June 12, 2012

The Wii U – Nintendo knows exactly what it’s doing

Filed under: Opinion,Video Games,Writing — Tags: — Screenhog @ 8:43 pm

I’ve made it no secret in the past that my favorite video game console of all time is the Nintendo Wii. So, I’ve been following the news about the Wii U, Nintendo’s upcoming console, with quite a bit of interest. Many of Nintendo’s fans have been wondering why the Wii’s successor looks the way it does. A tablet with buttons? What was Nintendo thinking? To be honest, I wondered the same thing, until I thought some more and realized that the Wii U is exactly what Nintendo’s next console had to be.

First, some background. When it launched in 2006, the Nintendo Wii caught the world by storm. For over 2 years after that launch, it was difficult to even find the Wii on store shelves. As of May 2012, over 90 million Wiis have been sold. Despite heavy declines in recent years, the system has been huge for Nintendo. However, the Wii also had some faults, some which got worse with age (such as the lack of support for HDTVs). Nintendo knew that it would have to make a new console soon, and that it would need these features:

- Backwards compatibility. When your previous console sold 90 million units, it would be a serious mistake to make those games impossible to play on your brand new console. (I’m looking at you, Playstation)
- High-definition support. HDTVs were relatively uncommon in 2006. Now, not so much.
- Better ways to connect online.

There are others, I’m sure, but I want to focus on the first one, backwards compatibility. To make the new console work with Wii games, it needs to support the Wii Remote, which is a big restriction. But, it also has to have something unique, something that will make the new console truly feel like an upgrade. What to do?

Nintendo’s answer? Turn the next-generation Wii into a gigantic Nintendo DS.

The DS was launched in 2004, and when its various incarnations are included – DS Lite, DSi, and DSi XL – it has sold a combined 150 million units. The newer 3DS, while having a slow start, has become a good-selling console as well, and both the DS and 3DS lines have been remarkably capable in a variety of game genres.

The handheld DS console has two screens, and games are played one screen or the other depending on context. The bottom screen is touch sensitive, the top screen is not. The left side has a D-Pad (directional buttons shaped like a plus sign), while the right side has four circular buttons in a diamond shape. On the top corners of the lower screen, there are two “shoulder buttons” for additional functions.

I have just described the DS. I have also just described the Wii U.

This is the Wii U. It has two screens; your TV, and the Wii U Gamepad, which looks a whole lot like the bottom screen of the DS. The Gamepad has a touch-sensitive screen that can communicate with the main TV screen. The Wii U is a super-sized DS.

I’m not the only one to figure this out, by the way. Scribblenauts, a popular game series for the DS, is making its way to the Wii U, and it appears to play just the same way on the Wii U as it did on the DS.

Bottom line, Nintendo knows what it’s doing with the Wii U.

Now, for some predictions about the Wii U:

- Scribblenauts won’t be the only major DS franchise to come to the Wii U. Other DS titles, like Pokemon and Rhythm Heaven, would be natural fits to move to the console.
- There will be more video games that end in the letter “u” released in the next two years than in the entire history of games combined.
- The Wii U will be less successful than the Wii was. The Wii was a perfect storm of popularity, and expecting Nintendo to beat that is unfair.
- At least a few of the most popular games on the Wii U will be completely new games, not based on any existing Nintendo IP (Mario, Zelda, etc.). The over-reliance on sequels isn’t healthy.
- I will help make a game for the Wii U. (At the moment, this is wishful thinking, but I am hopeful that it will come true.)

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