Wii U: The Little Engine That Could (and Should)

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Ever since the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, game journalists have pushed out editorial after editorial asking, “What can be done about the Wii U?” Brenna Hillier of VG247 says “Nintendo needs to reach beyond its catalogue to save [the] Wii U.” VideoGamer asked, “Is this the end for the Wii U?” And Gamenesia ran with a fanboy-baiting title pointing to the fact that the Wii U was outsold by the Vita in Japan, despite the release of a new Mario game. Yet looking at the sales figures in the same article, we can see that the margin the Vita outsold it by was a massive 42 units. Not only that, but the article fails to mention that the 3DS XL sold more than the Vita, the Wii U, and the original 3DS combined. The most ridiculous figure in that list is that the Xbox 360 sold 342 units in one week. The original Wii beat that with 457 sales.

But I digress. Hillier’s article is filled with vast generalisations quoting “the Twitterati.” Worse, she stuffs words in Nintendo’s mouth by using inverted commas as if the company has somehow uttered them, or, at the very least, thought them (“We’re Nintendo, and we do what Nintendo does.”).

Reading this article made me angry for a number of reasons. One, she is absolutely right – yet she has written this piece with a pessimistic crudeness – “Nintendo knows it bollocksed the Wii U marketing” – that also reeks of a self-aggrandising attitude toward the product itself. “It’s no longer fashionable to believe in the Wii U,” smirks the subheader.

And that made me even angrier, because this is where she is dead wrong. Why? Because it’s never been fashionable to believe in the Wii U. Ever since it was released, it has been a target for fanboy journalistic hooligans who would take shots at the console like Melissa Bachman would a sleeping lion.

In fact, the opposite now seems to be true. The Wii U has had a year to shine, and it has failed, partly because it did not live up to the hype and sales figures of its predecessor. Yet at the same time, it has garnered a loyal following of four million users and a lively social media platform with Miiverse. Perhaps more importantly, the dual release of the much heralded next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft has made the Wii U look like a smart investment. The much lauded and beautiful games have turned out to be, frankly, a bit rubbish. For better or worse, Metacritic provides a dissection of all reviews, and Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome barely made it past 60/100. The PlayStation 4’s cutesy platformer Knack fared far worse at 55/100. It’s even possible to argue that the Wii U’s launch lineup has proven to be better than those belonging to the PS4 and Xbox One, just as Mike Rolland of 6aming did.

Journalists are beginning to realise that all that was promised with the next-generation has not been delivered. Far from it, if you dare to wade into the murky swamps of comparing resolutions. Yet for all the bashing the Wii U has taken this year, recent articles are emerging that shine a more positive light on Nintendo’s console, highlighting a change in position, or belief, in the general gaming industry arena.

I’m not going to deny the facts; the sales figures for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One have been far healthier than the Wii U. Sony should be commended for balancing a quality console with price. Microsoft, on the other hand, will soon be seeking a price cut if it wants to compete properly in regions it will not in until Fall 2014. Yet, what was the best-selling game on these consoles? Call of Duty: Ghosts, a game that has barely changed over the last three iterations, that is also available on current-generation platforms, and survives solely on the appeal of multi-player. If this is to be the future of console games, I may bow out now.

But I won’t, not until Nintendo stops making consoles, anyway. I have not bought a PS4 to replace my PS3 yet, but I will do so, just as soon as Naughty Dog release an Uncharted title for it. Meanwhile, the Wii U has had some amazing and original games for it. They’ve got The Wonderful 101, Lego City: Undercover, and Pikmin 3, just to name a few. I would be more optimistic than Hillier and say that Super Mario 3D World came out at the perfect time, four weeks before Christmas, when the general public are picking up gifts. The PlayStation 4 is going to be sold out until January, and the Xbox One is too expensive. The Wii U is well placed this holiday season. Does Nintendo know it “bollocksed the Wii U marketing,” as Hillier put it? Nintendo UK certainly does, as that is who she quotes, and that branch of the company has already made strides to rectify the situation.

As the new generation dawned on players, the dazzling light faded to reveal the meteoric rise of microtransactions. Games of the previous generation that implemented these payments were harshly criticised for doing so. According to The Metro, Turn 10’s Forza 5 has found itself in the firing line for its rather audacious microtransaction pricing and broken promises regarding which cars would be affordable. Eurogamer had much the same to say about the PS4 racer Gran Turismo 6, working out that if you wanted to buy the Jaguar XJ13 rather than earn it, it would cost £119.95 ($196), more than three times as much as the actual game. As companies seek other monetary avenues to offset the skyrocketing prices of game design, they adversely affect the design of the game itself. As blogger “Starving Gamer” said in a discussion thread on microtransactions: “Development costs are inflating, making secondary revenue streams more and more crucial to a game’s success. When the next generation rolls around, refusing to support a game that features microtransaction may mean finding a new hobby. Or sticking exclusively to the Wii U.”

Nintendo may be many things, but as a company in the Corporatocracy that lauds over the global economy, it comes across as sincere, even honest. For better or worse, Nintendo is the only console manufacturer that aggressively tries to incorporate backwards compatibility, not only of games, but controllers as well. And like “Starving Gamer” says, it is unlikely Nintendo would charge £100 ($163.50) just to buy a new kart in Mario Kart 8.

Will the Wii U ever sell the same as the Wii? Highly unlikely. The Wii was a cheap, cost effective game console that managed to tap into a market that would never have considered a video game console. It made both Microsoft and Sony take note. For better or worse, the Wii is in many ways responsible for the Kinect, and as the above figures show, still outsells the Xbox 360 in Japan. The Wii U looks as if it will fall more in line with the GameCube’s sales figures of just over 21 million units, but the 3DS was labelled a failure in its first year as well when it was released with a price tag of $250, so who can really predict the future?

So, to answer Hillier’s initial comment – does Nintendo need to reach beyond its own catalogue? The question seems moot, as they already have. There have already been a number of solid third-party Wii U exclusives released. Without Nintendo, there would not be a sequel to Bayonetta. Yet these games have not and will not ‘save’ the Wii U, although they will certainly help. Instead, I think Nintendo needs to start looking at its vast back catalogue and reworking some old fan favourites for the new age. The Star Fox franchise would be a great start, as would revisiting Pilotwings. A new Paper Mario that utilises the GamePad’s drawing feature would be ideal. Wave Race, Blast Corps, and of course F-Zero would all be stellar titles. The Nintendo catalogue is vast and full of ideas or characters that could be introduced to a new generation of players, or ones that have been completely overlooked, like Geist and Baten Kaitos. The company could even resurrect projects that were canned during the Wii’s tenure, like Nibris’ Sadness or Project H.A.M.M.E.R. Let’s not forget the Wii had a slew of excellent RPGs, and while players will be treated with a sequel to the excellent Xenoblade Chronicles, another installment of Pandora’s Tower or The Last Story would be most welcome.

Hillier suggests that the company should strengthen its bonds with 3rd party companies instead of relying on Shigeru Miyamoto’s aged well-tread franchises. There is certainly some wisdom to be found there, and as She Attack reports, Reggie Aime-Fils has suggested Nintendo is making strides to court third-party western developers to develop their own games or to reinvigorate Nintendo IPs at a faster rate than is currently happening. However, Nintendo knows the power of originality and innovation all too well, and with the current slump in Wii U sales we could see completely new characters or franchises born from the desire to survive.

The bottom line is, after one year with the Wii U on release, Nintendo has found itself in a hole, and needs to dig itself out of it in the only way Nintendo can: by making great games exclusively for its console. Price cuts and marketing may help, but the Wii U is designed for games by a company that is synonymous with innovation in the games industry. While other franchises – Call of Duty, Battlefield, Killzone, Halo – flag sequel after sequel, Mario has been constantly reinvented and remade, yet still manages to feel fresh and fun. My Wii U will sit proudly alongside my PlayStation 3 and my PlayStation 4 (when the time comes). “We’re Nintendo, and we do what Nintendo does,” is something to be proud of, not something to berate.

This entry was posted in Opinions, Top Story, Wii U. Bookmark the permalink.
In addition to being Warp Zoned's UK Correspondent, Andrew Rainnie is a screenwriter and filmmaker. You can email him at andrew AT warpzoned DOT com or you can, if you're inclined, visit his personal website.

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