Wii U

Wii U is the sound you make when you try to whistle but you don’t know how. It is also Nintendo’s new console announced today during E3 that finally brings them up to speed with Sony and Microsoft in terms of HD graphics and multi-platform titles.

Personally, I am not feeling it.

Nintendo’s strategy at the start of this console cycle was cheap + mass appeal + photogenic gimmick = money printing. Both the NDS and Wii were technically inferior to their competition but sold like hot cakes. Nintendo won big betting on casual gamers, but the groovy train is coming to an end thanks to the mobile gaming market. Games like Phoenix Wright can easily be played on the iPhone now and dedicated gaming devices have to set their sights higher.

Wii U

It’s quite clear that the 3DS and the Wii U represent a subtle but significant shift in strategy to bring so-called “hardcore” gamers and 3rd-party developers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft back into the fold. I use the term “hardcore”, but I really mean 13-year-old kids playing Modern Warfare 2. These core multi-platform games usually feature standard HD graphics and extensive online gameplay, both of which are not Wii’s strong suits. Wii U is trying to play catch-up and the E3 demo is just screaming, “Look how hardcore we are now.” See: blood-soaked Ninja Gaiden footages.

Nintendo is caught between a rock and a hard place. (That’s what she said.) The traditional casual gaming market it once dominated is now a massive free-for-all deathmatch where any indie developer living in his mother’s basement can potentially create the next Angry Birds and sell it on Apple’s App Store. On the other extreme, Nintendo’s years of disengagement from the “hardcore” gaming scene have left the PS3 and 360 comfortably cashing in on generic multi-platform shooter sequels that are too graphics-intensive for the Wii. I am not sure Wii U can modify that balance and still be successful.

To a gamer looking for new experiences, the “innovative” controller this time is far less visceral than the obvious appeal of motion controls. Multi-platform games from 3rd-party companies are not going to use the controller screen for anything more than stats and HUD elements. The controller layout also looks terrible for shooters, or at least even more terrible than what consoles have now.

I really don’t think the new controller will really be a huge advantage now that Wii U has to compete at the same level (and possibly price point) as the PS3 and 360. There’s no price announced yet, but performance costs money and those controllers look pricey. The Wii U is not going to be cheap, even if they try to cut cost with resistive screens.

The Wii U will still sell and make money just because it’s Nintendo, but I am quite certain, judging by the 3DS’ faltering sales, that the set of conditions that made NDS and Wii so massively successful no longer exists today. The casual gaming market has left the building and Wii U is fighting an uphill battle to win back core gamers. If it can compete for multi-platform games in terms of online infrastructure (there’s a PS3 joke in there somewhere) and technical capabilities, then the added Nintendo first-party magic can help the console thrive.

But all that aside, the name is fucking ridiculous. Seriously I am pretty sure Reggie was thinking about how silly he sounded when he stood on the stage at E3 trying to sell the name as something profound and meaningful.

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