Before I say anything else, let me say that I’m not exactly feeling the Wii U. Let’s just get that out of the way first. Based on my previous commentaries here at Popzara in numerous PING/PONG debates, NPD analyses, standalone editorials, and even replies to readers on our message boards, it’s clear that I’m still in shock over Nintendo’s abandonment of the original Wii. Words like “premature” “too soon” “before its time” or any sentiments like those have populated my opinions on Nintendo’s decision to move on to their next home console.
In my eyes, Wii, the undisputed leader and wholesale game-changer of the 7th generation of home consoles, had lots of life left in it. This was true despite its inability to output high-definition images, despite its virtual neglect from major 3rd party game developers, despite its growing neglect from its own maker, despite endless protests from the self-proclaimed “hardcore” players. That which Wii could not get paled in comparison to what Wii had already gotten. The competition changed their game to match what Nintendo did with Wii not the other way around. It was the living example of ‘The Little Engine That Could’. All Nintendo had to do was to actively push for that Revolution they started over a half-decade ago. It was very easy to do especially with all the love and goodwill people still had for this hunk of technological entertainment. But to my shock, Nintendo decided to move on from the system destined and proven to surpass the world’s best-selling home console, Sony’s PlayStation 2, in sales and—most importantly—cultural relevance.
I couldn’t figure it out. Why would Nintendo leave behind the force which restored the company as the once-again savior of the videogame industry? Wii changed the way people played, the way people saw videogaming as entertainment. With its handheld partner, the DS, the gaming world witnessed the reciprocating, compounding dynamics of finance and influence that I named the WiiDS Phenomenon. Frankly, for the first time ever I was disgusted at Nintendo (the 3DS situation wasn’t helping either). Such irresponsibility! And all this for some supposed Wii U which competes with Wii’s vanquished foes (XBox 360 and PlayStation 3) for that bitter “hardcore” base? A Wii U which will fruitlessly court those uncooperative major 3rd party developers? A Wii U seeming to contradict everything Wii established not only in philosophy but also interface and strategic approach? You just don’t leave like this. You just don’t walk away from The Revolution.
But the year 2012 has given me a chance to take a renewed look at a lot of things in life including this Wii U situation. Perhaps Wii U is NOT the END of The Revolution. Maybe it’s just Stage 2, the Evolution of the Revolution. I hang on to my initial thoughts during Nintendo’s E3 presentation from last year. When I saw that video package of Wii U, I noticed the focus was ALL on that tablet controller. I was in a storm of confusion, caught in a tornado of thought when at times I thought I understood what they were trying to do and times when I was totally lost. I went in with angry exclamation points came away with confused question marks. There was a Wii console-like device under a TV set and I thought to myself after all the preaching about Playing Is Believing™ and horsepower alone not mattering anymore, all they’re gonna do is put out a more powerful Wii with 1080p?? When HD didn’t work for its competition??
And that logo for Wii U! The U looks clunky & tacked on. The name almost looks like an accessory to the Wii more than a whole new console. Then, how can we go from the freedom of the Wiimote to being locked back onto a 2-handed plank that’s basically half of a giant DS? And more than that how can we play both the free-spirited Wiimote and the hand-locking Wii U tablet at the same time without demoting one control under the other? Wii’s controllers and accessories stacked on each other like LEGO blocks and were playable altogether at once. Even the brand threw me with the U complicating the simplicity and limitless crossover appeal of the name Wii. But maybe everything I saw that day was clues to Nintendo’s plans.
Even back then I had the inkling that the Wii U tablet controller WAS the Wii U console ITSELF. THAT would be breakthrough! It makes sense since Nintendo doesn’t plan to have more than one Wii U tablet per Wii U console. Selling Wii Fit Balance Boards is one thing but how would buyers in this depression/recession swallow $100+ extra controllers if they DID allow more than one tablet to work? And besides wouldn’t players fight over who gets to play with the singular tablet anyway? It all fits when you think about Nintendo’s past home consoles. The Gamecube from 2001 was the most powerful system with the smallest physical size and weight. Nintendo packed nearly just as much power in that light little Dolphin as Microsoft did in their original XBox humongotron (Sony’s PS2 was the weakest of the 3 incidentally). Nintendo took this pound-for-pound approach to a higher level with Wii. President Satoru Iwata dictated that Wii should be no larger than 3 DVD cases stacked together. The result was the physically smallest, lightest weighted, least power consuming, lowest priced pound-for-pound powerhouse in gaming history. Who’s to say that they can’t pack even MORE power into an even smaller physical space? Like a low-cost tablet/controller called Wii U.
Apple is the reason Nintendo has made so many abrupt moves in the handheld and now home console markets. The pricey iPad is just WAITING for someone to come in and provide a similar experience for half, a third, or even a quarter of the iPad’s price. Could THAT be the reason why Nintendo suddenly pushes 2-handed touchscreen planks over its liberating Wiimote wands? Is THAT why Nintendo’s E3 2011 presentation was all over that Wii U tablet controller? Is THAT why they’re moving so quickly to begin the next generation when for every single one before (except the 3rd generation with Famicom/NES) they were always the last to join? Maybe Nintendo knows that Microsoft and Sony are no longer competition and only sees Apple as its worthy adversary. Maybe there won’t be a Dreamcast situation caused by XBox 360’s and PS3’s upcoming successors because iPad is the machine to match.
OK, fair theory but what about that Wii console-like device under the TV set, John? What about that? I think 1080p was the clue. An analyst from Wedbush Morgan Securities (who I hate to mention) named Michael Pachter has been calling for “Wii HD” almost since the system came out but Nintendo stayed on course with Wii. As for me, I have always felt that Nintendo’s plan for Wii was to be Everybody’s Console not just the “Casual” Console. Early commercials for Wii showed people from all backgrounds, all walks of life, male, female, young, old, and inbetween playing together. It was not just corporate talk. Playing WAS Believing. But the 3rd parties never played along and stymied the Wii for game support from the very beginning. The longstanding history between these entities is well documented but those actions pigeonholed the system into the so-called “casual” role. As a result, the gamers who would otherwise join Wii went to other platforms creating the chasm in the gaming audience throughout the 7th generation. It was a crucial flaw for the Wii platform which became known for party games, kids games, bargain bin schlock, lone gems in the wilderness, and Nintendo’s ever-dependable 1st rate mega-hits. How could this flaw be fixed?
Maybe the 1080p power boost is not necessarily to pander and cater to the “hardcore” but to ensure that developers have no excuses when it comes to releasing the Call of Dutys, Grand Theft Autos, and all the other blockbusters that skip the Wii. That way that audience can see Wii as a legit platform and return Wii to the status of Everybody’s Console. The power is said to be just 50% more powerful than the PS3 (the 7th gen’s most powerful console) and that’s in keeping with Wii’s de-emphasis on the graphics race. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that device under the TV set is STILL simply Wii…only in HD. Pachter finally got his wish.
If the box is merely a spruced up Wii in HD format and the actual Wii U is the controller itself, then that explains why the logo looks the way it does. Think about the DSi. Iwata said that the ‘i’ represented a personal DS for the individual (along with the camera ‘eyes’). The ‘i’ in DSi is placed like exponents on numbers (example: 10³). DS to the ‘i’ power. The ‘U’ in Wii U similarly looks like an exponent. With the ability to play games independent of the TV set through Wii U’s tablet, this could be a Wii for ‘You’. A personal Wii. The tablet would be an accessory and a console all at once to best signify the Wii U logo.
Sounds impressive, you may say. But what does that have to do with Wii U continuing the Revolution? Well, my hope is that Nintendo does not simply throw away all they gained in the past 5 years of Wii. A big chunk of Nintendo’s well-earned Wii base has no motivation to play the ‘upgrade every 5 years’ console cycle game. They are satisfied with Wii and expect it to provide fun for years to come. All great things must come to an end, for sure, but the original Wii can’t automatically disappear just because Wii U arrives.
Here’s my idea for the transition. Similar to what Nintendo did as they gradually phased out the original Wiimote for the Wiimote Plus by way of the Wii Motion Plus add-on, Nintendo should do the same for Wii to the Wii ‘Plus’ with Wii U. If the tablet is indeed the console, it should be able to communicate with the established Wiis on the market ALONG WITH the new incoming 1080p-powered Wiis which will eventually take the old Wiis’ place in the phase-out. Wii U should be a BRIDGE Console between Wii’s built-up base and Wii’s base-to-be like Mario Kart Wii was a bridge game between the “casual” and the “hardcore”. They could sell the old Wii for its greatly discounted price and get some extra functionality from the Wii U tablet AND ALSO sell the new more powerful Wii to the new adopters. Since both the new Wii and the old Wii can play Wii games, they could sell Wii’s established library to both camps making the Wii U project a continuance of the Revolution with Wii U’s incoming library. After the original Wii finally finishes its natural run then the Wii ‘Plus’ becomes the only Wii combining what Wii got with what Wii had yet to get. Then Wii would at last be Everybody’s Console and now they would be in place to compete against Apple’s gaming plans through iPad. Revolutionary thinking!
That’s the only way I see this project working. It wouldn’t be just Wii + DS. It would instead be Wii × DS and yet another example of the WiiDS Phenomenon will have been witnessed. If Nintendo throws away the original Wii and its base unceremoniously, they might as well have chopped off one of their own limbs. They will not see success like this again for a very long time if they make the transition the wrong way. Massive pay cuts and massive reductions in profits show Nintendo’s vulnerability. They pulled 3DS out of the fire with a never-before-seen $80 price drop, Super Mario 3D Land, and Mario Kart 7 but they are not out of the flames yet. One of Nintendo’s most time-tested tenets is that software sells the hardware not the other way around. In the end, it’s about what gaming entertainment Wii U can provide not what kind of machine it is. It’s about the experience. Playing Is Believing.