First, I should say that I am a skeptic.
The reports that the Wii U isn’t as powerful as the XBox 360 and Playstation 3 sound dubious to me, considering all of the other anonymously-sourced rumors on the system’s polygon-pushing power. And woah boy, have there been a lot of rumors. We’ve gone from hearing about it being more powerful than the PS3/360, to it being on par with those consoles, to it now being less powerful. The rumor-Illuminati have covered their bases pretty well with this, haven’t they?
Were I a betting man (and I’m not; I haven’t been since before the operation, when I was still a marsupial), I’d place my chips on a modestly-powered console, with a bit more grit than the current Sony and Microsoft boxes. Even the Wii, target of fanboy flames for its Golf GTI performance in a Ferrari world, still had a modest power upgrade from the GameCube (itself a very graphically capable machine in its day). Of course, we’ve already seen a glimpse of Wii U’s potential, rendering most of the rumor-mongering moot.
But here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter.
There’s a reason that Nintendo put their newfangled controller upfront and at the fore at last year’s E3: the tablet is the main event here. Yes, videos of shiny tech demos sure are neat-o, but outright power is not what the Wii U is about. If it were, Nintendo would have built a hairy-chested shader spewer with no care for its price. They didn’t. The braintrust in Kyoto decided they wanted to reinvent the controller (again) and make their stand on trying to innovate from that space (again). This is ground that they’re comfortable on, having experienced a first-person view of their decline that was only haulted by the DS and Wii…two devices built around pushing the boundaries of game control and interaction.
What is more important to you as a gamer: seeing a new Super Mario platformer in high definition, or being blown away by its level design and cleverly-implemented controls? Is the electric arc of Samus’ wave beam in 1080p of the utmost importance to you, or is the prospect of a console Metroid that does for touchscreens what Super did for shoulder buttons a more tantalizing idea?
If console power is the only thing that lights your fire, there will be options, just as there are options now. It’s a perfectly legitimate and defensible position, mind you. It’s just not one that Nintendo seems keen on pursuing, and hasn’t for some time. They’re betting on the idea of a tablet-type controller being the key to many people’s hearts (and wallets). They’re betting on the potential of this new device, and as this site has mused, there are a lot of possibilities for this controller. If you haven’t looked through that list, you owe it to yourself to take a peek. Then imagine what developers who have had kits for months have thought up.
It could, of course, be a grand failure. A gimmick for the sake of selling snake oil to impulse-buying consumers, or another gaming peripheral doomed to the crowded grave site of joystick doom.
But I don’t think so. I think a refined controller interface can do more for videogames than upgrading from 480i to 720/1080p. It’s what Nintendo has focused on all along while publicizing the Wii U’s tablet. The up-side for changing the way a Mario game plays is far steeper than the benefit of merely seeing an Italian plumber in a higher display resolution.
Or perhaps it really is more important that we be able to see the pores on Zelda’s nose as Link saves her.