Cerebral Gamer: Left Behind

Wii owners, prepare yourself. The Tribulation is nigh.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 07/02/2011 10:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

Cerebral Gamer

According to some guy in California, the world was supposed to end on May 21, 2011.  He has now revised his prediction, saying the world will end October 21, 2011.

Both dates are wrong.  The world ended back on June 7, 2011.

On that hot Tuesday morning, Nintendo of America overlord Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage and, with much fanfare, introduced Wii U.  Earlier in the presentation some token service had been given to the upcoming Wii title The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but that was about all there was to hear about the trusty old white box from 2006.  Instead, this day was a tribute to a new world order, a future of big touch-screen controllers with fancy screens and pretty graphics.

This is a Tribulation three months in the making.  Back in March, DS and DSi owners faced up to the inevitability of progress when 3DS was unleashed to the public.  A new system is in itself a trial, because developer support for the old system typically dries up pretty quickly, leaving old owners to purchase or perish.  At the same time, developer support for the new system takes time to get ramped up– about a year, in my experience.  Gamers who press forward and eat the rather pricey $250 cost for a new 3DS face a relatively limited lineup of games, especially third party games, for the near future.  Granted, any launch tends to suffer from this sort of early drought, but 3DS’s launch has been particularly disappointing for some, perhaps because the launch list proved thinner than anticipated.  Nintendo helped offset some of that with its eShop launch and the remake of Ocarina of Time, but the fact remains that the retail library still has plenty to prove.

Add now to that more malicious plight, that of the Wii owner.  Wii owners were told, in no uncertain terms, that the age of their console is over, and that the era of Wii U has begun.  An exaggeration, perhaps?  I don’t think so.  Yes, Skyward Sword got some attention (albeit in the larger context of the Zelda 25th anniversary) and, yeah, there was a nifty trailer for a new Wii Kirby game buried in Nintendo’s otherwise small, forgettable collection of upcoming casualware.  But Skyward Sword felt obligatory, as if they wanted to remind Wii owners “yeah, we’re still making it” and the Kirby trailer was released about as quietly as a trailer can. 

Plus, as many readers already know, Nintendo said nothing at E3 about all those unlocalized Japanese Wii titles that could beef up the console’s library at relatively little cost to Nintendo of America.  After E3, a dedicated group of fans launched a passionate, highly-publicized grassroots movement to bring three Japanese titles to America.  Resistance, it seems, is futile; Nintendo politely but firmly responded, in so many words, “probably not.”

While Nintendo’s corporate executives had said little about Wii at E3 and nothing but “no” to say afterward, they had no shortage of things to say about Wii U during the expo.  They gushed on and on about their new console, spending a large chunk of their presentation highlighting the system’s evolutionary controller and its potential to be both a hardcore system and a casual one.  As if to prove the point, Nintendo ran out a lineup of hardcore titles in development for the system: Darksiders II, Batman: Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and Ninja Gaiden III: Razor’s Edge, just to name a few.  After the show, they wasted no time posting wall-to-wall coverage of Wii U, and Nintendo’s main page places it so front-and-center that you’d think you’d be able to buy the thing tomorrow.

Therein lies the problem: you can’t buy Wii U anytime soon.  It won’t be available until next year, with my bets on a Holiday 2012 launch, perhaps November.  It’s entirely possible, then, that Wii U is still 18 months away.  This is the message Wii owners get: “we’ve more or less abandoned your system, and we won’t have a fully supported replacement until after the next Presidential election.  Hope you have an Xbox 360.”

Some people might reply: “I do have a 360, and a PS3.  They’re not totally dry.”  And you would be right.  Other consoles have some titles in the pipes for this year.  But as a Nintendo fan, and as a Wii and DS owner, it’s hard for me not to feel like I’ve been left behind to face a Great Nintendo Gaming Tribulation.  When Wii was released back in 2006, GameCube had been largely abandoned by Nintendo, but at least DS had been out for two years and had a thriving library.  The timing now is such that Nintendo fans really have relatively little to grab onto right now, a real travesty in summer months that are so conducive to gaming.

How did this happen?  There are a lot of reasons.  Unlike movies, summer is a notoriously dry time for big game releases, with game publishers more apt to save their big guns for the holiday months of November and December, a factor in the short-term drought.  Wii is long in the tooth, a five year old machine whose limitations have probably been reached.  The increased saturation rate of HDTVs, combined with the proliferation of Blu-ray (and thus PS3), have further eroded Wii’s appeal.  Development costs for PS3 and Xbox 360, once exorbitant, have become more manageable for developers as familiarity with the systems has improved, leading to a shifting of third party resources.

But the biggest reason of all is simply Nintendo strategy.  Nintendo is brilliant at milking as much money as it can from a single system– this irritates some fans but it is also the mark of a successful business.  It has extracted as much as it can from DS and DSi and the leadership knows the company has to stay competitive with Sony, Apple, and other competitors and quasi-competitors in the ever-complicated, diverse portable market.  Likewise, I think Nintendo feels it has gone as far as it can with the underpowered Wii, and it knows that it needs to roll out a solid HD system to continue to be a major player.

Logistics, then, probably contributed to our present Tribulation.  Rolling out a new system is no small feat, and Nintendo is looking to pull off that feat in consecutive years with 3DS and Wii U.  (By contrast, Nintendo had over two years between DS and Wii.)  It’s clear the company is shifting most of its resources to those two systems; after all, there are specs to engineer and finalize, development kits to distribute, third parties to court, internal teams to organize first party titles, marketing to manage, and, eventually, Chinese factories to retool for mass production.  Nintendo seemingly put the brakes on everything else trying to roll out the 3DS launch, and even then much of the infrastructure, such as the eShop, wasn’t ready yet.  Nintendo must now perform the same dance with Wii U, all while continuing to fully support and grow the 3DS base.

That means all hands on deck for 3DS and Wii U.  That also means that since Nintendo doesn’t have infinite resources, something has to give, and in this case what gives are DS and Wii.  DS owners, at least, saw this coming; I accepted the endgame for my little Mario Limited Edition DS Lite some months ago.  I’m more frustrated by the Wii situation, though, even if I understand the reasons why.  I was really hoping that Wii could go out with a bang, especially with several interesting titles being translated into English for European audiences but apparently not being published in North America.  At the moment, things feel more like a thud.

It’s going to be a long year ahead in the world of Nintendo.  The (Second) Coming of Wii U can’t happen fast enough.

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