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Opinion: Nintendo's Wii U has the power to cross the console-mobile divide

Opinion: Nintendo's Wii U has the power to cross the console-mobile divide
If a group of wise old sages ever felt like drawing up the 10 Commandments of the Games Industry, number one would probably be Thou Shalt Not Write Off Nintendo's Chances Of Success.

And yet, every single time the Big N has a new piece of kit on the horizon, there's never any shortage of shouty commentators arching their bushy eyebrows in the direction of the Japanese giant.

Its latest piece of hardware, the Wii U, has come in for enormous stick for all sorts of reasons. The quality of the software. The disastrous E3 press conference. And, most recently the launch price.

Taking a caning

Strictly speaking, Nintendo doesn't actually set the price in Europe. Ever since 2002, it has had to tiptoe on eggshells ever since it got a €149m (£92.1m) spanking by the EU over price-fixing in the 1990s.

Ignoring the semantics for a minute, Wii U's not going to be cheap - or at least not as cheap as the £179.99 Wii was upon its release in late 2006.

The Basic Wii U pack, with 8GB of in-built storage is available for pre-order for as low as £224.99 (and typically £249.99) while the Premium pack (with 32GB of storage, charging cradle, various software discounts and a copy of NintendoLand) will be available from £274.99, right up to over £300 depending on your retailer preference.

Taking bothersome things like inflation into the equation, the basic Wii U's not far off where the Wii was, and provides a tablet controller into the bargain - something that's certainly not going to be exactly cheap to manufacture - so definitely lay off Nintendo about that one.

The price is fright

Price is always an emotive issue when it comes to any new hardware, especially gaming kit, but let's put it in perspective. The PS3 launched in 2007 at, lest we forget, £425, while the hideously unreliable Xbox 360 launched at £299.

And what about new tablets and smartphones? Over £400 is the entry level.

So if we can accept that the price is right for Nintendo, what about the functionality and quality of the experience?

On the basis of what it has shown to the world to date, there are lots of reasons for Nintendo to be cheerful. For a start, it's the only gaming system that can adequately combine legacy controls, with the modern touch, tilt and swipe controls of tablets and smartphones.

While Microsoft has the intriguing SmartGlass concept ready as a spoiler, and Sony has plans of its own by integrating the PS Vita more closely with the PS3, both present users (and developers) with plenty of issues.

No support

SmartGlass might well offer users a useful touchscreen to browse maps and the like, but it's an either/or solution - you'll have to put down the controller to access it.

Using a PS Vita as a controller for the PS3 (and potential second screen) has the greatest spoiler potential, but the installed base is so low, who's going to develop for it? Hardly anyone. As ever, it comes down to whatever the lowest common denominator is. Always.

With the Wii U, the presence of the tablet with its integrated physical controls means that every developer has free reign to make use of both the analogue sticks and buttons, as well as calling upon the touch, tilt and even the camera functionality should they wish.

In the right hands the Wii U has the potential to deliver the kinds of new games that any next generation system should have, and many of the minigames within the bundled NintendoLand already demonstrate that.

The one major downside, though, is that buying extra Wii U controllers will be out of reach for most gamers. At around £100 each, it's highly unlikely that many players will want to get another one, which, in turn, means that few games are even likely to bother with supporting multiplayer games that require more than one screen.

Innovation

That said, from what we've seen so far, there's enormous potential for all-new kinds of multiplayer game, where one person sees something entirely different on the tablet screen to the players watching the television.

Although some perceive it as a problem, others are simply designing new types of games around it.

Less easy to stomach for some is the fact that you won't be able to use the Wii U's tablet controller as a portable gaming system outside the home.

Despite the fact that the Wii U system allows you to carry on playing certain games on the tablet handset if, say, someone else wants to watch TV, you can't store games locally and use it like you would an iPad.

After all, the practicalities of this would either involve a totally lag-free, reliable, and fast remote play system, or involve replicating the console's hardware in the tablet handset - and that's obviously not something Nintendo can provide at the kind of price people would be willing to pay in 2012.

If, however, Nintendo can perhaps allow some simpler Will U minigames to be downloaded and played on the 3DS for portable play outside the home, then gamers would be far more likely to get over the perceived 'inconvenience' of not being able to make full use of the Wii U's tablet.

First mover disadvantage

Perhaps the biggest threat for Nintendo is the fact that it has - rather uncharacteristically - chosen to move first in the market.

By doing so, it allows both Sony and Microsoft (and anyone else who decides to muscle in, such as Valve), to trump its offering with far more exciting alternatives.

The worry is that by underspeccing the Wii U in graphical terms, Nintendo has left itself wide open to being perceived as behind the curve by a full generation. But while this arguably had the opposite effect when the Wii launched, this time around, Sony and Microsoft have a golden opportunity to offer everything the Wii U has and a whole lot more.

But at the end of the day, gamers aren't sold on specs, but on the quality of software, and as long as Nintendo has enough in its locker to lure people in, it doesn't really matter what industry commentators have to say on the matter.

Yes, Wii U might well 'do a GameCube', but even that was highly profitable. And when Nintendo decided it had got it wrong, it simply redesigned essentially the same piece of hardware, threw in some motion controllers and sold more consoles than anyone.

As ever, you underestimate Nintendo at your peril.


The Wii U will be released on November 30th across Europe, and November 19th in North America.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.

Comments

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Phil Maxey
@Tim

Of course it's competing against mobile, everything you can play a game on is competing against everything else you can play a game on. It's about where players are spending their time and money, and for developers the ratio of development cost Vs revenue made, and that right now is pretty much heavily weighted in the direction of mobile.

This trend is just going to accelerate with the latest mobile phones, considering how powerful they are in regards to mobile gaming.

The Wii succeeded due to a hardware gimmick. It was innovative and new, which is why it succeeded as it did. The Wii U doesn't appear (wrongly or rightly) to be able to offer anything as new or novel as the original Wii did, and that is where I see the biggest problem.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a new XBox or Playstation in shops come Christmas 2013, but either way Wii U games are going to look very dated compared to games on these new consoles, or even the latest release of phones at the time.

I hope we keep on seeing great games/products from Nintendo, as they bring something different and interesting to the gaming world, but I'm not sure the Wii U is going to do that.
Timothy Polumbo
@ Phil

Nintendo will be completely unchecked for a year or 2. That may be a game changer.

Remember, everyone said the Wii would flop and its actually been more successful than the PS3 or 360. You also point out that people are gaming with their phones now. While I totally agree - and that trend will detract from some console sales (for instance I do 99% of my gaming on my iPhone 4S) - the Wii U is not competing with mobiles and so suggest so is ridiculous (no offense)

One of the main points of the tablet controller is so that guys can keep playing games when their girlfriend/wife enters the living room and wants to watch re-runs of The Hills or the Kardashians or whatever.

Another plus is that you can be outside of the living room (where the console is) and continue playing on the controller.

Jumping bac - while Sony and Nintendo have lost an enormous amount of market share from the likes of iOS and Android, in the mobile market - Nintendo has reclaimed much of its glory in the console market.

I don't know how this system is going to flesh out in terms of success - but Nintendo is off to a rough start. They need to hit the PR like a boss or the Wii U is in trouble of going to way of the DreamCast (which was one of the best all-time consoles)

tim
Phil Maxey
It's all about brand perception, Nintendo's is of games aimed at the younger generations, it's of fun, family orientated gaming in the living room. Unfortunately that's not going to be enough anymore for them.

The Wii U looks like an attempt to bridge the gap between Console and mobile, and I suspect will fail on both sides. Technically the console is going to look dated as soon as it's released, especially when the next versions of the Xbox and playstation arrive, and it won't be seen as a mobile gaming platform compared say to the iPhone, iPad etc.

I'm a fan of Nintendo machines, and games, the SNES and CUBE are 2 of my favourite consoles of all time, and Mario Kart (SNES/CUBE versions) is in my top 10 fave games. But the direction Nintendo is going seems eerily similar to what happened to SEGA, with the Dreamcast (great machine).

The younger generation are now gaming on their phones and tablets, the older generations, especially the hardcore gamers are on xbox/playstations and PC's. What Nintendo should be doing is either launching their own Nintendo phone and/or pushing their brands on mobile, but if they want to stay in home consoles, they need to push the envelope further.
Keith Andrew
I'd need to resign for you to be able to take that position.
Kristan Reed Consultant at Hit Detection
Promotion to....GOD?
Timothy Polumbo
True, the Wii U's specs rival the CURRENT PS and Xbox... but to be honest, in today's tech, you really don't need anything more powerful than what we currently have available. 3D? Its a gimmick - and you need a really pricy TV to use it. What else is there? Higher aspect ratio? Picture with Denser pixels? Again, you need really expensive TV's that aren't actually on the market yet.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am a Nintendo fanboy I would like to point out that the only console I owned for years was an XBox360... until it died with a red ring of death. Which was completely unprovoked I might add.

After that I looked around for a replacement - because I used it more for Hulu and Netflix than for gaming. After some research I went with the newest version of the Wii (the package with New Super Mario Bros) and am rather impressed.

Yes the Wii channel is sloppy, yes the Wii could use more power to run all of the 3rd party apps i have installed, and yes I would like at least 720p graphics... but I really like the thing!

If I step away from all of the "hard core" gaming stigma that plagues the Wii, PS3, and 360, I am left with the realization that my favorite games are Nintendo brand games. I actually use my Wii for gaming! Go figure! I have like 5 triple A titles for my 360 that I haven't even touched!! And I probably never will because I refuse to purchase hardware that is doomed to break because the manufacturer cut corners to save some cash. I know multiple people that have gone through at least 3 XBox360's each. And I simply am not willing to shell out that kind of money.

With all that being said... I am not going to upgrade from the Wii to Wii U until I see a price drop. Why? Not because I discount the Wii U - I would really like to get one! My Wii is only about a year old and I'm still breaking it in.

I foresee myself only buying Nintendo consoles from here on out. Even if Nintendo consoles only play 1st party games, those games are still head and shoulders above anything else out there. Zelda on its own warrants a purchase.

I look forward to when I do get one... but not now.

tim
Keith Andrew
Yeah, this Reed guy is quite impressive.

I think he might be up for promotion soon.
John Pickford
Great piece. I agree with all of it.