Back when Wii was released in 2006, there was a certain air of expectation and excitement for the console, which I personally had not experienced since the buildup to the late, great N64 in 1996. I was looking forward to getting my filthy mitts on this new method of control, which had everyone so intrigued. I was looking forward to seeing just what this somewhat unfortunately-entitled “Wii” could do on the graphics front. However, most importantly, I was excited about the games. If there’s one thing about Nintendo, it’s that they rarely fail on software, and with every new console comes a new iteration of a classic that we can get stuck into all over again. But now, five years down the line with Wii U slated for a release in about a year’s time, I’m finding it difficult to muster the same levels of enthusiasm and optimism that I had before Wii hit store shelves all those years ago.
Maybe it is because I have grown five years older. Maybe I have become downtrodden by the cruel world outside my window, unable to feel anything for a box with cleverly implemented schematics, engaging a primitive part of my brain which can no longer get its fix from this type of aural and visual stimulation. Or maybe, just maybe, Nintendo just can’t excite me as much anymore. You see, I still get excited for games themselves. Dark Souls is a prime example. I could not wait to get my hands on this title, and since receiving the game in the post a couple of weeks ago, it has not left the safe confines of my PS3. The same goes for Donkey Kong Country Returns. So why am I finding it difficult to get amped for Nintendo’s next foray into home consoles?
Nintendo did actually unveil a console to go with that controller, you know.
I imagine we have all been to the cinema to watch a film we were really looking forward to, only for the ending failing to live up to expectations, and the storyline leaving gaping holes in the plot which can only be plugged by a highly predictable sequel. A promising sequel, that is, except for the fact that it will probably be the same old story again for which the discerning public laps up and pays good money. Unfortunately, these are sentiments I share for Wii U at this moment in time. Wii U is the sequel to a console I was really looking forward to playing, one that gave me high expectations, one that had a premise promising so much– but ultimately, one that has failed to stand next to the other consoles of this generation.
Before this year’s E3, I was still very optimistic and greatly looking forward to the grand revealing of Nintendo’s next generational foray into the console market. All sorts of speculative ideas about the hardware were floating about, but no one was able to comprehensively tie down the underlying philosophy of the console, like whether it would continue with the Wii tag or whether it would be something altogether new for us to get stuck into. As Nintendo’s press conference drew nearer, I counted down the hours to the big reveal in anticipation. When the time came and the title Wii U was projected brightly and boldly onto the screen, my heart sank a little. I had that same feeling about a predictable sequel and almost instantaneously, I was turned off by the idea.
Maybe I was expecting too much, but I genuinely hoped Nintendo would drop the Wii brand for their next console. Now I realise this could be counterproductive. After all, why abandon a product which has sold so well, and has a name that is instantly recognisable in terms of innovation and commercial appeal? But still, I hoped for a true next generation machine, one that could hold its head high next to the PS4 and the next Xbox, but all we got was a sequel to Wii. Nintendo barely even showed the actual console itself at E3. In fact, they had to release a statement verifying that Wii U was not just a new controller which would be compatible with Wii. This alone gives an indication as to where the company’s priorities lie. Nintendo have gone from a company which focuses on hardware and software to one which focuses on the control method, with software second, and hardware relegated to the backdrop, barely visible to the waiting masses, which is something I am deeply unhappy with.
It’s all in the name, and for me Wii U is more of the same
I realise that a console is not all about graphical capabilities, or even having new mediums like Blu-Ray to play games on. But when your technology is consistently one generation behind that of your rival companies, you are ultimately going to miss out on some great experiences that simply cannot be offered on inferior technology. If (as predicted) PS4 and the next Xbox do come out in 2013 then Wii U is only going to have a short space of time to capture our attention. Wii U will likely be more powerful than current gen consoles, but will companies apart from Nintendo really try to push the limits of the console, with the next iterations of Sony and Microsoft’s respective hardware only a year away? I doubt it. We can expect to see updated versions of Arkham City and Tekken, but why anyone would purchase a brand new console to play games which are already available right now, today, on rival consoles is beyond me.
In my opinion Wii U will be a rehash of hardware that is available right now, only slightly more powerful. Developers will release games for the system which are straight ports of or on par with PS3 and 360 games and so Nintendo will finally get the experiences today’s Wii cannot offer with its inferior technology. The prospect of wielding an ungainly, cheap looking iPad rip off also does not fill me with much hope for the console. Of course I realise everyone is different and some people may be really looking forward to seeing what Nintendo can do, but I personally find the whole concept a bit, well, backwards. Within two years Nintendo will find themselves in a similar position to where they are now: unable to offer experiences which are available on rival consoles.
Wii U may well see Bioshock Infinite. But what next, once PS4 and the next Xbox are released?
Thinking about it, this is a strange situation to be in. When GameCube’s life cycle came to an end and the console finished dead bottom in terms of sales, I was hugely optimistic for Nintendo’s next console. But now, with Wii sitting pretty in the top spot of console sales, I find it hard to garner any discernable feelings of optimism. Surely it should be the other way around? My only answer to this draws back on the film sequel analogy I used earlier. Having that foreboding feeling of “I’ve seen it all before” saps away any anticipation I have for the hardware. Waiting a year to see “innovation” which is currently available on today’s consoles just does not do it for me, and the promise of being able to play such “innovations” by using a new control method does not fill me with excitement either. Five years after Wii offered me a new method of playing, I have learnt my lesson. Gimmicky control styles are just not for me, and because that is all Wii U has focused on (so far) I find it hard to rekindle the optimism I had for Wii back in 2006, when motion control was new and the revolution was just around the corner.
Having said all this, I will undoubtedly be purchasing Wii U, but only for the first- and second-party games that will be developed for the system. Seeing Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong and Samus in HD with a new lick of paint (though it does annoy me that Wii owners still have to talk about HD as if it were something new), will be a sight to behold, and as long as Nintendo offers us the choice of play styles (conventional control pads included) then I will definitely be along for the ride. However, it’s unfortunate that I even have to say this. First- and second-party games should not be the only reason I spend good money on a console. I want to enjoy the breadth of new and exciting experiences from innovative third parties such as Irrational Games, From Software and ID, but given the Wii U’s philosophy of recycling current gen hardware, I fear these types of games will be unattainable.
I don’t want to feel this way. Really I don’t, but given the borderline resentment I feel towards my Wii it is hard to shake off the feelings of doubt which may be clouding my judgement. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. Maybe by underestimating Wii U, I will be made to eat humble pie as the quality and quantity of titles released more than matches that of PS4 and the next Xbox, but given the fact that Nintendo’s next console has “Wii” in the name, I have a strong feeling this will not be the case.