The gaming industry is a brutal business and this is true most of all for companies with consoles on the market. Three devices are competing directly for market share — to win, your console needs to be better than the others in every way (in theory, at least). Games, services, and features are the three key elements to nail down, but each area has so many challenges involved that winning in just one area can be difficult.
In many ways, Nintendo is behind the competition. Purely from a business standpoint, they have made some bad decisions — the Wii U’s name, as so many have pointed out, was horribly chosen and the pricing model set at launch was not very well thought-out. There are choices they have made that are far worse, however — those which actually hurt the product itself. These harm the enjoyment of those who have already bought the device and, at the same time, make the console seem a less desirable purchase.
There are the big ones, of course: weaker graphics, game droughts, and a lack of third-party support. The visuals are not actually that big of a deal by themselves; the Wii U is capable of some seriously impressive stuff. The primary problem with them is that the hardware is just less powerful than its competitors and thus, third-party ports are typically more of an investment. This is a problem because the Wii U needs all the help with third parties as it can get. Nintendo’s first-party offerings are coming out at a slow drizzle. For the most part, they are releasing a major title only once every few months — only two retail Nintendo games will have released in 2014 by the end of May.
Normally, third parties would fill in those gaps, but Nintendo has had poor third-party support ever since the N64. Though they’ve tried to rectify this, the Wii U simply has not managed to retain much support after the initial launch and has received few of the major third-party multi-platform games and, when it does get them, they occasionally lack features other consoles had. Virtual Console could have helped with all this. Having a full selection of almost every Nintendo console game ever released, easy to download for cheap would be a fantastic service. Unfortunately, the Wii U’s current offerings are rather dismal, forcing usage of the clunky and hard-to-use Wii Shop Channel in Wii Mode to get most of the games. Worse, it is completely overpriced.
Understandably so, of course; it undoubtedly isn’t easy or cheap to get the games running on new hardware and controls without any flaws. But still, five dollars for a twenty-five-year-old game is simply too much and the prices only go up from there. The poor selection and excessive price makes it so that Virtual Console games aren’t impulse buys. What could keep consumers content during the worst of game droughts — unlimited access to a massive catalog — instead requires a real investment and decision to jump in while the poor selection isn’t distracting enough to make droughts less noticeable.
And then, to go back to pricing, there’s the GamePad. It is a really cool idea with a lot of potential, but it’s expensive to produce and the Wii U needs as much help with pricing as it can get. Something that adds so much cost had better deliver on what it can do and frankly, the GamePad just hasn’t. No non-party games have used the controller to its advantage, instead using it only for maps and Off-TV play. This would be fine if the money spent on the GamePad couldn’t have instead been used to put the hardware closer to its competitors to help with third-party support, as well as drive the cost down considerably. Again, the GamePad is a great idea, but when it cuts into so many other important things, it had better be worth it. So far, it hasn’t been.
Of course, many of these problems are not exclusive to Nintendo. Competing consoles have some of these just as bad, most notably a lack of many first-party offerings and poor pricing. But then again, Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles — particularly the PlayStation 4 — haven’t struggled nearly so much as the Wii U. Nintendo is in a somewhat worse state on the home console front with both reputation and sales than either of the other companies. Many of these problems seem like they could be fixed with minimal cost and others are too important to leave uncorrected or to have messed up in the first place. And then, I play one of their games and I remember. I remember why I love my Wii U, anyway.
Nintendo’s games this generation so far have been, at the very least, on par with previous generations’ offerings. Though new IPs have, thus far, been rare; but when a major new game releases, they are incredible. Nearly every first-party release has truly been something else, with incredible amounts of passion, heart, and detail being put into every facet. Of course, this shows in the finished products.
For a console on the market for under a year-and-a-half, the Wii U has an astonishing amount of phenomenal exclusives. All of this is subjective, but I have found quite a few of Nintendo’s offerings to be excellent. The Wonderful 101 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are up at the top of my all-time personal list. Wonderful 101 blew me away completely, delivering one of the most mindblowing, addictive, unique games I have ever played. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze fared just as well, nailing every aspect and becoming my favorite platformer of all time.
Not far behind were Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3. The former is a near-perfect platformer with an unprecedented amount of clever ideas, heart, polish, and not to mention the multiplayer antics; the latter is an extraordinarily beautiful and emotionally brilliant title with utterly unique gameplay. New Super Mario Bros. U then brought to the table some truly excellent level designs and, though extremely similar to its predecessors, still had the same Mario charm and ridiculous multiplayer as always, with some fun new additions thrown in for good measure.
Party games like Nintendoland and Wii Party U made an appearance, having some fun with the GamePad and generally garnering solid reception. The Wind Waker HD came along as well, a remake that managed to fix just about everything an already excellent game did wrong and then some. Third parties joined the fun with games like ZombiU, a clever horror title that really took advantage of the GamePad and managed to become a truly scary experience. There’s the unique brilliance of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and the lighthearted fun of Lego City Undercover. The list goes on.
The point is, though, that opinions on specific games may vary; it is hard to argue that the console does not have a lot of fantastic content that cannot be found anywhere else, content that makes the console a legitimate contender with opponents that on paper seem the obvious choice. However, they don’t have Nintendo games. That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? That special, inexplicable something that just feels unique — and the Wii U has that in spades. For all its flaws, the console has already given me some experiences that, at risk of sounding sappy, I will treasure forever.
It doesn’t look like it plans to let up. Mario Kart 8 easily could have been a Mario Kart 7 clone with merely a fresh coat of paint, out the door in time for Christmas. Instead, Nintendo appears to really be going all-out on every front to make it truly special. Super Smash Bros. Wii U looks as awesome as we imagined it would three years ago.
Bayonetta 2? An insane action game from one of the most prestigious action game developers in the world. X? A mindblowingly cool-looking JRPG from the developers of Xenoblade Chronicles. Yarn Yoshi? A new platformer from the surprisingly talented developers of Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem? Who knows what that’s going to be like, but it’s from Intelligent Systems, a rather gifted studio, so no worries there. Hyrule Warriors could be solid. Zelda Wii U is on the way, confirmed to be at E3, and will inevitably be awesome.
We should keep in mind that there are a great many Nintendo teams with no announced projects, so those should begin popping up quite soon. These games are all coming at a slow drizzle, to be sure, and there are by no means an avalanche of them in the pipeline, but the slow pace is a result of the developers taking the time they need to make something truly excellent. I have faith that many of these games will deliver even more experiences that will stack up to or surpass the high pedigree already established. So long as they do so, I’m willing to put up with the unfortunate amount of time it takes for them to release.
Exclusives are not all the Wii U has to offer. Against popular belief, the console actually has some pretty fantastic advantages. The GamePad adds some sincere additions: the option to play most games off the television is an excellent, understated feature that other consoles simply cannot offer and small things, such as menu selection and using keyboards, are far improved, thanks to the GamePad.
It has a plethora of great features, but Miiverse is probably the coolest. A social media based around the games you are playing is ingenious and, while it does not always live up to its potential, it is still a brilliant idea and a feature that only seems to be improving. One thing that the Wii U has that no other current gen consoles does is backwards compatibility. Being able to play every single Wii game, both retail and downloadable, is a huge bonus, especially to those who never bought the original Wii. There’s also the fact that, though still arguably overpriced for the average consumer, the console is considerably cheaper than its competitors, even without factoring in the free games that come with every Wii U nowadays.
We also have to consider that, while the console has largely failed to generate much third-party support from publishers, there have still been some solid, major releases. It would take too much time to list every single game, but suffice to say that major publishers most certainly did bring some major multi-platform titles to the console that unarguably helped to bridge the gap between exclusive releases for the first year of the console’s life. Plus, we still have some more support on the way.
Although we have yet to see many fruits of their labors — though there have been some fantastic ones already — Nintendo has been doing a lot to court indies for the console and it will begin paying off in spades very soon, with over 240 indie games coming to the system. Though this may not completely make up for so many publishers abandoning the console — at least, not commercially — it will do a lot to help with game droughts, lack of content, and may help the console to have more perceived value as far as potential consumers go, possibly even influencing purchases.
So is it enough?
Yes, Nintendo should have full third-party support from major publishers. Yes, calling it the Wii U was an awful idea. Yes, the game droughts are ridiculous. Yes, the Virtual Console is horribly overpriced and lacking options. They are behind in a plethora of areas, areas in which they should be ahead, or at least up to par. It needs to make serious changes and we the fans should be the ones to call that out. But even despite all that, despite all the console’s shortcomings, I still love it — because of the games, games I cannot play anywhere else. There may not be many, but when they do release, they are filled with so much charm, polish, and utter brilliant fun that it is impossible not to remember why I love this company in the first place.
That may not be enough for everyone, but I’m willing to bet that, when coupled with the barrage of indie titles and unique features the Wii U has to offer, Nintendo’s first-party offerings can turn its fortunes around and make the console a truly fantastic system to own.