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Nintendo's Wii U reveal: What worked? What didn't?

Nintendo went for a big splash Thursday morning, revealing launch details for its Wii U. Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at the highlights and low-lights of the event in this op-ed.

Chris Morris, Blogger

September 13, 2012

5 Min Read

Nintendo went for a big splash Thursday morning, revealing launch details for its Wii U. Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at the highlights and low-lights of the event in this op-ed. So now a lot of the mysteries about the Wii U have been solved. Nintendo wasted no time Thursday morning announcing the system's launch date and price -- and spent the rest of its press event talking features and games. It was a solid event with lots of information, but it wasn't quite the home run the company was likely hoping it would be. (Call it a stand-up double, if you want to stick with the baseball metaphor.) While Nintendo certainly wooed its audience with some of the Wii U details, it attracted a lot of grumbling from other corners of the video game world. Let's take a look at the company's hits and misses. Pricing: My colleague Matt Matthews looks at the system's $300 base price point in detail here, and it's an excellent analysis of how the Wii U compares to other system launches. What I've noted, though, is that while most analysts and industry observers had predicted that $300 price point, there was still a lot of surprise among gamers. $300 isn't outrageous, given the technology in the box (nor is $350 for the beefier Deluxe version). And given how much grief Nintendo took for leaving money on the table during the Wii launch, it makes sense to roll out its new system at a slightly higher price. Mass audiences are used to paying that amount for new systems -- and if Nintendo markets it smartly, showcasing the GamePad in the right light, the Wii U could easily be a tough-to-find item during the holidays. It's worth noting that Microsoft has already reacted. Walmart rolled back prices on the Xbox 360 4GB/Kinect bundle this morning to $250, a move it wouldn't have taken without a tactic blessing from Redmond. We may or may not see an official price cut in the weeks to come, but expect more specials along these lines this holiday. Nintendo Land bundle: One of the keys to the Wii's success was the inclusion of Wii Sports, which let every owner instantly "get" the console and what was different about it. For the Wii U, Nintendoland is that game. Sure, bundling it with the more expensive Deluxe version makes that SKU more attractive to shoppers, but it would have been a smarter move to simply include it with every Wii U. Because Nintendo tries to open up new avenues of gaming with its consoles these days, it needs to hold the hand of new players. By withholding that optimized title from some buyers, it could be hurting future software sales. Second GamePads: Nintendo didn't talk about the sale of GamePads on an individual basis at its event -- and hasn't addressed the topic in its press releases. That doesn't mean they won't be on sale in November, but it sheds doubt on the possibility. (Edit: Nintendo has now confirmed they will not sell Gamepads on a standalone basis.) Personally, I hope we don't see individual GamePad sales in the U.S. soon (though it appears they will be available in Japan). There are no games that take advantage of them now, and there won't be for a long while. "Asymmetric gameplay is going to be the next major step forward, just like active play was when we launched the Wii," Reggie Fils-Aime told Gamasutra back at E3. "We think that's where developers will focus first, then there will be multiple experiences that have two GamePads." Selling individual Gamepads now just reduces the number they can include in Wii U hardware, and right now, it's more important to get those systems in people's homes. Nintendo TVii: Nintendo was already a leader in non-gaming entertainment. A study by the Nielsen Co. last July found that 25 percent of Netflix subscribers currently stream movies and TV shows via the Wii -- twice as many as the PS3 and Xbox 360. Expanding on that makes sense. And while Nintendo isn't offering a whole lot that Microsoft doesn't already offer, it's doing so for free, and ramping up the social aspects a bit. The added personalization for family members is also a welcome touch. Nintendo TVii is a show-me story, but it's one that has a good bit of potential. Launch date: I was worried about this one, especially after hearing the company's plans to launch the Wii U in Japan in December. November 18 is as close to perfect timing as there is. It gives the company two big retail pushes in one week: Sunday and five days later on Black Friday. It lacks the lyrical quality of 11/11, but really... who cares about that? Games: While Nintendo focused heavily on the Wii U's game catalog, there was a distinct lack of "wow" on display Thursday. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? Ok, it's good to see it will be there (presumably at launch), but did anyone really think Activision was going to bypass the launch of a high definition system? Bayonetta 2? It's a nice get, but there was not only no gameplay in that teaser, there wasn't even sizzle. As Adam Sessler so wisely pointed out, if that's their bar for entry in announcing upcoming games, why not do the same with some of their own mega-franchises? Promises are nice, but Nintendo didn't seem to connect with the core audience in this presentation. Teasers aside, it primarily announced a whole bunch of titles in the launch window that Xbox and PlayStation gamers are already prepared for. And, with the exception of Nintendo Land, the company didn't reach out much to the "casual" crowd either. That may not matter when the Wii U hits shelves, since there's always an initial feeding frenzy for a new console, but as Nintendo learned with the 3DS launch, the game library is critical. And it needs to deliver a regular stream of quality titles in year one if it wants to have solid legs under it when Microsoft and Sony come out swinging with their new consoles.

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