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Nintendo's Wii U and Healing Hurt Feelings

by Ben Sullivan on 06/08/11 09:00:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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Nintendo's Wii U and Healing Hurt Feelings

Nintendo announced their new console and successor to the extremely popular Wii system, the Wii U. Sporting full 1080P video, Wii backwards-compatibility and a tablet-esque touchscreen controller Nintendo is clearly looking to re-ignite the magic that the original Wii wielded at its launch. However the rest gaming industry responded to the announcements with a collective shrug and continued to show off Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3, and Resistance 3 to wild fanfare.

Much like the Wii no one is quite sure how Nintendo’s new console will feel, and much more importantly, play. Initial impressions indicate that the hardware works well, games look great and the first glimpses of innovation are already poking through the flashy haze of E3 press coverage. But there’s a reason why the rest of the industry isn’t worried – innovation alone wasn’t enough for the Wii and it might not be enough for the Wii U either.

Nintendo has always held a somewhat unusual position in the gaming industry, simultaneously pushing innovative new hardware and gameplay concepts while stubbornly sticking to established franchises and largely shunning trends like online and social gaming. The Wii generation also showed itself to be a shallow one with traditional “hardcore” games like Mario Galaxy few and far between shoddy kids and casual titles that classic gamers wouldn’t touch (even with a rubber Wiimote jacket).

Selling over 86 million units, Nintendo’s Wii console undoubtedly made money since unlike competitors Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo doesn’t take a loss on hardware sales. Unfortunately for Nintendo the Wii’s incredible sales never translated into game sales. On average, gamers who bought Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or Sony’s Playstation 3 bought more games than Wii owners.

In short, Nintendo made tons of money, but studios developing games for the Wii didn’t. In fact, of the top 20 best-selling Wii games to date 16 were made by Nintendo. This quickly translated into a drop in 3rd-party game releases for the Wii deepening gamers’ longing for the quality of classic non-Nintendo games of years gone by. Nintendo has its work cut out for it convincing mainstream game developers to bother with their new console; developers and gamers of Nintendo’s consoles have been hurt before and they don’t want to be hurt again.

The Wii U has a lot going for it though. Graphically the console aims to rival PS3 and Xbox 360 quality, so the days of a Wii port requiring reduced-quality art are over. Developers should be able to make one game and port it to all three consoles significantly reducing costs for studios wanting a piece of all three pies. Nintendo has also promised a renewed online initiative, throwing the clumsy “Friend Codes” out the window in favor of a comprehensive approach much like Microsoft’s Xbox Live system.

The new Wii U controller is raising a few eyebrows as well. Featuring the usual buttons, two analog sticks and a 6.2″ touchscreen (likely resistive) that, in absence of a TV, Wii and Wii U games can be played on directly. Nintendo has made their intentions clear – they want to end fighting siblings over the TV – the Wii U can be played solely on the controller itself streaming wirelessly from the console.

In implementing a tablet as the primary Wii U controller Nintendo has cleverly snuck itself into discussions about the quickly-expanding tablet market. The inclusion of a web browser (likely Opera-based like the Wii’s) means that the Wii U controller can function as an effective couch-web-surfing device in competition with the iPad and Android tablets. Gamers asking themselves if they want a new tablet or a new game console might find a happy medium in the Wii U’s extended functionality.

Paired with promises of new 3rd-party collaborations for hardcore franchises like Ninja Gaiden, Assassin’s Creed, Darksiders, Tekken and Batman: Arkham City, Nintendo is making a play for gamers’ attention yet again. Let’s see if they can hold it this time.

For video and more information about the Wii U take a look at Nintendo’s E3 portal.

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