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What could go right (and wrong) with Nintendo and the Wii U

With the Wii U launching, I look into what I think could go right and wrong with Nintendo's next console.

Glen Joyner Jr

November 13, 2012

10 Min Read

The launch of Nintendo’s ambitious (and quite curious) console, the Wii U, is just around the corner. There’s a lot banking on the success of this console, and some would probably go so far as to say that the Wii U could take Nintendo out of the home console making business should it fail. There is a lot that could go right for the console, but the same can be said for what could go wrong.

What all does this include? I’ve spent some time thinking it over, and this is what I’ve come up with.

Another New Experience

The gamepad is like a tablet. Tablets are definitely not new, but there haven’t been very many games (if any) that directly connect you to the TV screen and work together to play a game. The Wii U does this, and there are many hands-on articles about how this is a unique and fun way to experience games. Some websites go so far to say that gamepad even enhances the gameplay, such as ZombiU using it to create a unique experience by allowing the player to view the world differently through the gamepad, touch-based inventory management, and other unique features.

There’s also the concept of asynchronous gameplay that the game Nintendo Land will be showcasing, which is the most unique aspect of the Wii U.  In asynchronous gameplay, the player using the TV has one gameplay experience while a player playing the same game has a different experience with the gamepad. The downside is that developers may feel that their game must have asynchronous gameplay, or they must implement the gamepad. However, this could end up being done in a bad or simply uninteresting way, which could make the asynchronous gameplay or gamepad feel like it has been tacked on.  This concern echoes one of the issues with the Wii: the motion controls would be tacked onto a game and either didn’t add anything to gameplay or resulted in terrible controls. Poor implementation of the gamepad that detracts from the experience can lead to bad games, and then an association between bad games and the Wii U. That’s definitely not good for marketing.

Third Party Support

The Wii U already has a decent amount of third party support. The launch lineup has a fair number of third party games, including a big franchise name like Assassin’s Creed. There’s also Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City that, despite being old, shows that their respective companies have an interest in the console. These are good signs, which bodes well for Nintendo as they have not seen strong support from third-party developers for a long time.

The hurdle for Nintendo is maintaining that support post-launch. Nintendo is expanding their library and game types, but they are still careful of what games they allow on their systems (such as not allowing the Binding of Issac to show up on the 3DS eShop). By being too strict on allowable content, they could bar themselves from the support they need. There is also the concern that next-generation games may not be portable to the Wii U. If they lose third-party support, the console will likely cave to the next Xbox and PlayStation unless the casual audience latches onto the Wii U like they did with the original Wii.

Speaking of hardware…

Hardware that could fall behind the competition

The hardware in the Wii U is capable of running games in HD with better quality than current generation consoles (as one would expect). There are rumors of the consoles system specs, which include 2 GB of RAM (1GB shared between CPU and GPU, 1GB for the OS), an AMD Radeon E6760 GPU (which has been in development since 2010), a tri-core 3GHz IBM PowerPC processor, and a 120 MHz audio processor. (wiiudaily.com/wii-u-system-specs/) These are fairly decent specs, though not top-of-the-line. This shouldn't be a big deal as the experience is centered around the gamepad and not top-of-the-line hardware. As such, even outdated hardware can still provide visually great-looking games (Halo 4 is a great example, as the hardware is at least 7 years old and the visuals are amongst the best out there for a console).  However, the main concern is that when games are being made for the next Xbox and PlayStation, both of which may have video cards that are likely around 32 times more powerful than the Wii U's GPU, will those games be able to be ported back to the Wii U? Since the Wii U is an HD system it is likely that this is possible, especially since it appears that the Wii U can run the Unreal Engine 4. However, Epic isn't bringing the engine over to the Wii U and thus Nintendo is less likely to get ports of the bigger games, as the Unreal Engine is one of the most popular choices. On the other hand, since the Unity engine supports the Wii U, porting is still a possibility for games made on this engine.

We won't know for sure what the future holds in terms of porting to the Wii U until after the specs for the next Xbox and PlayStation are released.

The gamepad is an option, not a requirement

As mentioned previously, one of the things that went wrong with the Wii was that nearly every developer for it felt that they had to use the Wiimote and incorporate motion controls. It seemed like those developers forgot that the Wii supported both the Gamecube controller and the classic controller. It is possible that if devlopers chose a more traditional control scheme for their games, many games that feel to the wayside could have been better.

With the Wii U Pro controller launching alongside the console itself (plus support for the Wiimotes and nunchucks), the Wii U has control options just like the Wii did. The question is whether or not developers will make use of those options. We could see a ton of games that end up like the Wii’s shovelware if the gamepad is used in bad ways. Thankfully, the gamepad has the standard controller buttons, so even if the gamepad’s touch capabilities are used improperly (i.e. used in a way that detracts from the experience) there is a chance that the controls can still be decent. However, if the shovelware mentality happens again due to bad usage of the gamepad, the Wii U could be a turn-off for the more ardent gamer.

Nintendo updates the OS with more features over time

Outside of their handheld consoles, Nintendo seems to rarely update their operating system (OS) to include new features, or to even redo features that people complain about. When aiming for the hardcore market, as Nintendo plans to do with the Wii U, they will likely need to update the Wii U OS, add features, and (potentially) update the user interface as needed. Updates not only makes the console more attractive (adding new features almost always does this), but it also shows that Nintendo cares about what their audience is saying. Without updates, the default OS may become outdated and fall behind whatever the current expectations are.

More options are needed for peripheral makers (and users)

Nintendo is hoping to make their online experience to be on par or better than what is currently available. To do this, voice chat is a major feature that needs to be supported. The plus side is that Nintendo is going to do so, but there is a few catches. Of them, the major catch is that in order to do so the headset must plug into the gamepad. The problem here is that this requirement forces the player to use the gamepad even if they aren’t directly using it. It could also be seen as an extra tether, as many gamers have gotten used to their wireless headsets. Though there are those who could find this to be a minor annoyance at most, to others it will be a hassle. It’s also somewhat of an odd requirement, considering the Wii U will have enough USB ports to support a headset, and also has Bluetooth. If Nintendo can be more flexible and support wireless headsets, so that a person could use the same headset for all their consoles, it could put them in a far better light for the hardcore crowd.

Sometimes more isn’t better

When the Wii U was first announced, Nintendo said that the console would only support one gamepad. This was met with a fair number of complaints, as people wanted the console to support more than one. This year at E3, Nintendo announced that the console would support two gamepads, but no games were in development to take advantage of that. This was still met with complaints, as there are those who want the console to support up to 4 gamepads. Though one can understand why this would be appealing, the issue boils down to resources. The GPU may be able to render that many different displays (as the non-customized version of that chip was made to render up to 6 displays); the problem is with the amount of resources the system has. With two gamepads, the framerate of the game will drop to around 30 frames per second (fps). This is probably due to the shared memory and resources on the console itself, as the gamepad has no such capabilities (it’s essentially a touch-screen monitor and controller rolled into one). If Nintendo were to cave and add support for more gamepads, the gamepads and console would likely not work at any playable level. I don’t think Nintendo will do so, but it could spell disaster if they did.

However, there is one possible way they could get around this problem.

Good use of 3DS connectivity

There is talk of the Wii U and 3DS having some form of connectivity. Though those details are currently unknown, the possibilities of what this could open are pretty great. The shortcoming of the gamepad is that it has no hardware to run applications on its own. The 3DS, however, can do so. Therefore 3DS connectivity could create the possibility for games like Zelda: Four Swords and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for Wii U.  Those games likely transferred an application onto the GameBoy Advance and then just transferred input and other minor data back and forth.  A similar setup could be used for the 3DS and Wii U. I’ve even had a friend mention they’d like a Dungeons and Dragons type of game on the new console. Imagine: the TV is the board/table, the game master has the gamepad performing various aspects of his or her role, and the players use their 3DS to control their characters and review their stats, items, etc.  This game could even be fairly complex, as the Wii U console itself won’t be using additional resources to render the images for the 3DS, as it does for the gamepad. If Nintendo (and other developers) make solid use of this feature, we could see some new, unique experiences only available on the Nintendo console.

Into the Unknown

There’s no way we can say for sure how well the Wii U will do. It’s ambitious, and there’s nothing quite like it on the market. This is all well and good, but that alone won’t save it. However, everyone said the same thing about the Wii, and for a time the Wii was the number-one-selling console. We won’t know for sure until it is released, but if Nintendo plays their cards right and learns as they go, they could be looking at another number-one seller.

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