Bald Rage: Nintendo Can Turn It Around for the Wii U
I don’t mind if people call this a fanboy rant. I see it and hear it in discussions about video games all the time. Things like “Nintendo is finished,” “Nintendo needs to stop making home consoles,” “The Wii U is Nintendo’s last console,” and statements similar to these. Personally, I do not believe this to be true. If I were asked if the Big N has seen better days I would say it absolutely has. Regardless, the fact remains that Nintendo is the only home console maker taking chances and the things they are doing with consoles are revolutionary. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the Wii and the numbers prove that. People went nuts when Project Revolution was unveiled at e3 2005 and the hype continued long after the Wii’s November 2006 launch. Being a NYC resident, I can attest to the lines that wrapped around Rockefeller Center every day prior to Nintendo World’s opening (I was on one of them) with people trying to get one of the 150 Wii units they had for sale each day. Almost a year later and people were still clamoring to buy the console. The Wii was an excellent console, the problem is that somewhere along the line, Nintendo just stopped caring about quality assurance. The “seal of quality” days were not just gone, it seemed as if they had been broken, battered and beaten to death as games like My Aquarium, Balls of Fury and the Petz series rolled out with no shame whatsoever. Even games that were good on other consoles had a “Wii” version. For once, gamers living outside of Japan can be happy because they missed gems like Sukeban Shachou Rena:
After that little walk down memory lane, you can understand why Nintendo’s latest console was met with a lukewarm response at best. After hearing it would be called the “Wii U,” many gamers immediately either called the “Pee-Yoo” or likened the name to the annoying sound made by Ling from Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. Once again, Nintendo has taken several big risks with the first having this console linked to the Wii in any way shape or form. Then there is the bundled controller which is a tablet; regardless of the fact that just about everyone games on their smartphones and tablets today the design has met with much criticism. As I am able to say that I have two Wiis, I can objectively say that both consoles in terms of hardware are innovative. Fundamentally, the only things wrong with the Wii U upon its launch were the fact that downloads took way too long (has since been corrected with firmware updates) and that the battery in the tablet controller was weak (a larger capacity battery is now available). The Wii U still has some stinkers for games, most of which are movie/TV tie-ins, but there are some truly great games for the console and a lot of them do not feature a Nintendo character (or Sonic).
The question remains why the Wii is struggling to get into homes if Nintendo has seemingly learned from the mistakes made with the Wii. The company is trying harder than ever to put out quality first party titles that longtime Nintendo fans can enjoy. At the same time, these games are made to bring new fans into the fold as well. The issue is that it is not enough and Nintendo seems to realize that as well. Earlier this year, Nintendo announced their new web framework and unity partnership which have made things a lot easier for indie developers to “get into the game.” It appears that this approach could pay off as many people are interested in upcoming titles like Project Cars, Mighty No. 9 and Cult County, along with several others. The problem here is that a lot of these games are not console exclusive and people on the fence about buying a Wii U will get these titles on the console (or PC) they already have versus buying a new one. What I believe to be the answer lies in Nintendo’s past with another (initially) black box: the Nintendo 64.
Project Reality became the Nintendo Ultra 64 and was later shortened to just the Nintendo 64 (N64). This was the first time Nintendo had its back to the wall in terms of home consoles. The original Sony PlayStation was two years old and was kicking the crap out of the aging Super Nintendo. There was also the fear of Nintendo falling behind by refusing to switch from cartridge to disc-based media. The answer to why this console did so well and is regarded as one of the best of all time is simple: the games. Leading up to the launch of the console, Nintendo was shoving project reality down your throat with games like Killer Instinct and Cruis’n U.S.A. Just look at the back of the box the console came in – twelve games and only four are mascot titles. Nintendo had a slew of developers making games just for them that were not only good, they stood against the PlayStation and Dreamcast and made you take notice. Star Wars games were available on any console or computer, but only the N64 had Shadows of the Empire and the still fantastic Rogue Squadron series. The THQ/Aki wrestling games are still regarded as some of the best ever and Rare was on fire with their games at the time. The console is also famous for one of the nastiest weapons ever made, the Cerebral Bore from Turok 2. No other console has ever fired a projectile that would specifically seek out a brain and then drill through a skull until it came out the other side. While the console was the beginning of Nintendo’s dip into the kiddie pool, its place in history cannot be denied. Oddly, the first company to learn form its example was not Nintendo.
When the PlayStation 3 dropped in 2006, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 already had a year of sales and games ahead of it. Top that with an initial controller that lacked the classic PlayStation rumble, a software war (blu-ray vs. HD-DVD), lack of titles and a $600 price tag and Sony faced some hard years for the console that is supposed to have a “ten year life cycle.” IT may have taken about six years, but Sony turned things around and officially made the console a success. Companies like Sucker Punch, Naughty Dog, Insomniac and Sony themselves brought gamers into the fold with titles like inFAMOUS, Uncharted, Killzone 2, God of War 3 and the above hit, The Last of Us. Games with fresh faces are what Nintendo needs right now. The company definitely has a strong list of first-party titles coming that existing owners are looking forward to. Titles like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros are generating new sales, but it seems that it still is not enough and the reason is that these are the same faces and the same games we have been playing for decades. Upcoming titles like Bayonetta 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles are a huge step in the right direction but Nintendo still needs more. Look at the lineup I mentioned from Sony. Three of those games have a specific face attached to them for gamers to identify with. The Last of Us has a duo and having moved to the PS4, inFAMOUS now has a new face that gamers have responded well to. Nintendo is adamant about remaining the family friendly company and that is actually a great thing. The problem there is that the majority of gamers, male or female, the ones that buy the consoles, primarily care about personal entertainment and/or online gaming. The Wii U needs more adult faces its roster. If Bayonetta is going to lead the coming charge, I am all for it. No one is ever going to dethrone Mario as the one true face of Nintendo, but that doesn’t mean he cannot stand atop a hill of smarmy, badass heroes with some equally badass heroines thrown in. And with the characters you have, why can’t they step out of their normal roles and let us play an all new adventure. You have done that with Mario several times and it has been successful. Why can’t Samus have an adventure more on the sci-fi side and less on the horror? Why can’t we pull an “Epic Mickey” and put Link in a brand new adventure outside of Hyrule and still make the Triforce part of it? Dig into that huge backlog of titles and make modern versions of some of your NES hits. There are so many options for Nintendo just sitting there. As a long time fan I hope that they get it together; it is not too late, but the clock is ticking.