Nintendo’s Short Sighted Approach Is Hurting The Wii U
From the time Nintendo showed off the Wii at their E3 press conference, I knew I had to have one for three reasons. Reason number one was Super Mario Galaxy. After the somewhat lackluster Super Mario Sunshine, Galaxy looked like a monumental leap for the 3D platforming franchise. The gameplay looked incredibly fluid and innovative, the graphics were beautiful, and the soundtrack was exquisite. The second reason was Metroid Prime 3. The Metroid Prime series was one of the best franchises in gaming, and the Wii-mote looked like it would vastly improve the way the series played. Then, we had the debut trailer for Smash Brothers Brawl. The trailer they showed didn’t have any gameplay footage, but it was Smash Brothers, it would be playable online, and it had Solid Snake in it. What else did I need to know? These games weren’t due out for some time, but that was fine. I knew I was going to buy a Wii whenever they did come out, so why not grab the system a little early and pass the time with Wii Sports and Rayman?
With the Wii U, Nintendo has taken a different strategy. Instead of focusing on titles coming out in the future, Nintendo’s focus has been exclusively on its launch lineup. This may seem like a good idea, but unless Nintendo changes their path within the coming months, the Wii U may be in for a rough launch.
The 3DS’s Failure To Launch
When your most impressive launch title is a port of a game that’s over 3 years old, you may have some problems.
When the 3DS debuted at E3, gamers were all kind of excited. The titles announced were downright amazing. Resident Evil: Revelations was a graphical marvel for a Nintendo handheld, Kid Icarus Uprising gave Nintendo fans an eagerly awaited reunion with an old friend and looked awesome to boot, Mario Kart 7 would surely be another great entry in the insanely popular franchise, Metal Gear Solid 3 looked like a worthy remake, Professor Layton promised another dose of puzzling fun, Animal Crossing is always a crowd-pleaser, and the first Paper Mario game in half a decade was headed to the new console. It was hard not to be excited for the impending launch of Nintendo’s new handheld.
Sadly, what was shown wasn’t nearly representative of the launch lineup. Kid Icarus, the first game Nintendo showed off for the 3DS, didn’t land until a year after the 3DS hit shelves. Resident Evil was another game that arrived a year late to the launch party. Mario Kart 7 didn’t launch until over half a year after the system’s launch, and we’re still waiting for Paper Mario, Professor Layton, and Animal Crossing. The 3DS’s launch lineup was, to be charitable, awful. Nintendo’s lineup consisted of Pilotwings Resort, an underrated but far too brief experience, Steel Diver, more of a tech demo than a game, and Nintendogs and Cats, a sequel that didn’t do enough to improve on the original. Out of the third party titles, only Super Street Fighter IV was worth its salt. As much as people complained about the price of the 3DS, the weak launch lineup was just as much of a factor in the 3DS’s launch issues.
Over-correcting The 3DS Problem
After years of phenomenal success with the Wii and DS, the 3DS’s failure was a rude awakening for Nintendo. Nintendo needed to use that failure as a learning experience, and they did. At this year’s E3 press conference, Nintendo showed that they internalized the lessons of their 3DS blunder. They let everyone know up front that every title shown off at their conference was to be released during the Wii U’s launch window, which should be the first 6 months or so of the console’s life. The launch lineup certainly looks a lot more robust than the 3DS’s. Rayman Legends looks even more stunning than its predecessor, Zombi U is shaping up very nicely, Pikmin 3 is an answer to the prayers of many Nintendo fans, Project P100 has the makings of a cult classic, Lego City Undercover should be a great open world game, New Super Mario Bros will be as solid as you’d expect, Scribblenauts Unlimited is the next in a line of innovative and unappreciated games, and Nintendo Land looks like a great demo for the Wii U Gamepad. As far as I can see, the Wii U should have the best first six months of any console since the Dreamcast, and its better than what the Wii, X-Box 360, and PS3 had by a country mile. So why aren’t people more excited?
The Wii U’s launch lineup is great… for a launch lineup. The problem is that launch lineups are rarely worth getting excited about. Launch lineups typically consist of mildly enhanced ports, well meaning but rushed products, and glorified tech demos. Launch games exist mainly to appease early adopters who were wowed by new hardware. Launch titles are an appetizer. They give you a taste of what a new console will offer, but they rarely give you the full experience. Games that will truly show off the capabilities of a system take a little more time to develop. Most early adopters understand that they’re not going to get the best stuff right out of the gate, but they’re willing to be patient. Again, if I know I’m going to buy the Wii when Mario Galaxy comes out, why not get the system early, enjoy some Raving Rabbids and Wario Ware while I wait, and bask in that glorious new console hype? As long as I know that the games I really care about are on the way, I’ll be happy to wait patiently.
The Good Stuff Is On The Way… Right? RIGHT?
With the 3DS, Nintendo hoped the hardware would sell itself while they worked on building the library. Nintendo worked hard to correct this issue with the Wii U, and they’ve put together a fairly strong launch lineup. The problem is that Nintendo over corrected. They became so laser focused on the launch lineup that they’ve given us next to no information on what will come after that launch. This lack of information would be a problem for most consoles, but for the Wii U, it’s disastrous. When the X-Box 360 launched, we had a good sense of what it would offer to improve our gaming experiences. We knew it would offer more power, HD resolution, and a better online interface. These are things that gamers knew they wanted. The Wii U’s selling point is its tablet controller, and this is not something gamers are sure they want.
I personally think that the Wii U’s Gamepad has a ton of potential to improve games. Many other gamers don’t see that potential, and that’s ok. It’s not their job to think about all of the different ways the Gamepad can be used. It’s Nintendo’s job to show them how it will make their gaming experience better. Frankly, most of the applications of the Gamepad we’ve seen so far range from underwhelming to kind of neat. We’ve yet to see something to truly blow our minds.
I think that Nintendo does have some truly interesting experiences planned for the future, and if they want to rev the hype engine up, they’ll need to show some of that off, and the time to show us these projects is now. Nintendo needs to show a truly cooperative 3D Mario platformer. They need to show off a Star Fox game where Fox pilots his Arwing on the TV while monitoring his teammates and giving orders with the Gamepad. We need to see a stealth game where the Gamepad becomes the ultimate spy tool. We need to see how having two distinct views can open the door for more intricate and rewarding puzzles in Zelda. We need to see how using the Gamepad as Samus’ visor will create a new level of immersion in Metroid. Nintendo needs to prove that the Wii U is capable of more than its launch titles will show.
Sell Us The Future
Early adopters do not buy new consoles solely to play launch titles. They buy new consoles as a long term investment. They buy them because they are convinced that the console will have a bright future filled with awesome games. It’s not enough for Nintendo to convince people that the Wii U will have solid titles at launch. Nintendo also needs to convince people that they’ll be enjoying the Wii U for years to follow. Nintendo hasn’t managed to do this yet, and as a result, the hype for their new console is not there yet. If Nintendo doesn’t show off the ambitious Wii U titles that I’d imagine they have planned, then the only reason to buy the console will be its launch lineup and blind faith. I don’t think these two factors alone will motivate many people outside of Nintendo’s hardcore base to buy the console. With three months left to build hype, I hope Nintendo starts showing off the true system sellers that they hopefully have planned.