Round Table: An Ever-Redder Homefront

Wii is losing its momentum and novelty in recent months, so the staff has a hearty debate on what Nintendo should do next.

By Nintendojo Staff. Posted 09/21/2010 11:06 5 Comments     ShareThis

Round Table: An Ever Redder Homefront

Releasing the Wii– a shocking surprise to the video game industry– was not enough for Nintendo. Instead, the company had to put an explanatory point on why it took such a bold direction, and the secret lay within buzz word-laden corporate management books: “blue oceans.” If the soundbite of GameCube’s era was “no more mega-games” (which Nintendo largely failed to follow), a strategy of “blue oceans” defined Wii, and this time around, Nintendo lived up to its mantra. Wii’s hardware, while technically underpowered against 360 and PS3, relied on a brand new control scheme to revolutionize gaming for both game designers and players.

This was an area no other game company had touched– in other words, a “blue ocean” not yet made blood-red from the battles of competing with others offering the same products. Indeed, Sony and Microsoft weren’t prepared to release their own motion controllers until years later (and this was after initially deriding the concept as a novelty), but Wii managed to put Nintendo into a leading position it hadn’t enjoyed the scope of since the 1980s’ NES.

Yet those aforementioned motion controllers from Sony and Microsoft: they’re out or about to be released, and the heat is rising on Nintendo from third party game developers, industry analysts and even some consumers. Does this mean Nintendo’s prior uncontested “blue oceans” are now bloody from incoming Sony and Microsoft sharks? How much time does Nintendo have left with Wii? Should Nintendo’s next move be not only innovative but also technically competitive? We’ll get into that in this round table.

Andrew Hsieh

As happy as my Wii and I have been these past four years, and as happy as my GameCube and I were for the five years before that, I’ve definitely felt something missing. I know as a vet of the console wars (a vet, I should say, who’s not exactly proud of his participation, but come on, that was years ago), I’m contractually obligated to say things like “gameplay over graphics”– basically, things that somewhat-but-not-quite justify the Wii’s absence of technological prowess compared to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3. I believed this mantra for a good bit of time, especially when the Wii constantly blindsided me with games like Wii Sports and Super Mario Galaxy— games that didn’t need fancy-schmancy graphics, or were still pretty despite the Wii’s limitations, respectively. But when I started to realize that my game library consisted more and more of first party games, and that Nintendo had all but forgotten the Virtual Console (another buying point of the Wii for me), I started to get pretty suspicious.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Artwork
Storm Troopers Gonna Go WHEEEEEEEE!

What I’m trying to say with my long-winded story is that sure, Nintendo’s done pretty well for itself forgoing graphics, instead going into the mystical land of Innovatia, but Microsoft and Sony still do pretty well with the gamer crowd. Buttons, I think, can do just as well as motion controls in that department, especially since recent games have started to forgo motion controls more and more (or, in the case of games like Star Wars: Force Unleashed, take “gameplay over graphics” to the worst possible extreme). But when it comes to the casual crowd, which I understand is a lucrative department– well, Nintendo continuously makes a whole lot of cash with its motion controls, so I’m sure that it won’t do a complete 180 anytime soon. But unless it’s able to push its next-gen console hardware to the point where we can at least compare Wii 2’s graphics to PlayStation 3’s without laughing our heads off (I’m not even going to consider comparing to PS4 at this juncture), I don’t know how big of a future Nintendo has with its hardware.

M. Noah Ward

Wii Sports was a game-changer. First person shooters on Wii were game-changers. But that’s about it, and they’re not really enough to justify a console founded on motion controls. Maybe that would have worked if we’d seen a flood of first person shooters like 360 did, but we haven’t.

Nintendo took a gamble that it could define an entire platform and game library on motion controls, getting third party developers to run along with it, and I can’t say Wii’s a failure. But would I have enjoyed, maybe even preferred, Super Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario Kart Wii without motion controls? Definitely. In fact, in some cases, if I can change a game to be exclusively traditional controls, as with Mario Kart Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I will. And I loathe some games that don’t give me that flexibility. Having to yank the remote over and over through an entire game, such as in Rabbids Go Home, de Blob, No More Heroes and of course Twilight Princess, for a key gameplay action is annoying and wrist-aggravating. To point, my mom had to abandon Rabbids, as much as she loved it, because it aggravated her carpal tunnel syndrome for weeks afterwards– and she’s one of the “expanded demographics” people!

De Blob Screenshot
Don’t get Noah wrong: he’s still getting de Blob: Underground no matter what, especially since jumping no longer requires remote yanking.

That’s not to say I’ve not loved the games and special in-game modes that wouldn’t be possible without the remote– all the great light gun shooters, Boom Blox, Zack and Wiki, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 and the first person shooters enhanced with fantastic controls. But for every LostWinds, there’s an Okami or Resident Evil 4: a thrilling, trend-setting game that works just as well with “traditional” controls as with the Remote, regardless your preference. And third party developers, much as Nintendo and we would have liked, haven’t come up with a torrent of killer apps that rely on motion controls in the last four years. So if most games on Wii would have been just as good with a regular controller (to include many of Nintendo’s first party gems), the ones that mandate motion are what’s left over, and are those good enough to justify Wii? Not resoundingly. Yes, I agree with Andrew in “gameplay-over-graphics,” but that’s only universal if the competition has bad games. Yet 360 and PS3 have a growing library of excellent, traditional control exclusives, with the sharp graphics, better online features and soon, motion controls, to go along with them.

As much as I can’t wait to see Nintendo’s next innovation in home console video gaming, I hope that it works better across all genres. Should that innovation still be relegated to a few genres, I hope to not go through an entire console life cycle with a massive disparity in technical capabilities, hard drive space and online support when compared to Microsoft and Sony. And the sooner the better. 360 and PS3 are only due for more price drops, and with the novelty of motion control wearing off four years in, it’s Nintendo’s game to lose.

Andrew Hoover

I pretty much agree with my comrades on just about everything they have said, however, I think Nintendo’s next console doesn’t need to continue the trailblazing. Wii’s primary contribution is not its innovative controls, but rather the tens of millions of people it has brought into gaming that never would have picked up a controller otherwise. For the sake of these new gamers, I think Nintendo would benefit from a generation of solidifying this new fan base by not moving things too far forward. Looking back through history, major changes generally come every two generations; NES marked a drastic improvement over all the Ataris and Intellivisions of old while SNES made everything prettier but didn’t redefine gaming as we knew it, just as N64 introduced console gamers to fully realized 3D gameplay while GameCube once again just upped the graphics. Wii is like N64 and NES in that it has significantly altered the direction of game design, so Wii’s successor can afford to focus more on perfecting motion controls rather than creating the next big thing.

Wii is fun!
“Hehehehe… I love Wii.”

Another thing that alleviates Nintendo’s pressure is the fact that Sony and Microsoft are just now getting into motion controls. Competition helps breed innovation, and Nintendo has faced very little competition. Even with Move and Kinect hitting the streets, I’m guessing that pressure won’t grow any more severe. To be frank, Sony and Microsoft are late to the party; Wii’s buzz is already slowing down and while Move and Kinect might reignite the interests of some casual gamers, most will remain indifferent or be unwilling to make the considerable investment of buying a brand new, more expensive system and all the necessary peripherals and games. As for long-time gamers: their minds were made up a long time ago — they play Wii regularly, they pick up the occasional Wii game, or they hate Wii. This is yet another reason why Nintendo should take the time to perfect motion controls, keep current Wii gamers impressed and to ultimately show the naysayers motion controls have a rightful place.

There is one variable that could ruin this game plan of mine, and that is the lifespan of 360 and PS3. Sony has already proclaimed that it intends on giving PS3 as long a life cycle as possible, and Microsoft has said very little about immediate plans for a 360 successor. So long as they keep on waiting, Nintendo can go forth with my idea and bring out a more powerful Wii with more refined controls within the next two years. However, if either Sony of Microsoft plan on bringing out their next consoles within a similar time frame, and those systems incorporate motion controls more seamlessly than current gen offerings, then Nintendo will need another new idea to maintain its lead. I don’t really see that being the case though, so Nintendo should focus more on refining this current ocean before setting sail to the next.

Carter Fagan

Nintendo has and, unless something crazy occurs, always will be the innovator others follow. Nintendo popularized the D-Pad, the analog stick, controller vibration, the platformer, and today have pioneered motion and touch control. Everything new that Nintendo tries is usually dismissed as a fad that will slowly fade away– and people are proven wrong time and time again.

Super Mario Bros. saved an industry in shambles, and is, for the most part, responsible for the fact that we play video games in America today. It’s not unreasonable to say that Nintendo has mirrored this immense success in 2010 with Wii. Just now, the competition is jumping on the motion control boat set sail by Nintendo years ago, and, in my opinion, it’s too late in the game to do so. So why are we just now seeing Sony and Microsoft marketing motion controllers when the gaming universe as a whole is already looking for something new? The video game industry is changing fast, and in one, two, or maybe even four years, we will start to see successors to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.

DS Lite ColorsHonestly, I could see the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 brands roll on for a couple more years, as I don’t believe the hardware of either has been fully taken advantage of yet. And while the same could be said for Wii, that console’s running out of steam and people need to admit it. Nintendo is now starting to see a decline in sales for both DS and Wii hardware and software. Nintendo has essentially reached maximum saturation for both consoles– everyone that has ever wanted a DS or Wii most likely has one (or two), and if NPD Group is correct, 1 in every 6 people in America own a DS system as of June 30th this year.

But that’s okay, because gossip has gone into overdrive about Wii’s inevitable successor– and at almost the same time last year the rumor mill was set on 3DS. With Iwata’s recent revelation that Wii’s successor will indeed “surprise” people in the way we were surprised six years ago, and Yoshio Sakamoto even going as far as to say it will leave our collective “mouths open,” I ask again: why are Microsoft and Sony even trying this late in the game? I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo has already left mouths wide open with the unveiling of 3DS earlier this year, and there is no doubt that they will top a handheld with a home console.

I’ll cap this with a prediction: Nintendo will introduce a new console at E3 in the next 2 years, with technology on par with what Microsoft and Sony will introduce after. It will be reasonably priced (<$300), as are all Nintendo products. By now, Nintendo’s relationships with third-parties have improved ten-fold with help of 3DS, and for the first time since Super Nintendo, there will be no excuse to not develop for a Nintendo console. Oh, and mouths will be open and every gamer’s floor drenched in drool.

Aaron Roberts

The thing which makes Sony’s and MS’s controllers less important than the Wii Remote is simple: they are peripherals.  Every Wii controller has motion sensing in it.  It’s kind of backwards.  The “standard,” or traditional, controllers are the peripherals on Wii.  So in that sense, neither of the other consoles has even come close to touching Nintendo’s lead this generation.

Nintendo is poised to launch a next-gen console before the other hardware makers, but I wouldn’t expect to see it out too early.  Practically speaking, it’ll probably be ready within the next two years, but anyone who owned an original Game Boy understands that Nintendo isn’t going to push the next generation unless it absolutely has to.  Nintendo is going to ride Wii’s coattails as long as it possibly can.

There’s definitely a few things that can be done by tweaking the existing technology before coming out with something completely new, though.  A more sensitive nunchuk controller is one of the things to work on, for instance.  I don’t see 3D making a huge dent as everyone thinks it’s going to right now, unless they figure out some way eliminate the glasses.  We’ll get a Super Wii when it’s time, but there will be absolutely no threat from the other consoles until then.

James Labalokie

Are you guys still going on about this?  Really?

I guess I can’t just say that and not follow up with some of my universal insight (why yes, I am an egomaniac!  Thank you for noticing!  I’m also a maniac for Eggos, too; it may never come up, but…  well, if you’re between me and an Eggo…)

Unlike Noah, I never felt restricted by the Wii’s controller for games such as Super Mario Galaxy and Twilight Princess; they worked, specifically because these games did not rely upon the controller’s built-in nature.  Except for the parts where they did and… may I say how obnoxious I found it that, every 5-10 minutes– long after my arms had become lax– I would have to point the remote back at the screen in order to shoot an arrow, or some such trivial matter?  Regardless, I did say it.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Screenshot
Waaaaaiiiit fooooorrr iiiiit…. Waaaaaaiiiiit foooorrrr iiiit…

Here’s the thing, though: the system was designed for these controls, but very few games ever took advantage of them. Worse, when such games arrived, the imperfect nature of the controller proved them to be frustrating at best (horrid at worse).

But then, I’m rambling. Should Nintendo stray away from motion controls?  I’m inclined to say both “yes” and “no” (it sounds like “neos”– written “nyeos”– if you were curious). Having extra capabilities is never going to turn out as a horrible thing (the ability to do more is always better) but reliance upon motion controls, that self-imposed need for some gimmick within a game, must disappear.  At least (and this goes for third party developers much more than Nintendo) if you’re going to take advantage of such capabilities in the future, make sure that the game is operational before you release it.

What do you think? Are you worried about Nintendo’s near-term future or do you think Wii’s still got plenty of legs? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Responses to “Round Table: An Ever-Redder Homefront”

  • 186 points
    Aaron Roberts says...

    I just thought about it, MNW: You could play Super Mario Galaxy without the pointer or spinning controls, but you couldn’t have the second assist player help you out. That’s what it’s all about. It’s non-threatening, unlike 2-player simultaneous co-op would be.

  • 45 points
    poptart says...

    NPD numbers suggest that Wii gamers have moved on to something else. It is a declining platform that needs to be replaced by a system that actually makes good use of your new HDTV. Graphics are important to the first time buyer other than the price. The other two console manufacturers have competitive price points at this point of the current gen life cycle so that advantage has been swallowed up. I’m ready for my new HD Wii coming next year.

    • 15 points
      Carter Fagan says...

      I’m confident in it being a high definition console. It was different in 2006 when HD television sets were almost something of a luxury, but every television on the market today sports at least a 720p resolution.

      • 697 points
        Adam Sorice says...

        But we’re living in a market where 49% of Gears of Wars players are using a standard, low definition TV. We have these consoles that can chew massive pieces of information and then we’re putting them on television sets that can’t support a SNES attractively.

        It’s a vicious cycle.

  • 15 points
    Carter Fagan says...

    I agree, but I think HDTVs have reached a certain saturation (that will be even higher by the time a new wii comes out) where it would almost be lazy and insulting if their next console didn’t support some high definition resolution.

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