The Nintendo Wii U, codenamed “Project Cafe”, was officially unveiled at E3 just days ago. It’s already the subject of much debate and concern. I believe these concerns are stupid, and based on a few critical misconceptions.
The critic’s argument goes like this:
“The Wii was supposed to be revolutionary, but in the end it just sat on our shelves and collected dust! Only some of the first party titles developed by Nintendo were cool, and the rest were crappy. It was a huge disappointment, so therefore we should expect the same from the Wii U.
“The failure of the Kinect and Move motion controls, as well as the mediocrity of the Nintendo 3DS, also reinforce that Nintendo’s strategies are filled with bad ideas and they can’t be trusted to innovate.”
Even if I agreed that the Wii was a failure (which I don’t,) it’s a fallacy to argue that its failure translates into some kind of doom spell for the Wii U. In fact the only problem the Wii really had was the misunderstanding of what it was trying to do! And that was thanks to the ridiculous interpretation given by gaming sites and magazines.
For those of us who bothered to pay attention, we know that the Wii was trying to appeal to people who never normally played games. This is called the blue ocean strategy, in which a company targets new demographics instead of always trying to satisfy the same small group of devotees. This was a stroke of genius, even if it made them unpopular in the eys of the old fans. Millions of people who never paid attention to consoles were suddenly intrigued and willing to give videogames a try, so yes, the Wii was a success, not a failure.
However, the game industry (and other millions of gamers) felt betrayed, so they left the Wii out in the cold. The old paradigm was having trouble coping with the fact that Nintendo was returning to it’s family-oriented origins and shrugging off the imaginary “debt” that they owed to the 20-30 year old nerds who supposedly kept the industry afloat. “You can’t break up with me! I’m breaking up with YOU!” The Wii got a bad name for no good reason, and to this day I can’t talk to a fellow gamer without hearing about how the Wii was a “gimmicky failure”. They just can’t comprehend that Nintendo wasn’t trying to impress them, and that’s okay.
I’ve said for years that games journalism amounts to little more than a circus of hype, propaganda and opinion spouting. They’re more than ready to throw genius under the bus, as I discovered with Metal Gear Solid 2. If it doesn’t fit into their suffocatingly narrow view of what’s “cool”, they will attack it like an infection. You either kneel and obey to the altar of sex, violence and nerd fantasy fulfillment, or you are cast out of their circle. Nintendo was cast out, but now they’ve come crawling back for forgiveness, right? More powerful hardware, a bulky controller, lots of buttons, and two joysticks are all that the average gamer sees when they look at the Wii U. (Well, that and the clinically sterile design principle being carried over from its maligned predecessor.) It may as well be a big apology for daring to wander off the True Path being carved by Sony and Microsoft.
It’s funny just how many misconceptions the Wii accidentally created. The idea that motion controls were supposed to replace traditional game controllers was the biggest one by far, but the idea that the Wii’s financial success proves that “casual gamers” love motion controls is just as stupid. The game industry was so confused by the Wii that Sony and Microsoft created their own motion controls in a ridiculous attempt to chase the “motion control demographic”. There is no such demographic, which is why they’re both failing so badly. It was the Wiimote — not motion controls — that was key. Simplicity and intuitiveness was a way of removing barriers, not pushing the boundaries.
Likewise, the Wii U is being misunderstood. It’s not trying to make up for lost ground. The screen is obviously the most important thing about the console, and unlike the motion controls introduced by the Wiimote, this is going to be legitimately interesting. Nintendo is correct in acknowledging that sharing a TV between people is a problem — it always has been — and this has only become more true with HD. If you’re not a parent who has to deal with kids wanting to hog the TV with their games, then maybe you’ll recall when you were younger, and you wanted to use the TV but couldn’t. Or maybe you were spoiled and had your own TV, in which case oooooh look at you, Mr. Silver Spoon! The point is, Nintendo is doing exactly what it should be doing: solving problems that nobody else cares about.
Yes, I agree that the 3DS is a cash grab, and no, I don’t own or play the Wii. But I can respect their strategy, and I don’t hold it against them. I also think that “Wii U” is an uncool name, but it makes sense to build on the success of the Wii brand. The innovation of the Wii U controller should not be compared to the Wii, and it also should not be underestimated. If you simply imagine the same controller setup on the PS3 or the 360, it’s obvious that it kicks ass. Developers are going to finally have something new to design games around, and unlike motion controls this one is aimed at both the “casual” and “hardcore” crowds. The tech demos have been getting great reviews, the developers seem genuinely excited, and I personally expect great things.
Let’s hope gamers and the game industry can get over the Wii and see the new product for the genius that it is.