The confusing state of the Wii U
Over the weekend I had a chance with an extensive session with Nintendo’s new console. I can say that overall my experience was pleasant. The Wii U is takes full gaming session before it can really impress it’s audience. Every game I played felt decisively Nintendo. Nintendo Land, The Wonderful 101, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, and Donkey Kong all played great and instantly that sense of nostalgia kicked in. That being said the Wii U still has a very long and hard road ahead of it to be the success Nintendo wants from the console.
I’m a fan of Nintendo, but I'm a fan of Nintendo as a developer not as a console manufacturer, and honestly I think a good portion of Nintendo fans can agree with that. Nintendo makes great games that EVERYONE can enjoy. The problem is their consoles as of late aren't up to par with the expectations of natural evolution (technically speaking).
The NES was a competitive console, the SNES was a competitive console, the N64 was a competitive console, and the GameCube was a competitive console. The Wii and Wii U not so much. Many gamers and analyst point to the N64 and GameCube as low points in Nintendo’s console history (again console not games), but the reason those consoles weren’t nearly as successful was because of stronger competition and once again poor choices made by Nintendo. The N64 chose to stick with cartridges rather than CD’s, which opened the doors for Sony and the PlayStation brand. The GameCube stuck with Mini DVD’s which didn’t offer enough space for 3rd parties and caused unnecessary additional disc fees or features being cut to accommodate the GameCube’s disc storage capacity. The Wii U suffers from a similar problem, but not in the form a dated disc format. The Wii U suffers from dated hardware and lacks that next-gen WOW that gamers coming from the PC, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360 expect to see in a new console.
It's mind boggling how backwards Nintendo as a company has been regarding the Wii U. Nintendo had the perfect template laid out for them by Sony and Microsoft on what works, what you need to be aware of, and how to streamline an HD console to the masses. Microsoft’s online, 3rd party support, and connectivity combined with Sony's commitment to new ideas, games, and services are all Nintendo needed to channel to mold the Wii U into a success or at least on par with todays HD consoles software wise, but Nintendo adopted none of that. They're online is still a generation behind, 3rd party support is almost dead on Wii U, they refuse to make new IP's (mascots), they continue to make the same fundamental games generation after generation (which is fine for fans, but impossible for bringing in new gamers), and Wii Ware just isn't up to par with PSN and XBLA offerings.
This is all a management problem. I agree with Adam Sessler comment about Nintendo needing to get rid of their top management, at least as far as their home console is concerned. Split the console and handheld divisions into two teams and hire new top management who understand the demands of todays home console market, and aren’t lost in Wii Land. Bringing in new management will help Nintendo overall in the coming years, but it can’t help with the Wii U’s main problem. Underpowered Hardware.
The hardware in the Wii U is sub-par no matter how fans or developer try to spin it. The Wii U is barely a bottom end gaming PC, and was only mid range when its parts were new back in January 2009. A common complaint amongst gamers is that if the Wii U hardware is awful than so is the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. My response to that is yes all 3 console are underpowered by todays standards, and because the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are going on 7 and 8 years old that’s exactly why we have a PlayStation 4 and XBox One. The PS4 and Xbox One are also not cutting edge by today’s standards (except the PS4’s 8GB of GDDR5), but they are mid-range gaming PC’s by today’s standards compared to the Wii U being mid-range back in 2009. With the Wii U being in the same ballpark as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 it shows just how little Nintendo put into making a true next-gen console in terms of hardware specs, and rather focus on an entry level price, and finding that next big selling point. Which is exactly what they use to make themselves different and affordable to the masses, but this time the innovation back fired on them and has been panned as a gimmick controller that raises the price of the console manufacturing cost from a potential $249.
While I enjoyed playing with the tablet controller, I believe it was the wrong choice for Nintendo to make over a cheaper price or putting the money into better hardware. The current set-up of the Wii U mimics a DS / 3DS / 2DS with the touch screen affecting things that happen on the viewing screen (or a map / inventory). It seems like a great selling point considering how successful the DS brand (and their entire handheld brand) has been. But that also brings in a dual interest concern, by offering two similar experiences (Wii U and 3DS), with games being the only difference, than the cheaper option (3DS) is almost always more likely to win. If price was their greatest concern I think Nintendo would have been better off allowing the Wii U to stream to the 3DS and use the 3DS similar to how the PS4 and PSVita plan to work, rather than focusing R&D on a dedicated tablet controller that has a poor batter life and low resolution screen.
But even with that feature (and possibly a strong selling point) the Wii U would still be significantly out-powered by the PS4 and Xbox One, and the only way to fix that is with better hardware. I can’t fathom why Nintendo decided to go with a 2009 GPU, and Power PC architecture, when AMD was providing APU’s for the PS4 and XBox One and had already had the AMD Llano line of APU’s on store shelves a year before the Wii U launched. Working with AMD Nintendo should have been aware of these APU’s as they were ideal for console gaming. An AMD A8 Llano APU under-clocked with a 6550d GPU offer performance slightly above the current Wii U, and at a near identical price for all the parts. While that level of power would still be a problem for the Wii U when the next-gen console truly take over, it was a better decision, because the Wii U’s architecture would have been near identical the PS4 and Xbox One, and a low end PC port would have been significantly less expensive and time consuming by not having to get code running on Power PC tech, when everything uses basic PC architecture.
But for a real jump in power and performance over the PS360 while remaining competitive with the PS4 and Xbox One, Nintendo should have gone with either AMD’s Trinity APU’s (7660d) or the rumored HD 6670 GPU and 4GB of RAM (5GB total with 1GB GDDR5 with a 64GB/s bandwidth found naturally in the 6670). Those processors would have stuck the Wii U right in the middle ground of the current-gen consoles and the next-gen consoles. The Wii U could have launched with games like Assassin’s Creed 3 running in 720p @ 30fps on PS360 while 720p @ 60fps or 1080p @ 30fps with better graphics on Wii U. While next-gen games like Battlefield 4 are aiming for 1080p @ 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One with medium-high PC settings, the Wii U could have been happy with 720p @ 60fps low settings and still offer an enjoyable experience and not feel left out. With these hardware spes. There would have been no excuses for developers to not have Wii U versions of multiplatforms outside of potential hardware sales, but with these specs. the Wii U would have shown a Day 1 difference from the PS360 that the Wii U has currently failed to do, so sales could have potentially been higher. And all this could have been possible for a similar price of $349 if the tablet controller was replaced with better specs.
But there’s one more problem the Wii U has to face, or should I say display if Nintendo wants to get this ship sailing. At $299 with a game bundled in The Wii U is a fair sale. However, with the competition of the PS360, PS4 and X1 they're trapped between two groups of highly competitive consoles all varying for the same dollar and gaming space.
The PS360 both have almost 80 million users, they cost less, have established libraries of games, continued developer support (80 million talks), have console SKU’s with actual Hard Drives in them (8GB and 32GB are unacceptable in 2013), and the 360 is a DVD player while the PS3 is a blu ray player. On top of that those gamers looking for a next-gen experience as far as hardware specs. then the PS4 and Xbox One has the Wii U beat by miles, and at a slightly higher initial price (in the case of the PS4).
These are all serious problems the Wii U has to overcome. Wii U sits at almost 4 million consoles sold, so developers aren't going to risk bringing exclusives or for that matter games to the console when there are consoles with 80+ million users already on the market, and two consoles with probably the greatest amount of launch hype in the history of console gaming. The Wii U’s dire lack of first party games aren’t doing the console any favors either. Thankfully the first party game dilemma is being answered, but again most of the big first party exclusives are scheduled to launch until 2014. Finally Nintendo needs to put a real HDD into the system for DLC, digital downloads, apps, and more. Buying an external hard drive for the Wii U puts it price back in the range of the PS4, which just isn’t worth the comparison so bite the bullet and stuff even a 120GB HDD into the Wii U.
Nintendo is in a hard place now, and it's completely their fault. Nintendo has failed to take advantage of their one year head start by delivering a console with 3 year old bottom-end hardware, a lack of must have first party software upon launch, pushing Miiverse (a decent social experience) over a true online gaming network, awful load times (which is something next-gen consoles plan to eliminate all together), and a $299 and $349 price tag with a measly amount of storage. Again a lot of the Wii U’s problems are easily solved. It’s too late for anything hardware related, but there are some things Nintendo can do and they need to get these things fixed as soon as possible.
Round 1 - Fixes: Get more first party games out (2013 - 2014 will fix this), get Miiverse on 3DS and mobile, reduce load times for the OS, and add an actual 120GB+ HDD into the console. With those changes the Wii U becomes more appeasing to Nintendo’s core fanbase who should be around 20 million strong (based off GameCube sales). All of these changes need to be done before E3 2014, so the basic complaints about the console are gone, and the focus then changes to improving the console and providing great games for gamers.
Round 2 - Improvements: Create first party games and get 3rd party developers to push the hardware to it’s limits and find ways to take full advantage of the possibilities of the tablet controller to show just how the Wii U is good enough and different. Graphically speaking games like the new Xeno game and Zelda HD concept are the only “games” to show graphical improvements over similar genre offerings compared to the PS360. E3 2014 needs to be about game WOW Factor, Uniquely Wii U (Nintendo) games, and new IP’s. Improve Miiverse with features from the best forums on the internet, and get a contemporary functioning online gaming network running.
It's frustrating and infuriating for fans and developers alike looking for possible opportunities for Nintendo, but until Nintendo understands today’s gaming market (outside of the handheld division), we may soon see Nintendo’s console turn into a Nintendo only gaming platform, or potentially no home console at all. Thankfully the core of the Wii U is there and it’s a good core to build upon. The console has fun games and experiences with the best soon to come. Currently I still have no desire to buy a Wii U personally, because while I enjoyed the games it was an enjoyable experience equal to playing the Wii Fit (Wii) and with Kinect Dance Central (Xbox 360). Fun at the time, but not necessarily something I want to pay hundreds of dollars for to keep in my house. However, with these changes and the right amount of work, dedication, games, price, and content Nintendo can turn the Wii U around from being another GameCube sales wise into the success they need it to be.
Monolith Soft's X
Wii U Zelda Tech Demo