Tuesday 14 January 2014

Why I won't buy a Wii U

A recent episode of Adam Sessler's 'Sessler's Something' addressed the question of if the Wii U can be salvaged. He indicated that the core first party Nintendo titles have failed to stir up a interest for the console, and in part blamed the clunky controllers for the Wii U's failure. I'm not a Nintendo hater, I own a Wii and have an NES and SNES in my collection. But I'm not interested in buying the Wii U. Here's why, for me, the Wii U has failed.

1) Crappy hardware.

Graphics aren't everything, and as a fan of retro gaming I will be right up on the front lines defending the gameplay > graphics argument. And yes, historically many Nintendo consoles have been the under powered option - but also the market leader. But the difference in technical ability between the Wii U and the Xbox One / PS4 is extreme - to the point that many developers have completely lost interest in developing for the Wii U altogether.

Here's the thing, as a PC gamer (and a new father with limited cash) I'm likely to only own one console this generation. I own a PS3 for two reasons - 1) to play the cross platform console titles that don't see a PC release, and 2) to play games which PC release will be hugely delayed and I want to get on the hype train now. If developers aren't releasing those games on the Wii U then there is very little reason for me to own the system. I will happily give up the Nintendo exclusive titles to play the likes of GTA 5 right now.

This brings me to my next point....

2) Nostalgia gaming.

Nintendo is relying very heavily on its legacy IP's (Mario, Zelda, etc...) to sell the system. This just doesn't do it for me. Now don't get me wrong, I get nostalgia gaming and I get exploiting established franchises. I've bought Baldur's Gate a total of 4 times since 1998 (the original 5 CD release, the Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 twin pack which came out c.2005, the release, and the Enhanced Edition), and I revisit that game every couple of years for a play through. Nostalgia gaming works. I get it.

But Nintendo's reliance on it's core franchises doesn't push me towards the Wii U for a couple of reasons;

1) In the early 90s New Zealand was firmly Sega territory, and in the late 90s and early 2000s it was PlayStation. The first time I played a Nintendo console wasn't until 1999 when a friend picked up a Nintendo 64 - and the only game I really played was 007 Golden Eye. I didn't see an NES or SNES until a few years ago. I didn't grow up with Nintendo, and I simply don't have any nostalgia or brand loyalty for the old Nintendo characters. That's not too say the games are necessarily bad. But simply announcing a new Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pikmin or Metroid title simply isn't going to get me hyped into buying any console. And I have absolutely no interest in playing re-releases like Wind Waker HD.

2) While the games themselves are for the most part fairly good, they mostly cover genres for which the market is very well saturated. I can get very good platformers, racing games and action RPGs on Steam or right now, sometimes for as little as a couple of dollars per title. Without any emotional or nostalgic attachment to the Nintendo characters or franchises there simply isn't much drive for me to choose a core Nintendo title over any of the many available alternatives. I'm not prepared to pay NZ$469.99 for the Wii U console, plus NZ$108 per game, just so I can have the privilege of playing as Mario when I can get my platformer fix right now on my PC with something like They Bleed Pixels for as little as $10.

And, to be really honest, some (certainly not all, but some) of the games in the Nintendo core franchises are over rated. Example - One of the first games I got when I bought my Wii was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This was the first Zelda game I ever played, and I just don't get the hype. It's not a bad game, I guess, but it is a very very average action RPG. It felt very linear, dated, and kind of dumbed down. Just a very hollow overall experience. Maybe Twilight Princess was just a bad title to be introduced to the Zelda universe. But the game felt like it was more interested in exploiting nostalgia rather than presenting a cutting edge gameplay experience. 'Hey remember this sound effect from the 80s?'. 'Remember this boomerang weapon?'. 'Remember fishing? That was cool right?'. 

In the end there are just so many action RPG's, wRPG's and cRPG's out there that just blow Twilight Princess away in terms of gameplay, complexity and immersion that I just can't justify buying a new console to play a middle-of-the-road title like Zelda.

If Nintendo was to branch out into some new and innovative IP's then I could get on board with the Wii U. The Wii U gamepad is just begging for the right game to come along that utilises its full potential. The touchscreen essentially allows for unlimited button configurations and data presentation optons. How about about a good solid space combat sim similar to X-Wing where the combat is played on the TV, and the shield and weapon configurations, ships systems, communications, targeting systems, and tactical maps are displayed on and controlled by the touchscreen in real time. Each ships system being presented on its own screen, with each screen allocated to a face button to bring it up. How about some RTS games using the touchscreen like a laptop track pad? A Dungeon Keeper remake? Or how about ignoring the gamepad altogether and just provide some titles with deep immersive gameplay and worlds to explore?

Nintendo, give me a unique gameplay experience that I can't get on other consoles and I'll buy your system!

X-Wing on Wii U - I'd buy it!

3) Franchise bloat.

This point is more of a weaker argument, but I'm the kind of gamer that likes to enter a story from the ground floor. Any series which has a developing story line between games, or recurring characters, I want to play in order starting from the first game. It's just how I want to do it. But the Nintendo core franchises have such long lineages that playing every game in the series is out of the question.

4) I own a Wii.

This is perhaps the biggest reason for why I'm not interested in a Wii U. I got my Wii about a year after it was released, and until I got my PS3 in 2012 it was my only 7th generation console. As I said above, prior to 2006 Nintendo wasn't a big player in New Zealand. The Wii was the first Nintendo console to really penetrate the NZ market, and it was the first Nintendo console I ever owned or had any real experience with. And it wasn't very good.

Controls. Back in 2006 Nintendo was hyping motion controls as the next big thing. It was going to revolutionise how we played games.  The first run of TV commercials showed the Wii being played with what appeared to be near 1 to 1 motion capture. Gaming would never the same. And all this carried a lot of weight coming from Nintendo, who had reputation of producing top quality products.

I was seriously considering buying the console, but it wasn't until I played Wii Sports while waiting in an airport for an international flight that I decided that I would pick one up. Like everyone, my first game of Wii Sports tennis involved making proper heavy swings with the Wiimote, mimicking a real tennis racket. I thought it was awesome - the gameplay that this machine would allow would be absolutely phenomenal. Lightsaber or sword fights where you actually participated in the action - slashing, blocking and thrusting rather than just hitting X and Y. Harry Potter games where you actually cast spells with the Wiimote. New platformers where the characters responded to your movements. And gameplay experiences that I hadn't even imagined... This was how the Wii got you. It wasn't until you purchased the Wii and got it home that you realised what you were really in for.

The reality was that the Wiimote was far from a revolutionary control system. The controller used a rudimentary system for tracking 3d movement, meaning that true 1 to 1 motion tracking was impossible. Instead any small movement in the right direction was often enough to register as a command - leading to the infamous Wii waggle. For me this really took away from the enjoyment of the system. Wii Sports just wasn't as fun once I realised that a small wrist flick would be enough to send the ball screaming. And combat in Twilight Princess was far from revolutionary - Nintendo's great 'revolution' was to attack the enemies with furious wrist flicks - the equivalent of the furious mouse clicking in Diablo. It wasn't until the PlayStation Move came out that I had the true combat experience, through Sports Champions, that I had been promised by the Wii's marketing. 

To be honest I think Nintendo knew that the Wiimote sucked - the majority of Nintendo's core franchises only made light use of motion control, and Nintendo certainly didn't try anything overly revolutionary with it's own product.

And now the Wii U gamepad is the thing that Nintendo is hailing as revolutionary. Sorry Nintendo, I'm not just going to take your word for it this time... Show me the games!

Peripherals. The Wii was a peripheral graveyard. Giving the Wii a fair chance, I bought two Wii Motion Plus Wiimote add-ons when they were released in 2009. Excluding Wii Sports Resort and Wii Play: Motion (which were little more than tech demos) how many first party Nintendo games support Wii Motion Plus on the Wii? Two... How many 3rd party games required the Wii Motion Plus to play? One...

For Christmas 2008 I got the Wii Fit balance board from my parents. Excluding Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus (the tech demo games of that peripheral) how many first party Nintendo games support Wii Fit? One... Wii Music. According to wikipedia 120 games were released by 3rd party developers - most of which were shovelware knock-offs of Wii Fit.

Both Wii Motion Plus and the Wii Fit balance board were peripherals that Nintendo released and then dropped straight away. Both were completely under utilised, and both were a waste of money. Nintendo very much came across as a company more interested in dumping hardware onto the market and then relying on 3rd party developers to find a use for it and make it fun.

And that's before we even look at the countless plastic tennis rackets and swords released by Nintendo and 3rd parties. The Nerf N-Strike game which bundled a shovelware game with an ok Nerf blaster. Tony Hawk's Shred which bundled a shovelware game with a barely functional shovelware skateboard controller - a controller which itself was never used again.

Sometimes the Wii felt like a peripheral dumping zone. A console where Nintendo was happy to let itself and 3rd parties gouge the audience with cheap and crappy peripherals designed to make a quick buck rather than add to the overall gameplay experience. It made the Wii feel incredibly cheap.

The Games. There were simply very few games that I wanted to play on the system. I've already gone through my lack of interested towards the core Nintendo franchises, but on top of that the system also suffered from a glut (especially in the earlier years) of lazy barely playable shovelware - and extremely poor ports from other consoles, particularly PS2 titles, where the functions of the left analogue stick had been simply mapped to the Wiimote. Developers were extremely apprehensive about developing AAA titles for the system - due in no small part to the Wii's low technical specs, which is something the Wii has in common with the Wii U.

On the Wii you had to slog through a lot of crap to find the good games. And you had to check reviews absolutely every time you purchased anything - really check them. Yea you should be checking reviews anyway, but there are certain titles or developers for which on any other system you could expect a minimum gameplay experience. This wasn't true of the Wii - you couldn't just pick up a title and expect a good, or at least playable, gameplay experience - regardless of who made it or if it was part of an otherwise good franchise. For example, another very early game I picked up was Call of Duty 3. Normally I know what to expect from a CoD game. But on the Wii all they had done was an extremely sloppy port, and the controls absolutely sucked. This quote from sums it up;

It feels like the developers hadn't played with a Wii for a great deal of time before doing this control structure as it's so full of little problems that ruin the game. For instance you have the grenade woes. To access grenades (a vital part of any good soldiers arsenal) you push on the d-pad. Doing this invariably means moving the Wiimote, thus adjusting your aim and finally meaning that when you do throw your grenade (by a flick of the nunchuck) that it will not be on target. The anger felt as you see a grenade hit off of a piece of scenery and land at your feet purely down to poor controls is quite spectacular.

For me the the Nintendo seal of Quality simply means the game will run on a Nintendo console, and it has a 70% chance of being shovelware or a lazy port.

The Wii didn't do anything to make me feel that Nintendo is a worth putting my money into. I'm not going to be picking up a Wii U until I can see some sort of guarantee that I won't get a repeat experience of the Wii.

Wrapping it Up.

So there we have it. I certainly don't want Nintendo to fail - competition in the market place is the best for the gaming community as a whole. And who really wants to see a company that has been part of gaming since 1889 bite the dust? But we are far from the golden age of Nintendo. This is not the same Nintendo of the 80s and 90s which almost single-handedly saved console gaming in the United States, and ushered in a period of genre building and innovation in the console space. Once Nintendo gets some of that old glory back I'll be right there to pick up a console.

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