"Thoughts on the Wii U"

17/09/12


Wii U

We do like our video games here at Draw & Code (possibly rather too much, given that we’re generally very busy folk), so the imminent launch of a brand new console has predictably got us all aflutter. Unveiled at E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) in June 2011, the Wii U is Nintendo’s forthcoming attempt to repeat the initial runaway success and breakthrough popularity of the Wii.

Information on the Wii U has been irregularly drip-fed (and prematurely leaked) to the public over the last 12 months, with the internet’s trademark brand of rife and unfounded speculation attempting to fill in the many gaps not addressed by Nintendo’s tight-lipped PR – or occasionally by third-party developers breaching non-disclosure agreements. Thankfully, we’ve recently started to see more concrete details emerge and now have a more fully-formed account of what to expect on the Wii U’s launch day. So what do we know?

The hardware

Hmmmm hardware. Nice shiny new hardware. Here’s the pertinent bits:

  • The Wii U’s main controller houses a huge touchscreen and will be called the ‘Wii U GamePad’. It’s surrounded by more traditional gaming inputs (analogue sticks, buttons, d-pad, etc.) while also containing a microphone and gyroscope, rather like the smartphone in your pocket. So far, so groovy.
  • Nintendo have flip-flopped a bit on the subject of whether people can use more than one GamePad at any one time; there seems to be some recent confirmation that two could be used at once, but certainly no more, due to constraints on wireless bandwidth. Nintendo still haven’t confirmed whether you can buy GamePads independently of the console, further adding to the confusion. So, whatever you do, don’t smash it into your mates head and break it, as happened to my first Wii-mote.
  • You can still use all your old Wii remotes, nunchuks, classic controllers, balance boards and the rest of the dusty peripheral guff you’ve probably accumulated by now. The Wii U will be able to run all your old Wii games too.
  • The Wii U will output in HD, unlike its predecessor. In terms of graphical power, technical specifications have been released (subject to change, of course), with the word from most developers being that it’s a wee bit more powerful than the current competition, as it jolly well should be. However, Sony and Microsoft are likely to be back ahead in the power race before long.

The software

Of course, all the tech specs are purely academic without some fun games to while away the hours with. So what can we expect?

  • There will be 10 games available on launch day, with another two dozen or so arriving in the usefully vague ‘launch window’. The width, height and shape of this window is yet to be fully established.
  • Nintendo’s first-party games have historically been among the best for their respective systems, so the two launch titles by Nintendo themselves (a new ‘New Super Mario Brothers’ and a saccharine-sounding mini-game collection called ‘Nintendo Land’) should turn out half decent. Or will they? Nintendo were not always on the ball with their own in-house Wii software; not every game they released was Mario Galaxy.
  • Third-party developers have been signing up en masse – a promising sign – with all manner of new games apparently in development. Well, we say new, but a lot of these are actually ports of existing PS3 and Xbox 360 titles, which many people will have already played. Having said that, this represents a good opportunity for people who only owned a Wii to get involved with some of this generation’s best efforts – Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 immediately stand out, as does Call of Duty if you’re the type that likes to shoot people in the face over and over again.

What do we reckon?

Our office is basically a den of geeks, so we’re obviously excited about the opportunity to play with some new toys. Thought it has to be said, we’re going to stay on the fence for the time being, as it seems are many other digital veterans. Some aspects of the hardware are a little disappointing: on first seeing the new GamePad, we got all excited about the prospect of a room full of friends with a touchscreen each, getting up to all kinds of secretive gaming nonsense. As it’s actually turned out, the limited number of simultaneous devices (most probably two) could be a wasted gaming opportunity, rather than a potentially exciting new one. As you can tell, my glass is currently half-empty.

It’s really all about the software; can Nintendo come up with enough compelling ways to use their hardware? Or is this a Wii with a Dreamcast controller? If anybody can pull off a gaming revolution, Nintendo can – they’ve certainly got far more history in pioneering strange new hardware than pretty much anyone else on the scene – but it does feel like the pressure’s on with sales sagging. In 2013 Sony and Microsoft will be unveiling successors to the PS3 and Xbox 360; in all likelihood the specifications of these machines will blow the Wii U out of the water, from a purely technical perspective at least. This will further add to the pressure on Nintendo to make good use of the novel GamePad; it will need to stand out on its own merit and render the technical superiority of the competition obsolete, much as the Wii did for many years of its lifecycle.

In some ways Nintendo’s situation is a little unfair, because they’re riding on the back of the most successful console in history; following that is not exactly going to be an easy job. Either way, we won’t have to wait long to find out whether they’ve done it again – the Wii U launches in the UK on 30th November. We’re going to get down to Rumbelows that morning, for sure.

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