Is Wii U The Next Dreamcast?

Robin explores the similarities between Wii U and Sega’s last foray into hardware.

By Robin Wilde. Posted 01/29/2013 10:00 8 Comments     ShareThis

While the online gaming topic is important, we must not forget to examine the physical similarities between the consoles as well. First and foremost, the consoles both had a screen in their controllers. Well, sort of. In the case of the Dreamcast it was a small device that plugged into the controller, but that difference is irrelevant. Nevertheless, the use of the screen, save for cosmetic appearance, was markedly different between Sega’s effort and Nintendo’s new system. Whereas the Dreamcast’s VMU was primarily a storage device, only displaying small graphics on its low-resolution screen during gameplay, the Wii U GamePad is a fully-fledged part of the gaming experience, functioning as an excellent-looking second screen and enabling what Nintendo calls asymmetric gameplay.

As a result, the GamePad is quite a lot more expensive, but it also performs far more functions and enables the Wii U to be a partially handheld device. This idea was never capitalised on with the Dreamcast and as such it seems unfair to draw a negative comparison of the Wii U simply for using an aesthetically similar concept.

Where the two share some more meaningful hardware characteristics is in their power levels, though, relative to the systems around them. At launch, the Dreamcast competed with the Nintendo 64 and the original Playstation, both ageing early-3D consoles that could not hold a candle to the newer system’s unprecedented 3D capabilities. However, falling awkwardly in terms of release dates between the fifth and sixth generations, it quickly lost out to the new systems from the other manufacturers, ranging from the PS2, roughly 50% more powerful than the Dreamcast, to the Xbox, which was some four times as capable.

Bear in mind, of course, that a lack of graphical power or physics capability is not necessarily the handicap the Dreamcast shows it to be. The Genesis sold well despite being markedly weaker than the SNES, while the Wii managed to outstrip its competitors in terms of sales by quite a large margin despite being puny in comparison. However, the Genesis benefited from the wild popularity of Sonic The Hedgehog and a two-year head start, while the Wii capitalised on a previously untapped age demographics and innovative and creative control methods. The Dreamcast had no such trick up its sleeve and as such was left behind.

The Wii U finds itself at a somewhat similar crossroads. While it’s two-screen system is different, it’s not an enormous leap from the DS in the way that the Wii was from the GameCube. The system is powerful, but will almost certainly be beaten out in terms of capability by the next set of consoles from Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo are in a risky position with the Wii U, but they have a rather different set of circumstances to turn of the millennium Sega. For one, they have a multitude of franchises which remain perennially popular, like Zelda and Super Smash Bros., but crucially they are, firstly, coming out of a console generation they handily won, building up a lot of good will towards the Wii brand, and, secondly, have a reasonably popular and steadily profitable handheld that is currently destroying the competition. This means that a slow period in sales of the Wii U is not necessarily as disastrous as it was for Sega. Remember, in 2005 the GameCube was selling worse than the Dreamcast did in its final days, but the immense popularity of Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS kept it afloat.

Nintendo need to be careful, it’s true, but you don’t stay in the race for this long without learning a few tricks. Only time will tell if Wii U ends up becoming another Dreamcast, but for now Nintendo definitely don’t seem to be running themselves out of the hardware race just yet.

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8 Responses to “Is Wii U The Next Dreamcast?”

  • 318 points
    Greg Wampler says...

    Nope. SOrry, but no way. There are more things different than there are the same between the Dcast and WiiU. The Dreamcast failed becase it was remarkably more powerful than the previous generation of consoles and basically matched (and in some cases outperformed) the generation it started. Also, you have to remember than Sega spent all of their money, time and effort into launching the console (and at such a loss per console sold). The Wii U is nothing like the Dreamcast when looking at just these 2 details.

    • 192 points
      Robin Wilde says...

      Yeah, fair enough. I don’t intend anyone to take this as a serious business prediction – I only thought it was a little interesting some of the things that could be called the same. I don’t think the Wii U will fail and, crucially, I know for a fact Nintendo have much better sense than Sega did.

  • 402 points
    geoffrey says...

    I think one other difference is/will be third party support. With the quick game of hopscotch that Sega played from the Sega CD/32X to the Saturn to the DC, third parties pretty went into table flip mode and just didn’t make games at all for them (first to my mind, EA Sports’s total lack of support for the DC). Nintendo’s current problem seems to be more of a “how do we use this thing,” not a “you’re indecisive morons, so screw you.”

    • 33 points
      Matto says...

      It doesn’t take rocket science to make up unique ways to use the GamePade touch screen: maps where you can place waypoints? Touch screen inventory? Unique ways to solve puzzles? HMMM…

      Now, this article in general just screams “following the internet hit gathering bandwagon.” Why do people think WiiU is automatically going to be the next Dreamcast when Nintendo is a much stronger company then Sega ever was? Oh, right, I forgot, must grab those hits. Damn it Nintendojo I know you sometimes make good points but this is really reaching.

      • 192 points
        Robin Wilde says...

        I don’t think I intended to imply that the Wii U would be like the Dreamcast and indeed I said as much. I grant you it can be frustrating to see people like Michael Pachter talking about Nintendo’s downfall every six months, but I don’t think they’re going to fail either.

        However, even if it isn’t a likely scenario, it’s still interesting to discuss. I didn’t write this to get views, I wrote it because it interested me – I’m not paid for Nintendojo (I’m not even professional) so please believe me when I say I have no vested interest in writing this article.

  • 18 points
    Grant Heaslip says...

    The Dreamcast was a hail mary after the Saturn’s commercial failure, while Nintendo is coming off the Wii, DS, and 3DS. They did a lot of things right with it, but momentum and customer loyalty were not on their side.

    The Dreamcast’s online functionality was revolutionary… 13 years ago. At this point, Nintendo Network is catching up to where the Wii should have been half a decade ago. The Dreamcast improved on predecessors’ online systems, but at a time when online functionality was a novelty, not an expected feature.

    The Dreamcast comparison, to me, seems to be more about the graphical power, timing relative to the competition, and to some extent the way the Wii U’s competitors have stronger non-gaming features that might help sell them.

  • 3 points
    Robknoxious1 says...

    To be honest one of the less appealing things about this article is the lack of originality. Hasn’t the “Wii U is/could be the next Dreamcast been done enough already? (not to mention thoroughly debunked).

    When people usually bring this up it is usually to insinuate that Nintendo will be forced by the assumed “Dreamcasting” to leave the home console business and become a 3rd party.

    You say this wasn’t your intention but you must see it’s a touchy subject with Nintendo fans.

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