Tuesday, September 11, 2012

[EDITORIAL] What Nintendo Needs to Do With the Wii U; End Game

We're almost done! The fifth, and final, installment of this editorial of mine on the Wii U. Exactly how does Nintendo expect to win over their long-time fans, those they swooned with the Wii, and the developers they desperately need to create invigorating experiences? Where can Nintendo go from here, and how can they make sure they utilize their one year's head start and keep Microsoft and Sony off of their heels? Keep reading to find out...

Over the years, Nintendo has never really been known for having powerful hardware, but more of having a powerful library of IPs and franchises they could put on that hardware. Between their top franchises - Mario, Pok√©mon, and The Legend of Zelda, to name a few - Nintendo has a very compelling catalog. Asides from the already announced New Super Mario Bros. U, along side Pikmin 3, they are the only "main" Nintendo properties on the system announced thus far. It's assumed we'll see Link in Hyrule Field soon enough (whether or not it'll be similar to the HD demo we've seen is yet to be known, so don't go believing rumors quite yet), and we're hoping for a new Metroid and StarFox entry within a reasonable time. We haven't gotten wind of what's going on, but that's OK. What concerns me the most is that, despite Nintendo already having a fairly solid lineup for the system, their third parties are only content with bringing ports, and the Wii U needs more than that.

This is not enough to get me to buy the Wii U version.

Having Assassin's Creed III and Batman: Arkham City - the two power-house third-party games - on the system is great; the crowds were almost over-gasped when they announced them. Arkham City was a great game, but it's a year old. Assassin's Creed III is bound to be a fantastic entry, but it's a month and a half after it's initial release on other systems that people already own. I've yet to meet someone who is holding out for the Wii U versions of these games. We don't need ports that restructure the game and make it appear "tailored" to the Wii U; remember back to Sony saying they don't want Wii ports for the Move. There needs to be fresh experiences, and being exclusive helps.

Two prime examples are ZombiU and Rayman Legends. Coincidentally, they're both from Ubisoft, who has stated they don't plan on investing too much into the system, but after the purported shit-storm Nintendo caused between themselves and EA over using the Nintendo Network as an Origin platform, it looks more like Ubisoft and Nintendo are best buds. I don't expect too much from EA, as the gimped Madden 13 doesn't speak well for their integrity with their Wii U releases, but there are plenty of other third party developers Nintendo can woo.

Asides from their established franchises, Nintendo severely needs to bring in some new IPs. They have their major ones to fall back on, but they haven't made a new IP in years. Acquire third-party exclusivity, being wary of your acquisitions (don't even look at Capcom), or even make some yourself.

Mistwalker would be a great choice (minds behind The Last Story, as well as Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, both on the Xbox 360), but I'm not so sure how Square would like the fact of Nintendo, their formerly adoptive parent during the (S)NES days, own the creator of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi. That in itself may spell bad news would it come to any future Final Fantasy, or even Dragon Quest games, on Nintendo hardware.

If studio acquisitions isn't your bag, then how about acquiring some IPs? A rumor that popped up recently is Nintendo reacquiring Banjo-Kazooie from Microsoft, or Rare altogether. Since some of Rare's prime talent left for, wait for it, Retro Studios, it doesn't surprise me how well Donkey Kong Country Returns was. Some of Retro's prime talent left for other studios - most notably 343 Industries - so looks like we have some developer swapping going on, yet they still make some great games.

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Why hasn't this been thought of yet?!?
One great idea for the GamePad would be one touched on by Penny Arcade: Dungeons & Dragons, where you are the Dungeon Master, if you hold the GamePad. Better yet, bring Left 4 Dead 3 to the Wii U, and the player with the GamePad is The Director, laying out hordes and special infected placements.

I've already got ideas on how L4D3 could work: the Director has a certain amount of points, and can set placements of his infected throughout the map. Then, as you're playing with your 3-4 survivors, with each downed player, you get a certain amount of points. You can use those points to set special infected (SI) placements, but you are only allowed to set, say, 2-3 SI before you are forced to place down ammo reserves or health packs. The higher the difficulty, the more SIs you are allowed to place before having to send in aid.

In the words of Gabe: You're fucking welcome.

With each of these ideas that come up, you have to remember, this is how Miyamoto works. He draws inspiration from how the controller works when creating his games; he throws hardware specs to the wayside. I wish more developers would look at creating new games this way, rather than waiting for Nintendo to do it, as I feel it would bring in more creativity, and we wouldn't have this issue of "rehashing" and "remakes" that people lambast. Nintendo needs new IPs, and the GamePad can be a great way to draw that inspiration.

During the course of the PS3's lifespan, Sony has introduced a flurry of new IPs: Uncharted, Infamous, Resistance, The Last of Us, All-Stars Battle Royal, and MotorStorm, for a few. These were just this generation. How many new IPs did Nintendo dole out? Not enough.

Some of these studios aren't first-party developers, either. Both of Quantic Dreams' games - Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls - are system exclusive, look fantastic, have pedigree behind them, but they're not Sony-owned. Insomniac is behind Ratchet & Clank, but their newest game, Fuse (formerly Overstrike), is third-party multiplatform. Thatgamecompany made the trio of games - flOw, Flower, and Journey - that were contracted under Sony. These studios I've mentioned are what's known as "second-party" developers, or subsidiary; these developers are not owned by a company (they are independant), but they release exclusively for one particular system, by contract or simply personal preference. My point here is this: Sony has power, they have the franchises, and they keep coming out with new ones. Nintendo loves Mario and Link, and that's about it.

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As I said in our first entry, "Nintendo is constantly seen as a key innovator". They have that power to do so, and they keep trying to show us these new toys they work on. The Wii's controllers were so radical, people lost their shit over it: "holy fuck, I can move my controller, and it works in-game?!" Unfortunately, the Wii U is far more drastic than what the Wii was 6 years ago. We've seen tablet gaming crop up due to Apple, but people haven't thought of combining it with traditional gaming, which is what Nintendo is trying to do. Microsoft's SmartGlass is driving home one key point: it's free, outside of the device you need to download it on, which, they're releasing it on just about every tablet or smartphone you can think of. Where SmartGlass fails - touch-screen only, and an "after thought", much like what the Wii remotes were originally intended as for the GameCube - the GamePad succeeds: it's fully integrated into the system from the start, and acts as the main controller.

Nintendo's most recent handheld, the 3DS, is already showing it's age, especially from the Vita's competition. Sony sold 1.8 million Vita's at the end of their viscal year in March worldwide since it's Japan release of December 17, and 600,000 after the US release in February; in just over 3 months, it's sold nearly half of the established 3DS install base. The 3DS had sold 4 million units by the time the Vita launched, gaining another half a million in the next 3 months. It only sold about 1.25 million within the first 4 months of release. Compare those numbers, and the Vita came out of the gates stronger than the 3DS, and performed better over the course of the next quarter.

Oh my god! My eyes! My eyes!

The XL, despite being a larger system and better screens, isn't what we need. The first redesign of the 3DS is far from what we need, and it hurts a little that Nintendo, damn well knowing what their fans want, aren't giving it to them. They blame the lack of a second thumb stick on the size of the system, saying it needs to be bigger to accomodate it. The Circle Pad Pro XL is yet another attachment, but it brings in two additional trigger buttons. The system isn't too small; Nintendo's ambitions with the 3DS are too big, and they gimped the system.

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Over the course of the past three weeks, it may have appeared I was giving Nintendo a hard time, and I was. The Wii U is so drastic, it makes a long time Nintendo fan weary of what they're doing. Hell, I'm on the outskirts of the "Nintendo Has Gone Bat-Shit Crazy" camp. Innovators are seen as the crazy ones, bucking trends and saying "fuck you, we're doing it our way", and I absolutely applaud them for doing so. The craziest they ever were, were when they released the NES in the States amidst the gaming industry crash of the 80s; they proved to people that, yes, gaming can be fun, you just need quality.

As much as I hate them, IGN ranked Nintendo's EAD (Entertainment and Analysis Division) as the #1 "video game makers" to date, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. They were responsible for Metroid, Ocarina of Time, Wii Sports, Brain Age, and the other big guns that have made Nintendo the household name it is today. Every year, we look forward to something new from Nintendo, as they are the ones who are keeping everyone else on their toes; without Nintendo, the industry would be in a very different place, one I probably wouldn't want to be a part of, to be honest.

The Wii U does appear to be fun, but unless Nintendo acknowledges their short-comings, the system is not going to fair as well as they hope it to. We only have a little while longer until Nintendo's Wii U preview starts, which is when, hopefully, most of our qualms will be put to rest.

That's it! We're done with this creature that has been birthed. Keep your eyes peeled this Thursday, as Nintendo is expected to give us everything we need to know about the Wii U: pricing, availability, launch configurations, and possibly even the final launch lineup.

If you've enjoyed my ramblings, thought I could do better, want to drop in some (constructive) criticism, or just want to say "you suck", email me at the link in the top-left.

Post-Script: Oh, and hey, look at that! This is my 400th published post on the blog of (now) just over 3 years! Go team!