We’ve all heard the doom and gloom about Wii U – how its lack of third-party support will make it fail, how its current multi-platform offerings are pathetic because they consist largely of last-gen’s games dressed up in fancy Wii U clothing, and in some cases how the system isn’t really next-gen at all. Of course, we also know that the best is yet to come, with brand-new entries in The Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros., and 3D Super Mario franchises – plus a bunch of other still-unannounced games.
Right now, however, the main problem plaguing the system is clear: there just aren’t enough must-have games compared to other current consoles. But if you’ve been reading the signs, you’ve probably noticed that this issue might not be isolated to Wii U in the coming months and years…
Ports… Ports EVERYWHERE
One of the big complaints about Wii U was that most of its third-party catalog consisted of games that were already available on other platfoms, many of which had been released many months before on other platforms. The list included games like Mass Effect 3, Darksiders II, and Batman: Arkham City, among others – and since then, we’ve seen even more games in this category, like Need for Speed: Most Wanted and the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution port.
While porting these games over is great for those who didn’t own a HD platform last-gen, the fact of the matter is that these games’ audiences had already largely been served by the time that Wii U came out. If you really wanted Arkham City, you got it in 2011. And with most third-parties working to develop a “hardcore” audience on last gen’s HD platforms, if Arkham City really hooked you, you’ve probably owned an HD system for at least as long.
In the case of new games like Black Ops II and Assassin’s Creed, most of the titles in these franchises were already popular on Xbox 360 or PS3 – not on Wii. The same principle applies – anyone who wants to play these games has already followed them on another system.
So it’s not so much that the ports are bad – it’s just that their audience is limited to those few gamers who weren’t already compelled enough to play them when they first came out, or as their franchises grew over the last few years, and who are willing to get them along with a new console. They don’t do anything to guarantee that a new console will take flight out the gate.
If PlayStation 4′s early lineup is any indication, we’re going to see a good number of current-gen ports make their way to next-gen as well. So far, we’ve heard about Assassin’s Creed IV, Battlefield 4, Blacklight: Retribution (which released in April of last year), Destiny, Diablo III (May 2012), and Watch_Dogs – and I’m sure there’ll be more to come. The next Call of Duty title, for example, is likely going to show up on 360 and PS3 as well as the next Xbox and PS4. Even Gran Turismo 6, the latest in Sony’s supremely popular driving franchise, sounds like it’s on its way to PS3 – a release that could potentially crowd Driveclub, Sony’s first big PS4 game in the genre.
That’s a lot of ports – and many of them will be over a year-and-a-half late by the time PS4 comes out. With so many of these games coming to current-gen consoles as well as next-gen, will there really be a huge incentive to upgrade for most gamers? Probably not – especially not given how poorly Wii U performed in light of complaints about so many ports.
I don’t know how long it’ll take most publishers to truly cast aside the last-gen consoles in favor of the newer ones, but I think it’ll take longer than most people think. We could see steady new PS3 and 360 releases well into 2014.
If Starving Nintendo Fans Aren’t Upgrading, Will Well-Fed Sony and Microsoft Fans?
But Sony and Microsoft have one disadvantage that Wii U doesn’t. Their current gen platforms haven’t been basically barren for the last two years.
360 and PS3 are both still getting tons of games and attracting plenty of gamers, and while they’re slowing down momentum-wise there’s still enough content slated to show up in the coming year that they’re hardly in danger of stalling. On the other hand, Nintendo only saw a handful of significant Wii releases in 2011 and 2012 – and Wii’s virtually dead in 2013. If you’re a Wii fan, you’re starving for new content this year; if you’re a Xbox 360 or PS3 fan, you’ve still got a lot to look forward to – you know, all those games that you don’t really need to buy a new system to play?
If you’re a PS3 or 360 owner, you have the following games to look forward to this year:
- Injustice: Gods Among Us (PS3, 360)
- Dead Island: Riptide (PS3, 360)
- Star Trek (PS3, 360)
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3, 360)
- Metro: Last Light (PS3, 360)
- Resident Evil: Revelations Unveiled Edition (PS3, 360)
- Fuse (PS3, 360)
- Grid 2 (PS3, 360)
- Remember Me (PS3, 360)
- The Last of Us (PS3)
- Lost Planet 3 (PS3, 360)
- Deadfall Adventures (360)
- Saints Row IV (PS3, 360)
- Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist (PS3, 360)
- Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, 360)
- Puppeteer (PS3)
- Rayman Legends (PS3, 360)
- Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
- Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS3, 360)
- Killer is Dead (PS3, 360)
- Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMix (PS3)
- Battlefield 4 (PS3, 360)
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, 360)
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS3, 360)
- Rain (PS3)
If you’re a Wii owner, this is what you’ve had to look forward to in 2011, 2012, and 2013 – the last three years (counting this year):
- Mario Sports Mix
- de Blob 2
- Wii Play: Motion
- Driver: San Francisco
- Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny
- Kirby’s Return to Dreamland
- Rayman Origins
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
- Fortune Street
- Rhythm Heaven Fever
- Mario Party 9
- Xenoblade Chronicles
- Kirby’s Dream Collection
- The Last Story
- Pandora’s Tower
Which of these groups do you think is most likely to have sufficient motivation to go out and buy a new console? I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one whose three-year list is shorter than the other two’s 2013 lineup.
PS4 and the Next Xbox Have Yet to Prove Their Worth
On the bright side for Sony, they’ve got a solid lineup exclusive first-party franchises in the pipeline for PS4 – and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far. I’m sure Microsoft will as well. But so does Wii U – they’re just not coming until later this year.
Will PS4 and the next Xbox have a significantly larger first-party launch slate than Wii U did? Or, like Nintendo fans, will most of their core exclusives wind up seeing a slow trickle of releases throughout the year? We don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but I think it’s most likely that they won’t be the ideal “so many great games at launch” answers people are hoping for. That’s simply never been the reality for any platform’s launch – why should it change now?
Of course, whatever the case, by the time PS4 and the next Xbox come out, we know Nintendo plans to be at least close to delivering a new 3D Mario game, a new Mario Kart, Wind Waker Wii U, Super Smash Bros., and a few other still-unannounced titles. In other words, Wii U is about to prove itself – will PS4 and Xbox be able to live up to that challenge?
In any case, let’s face it – most of the content problems Wii U has faced so far are likely to be faced by PS4 and Xbox as well. While they’re unlikely to run into the same brand confusion that Wii U faced, we all know that it’s games – not consoles – that drive this industry. So the real question will be, as it always is, who will come out with the most-wanted games. And so far, it’s not necessarily clear that PS4 and Xbox will be ready with a stronger start than Wii U when they finally launch.
The kicker? Xbox and PS4 will both compete over the same major market segment – the “hardcore” crowd. Wii U, on the other hand, is primarily targeting its own niche – Nintendo gamers. We’ll see who wins out in the end.