Why I’m starting to get excited about the Wii U
It’s fair to say that last year’s Wii U reveal at E3 2011 was met with much confusion and, subsequently, a fairly lukewarm reaction. The whole thing, with its touchscreen controller, smacked of gimmickry – nothing more than another play for the casual audience – and the initial, projected specs were underwhelming. At the time of E3 2011, it was widely circulated that the Wii U’s capabilities would present no monumental leap forward from the machines of the current generation. These consoles have existed for roughly seven years now, so it’s hard to get excited about a new entrant that utilizes similar tech to what we’ve all enjoyed for close to a decade, particularly when there’s a growing yearning for the next phase.
Maybe it’s partly because, one week away from E3 2012, it’s the only new hardware showcase that we know we have to look forward to, but I’m beginning to get excited about the Wii U. It’s surprising even me, because one year ago I couldn’t care less about a successor to the Wii – a console that sold by the truckload but had very little to offer to a gamer like myself. But I’ve had a couple of personal realizations recently that lead me to believe that the Wii U just might be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.
Nintendo’s no longer catering to the casual audience alone
It would be easy for Nintendo to continue to ignore the so-called “core” gaming audience with the Wii U, especially given the success of the Wii in which the company largely did just that. But the Wii U does present a unique opportunity for Nintendo to be all things to all people, and it’s clearly gunning for the hardcore audience as well this time around.
Sure, the likes of Call of Duty and other “hardcore” franchises had a presence on the Wii, but they were always mediocre, separately developed versions of their Xbox 360, PS3 and PC counterparts – me-too offerings, if you will. For the first time in years, though, Nintendo will carry third-party titles that are direct ports of those also launching on PC and those other consoles. Darksiders II, Aliens: Colonial Marines and more (and even more that we’ll learn about at E3, I’m sure) will all release simultaneously on all platforms. And for the first time, Nintendo’s versions won’t be watered-down offerings.
In fact, the Nintendo Wii U versions of these games could well be the definitive versions of these games for one or both of the reasons I’m about to outline below.
It could be the most technically capable console on the market for the next two years
Both Sony and Microsoft have categorically ruled out any next-gen console reveals at E3 2012. Assuming that these reveals will be saved for E3, they won’t be unveiled until E3 2013, which in turn means that they’re unlikely to hit retail until 2014.
That’s a fairly long time to have to wait for those of us that are itching for something that’s more powerful than the consoles we’ve been playing for close to seven years now.
It’s long been speculated that the Wii U’s launch specs will be comparable to those of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But recent evidence suggests that, while it may not be by a considerable margin, the Wii U’s might actually best those of both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. According to Gamespot, Gearbox claims that its upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines “will get the best looking version of the game because it has ‘more modern tech’.”
That may not be enough in itself to persuade millions of gamers to rush out and pick up a Wii U. But for multi-console gamers, it might be enough to tip the balance as to which platform they’ll go with for future releases. Of course, history has taught us that the online community plays a large part in this also, which is why Xbox 360 games often outpace the PS3 versions. But the fact is that, for the next two years or so, the best-looking versions of upcoming titles just might have a home on the Wii U.
That secondary display cannot be understated
I think this is the single biggest thing that is warming me to the thought of gaming on the Wii U.
My brand-new Xbox 360 has already been sent away for repair, and so I’ve been playing a lot of 3DS. I’ve always recognized the value that having a second display that also acts as an input device brings to my gaming, but I never quite realized how this would translate to the Wii U until recently.
I can think of a number of ports of classic games that have been made better on the DS/3DS thanks to the secondary display. Earlier this year I played through Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, which is a direct port of the PS1 classic. This is, in my opinion, the definitive version of that game simply because you never have to go through tedious menus in order to view your map. It’s always right there on the second screen, and it makes navigating the Spencer Estate so much easier. Aside from this, it plays identically.
In other games, like, say, shooters, the secondary display can free up clutter from the HUD on your main screen by playing host to your minimap/radar, ammunition counter, etc. This all just leads to heightened levels of immersion. I imagine you’ll really notice the difference when you switch between a clean Wii U version and a cluttered, single-display version.
In fact, in the same Gamespot interview linked earlier, Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford had the following to say about one of the benefits afforded by the Wii U’s secondary screen in Colonial Marines:
“I’ll tell you what’s kinda cool too. When I’m playing competitively, sometimes I like to look at the score when I’m playing but I hate having to cover the screen with an overlay. Well guess what? I can look down at the Wii U screen and if I want to keep the score there or whatever and just have a glance I can keep it down there and not have to worry about overlays or anything like that, and that’s kinda neat.”
Also, 343 Studios recently launched the Atlas service for Halo: Reach, in which a near-realtime map of the battlefield is streamed to the player’s mobile phone or tablet. It highlights weapon spawn points and availability, teammate positioning and so on. It’s an incredibly useful tactical tool for FPS players. And it’s another feature that could well be par for the course on the Wii U, and a feature that you’ll likely miss on other consoles.
In games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D on the 3DS, the touchscreen display is put to great effect, simplifying menu navigation and item selection. I’ve never played the original incarnations of those two games, so I’m only speculating, but I couldn’t imagine choosing them over the 3DS versions given the convenience that device affords.
And it’s a philosophy that could improve so many current PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 games. It saves the player time when it comes to inventory management, and in some cases it removes the need to pause the game altogether, which can really pull you out of an experience.
So something as simple as an extra display with useful information and functionality could, personally, tip the balance as to which version of a game I’d choose to play. It’s something that the humble DS/3DS has demonstrated for me.
Anyway, I’m heading over to LA in just over a week’s time for my first E3! So hopefully I get to check Nintendo’s next out for myself. Stay tuned!