Wii Useless?

WiiUBlack

The Wii U’s in sort of a slump right now. It’s a rather low slump, very dangerous really, the sort that makes it look unhappily drunk and causes one to worry about its safety. People have been talking behind its back, but they’re mostly just concerned. Here’s a mint, Wii U. Pick yourself up.

The Wii U’s launch lineup is hard to fault. Most consoles hit the street with one worthwhile title, but the Wii U launched with NintendoLand, New Super Mario Bros U, ZombiU, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Skylanders Giants, and Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, among others. That’s not bad. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse.

And first-week sales reflected that, with the Wii U selling more units than the 360 or PS3 did in the same timeframe. It didn’t match sales of the original Wii, but the Wii was a cultural phenomenon. You can aim that high if you want, but you’re likely to miss the mark a bit.

Since then though, the Wii U’s been doing generally not good at all. Sales of hardware and software are abysmal, and various internet personalities have started specul-hating about the console’s viability. Stated reasons why the Wii U is failing: NintendoLand didn’t spark people up like Wii Sports did because the gamepad isn’t as intuitive as the wiimote so consumers think the Wii U is an accessory instead of a proper console, which are currently dying a painful death anyways, and so on.

As a Wii U owner, it all feels a bit overblown.

WiiUMiyamoto

Me with my two Wii U’s.

To hear people talk, you’d think the Wii U is a Virtual Boy, a Jaguar, or a CD-i. But, to be perfectly honest, it’s more of a Playstation 3. Ew, right? Giant enemy crabs, $599 US dollars, it’s a computer and it’s got no games. Nobody wants it. It’s dead in the water. Or, speaking of, how about the 3DS? There’s a hopeless case. Please understand.

Playing my Wii U, I’m struck by how incredibly enjoyable it is. There’s a brief stall as it gets started up and then, bam, a flood of Miis rush the screen like a Pikmin cutesquad. Users post fanart and talk in Nintendo-approved posts about the games they’re playing, and it’s really rather infectious.

I enjoy that cultural microcosm every time I boot up, punctuated as my experience is by a jealous rage at anyone capable of drawing these stylus masterpieces. I hate them, because I want to be them. But I don’t hate their pictures! Those are quite good. Apparently Miiverse user Scott had a great day:

WiiUMario

Glad to hear it, Scott! I feel horrible.

I’m also struck by how obtuse everyone is with regard to the gamepad. What does it do!? Oh, you can play games off the tv screen, and you can put map and HUD and inventory data on there, and you can use it as a touchscreen device, and you can post on Miiverse with it. I don’t want to do that; I just want to play videogames with a normal controller. Oh, it does that too? I don’t like it.

People analyze and dissect the gamepad as if it’s an enigma; they see the gamepad and ask why they need it. The answer is obvious – you don’t need it. You don’t need analog sticks or shoulder triggers or rumble either, but they’re pretty nice to have, because they allow developers more freedom to craft an ideal gameplay experience.

Looking at the gamepad, it’s easy to search for the next evolution of the wiimote. But where the wiimote sacrificed traditional play control in favor of new experiences, the gamepad blends the two together. Most players see the gamepad and think it’s made for somebody else. They think it’s made to appeal to the middle-aged men and women who bought a Wii for Wii Sports, played it once, then let it collect dust.

WiiU

What is this FOOOOOOOOOR!?

But the gamepad is a very effective device for traditional gaming. The buttons, sticks, and triggers are all there. Also there is the ability to play games when somebody else is using the television, the ability to play online multiplayer without splitting your screen space, the ability to check a walkthrough without getting out of your chair.

Of course, smart developers will leverage the gamepad to create original experiences. NintendoLand started off strongly with asymmetrical play, touch control, and gyroscopic aim. New Super Mario Bros U used the gamepad for a throwaway block-placing boost mode, but benefitted from off-screen play and Miiverse integration. ZombiU used the gamepad for map data, environmental scanning, and the clunky sort of inventory that could only work in a survival horror game.

That’s just three games, though, rather than a compelling argument. Upcoming games like Rayman Legends and Wonderful 101 seem poised to use the gamepad in meaningful ways. But there’s the rub, the reason why the Wii U’s selling so poorly: there’s really not much to play. My Wii U experience has been relegated to New Super Mario Bros U, NintendoLand, ZombiU, and a cheapo eShop download of Super Metroid. That’s three boxed games, all of them launch titles, and a game I’d already beaten plenty of times.

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Not pictured: other worthwhile software.

Things are looking up. Nintendo has at least one game scheduled each month in the leadup to Christmas, starting with Pikmin 3 and culminating in Mario 3D World. In between, they’re set to release New Super Luigi U, The Wonderful 101, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, as well as Wii Party U, Wii Fit U, and Mario and Sonic at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. A little platformer heavy overall, but I’ll take it. I do love platformers.

I don’t think the Wii U’s miserable performance is a mystery. Some people have the idea that a single game should be a system seller. For them, NintendoLand or New Super Mario Bros U should have been that game. But singular games rarely sell systems. Nintendo needs to maintain forward momentum between releases. They need to build a library. Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros, X – keep them coming, Nintendo.

The Wii U is a great console. We’ve had good times together. It’s just having a hard time standing up at the moment. Get yourself together, Wii U. Come on. Let’s go.

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4 Responses to “Wii Useless?”

  1. cary Says:

    The price is really the only thing that’s kept me from getting a Wii U — the host of games that are coming really look too good to miss! I’ve too heard from people with Wii U’s that they really are fun to play, but there’s just not much to play…yet. I’m hopeful things’ll turn around for the Wii U this holiday season, but it’s gonna up against some obviously tough competition.

    I’m telling you Nintendo, drop the Wii U’s price, offer a great bundle, and I’ll re-join the ranks!

    • catstronaut Says:

      Thanks for commenting!

      Yeah, I think that’s how a lot of people are feeling. What’s weird is that the Wii U is apparently the first console that Nintendo’s sold at a loss, so it’s probably fairly reasonably priced. But 360s and PS3s are $200-$300 and they both have incredible libraries, so the Wii U looks terrible in comparison. And the “truly next gen” PS4 is coming out at only $50 more, which makes Wii U a pretty tough sell.

      A price drop and bundle this Christmas would be a great move on Nintendo’s part. Bundling a snazzy red Wii U with 3D World would be a good way of saying “Hey, we have games now!”

  2. alexislives Says:

    It has a great library of games already. I admit I’m in the category of “how does this work?” for the handheld aspect. Nintendo said they hope to sell 9 million copies by the end of the year, but they’ve only sold 150,000 so far. Hopefully good marketing can raise sales. I will probably get one eventually, but I’m still playing games on my wii.

    • catstronaut Says:

      Yeah alexis, I definitely agree, there are some really good games on the Wii U. I was initially down on New Super Mario Bros U, but recently I’ve played it more and it’s become one of my favorite Mario games. NintendoLand is good as well, and Sonic Racing Transformed is fantastic. I just feel that there hasn’t been enough since launch to get somebody to buy a Wii U if they didn’t already want it. For me, the most interesting release since then was Monster Hunter 3U, but that’s both an expanded port of an existing Wii game and a simultaneous 3DS release.

      For the gamepad, I think it’s maybe helpful to think of it in terms of the DS. With the Gameboy Advance, we already had a great handheld with great games. So why did we need another screen and touch control? Well, it allowed for novel gameplay experiences, freed up screen space, and streamlined the control in some ways. The Wii U has a pretty similar design, really, and the console pushes forward in different areas that really take advantage of that, like the Miiverse.

      Also, that 160k figure is just what they’ve sold (some sources say shipped) in the last three months; they’ve actually sold ~3.6 million consoles total so far. But most of that was from a strong launch, rather than any continued drive. They’re going to have to really push to sell six million more consoles with PS4 and Xbox One also coming out around Christmastime.

      Thanks for commenting! I hope you find something to love about the Wii U when and if you decide to pick one up 🙂

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