With the Wii, Nintendo managed to return from the brink of being driven out of the hardware market and suffering the humiliation of going software only like its former sparring partner, Sega. The system, which came out of the left field and became a phenomenon the likes of which will probably never be seen in the gaming industry again, raked in the money for Nintendo on all fronts, from its unprecedented hardware sales, from the sales of the first party software it was moving, and to the sheer number of peripherals that it sold. For Nintendo, it was a veritable gold mine. They’d struck gold.
Unfortunately, they’d done so at the risk of making themselves absolutely irrelevant in the core gaming industry. Sure, people still love Nintendo, and will probably buy a Nintendo system to pick up Nintendo games, but the age old adage of Nintendo systems being only for Nintendo games, and being tough going for third party games has never held truer than it did with the Wii. The system, which was a glorified Gamecube sold with motion controls as its promise (motion controls that didn’t even work as advertised, not to begin with), found itself increasingly abandoned by third parties, as they fled to the safer and more conventional havens of the Xbox 360 and PS3, without having to deal with having to develop an all new scaled down engine for the Wii for all their games that would not only work within its incredibly weak system architecture, but also work with its eccentric control scheme. For the first time ever, the console that did the best in sales was abandoned by third parties.
Nintendo only had themselves to blame for this. The Wii was not a viable machine from a gamer’s perspective. It’s primary control scheme was handicapped. Its power was handicapped to the extent that it couldn’t support any current generation game. Its graphical capabilities lacked even basic HD output. It’s online was a joke. In every way possible, the Wii was a Gamecube Slim, repackaged and sold to cushion Nintendo’s fall, that probably did better than anyone could have predicted, Nintendo included.
Thankfully, it seems like Nintendo got the message. They may not want to join the arms race ever again, but they want in on the core gaming pie again, beyond just what the sales of their Mario, Zelda, and Super Smash Bros. games bring them. To that end, they seem to have designed the Wii U.
At first glace, the Wii U probably appears to be a continuation of the same short sighted philosophy that made the Wii lose steam in the end. It doesn’t seem to be all that much more powerful than current generation systems. Nintendo is once again counting on using a ‘unique’ controller, this time a tablet, to sell the system. How will this thing fare once the Xbox and Playstation successors hit?
That’s a fair question. The Nintendo fanboy’s age old response to the power question when it comes to consoles is that it’s the games that matter, not the power of the system. But as this generation has conclusively proven, the games won’t come until the system is powerful enough to support them, and this leaves us asking the question- will the Wii U find itself similarly dwarfed by the Xbox and Playstation successors when they launch, so that it becomes the next generation’s Wii? Will third parties, all of which seem to be quite eager to support Nintendo’s system for now, drop it like a rock because it will be too weak?
I’m here to speculate that that’s not going to happen. The Wii U, as it stands now, appears to be the perfect storm, everything seems to be building towards a crescendo where we might see the Wii U dominate next gen, not just sales wise, but also when it comes to games. And nothing proved this better than Nintendo’s recent launch conference for the system, where everything finally came together, and we got a clear picture of just what Nintendo is trying to do.
First, let’s try and take the power of the Wii in context of the other two systems of the generation. The Wii was comically outperformed. Nintendo underestimated the power leap that the HD generation would entail. However, on the other side of the spectrum, Sony and Microsoft severely overestimated the jump that the HD generation would entail, and we effectively had a system that was outpaced by its competition two, three times over. The Wii could not even support the basic engines for the games that ran on the 360 and PS3. This, coupled with its ridiculous control scheme, and its lack of online, is what contributed to it missing out on most multiplats, to it not even getting basic scaled down versions of said multiplats. Because third parties would, in effect, have to make a new game entirely for the Wii to put the game there, and that was too much effort for a largely casual audience.
Right? Now let’s look at the Wii U, and see how it’s different. First of, the system is conclusively more powerful than the current generation systems. Which, let’s face it, isn’t all that much of an achievement when you consider that the current generation systems are more than half a decade old. But the Wii U is conclusively more powerful, and this is a point that needs to be made because there are many who flat out dispute it. From the fact that it can run Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 in full 1080p in 60 FPS, while streaming a full image to its tablet controller, to multiple developer reports, to its incredible RAM- a full 2 GB- it’s a powerful piece of kit, albiet one that is outdone by current PCs.
Now, let us assume for a second that Microsoft and Sony, and especially Sony, have not learnt anything from the massive losses that they incurred this gen, and that they again want to make a full generational leap to next generation. This assumes that the next Xbox and Playstation will have third party games running off the projected Unreal Engine 4, and they might leave the Wii U in the dust behind again, right?
No. And that’s the thing. We’ve hit the wall. We’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. With Unreal Engine 4, Epic themselves stated that the engine will be highly and fully scalable to all devices, including mobile devices. If mobile devices can run Unreal 4, then the Wii U can too, although it probably can’t support the full feature set. What this means is, third parties can basically put their games as they are on the Wii U, disable the high end physics and graphics setting that the Wii U probably cannot handle, and just sell it on the Wii U for minimal cost, with a minimal amount of copies sold required to even break even. Yes, the Xbox 3 and PS4 versions will most probably be superior… but the Gamecube and Xbox versions of multiplat games were always superior to PS2 versions, and that never mattered. As long as the Wii U is getting all the games, it’s in the race, even if it lacks some of the high end finesse said games will have on the other systems.
But what about the controller? Why would third parties want to muck around with the controller? Heck, why not? This isn’t the Wiimote- it’s a full fledged traditional controller with all the required buttons, triggers, and analog sticks right on there, with a touch screen thrown in for good measure. You can basically port the entire control scheme from the Xbox version of a game to the Wii U without any effort. You can just throw a map or a static menu on the screen. Hell, you can ignore the screen altogether, and just leave it blank, it doesn’t even matter. In any case, it’s not like the screen takes a lot of time to program for. It took the developers of Darksiders 2 less than twenty minutes to get the entire game running on the Wii U’s touch screen.
Okay, so the Wii U is powerful enough to support at least scaled down versions of third party games, and the controls aren’t an issue this time. What about online? What about it? Nintendo has clearly learned from the disaster of Wii and DS. Miiverse, which is a persistent always on social network available across all games, offering in game chat, including text, voice, and video chat, status messages, messaging, screenshot and video sharing, and unified accounts, all demonstrate that Nintendo has got a handle on online now. It was late to the party, but it’s finally got it, and with a fully featured online suite, the Wii U isn’t limited in that regard either.
Of course, now this brings us to the killer question: yes, the Wii U can run scaled down versions of next gen games. Yes, the online and control scheme aren’t an issue. But why would you buy a Wii U in the first place to play inferior versions of games, when you can just go to the next Xbox or Playstation instead, and also keep all your friends lists and achievements intact while you are at it?
Why indeed. Because Nintendo is using the same technique Sony used with PS2 to get a headstart, that’s why. Because even if you aren’t interested in Nintendo’s first party, they are making sure you will want to buy a Wii U anyway, to play a third party developed game that appeals to your sensibilities, that will be available only on the Wii U. From Rayman Legends, the sequel to last year’s breakout hit Rayman Origins, to Day-Z inspired Wii U exclusive survival horror ZombiU, from mass action title The Wonderful 101, to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and finally, Bayonetta 2, the ultra violent, super sexed up sequel to one of this generation’s most ‘hardcore’ games, whatever that means, all of which are only available on the Wii U… you’ll probably end up buying one, if only to play these games.
But then, by the time the next Xbox and Playstation hit, you’ll already have a Wii U. Which will be getting all third party multiplat games anyway. Yes, you might even get the Playstation 4 or Xbox 720 for Uncharted or Halo, but why wouldn’t you get the multiplat games for the Wii U, where you would already have built up an online presence? Even if you don’t, enough people will, so that the game sells enough to turn a profit. Remember, a Wii U version of a multiplat will have minimal costs, in spite of all the scaling back.
Where does that leave us? The Wii U is launching at least a year before any of its competitors. It has a fully traditional control scheme, as well as the hook to sell it to the casuals. It has all the Just Dances and Wii Fits of the world, in addition to core third party support, both exclusive and multiplatform, from Rayman, ZombiU and Bayonetta to Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. It has the formidable backing of Nintendo’s first party. It has a full featured online suite. It’s just powerful enough to support any and all kinds of games.
The Wii U is primed for absolute domination next generation, especially if Nintendo plays all of its cards right. And judging by how well they handled the 3DS, especially in light of its initial failure, I have no doubt that they will.
Welcome home, Nintendo. It’s good to have you back.