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Wii U consoleAnalysis: The Wii U

While there’s been much talk of tablets, social media and, streaming games over the past year, Nintendo is planning to release a new traditional console next year. With the launch of 3DS behind it and the Wii starting to show its age, there’s definitely a sense that the company might have seen the high-water mark for its blue-ocean strategy this time around. However, the restart of the console cycle also brings some new opportunities to fix problems with the old console. Click here and read as we take a look at the initial details of the console, and analyze the new console’s prospects for success. 

Now that all the hype has died down, and there has been some time toi think about things, The Laser has come to some early conclusions about the next console from Nintendo, Wii U. Its sort of an odd name (again) and the controller seems a little odd as well (again) but there are some intruiging strategies at play here. One of the most frequent criticisms of the Wii was its emphasis on the casual gamer at the seeming expense of the traditional ‘hardcore’ gamer crowd. Nintendo made several attempts to address this with the release of games like Sin & Punishment 2, Metroid Other M and Donkey Kong Country Returns. Third parties also tried to attract the hardcore gamer with games like Epic Mickey and The Conduit. None of these seemed to have made much of an impact on gamers, and their sales were disappointing. The market for Wii was flooded with an avalanche of mainstream games covering every conceivable reality show, kids games and casual mini-game collections. Ironically, the games that were least traditional such as Just Dance, Carnival Games, Wii Fit and Wii Sports had the biggest success, and lured causal gamers to the console to the tune of millions of units sold. However, it seems that the novelty has worn off and the machine seems to have lost some of its luster and novelty, with a large portion probably due to its age, having been on the market for nearly five years now. At the introduction of Wii U at E3 this past June, it was seen that Nintendo is looking to address this perception of the Wii with their next console, which looks to fix these problems.

Obviously, the Wii U’s controller is the console’s centerpiece and represents another step in a radically different direction. Instead of merely releasing an upgraded wii-mote, as other companies would do, Nintendo has once again re-imagined their controller as a more sophisticated device owing more in common to the iPad than a traditional controller. Its LCD screen will allow players to play with the machine while its turned on, or even play games when it is not. This will give the system some casual appeal, but the addition of a second analog stick on the face means the Nintendo tablet will also appeal to the hardcore first person shooter (FPS) gamer. The Wii U tablet is a unique concept in terms of console gaming, but its not completely alien. It’s a hybrid that both resembles a modern tablet computer while also incorporating elements of handhelds like the DS. With it’s a mixture of familiar elements, Nintendo is aiming at an input device that can bridge the gap between the casual and hardcore gamer. Since so many gamers are using to gaming on their tablets now, the Wii U controller feels less like a risk than an evolution to where the casual gaming market is already heading. Unfortunately, there’s a few limitations on the device.

One of the most frequently speculated on aspects of current Wii has been its price. There’s little doubt that the Wii’s cheaper price broadened its appeal during difficult economic times, but the more advanced hardware and tablet seen in the Wii U prototypes seem to point to a more expensive system this time around. Nintendo probably knows more than anyone the drawbacks of a console that’s over-priced and over-speced, They aren’t run by dummies – and there can be little doubt they’ve paid attention to how Sony squandered their industry lead by over-clocking the PS3. We doubt the Wii U will approach the PS3’s exorbitant launch price, but it might be more expensive than the consoles Nintendo usually produces, at least at launch. However, its probably a good bet that it will remain much cheaper than anything Microsoft of Sony delivers.

The biggest drawback from a functional standpoint seems to be the inability to use more than one at a time, and the fact that the tablet won’t be a truly independent device like true handheld. Despite this, there’s definitely a lot of potential for developers to come up with innovative and fresh ideas, and the Wii U tablet’s flexibility will probably make for some interesting ideas. There’s little doubt, given Nintendo’s track record that the Wii U will sport some excellent software at launch. The idea of utilizing such a sophisticated control interface with the likes of Zelda, Metroid and Mario is one that should give any gamer goosebumps, but therein lies the problem. It’s been a continuing pattern for many years, as third parties have had a lot of trouble breaking through Nintendo’s audience. and while the increased tech specs and more hardcore FPS friendly controller go a long way, these seem like reactions. The appearance of some hard core games on the E3 trailers was impressive, and the industry statements from third-parties such as Ubisoft and EA appear strong. However, it remains to be seen if this is merely launch infatuation or a long-term commitment.  

Still, the biggest problem that Wii U will face when it comes out next year, isn’t in its tech specs or the initial industry support, but in the perception, fair or not, that Nintendo basically caters to younger and causal gamers. It’s a strange paradox, since among all the current console makers, its Nintendo that seems to have the most ingrained brand-loyalty. Most of today’s gamers have their fondest memories of Nintendo console gaming, for many the NES or SNES was their first console, Their stable of franchises is unmatched, but on the other hand, it seems like many of this generation also prefer to do their ‘serious’ gaming on the Xbox 360 or PS3. The Wii’s under-powered hardware is partially to blame, but it’s also Nintendo’s own doing. By spending so much time on the causal gamers, they seem to have neglected the FPS crowd, and these gamers probably wouldn’t give the Wii a chance now. The good news is that the video game industry allows for a reboot every five or six years, and now with the opportunity arising once again, it looks like Nintendo is aiming even higher. Instead of merely trying to capture the new blue ocean of casual, yet fickle gamers, they are trying to creating an all-in-one device that will appeal to gamers of all types.

Of course, there are a number of unknowns that might make a huge difference this time around. The rise of online gaming, downloadable content and streaming has changed the face of gaming. While the current Wii shop is adequate, its nothing compared to Xbox Live, and feels almost rudimentary in comparison. Nintendo is keeping the details of their next console’s online capabilities close right now, but we’d expect a more ambitious strategy. This fits in with their pattern over the years, which has sometimes been smart, but other times makes their approach seem dated, From the transition from cartridge-based media to disks, to online Nintendo has been content to stay in the background and implement technology after it has been well-established. With its wireless tablet, we expect online to play a much greater role in the Wii U, but just how important it will be depends on developer support which will depend mostly on Nintendo’s own initiatives. While there’s far too much unknown at this time to make a prediction with any certainty, those who underestimate Nintendo have been continually proven wrong over the past five years. If anything has been learned, its that the skeptics probably are too cynical. As for the Wii U, it looks to build on the solid foundation and market Nintendo built with the Wii, but now it appears the company is reaching back to re-engage the hardcore audience, Whether the Wii U can accomplish this mission successfully isn’t known, but Nintendo deserves credit for once again thinking of new innovations.

Michael Palisano  



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