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Wii U Has an Identity Problem

With almost every Nintendo console, it’s been pretty easy to describe the platform’s core identity. NES was the “Mario machine,” and offered a kind of Renaissance for arcade-style gaming after the great North American Video Game Crash of 1983. SNES was pretty easy to peg as a next-gen successor to NES, since most of the major first-party games were significantly advanced sequels to NES games. N64 was the 3D machine. GameCube was designed as Nintendo’s effort to dip its feet in the more “hardcore” market. Wii was a return to the simplicity of NES, with motion controls helping to make games more accessible to more people.

What is Wii U’s core identity? Right now, the only thing I can really point to is the Wii U GamePad, which is a whole bunch of things. It’s a separate screen that you can use to interact with the TV in new ways or to play games without using the TV at all. It’s got a touch screen that can be used for DS-style play. It’s a motion controller that can do many of the same things as the Wii Remote.

How does this make gaming better, though? Truth be told… we still haven’t seen any games that truly prove Wii U is a must-have system, either for Nintendo fans or multi-platform gamers.

Is Wii U really “How U Will Play Next”?

Truth be told, for most dedicated gamers, the Wii U really isn’t a game-changer. Sure, the GamePad lets you pull your gameplay off the big TV if something else is on, it offers a second screen to use for menus or even multi-screen multiplayer, and it offers some limited motion control… but these are superficial, convenience-driven additions, not a significant improvement to the fundamentals of play.

wiiu-off-tv-playThat’s not to say that there’s something wrong with convenience. I’ve grown so used to the Wii U GamePad that it’s actually kind of hard to adjust back to games that don’t use it, and a bit annoying when I can’t pull games Off-TV. I like these options. I want them to stick around. But when it comes to the vast majority of games, it would be wrong to call Wii U a step into the future. It’s more like a side-step into territories that Nintendo hasn’t been able to fully explore in the past.

Two-screen gameplay? Nintendo started it with GameBoy-GameCube connectivity, brought it to life with the DS, and Wii U seems to be their effort at fully realizing its potential. More games with Wii MotionPlus? I’m sure fans of motion controls aren’t complaining for a chance to actually put their MotionPlus controllers to good use, but MotionPlus is hardly the next big thing at this point. HD graphics? It will be nice to see Nintendo games in high-definition, but if people are expecting Nintendo to be ahead of the curve in this area, they’re bound to be disappointed.

If there’s anywhere that Wii U really offers gameplay innovation, it’s in the realm of asymmetric multiplayer. I hadn’t played anything like Nintendo Land before, and I wound up loving it. But Nintendo’s other major effort in this area so far – New Super Mario Bros. U‘s Boost Mode – didn’t really do much to make Mario better, and aside from Game & Wario, I don’t see anything else on the horizon that looks like it’s poised to carry the idea forward.

So far, Nintendo’s hinged Wii U on what it has to bring to gaming… but so far, Wii U’s been more of an evolutionary step than a revolutionary one. And without a clear picture of where Wii U is going in terms of evolving their upcoming games, even that’s debatable. If Nintendo’s next-gen offer mostly boils down to some superficial enhancements to the current gen controller, it’s no wonder the “How U Will Play Next” message failed.

Who is Wii U for? (Put another way: does Wii U have the games for me?)

With Wii, it was easy to see who it was meant for. Wii Sports was meant to draw in people who normally were turned off by games, and Twilight Princess was meant to marry the “better way to play” concept with one of the most hotly-anticipated games ever. For that reason, Nintendo seems to have gotten the whole pie: they attracted both the non-gamers they were looking to convert into game customers, as well as most of their current fans.

deus-ex-human-revolution-gamepadWith Wii U, however, it’s not so clear. On the one hand, there seems to be a big focus on its ability to take on HD multi-platform titles, something Wii couldn’t do, and that means titles designed to appeal to “core gamers.” We certainly saw third-party developers attempt to reach out to those core gamers… with ports of or sequels to games they probably already own on other platforms.

For that reason, it was great for people like me who didn’t really own HD platforms last-gen… but I think what Nintendo really wanted was to bring over the people who did so Wii U would become their new system of choice for future games, and that means the bulk of the upcoming multi-platform lineup need to include Wii U. Clearly that isn’t happening.

Meanwhile, it’s clear the Wii audience isn’t going after it. Part of the appeal of Nintendo platforms is that you aren’t shelling out tons of money for a bunch of extra stuff under the hood – all of the consumer cost went toward getting access to the games or more controllers to play them with. Wii U’s overshooting that audience by adding a bunch of cost up front for extra features and services and the super-expensive GamePad. Sure, it’ll probably still be cheaper than the competition. But it won’t be as affordable as past Nintendo platforms – and with money tighter than ever for most people, that kills its ability to capture its usual market.

And Wii was looking to bring new people to gaming by offering experiences made to serve the underserved non-traditional crowd of players. Wii U isn’t. It’s just bringing more of the same – even Nintendo Land is packaging itself in Nintendo’s IP catalog, something Nintendo specifically avoided with Wii Sports so it could serve as a fresh start. Wii was bold and exciting and new; Wii U is more like the GameCube: filled with quirky takes on the past.

zelda-hd-experienceWhat about Nintendo fans? New Super Mario Bros. seems to be leading the system at the moment, but it’s not the super-hot driving force Mario games have traditionally been in the past. Usually Mario has been a pretty good template for the direction Nintendo’s heading – and while New Super Mario Bros. U is definitely the best game in the New sub-series, it’s a disappointment compared to the kinds of strides forward people really want to see out of the franchise.

That’s a bad sign for Nintendo fans hoping to have their minds blown with Wii U’s upcoming lineup, and with nothing to show so far for the new Mario Kart, Zelda, or Smash Bros., it’s unlikely that we’ll see that situation improve at least until E3. In the meantime, picking up a Wii U is more of a risk than a guarantee, even for the most dedicated Nintendo fan – and at a higher price, it’s no wonder it isn’t selling yet.

Is Wii U made with gamers in mind, or is it made for Nintendo’s developers?

One of the most important rules of good marketing is that your products have to be made for your customers. You can’t just make what you want to make and expect people to buy it when you try to sell it to them – you have to really be in tune with what your customers want and focus your efforts on fulfilling their desires. Do that well enough, and they come to expect that level of satisfaction from you in the future.

That even I, an actually fairly-satisfied Wii U owner and major Wii U apologist, am having a hard time figuring out how to explain what Wii U is – and more importantly who Wii U is for – is a pretty alarming sign. If Nintendo really has studied the needs and wants of its customers in designing the system and its games, it should be pretty easy to say “here’s why Wii U is a better system for you than what the competition’s got.” They should already have that part figured out, and should have all the tangible proofs lined up to show for it.

With Wii, the focus was on finding games and features to meet unmet needs. With Wii U, it seems to be more about developers having the necessary hardware and games developers want to make.

  • zdog

    Great article. I think Nintendo is full of crap when they say “we learned our lesson from the 3DS launch, and it won’t happen with Wii U.” They must have only been referring to the price debacle, because their lack of a killer system defining title at launch means nobody knows what the system is for or what to expect from it.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      Problem is: Wii U has the same price issue. You can’t just place your franchises in the “affordable” range and then up the price of your next system by $100, especially when the one follow-up you’ve actually released is seriously rehashed and only marginally better in that “by default” kind of way.

      • GaySkull

        Alex. One of Nintendo’s identity specially for those millions who patronize them through the years, is that its platform for “child-kid friendly” (and the child at heart like the man-children) gaming. That is what sell all the Nintendo products from NES to Wii U.
        But
        Its a double edged sword. It has its good and its bad.
        Now we are witnessing the bad.
        Parents are responding to this move by Nintendo into mature, violent games. and parents are not buying the whole platform as a whole.
        Remember Miyamoto had an award for non violent video games.
        Its not that Nintendo gamers can detect quality games, like your last article about why third party don’t sell on Wii U, its the type of people that buy Nintendo products.

        Parents are the largest Nintendo patrons and they are not buying Call of Duty Balck Ops for their 9 year olds.

        • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

          Please explain the successes of:
          - Killer Instinct
          - Turok
          - GoldenEye 007/Perfect Dark
          - Metroid Prime
          - Monster Hunter

          • zdog

            To me it seems that Nintendo owners see through hardcore gimmicks like quotas for the F word, shameless sexuality, and ultra violence for the sake of pushing the boundaries, but will jump on games that are mature in nature if there is a purpose to it or are just well made. I will say in fairness that it is similar to PS3/Xbox owners that see through many of the of the gimmicks that were introduced with many motion control games and in turn have no interest.

        • Flaming Lemons

          I’m 15 and I don’t know anyone 9 years old or under that owns a Wii U or even knows what it is. And there are plenty of child safe games for the Wii U, so parents DO have other options of games for there kids. Hard Core and E rated games can live on the same console.

      • zdog

        I don’t think there is a way around the price issue, they built more expensive hardware and are already taking a loss on it. I think what they learned from 3DS is whatever price they offer they have to know it is right so that under no circumstance will they drop the price like they did with 3DS out of the gate. Haha, which means that retailers are price dropping it for us :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1077666620 Nick Jones

        Alex I see your point that the Wii U would seem to be going the way of the 3DS, namely slow start and about six months to a year to turn around. The similarity is that they were both deemed “overpriced”. The 3DS was confirmed by some to be around $100 to manufacture, leaving a fairly large margin for profit at the beginning. The Wii U isn’t necessarily the same way. You have a new product with a fairly expensive “tablet” controller (probably at least $120 to replace). The other similarity is that the 3DS released with Pilotwings, a great but cult favorite to the some of the Nintendo core gamers. It was then about eight months for Mario Kart and Mario 3D Land to release. Sure Zelda and Starfox remakes were good but I think these were largely overlooked by the mainstream public. In my opinion Nintendo is almost repeating the gaming mistake they made with the 3DS. We get Mario U, Nintendo Land and a handful of good games like ZombiU but then a bunch of okay ports. We know that a remake of Zelda Windwaker will be out in September, and a 3D Mario/ Mario Kart offering as soon as Novemberish. Gamers simply need more gaming reasons to purchase a Wii U. It’s like bluray or any other new tech, initial price can be high but there have to be (many) reasons to purchase it. Not many people buy a $350 console when they can’t find the games they are wanting.

  • http://twitter.com/FlameDragon_ Stealth

    Another garbage article from a garbage site

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      Do you keep coming to our site just to post these one-liner comments? I love that our best customers are the ones that apparently hate our guts. ;D

      • http://twitter.com/FlameDragon_ Stealth

        I do keep people out thank god

  • GaySkull

    Did Nintendo learn anything from Sega Dreamcast dual screen gaming?

    • http://twitter.com/FlameDragon_ Stealth

      nintendo is the best dev still in the world, sega never was

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1077666620 Nick Jones

      Dreamcast dual screen gaming?!? I would hardly call Pong on the VMU gaming. Sure it was cool to look at the Tomogatchi screen to see your ammo level but Nintendo’s Gamepad is a far cry from the silly VMU.

  • Truth

    You shouldn’t be complaining that none of the games out now prove the Wii U’s full potential, really. The Wii only had a few great games when it was first released, and didn’t come out with motion+ controls until later.

    • http://twitter.com/HylianJim Hylian Jim

      Reason people are complaining is because Reggie said quite otherwise last year; that the WiiU release would be the biggest release in Nintendo history. It’s sure to have better games though :)

  • http://twitter.com/HylianJim Hylian Jim

    Earlier I read that the WiiU was selling about as much on its launch as the GameCube was a month before the Wii was released. My advise to Nintendo? You invented the Pro Controller for a reason, let us use it, and not spend a whole 50 EXTRA dollars just to use it when we can just spend that much on an Xbox or Play Station controller. If nothing else, I see the Pro Controller as a backdrop. The big tech is on the Game Pad, so why is it so much damn less? Improve its capabilities, deliver the capabilities, don’t waste resources on always changing ‘how you play’. The Wii did that, and I ended up sucking up to the Xbox instead, together with my Gamecube. I always play Brawl for example with my GameCube controller. Let us use the Pro Controller, give it purpose. Also, Reggie promised us the largest roster of games for a game console to date. Now for that, I’ve lost a bit of faith in what Reggie says, who says he’s not lying to our faces in E3 this year again? I haven’t given up on you guys yet, but I’m damn close to believing this will be your last console, imagining Pokemon as an MMO, and seeing Super Smash Bros vs Sony All-Stars on the game shelf at stores. Maybe I don’t know enough, but a simple decrease in the Pro Controller price would earn you back some fans who miss the old days, and as for the disappointing roster, well I’m patient. Love Nintendo to bits, hardcore fan of almost all the franchises that appear in Smash Bros and whatnot. I’m hanging in there. :)

    • Ghoti

      You made me throw up with SSB vs. PSAS. Please, never. That game is so broken and untechnical. PSAS was the button-mashing simply party game that most people think Smash Bros. is.

  • K2L

    The Wii U needs more momentum. And most importantly, more support, which no only lacks from third parties but also from Nintendo themselves. Remember when they promised Pikmin 3 for the first months? Yeah, and now we have this frustrating drought. It’s really sad they thought we would be more interested in ” ” “New” ” ” Super Mario Bros. U (triple quotation marks because the game is anything but new) than in Xenoblade or The Last Story. Truly heartbreaking. =/

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      You should put “Super Mario Bros” in triple quotes also, because the road the series is going at present, while they’re still great games, is really nothing like the road the original series went.

      • K2L

        Very true, sadly.

  • Altair_420

    It just wont be able to compete when next gen arrives…..My guess is it will share the same fate as the dreamcast .
    At least i’ll be able to find one cheap by the time a real wii u zelda game comes out. (an original, not a remake or re-release)