After exploring 4 Reasons Why the Wii U Might Succeed, Marc now considers why it might not.
The Wii may have dominated, in terms of sheer sales, this past generation, and the DS – along with its successor, the 3DS, to a lesser extent – may be the most popular handheld in gaming’s (still short) history, but Nintendo has anything but smooth sailing in front of itself when it launches the maiden voyage of the next generation later this year.
In fact, if the big N’s past is anything to go by, the next five to 10 years may be the rockiest yet in the company’s 29-year lifespan – and they may even make the ill-fated-from-the-start Dreamcast look like a victory lap for Sega. Doubtful? Here are four reasons why we’re pessimistic:
A Little Something for Everyone... But Not Enough
Yes, Pikmin 3 looks fun and engaging, and New Super Mario Bros. U looks – well – fun. And, yes, having ZombiU and Mass Effect 3 right around day one is certainly a good thing, but these are either minor (for the time being, at least) or older titles. And as the 3DS launch has taught us, it will take a substantial amount more to make a real, decisive, and, most importantly of all, lasting impression for the years to come.
History tells us, however, that the odds aren’t in Nintendo’s favor. For the past 16 years, the manufacturer has habitually suffered from anemic third-party support that has led to early demises for its consoles (and, occasionally, reduced or sporadic first-party releases, as well). And as intriguing as, say, Aliens: Colonial Marines may be, the Wii U’s launch library has a certain smacking of the Nintendo 64’s misbegotten “Dream Team” of small-but-exclusive publishers. This, of course, does not bode well.
And even if it did portend great things in the short term, there’s still that pesky long term to think of. Rather than following in the N64’s or the GameCube’s footsteps, the new system may very well follow the Wii, despite Nintendo’s repeated promises to the contrary. If this is the case, be prepared for a huge glut of shovelware tailor-made for a bright-but-brief casual market, followed immediately by death.
And the last thing the big N can afford right now is to have yet another case of premature death.
Embracing the Final Frontier – Haphazardly
Only for Nintendo is online the final frontier, and only for Nintendo is it being approached in such fits and starts. Friend codes may be (slowly) going the way of add-on modems, but there’s still much ground to make up, let alone best its competition in: achievements, instant access to friends’ activities, a unified and immediate hub for movies, music, photos, etc.
There’s no proof at this point in the game – despite the fact that the Wii U only has four more months to (realistically) release in – that Nintendo has even the faintest interest in pursuing any of these now-routine online functionalities, and there’s even very little proof that Miiverse will be anything other than a regurgitated PlayStation Home. If the company’s ambitions are characteristically, not to mention tragically, limited, or if, indeed, Sony’s fundamentally lame online service is the best it can (realistically) aspire to, the Wii U will be all but dead on arrival for the hardcore crowd, which is Nintendo’s avowed target audience.
Is Miiverse Nintendo's PlayStation Home?
Then again, however, Sony was also late to the Xbox Live game, and while its PlayStation Network still, 10 years after XBL’s debut, hasn’t been able to catch up, its online presence is more than enough for the Sony faithful. In this regard, while it’s almost 100% guaranteed that Nintendo won’t be able to best Live, all it needs to do is appeal to and reward the diehard Nintendo fanatics – and that is an admittedly low enough bar to begin with. Thus, the company may, not unlike Gotham City after Ra’s al Ghul’s economic tampering, limp on for another decade or two.
A Rusty Hook
Precisely because of the Dreamcast’s VMUs, the Game Boy/Game Boy Advance functionality with Nintendo’s home consoles, the DS’s (and 3DS’s) double screens, and, much more recently, Sony and Microsoft’s entry into the multiple-screen ecosystem, the Wii U’s hook is looking, well, a little rusty. Much of the sizzle of the system’s marketing and the dazzle of picking up its controller for the first time will be significantly mitigated, whether for the hardcore or the (obsessed-with-smart-phones-and-tablets) casual crowd – and these were the two pillars of the Wii’s success. This is not good.
You've done it before, Nintendo...
And then there’s the question of having a hook in the first place. Sony, Microsoft, and even Nintendo have all carved out significant portions of the market for themselves in the past without having to resort to shiny new bells and whistles, especially every cycle (the Dual Shock and Xbox Live notwithstanding, of course), and gameplay is still the meat-and-potatoes of gaming, whether it’s on the traditional console or on the new venues of Facebook and the iPhone. If Nintendo can’t deliver on a robust and diverse lineup of software, starting on day one and lasting until day 1,501, how many GamePads can connect to the system at once won’t mean a damn.
And although Nintendo was smart to allow its developers to sidestep the controller’s touch pad entirely, it may also end up biting it in the ass if the GamePad just doesn’t catch on the way that the company is obviously hoping and praying it will. If the Wii U is forced to compete directly against the Xbox 720 and the PlayStation 4 on a completely even playing field, expect something along the lines of Antietam – bloody, costly, and not at all pretty.
Everyone Else Is Doing It
...and so has everyone else.
By prepping the Xbox 360 and PS3 now for their respective additional input screens (that is to say, SmartGlass and the Vita, respectively), Microsoft and Sony are already paving the way to having a much more refined – and, presumably, a much more integrated – control scheme for their next batch of systems. This, of course, will provide a certain amount of warm-up that hitting-consumers-cold Wii U won’t have the luxury of – despite the fact that Nintendo could have been preparing its audience over the past six years by pushing DS/Wii connectivity. (Why the manufacturer hasn’t is easy: Game Boy Advance/GameCube interactivity was nowhere near the hit that it thought it would be, just as Game Boy/Super NES connectivity wasn’t before it. If Nintendo is planning on this motif continuing to play itself out for its competitors in the near future, it’s a risky gamble, to say the least.)
And, even worse for the big N, these new consoles will have graphical and computational abilities that will far exceed anything the Wii U will be capable of producing. If SmartGlass doesn’t fizzle out like nearly every other Microsoft videogame endeavor, starting with Xbox Live for Windows and including Kinect, and if Vita/PS4 functionality doesn’t implode like Nintendo is clearly betting on, the U will be in serious danger almost immediately after launch day.
Indeed, this just may end up being a one-two punch that will be impossible for Nintendo to recover from…
Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for IGN, Gamasutra, and 16 other sites. He’s also the author of It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, Vol. I, which analyzes the hell out of HBO’s Game of Thrones and which features the likes of Time magazine’s James Poniewozik.
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