Update: Written shortly after taking a look at the upcoming Wii U, this article is no longer one I can completely agree with. I feel I was a bit off on #1, #3, and possibly #6. But we can't always be right.
Nintendo’s recent Wii U press event in New York was quite enjoyable, with notable announcements, plenty of rah-rah-Nintendo speeches and over four hours of the press wandering around demoing games. At the end of the day I realized I had learned quite a lot about what Nintendo was going for and how well it was working. Ten things particularly stood out for me, some in a good way, some in a bad way. But just as Nintendo changed the name of Project P-100 to The Wonderful 101, claiming the added “1” was you, the player, I’m making this list my top 10 realizations, plus 1. The 1, in this case, is me.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Nintendo is Taking the Core Seriously
The big surprise of Nintendo’s press event was the announcement of a Wii-U-exclusive sequel to Bayonetta Platinum Games’ over-the-top action title. Nintendo has been saying that with the Wii U they hoped to win back the core gamers who never cared about the Wii, and Bayonetta 2 is a confirmation that yes, they care about the core. And with games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Pikmin 3, and Assassin’s Creed 3 coming this fall, it’s possible the core will care about the Wii U as well.
2. Nintendo Sees the Wii U as a Full Entertainment System
For years, Nintendo’s attitude has been, “the others want to be entertainment systems that play games, but at Nintendo, it’s all about gaming.” Now they seem to have changed their minds, with a promising integrated entertainment system called Wii TVii and a social networking system called Miiverse that aims to be a gamer’s Facebook, Nintendo is now seriously competing with the Xbox 360 for control of the living room. I’m looking forward to seeing how this battle plays out.
3. Third Party Support is Solid
No, the Wii U will not have every cool game coming out on the other consoles this year, but at launch, consoles are almost always shy of full third party support. Between Nintendo and a solid number of other publishers, the Wii U currently has 50+ games set to come out during the console’s launch window. While that won’t be enough for the naysayers, it’s still an impressive achievement.
4. Nintendo Land is No Wii Sports
One of the reasons for the success of the Wii was the inclusion of Wii Sports, a fun collection of mini-games that beautifully showed off what the Wii was capable of. It’s understandable that Nintendo wants something similar for the Wii U, but no matter how many times Nintendo tells me that Nintendo Land is really, really exciting, I’m never excited. Sure, the “Metroid Blast” mini-game is pretty fun and Luigi’s Mansion is cute, but overall the games lack the conceptual simplicity of those from Wii Sports, and some sections of Nintendo Land, like “Pikmin Adventure,” feel like throwaways. Overall, the game seems closer to Wii Play: Motion than Wii Sports.
5. Ubisoft Really Gets the Wii in a Way Even Nintendo Doesn’t
As I finally got a chance to check out Rayman Legends, I thought, this game’s use of asynchronous gameplay blows away that of Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U. Having previously thought that ZombiU represented the most interesting attempt to fully integrate the Wii U gamepad into a game, I feel like Nintendo is in danger of only being the second best developer of Wii U games.
6. Nintendo Has Lost Interest in MotionPlus
Is MotionPlus dead? Nintendo’s upgrade to the Wii remote offered vastly improved gesture fidelity, but was used in only a handful of games. The Wii U could have been Nintendo’s opportunity to force developers to use the superior Wii Remote Plus, but instead, the Wii U not only still supports the basic Wii remote, but Nintendo insists the Wii U SKUs don’t need to include remotes and nunchuks because most people already have them. With most Wii U remotes lacking MotionPlus, it seems unlikely developers will even consider using it now. Rest in peace, MP.
7. 2-Player Non-Split Screen Play Works Surprisingly Well
When Activision announced that 2 players in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 multiplayer could skip the split screen in favor of one using the TV and one using the gamepad, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea. The big screen just seems more appealing than that little touch screen. But when I played the game on the gamepad, I thought the screen was completely satisfying and not all that small. It was definitely less annoying than split screen; it’s nice to suffer no confusion about which screen I’m on.
8. NFC is MIAWhile the gamepad supports NFC technology, not a single announced game is using it. It makes one wonder if it was really worth putting into the mix.
9. Nintendo Doesn't Care Much About Selling Wii Us to People Who Don't Own Wiis
It was surprising that neither Wii U SKU includes a Wii remote or nunchuk, since many games, like Nintendo Land and Rayman Legends, require at least one Wii remote for multiplayer mode. Nintendo says they don’t need to include remotes because they are in so many homes already, but this means Nintendo has virtually written off gamers who never bought a Wii, or bought and sold one. For these gamers, the Wii U is more expensive. Couldn’t Nintendo at least throw in a discount coupon on a Wii remote or Classic Controller Pro with every Wii U sold?
10. Nintendo Really Wanted to Keep the Price DownAfter having had to drop the price of the 3DS after poor initial sales, Nintendo really needed a good price point on the Wii U. That’s why there’s no Wii remote included in the SKUs and why the CPU is weaker than that of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Of course, Nintendo could have done what Microsoft and Sony do and sold a more expensive console at a loss, but that is anathema to Nintendo’s business philosophy, so they cut corners instead.
11. The Wii U is Probably Going to Be Pretty Awesome
I’ve been cautiously optimistic about the Wii U since it launched. But after Nintendo announced ambitious concepts like the Miiverse and Nintendo TVii, after I got a chance to try out the console for myself, and after I spent hours in Nintendo’s Wii U demo room admiring the gorgeous graphics and terrific gameplay of Darksiders II, Trine 2: Director’s Cut, Assassin’s Creed 3, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, Rayman Legends and other games, I began to think, this thing is going to be really, really cool. After that September press event, my optimism lost most of its caution: the Wii U is gonna rule.