Confession time; I love love LOVE the Wii U. Since getting the little system that could for Christmas, I have been consistently impressed not only by what it’s able to do now, but the almost limitless potential for the future. When I have that gamepad in hand, I feel like I’m holding something on the threshold of a revolution in the way we game and the way we interact with gaming as a whole.
Sadly, I seem to be in a bit of a minority; sales for the Wii U have been pretty soft overall. This in turn could lead to a really bad feedback loop and self-fulfilling prophecy: people don’t buy the Wii U because there aren’t enough games they want for it, developers don’t make games for the Wii U because not enough people bought it, people still don’t buy it because etc etc etc. So, in the hopes of kindling interest and saving this really fascinating development in the gaming landscape, here are my top five reasons to get a Wii U (and three reasons that I concede you might want to wait…)
1. You have real life friends, right? – There’s something wrong with a system of multiplayer that forces me to send my friends home from my place if we want to play games together. I’M LOOKING AT YOU, XBOX. Online play is fine if you’re going for more impersonal free-for-all or if your friends can’t come over, but if you have warm bodies on the couch, shouldn’t you be able to do something game-ish with them?
Nintendo, luckily, has always understood that, and as such they have always been a mainstay in my household, but with the Wii U, they’ve knocked it out of the park. If you at any point have friends, family, or random human beings in the same physical space as you, HOLY CRAP GET A WII U. Nintendo Land alone is worth the price of admission; it is the perfect party game for geeks and non-geeks alike. The cooperative play is amazing (hooray for arrow shooting and spaceship driving!) but where it truly shines is the asynchronous team competitive games which blow open the lid on what the GamePad can do when there are people in the room. The ghost tag game is absolutely hilarious, as one friend (aka the Sadistic Monster) plays an invisible ghost and stalks the other players as they desperately yell out warnings from their vibrating controllers. My gaming group almost completely missed the New Year countdown thanks to this game. And there are more multiplayer games out there; Chasing Aurora combines basic tag-style gaming with beautiful vistas and soaring controls, Rayman allows for unusual cooperative platforming, and the upcoming Game and Wario blends the usual goofy WarioWare fun with a single GamePad user thrown into the mix to shake things up.
Really, this should be THE main reason to get a Wii U right here. The sad fact is that, out of the big “three,” only Nintendo seems to grok that we gamers are a social breed as well and that there is truly something special about local multiplayer (Microsoft tried to capture this with the Kinect but didn’t quite hit the mark). If you have friends or family, this is the console that will bring you together (only to break you apart as the ghost player is shunned for life, but hey, nothing’s perfect!)
2. Indie = awesome – Wait, Nintendo and indie? That doesn’t seem like a likely combo considering Nintendo’s track record. But lo and behold, Nintendo seems to be learning from their mistakes and reaching out to indie developers… and this is quite possibly the smartest thing they’ve ever done. The indie community has always had a reputation for being experimental and willing to break outside the safe boundaries of what is guaranteed to sell, and here they have a system which just screams, “Hi, you can come up with game design ideas heretofore unknown to humankind. Play with me!” Chasing Aurora hit on this with spades with the way they used the gamepad to encourage team vs. 1 player gameplay, while Little Inferno (also on Steam) went for a quieter, more artistic use of the GamePad as an interactive tool. And even if indie developers aren’t making brand new titles, the format of the GamePad allows for good ports from PC to Wii U; it’s a lot easier to simulate a mouse with a stylus and tablet vs. an Xbox controller.
This time around, Nintendo is attempting to make the eShop much more indie-friendly, allowing them to set their own prices, patch things for free, and loosening the restrictions on who can register (e.g. registered office no longer necessary). Time will tell if the indie community leaps on board – they’ve been burned by Nintendo before – but the possibilities are almost maddeningly awesome, and if there is any justice in the world, the Wii U could become THE go-to console for quirky, engaging and revolutionary indie games.
3. I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Mii – Imagine Twitter not as a little extra app on your Xbox but as a fully integrated part of your console and gaming experience. That’s pretty much what Miiverse is, and trust me, it’s WAY more engaging than it sounds. Each game and app on the Wii U has its own community where players can either leave 100 character messages or make a small doodle; those that get enough “Yeahs” (the equivalent of “Like” on Facebook) will actually end up on the main Wii U screen, a large plaza where adorable Miis wander around squeaking as the message bubbles appear over their heads. These messages also come into play within the games themselves. For example, Nintendo Land has random Miis wandering your play area, squeaking out messages, and you can read and leave notes within each mini-game to ask for help or celebrate a success. You can even take screenshots to show a particular trouble area or pretty scene. I could see some real potential for this being used in other games, even in just a fun way; imagine an RPG where the faceless NPCs of the town piped up with chirpy messages from the Miiverse?
The mechanics of the Miiverse and how they integrate with the game and console are really interesting, but to me, the most surprising, important, and VITAL thing about the Miiverse is how it exists as a beautiful, stark contrast to the Greater Internet F***wad Theory. This is not Xbox Live where people are, at best, abused for their skill or lack thereof in games or, at worst, abused for their gender, race, sexuality, or appearance. Almost every single message on Miiverse is encouraging, friendly, and improves the impression of the game and the community (or at the very least, does not detract). Any aggressive or inappropriate messages are removed by a vigilant moderating team, and the whole atmosphere is very safe and welcoming. This is what an online gaming community SHOULD be like, and this is what Sony and Microsoft (and Valve, EA, and any company engaged on online community building) should be modeling themselves on. I want the Wii U to succeed just to prove that niceness and politeness should be the default setting for any gaming community.
4. One stop media shop – This is an odd and minor point, but I’m actually impressed at how well the Wii U works for non-gaming purposes on a TV. For example, the GamePad works as a TV remote along with all its other functions; a small thing, to be sure, but surprisingly efficient when you’re booting everything up for a good session of gaming. The internet browser is also surprisingly robust and perfect for when you want to bring up ThatGuyWithTheGlasses for your friends and guests (there’s a separate app for YouTube, but I actually find the browser works better). Wii U also supports Hulu, Netflix, and a system called Nintendo Tvii which integrates with your cable somewhat like a TiVo, allowing you to schedule shows and suggesting other movies and shows you might like. Unfortunately, there are a few glaring omissions – no music player or setup for showing your own photos or movies – but those have been promised in future updates.
5. It’s THE FUTURE! – Really, the main reason to get a Wii U is simply the concept of it. For all of its faults, Nintendo is nothing if not willing to push the boundaries of what game hardware can accomplish, and though too few developers are willing to take them up on it, they provide really unique experiences. The Wii U is like an iPad, a Wii and an Xbox 360 decided to go out together, have dinner, come back and make sweet music together, and the resulting baby has the best of all its parents while still being its own person. Nintendo Land, Rayman, Chasing Aurora and Little Inferno all showcase what the integration of tablet and controller can do, and they are only scratching the surface. The future could bring everything from Miiverse powered NPCs to Dungeons and Dragons GMing tools to asynchronous dating sims, stuff we’ve never seen before. Doesn’t that make anyone excited? Anyone? Bueller?
Fine. Here are some pretty good reasons NOT to go mad just yet…
1. FOREVER AAA-LONE – While the Wii U is an absolute must have for any sort of multiplayer for friends on your couch, it’s less stellar when it’s just YOU on your couch. Not that it’s a bad single player experience – far from it! Between the indie games and the single-player Nintendo Land stuff, there’s plenty to keep yourself entertained with. However, for sheer depth and breadth of single player stuff, the Xbox, PS3 and PC still have more to offer, if only in terms of number of AAA titles. And sadly, that is probably where the Wii U will stumble most. While there were a surprising number of AAA games available on release, most of those were ports of existing franchises, many of which fans had already bought on other consoles (and really, who would go for Wii U Mass Effect 3 when we all have ancient save files from the first game on our Xboxes and PCs?) More worryingly, it seems like a lot of the upcoming AAA games like Bioshock Infinite aren’t getting ported to the Wii U, despite now being on par with the other hardware. While there are definitely some bright spots – ZombieU had great response, Bayonetta 2 is coming, and of course Nintendo keeps drumming along – it doesn’t look like there are going to be many AAA single-player games on the horizon. Why? Because developers don’t think there’s enough potential customers… and thus more people decide not to buy a Wii U… remember that self-fulfilling prophecy?
Of course, then there’s the flip side of the coin; even if AAA developers would develop for the Wii U, would they actually take advantage of its unique design? Or would it just be the same game as all the other consoles? And if so… well, why not just stick with one of the other consoles? After all, that was part of the problem with the Wii; the remote could have been used in so many revolutionary ways, but most developers either went with silly waggle stuff or made the controls the same as any other system. In an ideal world, all the AAA studios would be hard at work coming up with really unusual ways to use the GamePad and come up with mechanics that wouldn’t work on other systems. But this is not an ideal world, and as such, it’s up in the air as to which is worse: getting a rehashed copy of Call of Duty, or not getting one at all.
2. Powered by hamsters – Hooray! The Wii U is now graphically on par with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3! Huzzah! Too bad they’re going to be releasing a new tier of hardware that will make the poor Wii U look dinky again. I don’t know whether Nintendo just funnels too much money into their “cool mechanics” department and not enough into their “MOAR POWER!” department, but they’re never going to win any kind of hardware specs race for the foreseeable future. While the Wii U is currently enjoying sharp, HD graphics, the Xbox 720 or Playstation 4 are probably going to have graphics so real your eyeballs sear. Now, I actually don’t really think this should be a big concern… game graphics and sound are already SO realistic that it’s getting ridiculous, and games could easily hit a plateau where MORE POWER to visuals etc is actually not going to make that much difference (if they haven’t hit it already). However, those aforementioned AAA studios are probably interested in taking the next step anyway, and so are many gamers. Nintendo may be trying to focus its hardware power on streaming content to two screens at once, but will that matter when the next Xbox can run the equivalent of Skyrim AND Oblivion all at once, no loading, with graphics so real you feel the arrow to the knee?
3. iHave an iPad – Don’t get me wrong, the Wii U GamePad and the iPad/iPhone/tablet experience are not the same thing; the Wii U is interested in integrating tablets with a console and making it a full powered, “living room” experience, while the iPad etc seem to be going for a different kind of market with their games. However, there is certainly some crossover, and many people will already be getting their tactile tablet fix. Moreover, while the Wii U is the only one CURRENTLY trying to integrate console/traditional gaming with touchscreens, that doesn’t mean they will always be the only ones. Microsoft has already introduced SmartGlass to try and pair smartphones and tablets with the Xbox. The Wikipad combines the traditional gamepad controller with a smart little Android tablet. And who knows what Steam, Apple, and Google might have around the corner? After all, Nintendo has a habit of inspiring all their competitors to try and copy them, and this time, the hardware (i.e. touchscreens) is already in the wild. The good news is that we may see more companies embracing the idea of using touchscreens with consoles to explore new avenues of play… the bad news is that Nintendo might be screwed over in the process.
What are your impressions so far of the Wii U? Revolutionary concept, or gimmick?