A lot of people walked away from this year’s E3 disappointed with Wii U. I guess I can understand it; most of us were probably expecting Nintendo to show off some kind of ‘hardcore’ franchise to prove how serious they are about pushing back towards that audience, and nothing materialized. It doesn’t help that there doesn’t seem to be a large amount of excitement behind the Wii U compared to the Wii, which had everybody and their grandmother wanting one thanks to the Power of Wii Sports and the promise of Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime, and Smash Bros. lingering in gamers’ minds.
But I don’t think that Wii U is in trouble. Not one bit. Sure, it’s no Wii, but I think it’s poised to have a pretty good launch - and I think that a number of criticisms people levy towards it actually have historically proven to be strengths for Nintendo.
Almost everybody in the gaming press underestimates the brand power of New Super Mario Bros. You’d think they’d have learned after proving that despite many gamers perceiving them as watered-down rehashes - the Wii game in particular got a lot of knocks for looking “too much like the DS game” - both of the current games managed to break their way into the top ten best-selling pieces of awesome of all time and propelled their respective systems to massive heights. Even though we’ve seen a kind of repeat of the initial industry tepidness from all the outspoken angles, I’m pretty confident that New Super Mario Bros. U will continue the trend and become a big hit for consumers as long as Wii U comes out at the right price. (I am also publicly in love with the game.)
So while I don’t know that Wii has its big Wii Sports hype-generator, it has something better: Super Mario Bros. Nintendo knows full well the selling power of Mario, and I think they’re putting it out early to give the game (and the Wii U) a bit of a head start while they prepare a more robust lineup for later. And speaking of robust lineups…
That’s right, I’m saying it. It’s a pretty bold statement, but if you look at the facts, it’s also a pretty obviously-true one. A lot of people say the Wii U launch lineup is poor… but they don’t know what they’re talking about. Have they ever actually thought about the launch lists for other systems historically? I’ll let history speak for itself. Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?
10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Pinball, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew, Mach Rider, Super Mario Bros. (18 games)
Sega Master System
Action Fighter, Black Belt, Choplifter, Fantasy Zone, Hang-On, Transbot, World Grand Prix (7 games)
Alien Crush, China Warrior, Dungeon Explorer, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, Power Golf, R-Type, The Legendary Axe, Victory Run, Vigilante (9 games)
Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings, SimCity, Gradius III (5 games)
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Altered Beast, Last Battle, Space Harrier II, Super Thunder Blade, Thunder Force II, Tommy Lasorda Baseball (7 games)
Virtua Fighter, Panzer Dragoon, Clockwork Knight, Bug!, Daytona USA (5 games)
Air Combat, Battle Arena Toshinden, ESPN Extreme Games, Kileak - The DNA Imperative, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, Power Serve 3D Tennis, Rayman, Ridge Racer, Street Fighter: The Movie, The Raiden Project, Total Eclipse Turbo (11 games)
Pilotwings 64, Super Mario 64 (2 games)
Aerowings, AirForce Delta, Blue Stinger, Expendable, Flag to Flag, The House of the Dead 2, Hydro Thunder, Monaco Grand Prix, Mortal Kombat Gold, NFL 2K, NFL Blitz 2000, Pen Pen TriIcelon, Power Stone, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Sonic Adventure, Soulcalibur, TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat, Tokyo Xtreme Racer, TrickStyle (19 games)
Armored Core 2, DOA2: Hardcore, Dynasty Warriors 2, ESPN International Track & Field, ESPN Winter X Games Snowboarding, Eternal Ring, Evergrace, FantaVision, Gungriffon Blaze, Kessen, Madden NFL 2001, Midnight Club: Street Racing, NHL 2001, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, Q-Ball: Billiards Master, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, Ridge Racer V, Silent Scope, Smuggler’s Run, SSX, Street Fighter EX3, Summoner, Surfing H3O, Swing Away Golf, Tekken Tag Tournament, TimeSplitters, Unreal Tournament, Wild Wild Racing, X-Squad (30 games)
All-Star Baseball 2002, Batman: Vengeance, Crazy Taxi, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2, Disney’s Tarzan Untamed, Luigi’s Mansion, Madden NFL 2002, NHL Hitz 20-02, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Super Monkey Ball, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Wave Race: Blue Storm (12 games)
Halo: Combat Evolved, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, Dead or Alive 3, Project Gotham Racing, NFL Fever 2002, AirForce Delta Storm, Mad Dash Racing, Cel Damage, Arctic Thunder, Fuzion Frenzy, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X, 4x4 EVO 2 (12 games)
Amped 3, Call of Duty 2, Condemned: Criminal Origins, FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, GUN, Kameo: Elements of Power, Madden NFL 06, NBA 2K6, NBA Live 06, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, NHL 2K6, Perfect Dark Zero, Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, Project Gotham Racing 3, Quake 4, Ridge Racer 6, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland (18 games)
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII, Call of Duty 3, Genji: Days of the Blade, Madden NFL 07, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, NBA 2K7, NHL 2K7, Resistance: Fall of Man, Ridge Racer 7, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, Tony Hawk’s Project 8, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom (13 games)
Avatar: The Last Airbender, Call of Duty 3, Cars, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, Excite Truck, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, GT Pro Series, Happy Feet, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Madden NFL 07, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Monster 4x4: World Circuit, Need for Speed: Carbon, Rampage: Total Destruction, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Red Steel, SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, Trauma Center: Second Opinion, Wii Sports (21 games)
Wii U (already-confirmed holiday games, not counting digital-only)
NBA 2K13, Ben 10: Omniverse, Family Party: 30 Great Games, Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game, Mass Effect 3, Jett Tailfin, TANK! TANK! TANK!, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Lego City Undercover, New Super Mario Bros. U, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, Nintendo Land, SiNG, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Darksiders II, Assassin’s Creed III, Just Dance 4, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth, Rabbids Land, Sports Connection, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013, ZombiU, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition (24 games)
Why are people complaining, again? It’s not the absolute-biggest lineup (second to PlayStation 2), but it’s definitely the most robust. Can you count the number of AAA titles on this list? Now can you count the number of non-AAA best-selling franchises? Wii U is going to be fine in this department; again, the only problem is whether it can come out at the right price…
Nintendo has historically made some bad choices in terms of hardware tech specs that have turned out somewhat badly for it. I’ll be the first to admit that not making the jump to the CD format cost them Final Fantasy back in the N64 days, just like the GameCube’s “mini-discs” and the Wii’s completely in the dust graphical and processing power. But the theme has always been one of failing to create an atmosphere that’s friendly to third-parties. Where Nintendo’s decisions to cut certain tech from their consoles translates to savings for its customers, it always does well.
So far, the only places where we know Wii U is skimping are nonessential stats. Only 8GB of internal flash memory? Sure, it’s not the 160GB hard drive many PS3s pack nowadays, but that means Nintendo can skim $50+ off the entry price. And I’ll be honest - with the ability to plug in basically any size hard drive externally, I’m pretty sure that cutting costs means more for more people than including lots of memory in the unit (and is therefore a less risky sale even than a secondary “hardcore” Wii U model with a hard drive would be). No multi-touch? If the GamePad were supposed to operate as an independent tablet, then sure, this would be a problem, but I seriously doubt you’ll use multi-touch when using it as a game controller. More than likely one of your hands will be holding onto the buttons. This might not help Nintendo bring a lot of mobile app developers to the system, but somehow I don’t think they’ll be missed.
Keeping their home systems accessible has always brought people to Nintendo’s table. By that I don’t mean making the games easier, but keeping the price low. I know that a $300 price tag is pretty much the only way I personally will be able to afford one on launch day.
The big philosophy behind Wii was that someone needs to combat disinterest in gaming in order to keep the market healthy - and Nintendo tried to do just that with games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit. Unfortunately, while Wii did partially succeed in its mission by making customers out of people who wouldn’t normally buy a game console, it didn’t really do much to expand that growth into traditional games. As Iwata said during a recent investors’ briefing:
“Wii was able to reach a large number of new consumers who had never played games before by bringing hands-on experiences with its “Wii Sports” and “Wii Fit.” However, we could not adequately create the situation that such new consumers played games frequently or for long, consistent periods. As a result, we could not sustain a good level of profit. Moreover, regrettably, what we prioritized in order to reach out to the new audience was a bit too far from what we prioritized for those who play games as their hobby. Consequently, we presume some people felt that the Wii was not a game system for them or they were not willing to play with the Wii even though some compelling games had been released.”
Nintendo’s stated that Nintendo Land is to Wii U what Wii Sports was for Wii, but I’ve been discussing this matter with Erica and we’ve come to the conclusion that that’s only partly true. I don’t think Nintendo Land will reach nearly as many people as Wii Sports and its sequel did - I do however think that Nintendo Land is going to more effectively convert casual players to more kinds of games by virtue of its sampling of a number of Nintendo franchises and genres. In that respect, it’s going to do what Nintendo hoped the Wii Sports line would do… but not quite accomplish what Wii Sports actually accomplished.
Apart from that, when you think about it, Nintendo Land should be a beacon of hope for Nintendo fans. The attraction lineup seems to suggest that many of these franchises will be represented in some way on Wii U - otherwise why go to so much trouble to promote their various features and quirks and styles of gameplay? Even though most of these games didn’t show up at E3, you can bet they’ll be there in the coming years… maybe even in the first few months. We only know of the games that are showing up in the initial launch window - the rest of the lineup is wide open.