it must do what no other game console — what no other game company — can do.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Because honestly, I have to wonder if pushing a broad-based catalog that mirrors every other gaming platform is really in Nintendo's best interests. And I really question whether that's what Nintendo fans want, either. The base — and I mean gamers who only game on Nintendo platforms without ever sneaking away in the night to lovingly fondle a PlayStation or an Xbox — seems much more marginalized than they were back in the days when GoldenEye: 007 and Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem showed up on the GameCube. Do those people actually want to play Batman or Call of Duty on a Wii U … or at all? The few third-party, Wii-exclusive hardcore games that did release — Madworld and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories spring to mind — tanked. People just didn't buy them.

I suggest that's because they wanted something else. Not hardcore, but Nintendo-core. They showed up primarily for the usual suspects: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros.

You know what a Nintendo-core game is. Bright, light, super-challenging. No dismemberment. No dark, conflicted heroes, headshots, or the odd genocide. The combat feels strangely harmless even in the more serious franchises, and the atmosphere is one of exploration and adventure, if not pure joy. You have fun playing a Nintendo-core game. Nobody else does gaming like that. It's the Nintendo brand in a nutshell, and while they should and must branch out on occasion, they should also embrace their strengths and focus heavily on creating that experience on their console.

Forget Aliens: Colonial Marines on the Wii U. Think Pikmin 3, Super Scribblenauts, and New Super Mario Bros. U.

The Legend of Zelda

This approach not only carves out a strong and specific role for the Wii U, or any Nintendo console down the line, but it creates exclusivity. These games — indeed, these kinds of games — become Nintendo's domain. And since their properties tend to be either single-player experiences or in-person party games, it also lets Nintendo off the hook when it comes to providing online multiplayer modes, something it's never understood or done particularly well.

That's how you make the hardcore Wii … by catering directly to the Nintendo-core gamers. That's how you draw back all the old fans who strayed. I don't fire up a Nintendo system to shoot terrorists. I use it to stomp on turtles and rescue princesses.

Nintendo's current catch-up tactics might work. That said, we don't actually know if the pre-orders sold out because of high demand or low supplies, and anyway, the true test will be the software sales. Legendary Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi, the man behind the its surge to prominence in the '80s, once famously declared that customers don't buy hardware. They buy content to play on hardware. The company he helped to build must heed that advice, or it risks losing the respect — and the loyal customers — it's earned.


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