With the Wii U fast approaching, there’s a sense of excitement in the air. People are talking about it, the HD, the controller, the next Zelda game… sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who’s not too impressed with what I see. I guess I’m skeptical of the Wii U and I feel there are things that need to be addressed. Things that could become a problem for Nintendo, but also things that could become a problem for us.
For simplicity’s sake, I have summarized my thoughts into three concrete points, though you could argue it’s just three symptoms of the same core problem. I guess that’s for you to decide. Regardless, just hit the jump to get started and be sure to tell us what you think by leaving a comment.
Number 1: Marketing
Let me take you back to E3 2011. I was in a Skype call with some friends, which is what we usually do for E3. When the Wii U was announced, I was very excited to see it. And then… confusion ensued. In the video, a young woman was putting a pad down on the ground and used a Wii remote to play golf. And I thought “wait, is this another Wii peripheral like the Balance Board, because I only see this touch pad, no console at all”. I wasn’t the only one who was confused initially. And sure, it pretty soon became apparent to us that this was indeed the controller for the new console, even though it looked very similar to the Wii itself and used Wii remotes. I feel like if we, the fans and gamers got confused–even for a few minutes–imagine how confused the casual gamers will be. Nintendo was catering to that crowd a lot with the Wii and DS but they’re eliminating a lot of them with the Wii U based on the similarities to the Wii. Especially the name: how is the casual gamer supposed to know the Wii U is a new console?
Why don’t we find out? This is a test you can actually do. See if your casual gamer friends can pick out the new console out of the following Wii-branded products:
Wii Balance Board
The 3DS, while selling well, suffers from the same problem of having a name too similar to the DS and all its different formats. How is someone not familiar with games supposed to know Kid Icarus is compatible with the 3DS but not the DSi or DS Lite? Had the Wii U been called Wii 2, it would be obvious to everyone that it’s a sequel to the Wii and life would be so much easier, especially for Nintendo’s marketing team that want to let the world know a new console has arrived that’s not an add-on or a new iteration of the Wii.
Number 2: Moving on in the wrong areas:
The MotionPlus is great. I love using it when I play Skyward Sword, or Red Steel 2 or… um… Wii Sports Resort… yeah there aren’t that many games using the MotionPlus, are there? The biggest reason for this is because it’s an add-on, so not every Wii player has it. Therefore, the market for a game that uses MotionPlus is smaller than the regular Wii market. So that’s one reason not to develop MotionPlus games right there, and it’s a shame because I feel like the MotionPlus is really what every motion controlled game should use. If I was Nintendo, I would’ve taken the Wii remotes off the market by the time the Wii Remote Plus controller came out and offer everyone who has a regular Wii remote to trade it in for a Wii Remote Plus at no charge. However, that is of course expensive and takes a lot of time and effort, so it would perhaps make more sense to make a new Wii remote standard for the next console, right? So why is Nintendo keeping the old Wii Remotes? For backwards compatibility it makes sense, but for newer games it means we will still be treated to the same waggle controls since the MotionPlus will still be a smaller market. In fact, the problem will be made worse since we also have the Wii U tablet as a standard controller. Except only for single player games because you can only use one pad per system. Which brings me to my third point:
Number 3: Lack of Focus
After all these years bragging about how motion controls give everyone a better experience and how it’s the future of gaming, Nintendo pretty much gives up on it and introduced the tablet. Sure, the Wii remotes will still be around but they’re not the focus of the console and need only be used for multiplayer games and maybe some single player ones like Zelda. Why is this a problem? Well, imagine you’re a developer. You’re coming up with some cool uses for the Wii U tablet. Suddenly, you realize you planned on making a multiplayer mode as well. However, to do that you need to come up with alternate controls for the Wii Remote since you can only have one tablet per system. Chances are you’ll either scrap the tablet or scrap local multiplayer. The game industry has been moving away from local multiplayer for some time now (though co-op has been getting popular, thank God). I feel like the Wii U will only further motivate people to get rid local multiplayer and focus on the online experience. So you say, okay but that’s only for multiplayer games. If you’re developing a single player game and only use the tablet then you can use all its cool features, right? Well…
Let’s look at the tablet and its features. One cool thing about it is that you can have the HUD on your controller so they don’t clog up the TV screen. That’s pretty neat. Same goes for the pause screen, you put it on the controller so you can still see what’s going on in the paused game. You also have the option of using the controller as your main screen if someone else is using the TV. Hey, that’s even better than the last two. It’s so convenient that it’s even one of the main selling points of the Wii U. And it is a good idea. Except, when you’re using the controller as your main screen you have to put the HUD back on the tablet screen, so while that extra space on the TV screen was nice, you can’t put it to good use in-game like have more enemies come from above or something, because the player might need that space for the HUD if the tablet is used as the main screen. Same goes for pause menu screen. So while both those features are neat… they can’t give you a deeper gaming experience, unless you want to remove the switch screens feature. But since it’s one of the main selling points of the Wii U, I feel like that would just be confusing. Imagine this scenario, dad comes home and wants to watch Vampire Diaries (because dad has a really bad taste when it comes to TV shows) and I’m playing Super Mario Galaxy 3:
Dad: Hey son, would you mind switching to the controller, I have to see who gets bitten today.
Son: Sorry dad, I can’t.
Dad: Why not? Isn’t this Wii supposed to do that? I saw it on the commercials.
Son: Yeah but it doesn’t work for this game.
Dad: What? Then why did we buy it when you already have another Wii?
Son: It’s not the sa… you know what, I’ll just pause the game and you can switch channels.
So we talked about what it might be like for a developer to sort out the Wii U’s different options. Now, with the example above in mind, imagine being a customer buying Wii U games: ”Oh, this game looks neat, let’s see. So it uses the Wii U tablet, but in some cases also Wii remotes, and some of those need MotionPlus and there’s a balance board and a zapper… I’m confused.” Like I said before, those of us who play video games won’t find it all too difficult, it’s about the others. The casual gamers, the parents buying gifts for their kids, the poor GameStop clerks who have to explain all these things because Nintendo couldn’t focus on one direction.
So what should be made different? What are my ideas for preventing these issues? First off, scrap the name Wii U and call is Super Wii. Wii 2 is also possible but Super Wii sounds cooler. Then, the most important step is redesigning the Wii remote and release that as the standard controller, replacing the tablet. This controller would be a Wii remote with better battery life, integrated vitality sensor (if they’re still doing that) and better MotionPlus. While SS controls were good, they could be more accurate with some new hardware, and the MotionPlus is five years old now. Surely we can get something better by now. Finally, I would prefer the GameCube button layout instead of just the A button, and maybe put an extra trigger button beside the B button. The Nunchuck should probably have MotionPlus as well, and perhaps make that wireless as well?
Unfortunately I have zero influence over Nintendo. And ultimately, if these issues aren’t addressed, we the gamers risk being the ones suffering for it. I say that because when the developers aren’t sure which direction to go in, it’s a lot more difficult to make good games. And when the consumers aren’t sure which direction they want to go in (say invest in more Wii Remotes, MotionPlus, or a Wii Fit) a lot of good games that deserve sales might get alienated to a certain degree. Worst case scenario: developers aren’t willing to take any risks and only make single player games using the tablet and it’s standard features. And then we end up with just another batch of sequels, another Modern Warfare, another Street Fighter 4 edition, another Riiiidge Racer. See, what was so great about the Wii is that it made developers think. It made them come up with new ideas to enhance the gaming experience, because the Wii Remote essentially forced them to. Sure, a lot of ideas failed and some games just had plain bad controls and would’ve been better with a traditional controller, but at least progression was being made and inventions were encouraged and some games turned out great, like Red Steel 2, Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition and of course Skyward Sword. Unfortunately I feel that with the Wii U, Nintendo’s pushing people into several different directions when they should keep going in the same path they’ve gone with the Wii, and try their best to improve the Wii experience, improve the lacking features such as online capabilities and overall make it easier for 3rd parties to work with the Wii U to develop some great, innovative, fresh games that really stand out as a unique experience.
We’re only a few weeks away from the Game Developers Conference. Though Nintendo is not holding a keynote like last year, it’s still possible that some announcement will be made. There have been rumors floating about that they might change the name of the Wii U and we know from before that Nintendo’s considering making the Wii U able to have multiple tablets instead of just one per system. Whether it becomes reality or not remains to be seen. I for one, really hope so.