Hello there, readers, I’m Ben. I’ve been given the opportunity to have a regular feature here on NGB, so I’m aiming to get a weekly segment up with my take on a few things game-related. This could be anything from news, to things that have been getting me worked up, all the way through to what’s been hyping me up beyond belief. This week’s piece is all about Nintendo’s “next-gen” console.
Last weekend, I walked into troubled retailer HMV, and saw the equally-troubled Wii U’s Premium bundle on sale for £199. I very nearly bit the bullet and purchased one, but I didn’t. I just couldn’t find a reason to, in spite of the attractive price for a shiny new piece of tech, and it got me thinking. What does the Wii U need to do in order to pull in the likes of me and other gamers that are feeling somewhat reluctant?
The Wii U had a rocky start. Nintendo announced their new console to a gaming audience clamouring for new hardware in 2011, with a “full” unveil in 2012, and a somewhat troubled launch. With many commenting on the lack of power in the console, the questions were being asked of Nintendo, and whether they would be able to compete with Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen plans.
In the last week, MCV (the industry trade magazine) published a small article on the Wii U’s “Sales rebound”, claiming the console’s sales “rose by almost 125% last week”. Whilst on first glance this looks like great news for Nintendo, the lack of numbers is somewhat concerning. Yes, it’s great that they sold double the number of consoles as the previous week, but if they’re only shifting a couple of thousand units the week before, the numbers this week aren’t even going to be competing with the likes of the Playstation Vita, and that’s saying something. After all, “12% of nothing is still nothing”. The main reason for this sales “spike” was HMV’s aforementioned deep discount. There was also a boost to the system’s “AAA” library with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate going on sale, but even that couldn’t muster enough to outsell the 3DS version.
So where do Nintendo go from here?
Put simply, Wii U needs games. A console is only as good as the games it has on the shelf alongside it, and Nintendo are going after the people who already own a PS3 or an Xbox 360. Nintendo have always struggled with third party support (aside from the sheer amount of shovelware on the Wii), but their in-house teams always seem to deliver quality products. There will always be a new Zelda round the corner, or a new Mario. I was one of the few who felt that Nintendo “won” E3 2010 with their rebooting of classic franchises such as Donkey Kong Country, Kid Icarus and Kirby, but I don’t think they can duplicate that kind of impressive lineup again.
The sticking point is with the third parties. Who can forget Reggie Fils-Aime coming out and saying that “Call of Duty looks the best on Wii U”, despite every analysis proving the contrary? Or that “Arkham City: Armoured Edition is not the same content”? There’s been the big deal with Rayman Legends being delayed until September so that Ubisoft could release it on multiple platforms, but things have become a bit worse over the past week. During the deluge of information coming out of GDC, it’s been confirmed that neither the Frostbite 3 engine, nor Unreal Engine 4 will be coming to the platform (With Epic’s Mark Rein reported to have literally laughed off the suggestion at GDC this week). Konami’s trailers for Metal Gear Solid V were missing the Wii U/Nintendo logos, fuelling speculation that the FOX Engine will be in the same camp. If this turns out to be the case, then Nintendo will be in very, very dire straits. Not many developers are going to be investing huge amounts of time and effort into developing two separate versions of their games running on two separate engines, as they simply won’t make the money back. It might be ok for the near future, but a couple of years down the line, nobody is going to be making games on Unreal Engine 3.
It’s not all bad, however. Fans of Platinum Games were beside themselves (some with joy, some with outright rage) when it was announced that Bayonetta 2 was exclusively coming to the Wii U, as well as a new IP, The Wonderful 101. Neither of these have a release date confirmed though, and without titles from Nintendo themselves, the question remains as to where the games are going to come from.
I think it’s safe to say that the Wii U has not been the success that they had anticipated. Launching without a “proper” Mario game (No, New Super Mario Bros U doesn’t count), and with no official announcement of the “big gun” franchises besides teases has proven to be catastrophic for the launch of the platform. Nintendo were naïve to think that they could capture the lightning in a bottle that the Wii was. There was no way they were ever going to capture a market the size that they did before. I know of households that have two Wii’s sat under TVs that got used three or four times then left to gather dust. Those same people simply aren’t going to spend upwards of £250 on a new console, especially one that doesn’t have the intuitive “pick up and waggle” controls of its predecessor.
Ultimately, I think the Wii U falls into the same category the Wii did in the eyes of the ‘hardcore’ gamer. “It’s the platform to play Mario and Zelda on” first and foremost, with a few smaller titles that it’d be worth picking up. But with one of the big console exclusives in Rayman Legends going multiplatform and suffering a huge delay, it can’t even claim to be that console right now. When a price cut to the same level as the six-year-old PS3 can’t convince gamers to pick up the Wii U en masse, you know you’ve got a problem. I think Nintendo need to re-market the console so that the message is clear. They need to show off the next Zelda and Mario games very soon (before E3) so that people know what to expect, and they need to make HMV’s price cut official, and advertise the hell out of it. People have, and will, always buy consoles on the promise of new games, so cover the gaming press in first-party titles that get people talking, and couple that with a price drop. Putting the two together might sway people into picking up a Wii U, but it’ll still remain a niche platform. Whether it’s a niche that enough gamers will fill, we’ll have to see.
Or, you know, they could go third party…