Easter Roundtable: The Coming of the Wii U – Hail or Fail?

The Coming of the Wii U

Right Off the Rumor Train

After our esteemed Editor-in-Chief, Martin Watts, has taken his own stab at analyzing some of the more hard-hitting rumors currently floating around about the Wii U, we’re left with guesses and supposition as to the technical power behind the first of the next-gen home gaming consoles. But the fact of the matter is that the Wii U is coming, and likely sooner rather than later, if the leaked info from GameStop is to be believed.

Thusly, it has fallen to our team to do away with scrying crystals and leave the magic eight-ball by the side; we’ve assembled our own panel of experts to chew over the most important questions about the Wii U’s release: How powerful will the Wii U be, and how do we think it will perform? What will Nintendo have to do to make the most of its “first at bat” position moving into the next generation and assert its market dominance? And if – forgive our sacrilege – the Wii U is “underpowered”, will it truly be the end of the world?

Join Communications Manager Daniel Mahdavi, PC correspondent Chad Morelock, and Sony correspondent Mat Chappell as they ring in a new age of gaming in this special Easter edition of our classic Roundtable discussion.

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Mat:

The Coming of the Wii UWell, it’s rather typical that, in the week following our discussions and thoughts on the next generation, the internet explodes with more and more rumours about the Wii U. Despite being the only next-generation console we know for certain actually exists in a physical form, we still know next to nothing about it beyond the breadcrumbs of information revealed at last year’s confusing and frustrating Nintendo keynote at E3. Right now, we seem to be stuck in a situation where we know that the system is real and what it looks like, but not what powers it has or what it’s truly capable of.

At the moment, I feel much of the internet chatter and speculation could be settled by some clear and concise clarification from Nintendo. The only squeak we have heard directly from the big N came in response to an article published by CVG this week, in which a further two anonymous developers came forward to suggest the Wii U was only powerful enough to match the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and that no games ported between the three consoles would be “up rezzed” as a result.

Nintendo of America duly responded. “We do not focus on technology specs. We understand that people like to dissect graphics and processing power, but the experience of playing will always be more important than raw numbers”. Hmm.

Between last week’s rumours that the Wii U was only “on par” with current generation consoles, and the CVG leak this week, Nintendo of America’s statements might serve to only further fuel the flames of those expecting a generational leap in visual performance. Should we be worried?

Chad:

I remain rather reserved on the Wii U. The original Wii is practically a case study in wasted opportunity and unused potential. It was actually pretty heartbreaking to me, as I was a huge Nintendo supporter in the previous generation, and it seemed like the only reliably good games were first-party Nintendo titles.

The Coming of the Wii USo I’m naturally pretty wary of jumping right in on the Wii U. While it seems like right off the bat they’ve got quite a few third-party developers getting nicely gung-ho about it (which is in itself a big improvement), it just seems that Nintendo’s drive to things that are new and different is a dangerous gamble. The Super NES wasn’t a successful system because it did things wildly different from the NES – it just expanded on what the NES could do. It had better graphics, better sound, and a huge library of excellent games. Now, since Nintendo has two competitors who can easily deliver on “better graphics/sound/etc”, they always seem to be on the lagging edge. The problem here is that devs don’t want to have to tailor their games specifically (by scaling them down) to older hardware. It seemed to me that anytime there was a release of a new game on the PS3 and 360 as well as a scaled down version on the PS2 and Wii, the scaled-down version was inevitably a lazy piece of crap. I want to see Nintendo thrive again, but they’re really going to have to convince me that theirs is the system to beat.

Dan:

I’m losing faith in Nintendo’s ability to deal with hardware. The GameCube and Wii both suffered from a poor library of titles, and pretty much every great title on both systems was made by Nintendo. The problem stems from Nintendo’s reliance on using medium-level graphics with innovation in peripherals, and the Wii U is only going to compound that. They are saying that the Wii U will have HD graphics and power to beat the PS3 and Xbox 360, but those targets should be an absolute minimum, especially when you consider that they are making claims about being superior to five-year-old machines.

The graphics and CPU industries in PC gaming have seen bigger steps forward in the last five years than the previous ten, so there should be no excuse for the Wii U to be compared to its older competitors. To top that off, when the next-gen PlayStation and Xbox are released, what will the Wii U be? Another Wii, with outdated graphics and an over-the-top peripheral that their competitors quickly catch up with. The PlayStation Move is superior to the Wii Motion Plus for accuracy, but lacks the titles to make it really worthwhile; the Kinect has a lot more potential than both; and both the Move and Kinect are on consoles with great graphics. Nintendo has some fantastic franchise titles in the form of Mario, Zelda and Pokémon, not to mention a whole host of titles that have been fantastic over the last three generations of Nintendo consoles.

For many, graphics is what has been lacking with the Wii, and in two or three years time, the same thing is going to happen to the Wii U. As Chad said, the improvement in third-party developer content is a really welcome bit of news for fans of the industry as a whole, and if Nintendo can take that and blow us out of the water with the quality of the Wii U, then I may have to take back everything I’ve said. I just can’t see it happening. They’re on the defensive, and they’re bringing out a console that is going for more peripheral innovation. This just can’t be good for long-term fans of their games, and it’s very bad for an industry that has always loved Nintendo. I wish they’d stop going in new directions, focus on the direction they have, and restore my faith in them so I can get back to loving Nintendo as much as I did with the N64 (which will always remain happily plugged into my CRT TV, exactly where it should be).

Mat

I kind of disagree regarding Daniel’s point that Nintendo’s strategy is bad for its core fans or the industry. I think that if you’re a fan of Nintendo’s first-party software, you’re going to get a lot of love from whatever hardware Nintendo puts out there. Of course, it remains to be seen just how close to the other consoles the Wii U is, and it can’t be stressed enough how much we’re dealing with speculation and conjecture here, but if the Wii U is even just on par with the current systems, I think that will still be enough to deliver a fantastic visual standard.

I think there’s a real-world example of that available right now. I own both a PlayStation Vita and a Nintendo 3DS, and in terms of pure hardware and technical specs, the Vita wins out in all areas at a canter, including everything from power to controls to screen quality. Despite that, I think Super Mario 3D Land is still the best-looking handheld game I’ve ever played. It’s bright, colourful and beautifully designed, oozing with character and design. It has a visual artistry that I honestly can’t see ever ageing, despite being on hardware which is considered inferior to the competition.

The Coming of the Wii U

It could be argued that there’s very little about the Zelda tech demo that can’t be achieved on current hardware. I’ve seen that exact point crop up on a number of forums and comments in recent weeks, rightly or wrongly. Irrespective of that, though, even as someone who isn’t the world’s biggest Zelda fan, the thought of playing a new Zelda game which looks like that fills me with genuine excitement. There’s a lot to be said for artistic design rather than just raw processing power, and I think Nintendo are only ever a slight boost in power and a HDMI-out port away from making the most of that.

One thing I do worry about with the Wii U in terms of its potential success is how the existing Wii audience translates to a new console. The Wii has sold 95 million units and broadened the meaning of the term “gamer” more than any other system in history. But how many of those people have bought a Wii and now find it collecting dust under their TVs? How many people have moved on from the Wii Fit generation, and see no purpose for a new Nintendo console beyond that? How much of Nintendo’s core crowd was burned by the lack of compelling software? When all is said and done, looking at the Wii at the end of its life, I think there are a number of really great games for the system, but for those who have owned the console since 2006, the wait between those releases has often been agonising. I worry that the five-year wait for a new Legend of Zelda, the absence of a truly great Metroid and the generally slow schedule even of Nintendo’s own software may have left a sour taste with many.

That said, I genuinely believe Nintendo has learned much from the launch of the 3DS. The 3DS launched at the wrong time of year, at the wrong price and with the wrong software strategy, and not even the legacy of the outrageously successful Nintendo DS could avoid what was a horrible first six months of the system’s life. I think (or at least hope) that Nintendo has learned from those mistakes. A holiday season launch (according to GameStop’s leak of the system launching on November 18) at a sensible price and with an all-new Mario available on day one could see the system fly right out of the gate.

Dan

Whilst I totally agree with your point on the Vita vs 3DS argument, I can’t see why both can’t be achieved. Raw processing power doesn’t mean everything, but it is definitely important, especially to gamers who consider themselves “hardcore”. When Ocarina of Time came out, it was beautiful and I loved it. As a result, I still think it’s beautiful and I still love it. I can’t say the same about Skyward Sword because, while the aesthetics are spot on, the graphics the Wii is capable of have limited the game’s appeal to me. There’s a reason I upgrade my PC as often as I can afford. I know it’s shallow to care that much about graphics in games, but I do. I’m not saying I want Zelda to look real, but more that I wish the game had a higher polygon count, better anti-aliasing and bloom lighting to really show off everything a Zelda game is capable of, because Zelda games have gorgeous art. In fact, most games Nintendo comes up with are pretty, and I can’t see how better graphical muscles could hurt that.

The Coming of the Wii UI can honestly say that, if the Wii U comes out and matches the five-year-old Sony console for visuals, I will be disappointed. The PlayStation 3 is definitely looking tired and starting to show its age, and it is the most powerful of the three big consoles.

On the subject of audience, I’ve been having the same concerns as you, Mat. Nintendo has had unbelievable success by broadening their market with the DS and Wii branding, and that’s great, but why does that market need to buy a Wii U to play Wii Fit or any of the many other family-friendly games? They’ve cornered themselves with their marketing and now need to produce something that can cater to their core fanbase whilst allowing young fans of the Wii to naturally advance onto the Wii U. The huge success of the Wii can be built on, but I don’t think it can be built on with what we are seeing from the Wii U. The improvement of the third-party title lineup over the Wii is definitely a step in the right direction, but I think they need more than a step to convince owners of Sony and Microsoft consoles to move brands, and these are the gamers Nintendo should be targetting now.

* * * *

Share Your Thoughts: We’ve shared our thoughts and now it’s your turn. What are you expecting from the coming of the Wii U? Will it be another console doomed to lag behind its competitors in specs? Will tech even be an issue, or will a strong library of games win out in the end?

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4 thoughts on “Easter Roundtable: The Coming of the Wii U – Hail or Fail?

  1. I thought Dan’s point regarding how Nintendo should get back to the strategy it employed with the N64 was slightly clouded by what could only be his younger self’s nostalgia. Looking objectively at the system, it had weird graphics that the Playstation ended up looking better than in a lot of cases, was difficult to program for and had barely any 3rd party support, totally missed the boat on having cd’s instead of cartridges, and it introduced the world to a totally revolutionary analog controller (and later, rumble) that every company would later copy… What the N64 had was a loyal following that showed up to play first party games in ways that hadn’t been done before. Sound like the Wii or WiiU, possibly?
    The only time Nintendo has really tried to play on an even field recently was with the GameCube, which was their weakest selling console. Nintendo has always thrived on originality over “cutting edge”, and they always get criticized for it, and then they succeed beyond everyone’s wildest speculations. See the black and white Gameboy beating the Lynx and Game Gear, the DS beating the PSP, the upswing in 3ds sales, recently, and the Wii, of course.
    There is a story in David Sheff’s book Game Over about how the Nintendo engineers wanted to make the original Famicom/NES a 16-bit system, but were forced to downgrade to 8-bit components to be able to thoroughly trounce competing systems by undercutting their price. The very system that gave life to modern gaming was a cheap, underpowered piece of tech! And then they went to market too late with the SNES, getting outsold by the Genesis, until they easily cleared that gap within a few years…
    People have been complaining about Nintendo since they started making videogames, but then you put the controller in a player’s hands and let them experience the games, and none of that stuff matters anymore. Games sell systems, period.
    Now, having said that, we still haven’t seen the games OR the final specs, so reading all the criticism of the underwhelming graphics output of the WiiU is annoying. When you’re able to say “I personally saw the new WiiU games today and they look like PS3 titles,” fine, but when you’re creating entire Internet-wide bashings on the contradictory reports of two anonymous “developers,” then there is a problem. Can we wait to actually see a game before bashing it, maybe? It’s the same in the other direction, where comparing the WiiU to the PS4 and Xbox720 is ridiculous, because those systems haven’t even been announced or HINTED AT, so claiming that they’re the saviors of future gaming while the WiiU will be left eating their dust is just plain unprofessional, unless you’re just trying to start arguments.
    As for my own thoughts, I think Nintendo have put themselves in an odd position, given that they seem to be reaching out to 3rd parties more than ever before. While this will mean a lot of multi platform titles, to be sure, I’m not sure that’s what Nintendo customers are actually yearning to play (sad, but somewhat true…). I think the arguments made by some that gamers would rather play CoD on 360 is largely true. Hopefully the WiiU can distinguish itself enough from the next gen and give us all a lot of great games to play. I know I’m excited to see what E3 has to show us.

    •  I haven’t said that it will fail, nor that it will be rubbish. We’re all just speculating at this point, but based on a number of widely published insider views, and from the way the console has been talked about by devs, I can see that they aren’t looking to compete on spec. My love for N64 is definitely nostalgia, but then I loved it at the time. The console didn’t employ previous-gen spec, it was (like the 360) lower spec but same gen.

      The Wii let me down a lot, and I need the Wii-U to give me confidence back in Nintendo’s ability to cater for gamers like me that want to play games the way they’ve always played games. I don’t need Nintendo to have the best graphics, because their games don’t need it. What I need is for the games to supply graphics that aren’t from the current generation. The PS3 and 360 are looking old, and if the Wii-U emulates their graphical power (which seems to be the main bit of info we know) then it will be emulating tired machines.

      I’m definitely excited to see the Wii-U, and if it is good I won’t miss out on it just because Nintendo bashing has been the in-thing lately, I’d be straight in there to buy it. I love games for games no matter the console. I just won’t be surprised if they let me down again.

      • Having read both Daniel and Frequentcontributor’s points, I feel it’s worth pointing out that the N64 wasn’t lower spec than the PS1. The reason why some of the games look so bizarre was because only a ridiculously small amount of memory was allowed for the texture cache (4kb), which often meant that games had one tiny texture stretched out over large areas. Rare did a cracking job of finding ways around this in some of the N64’s later games. The texture cache limit is more of an oversight. 

        I partly agree with what Daniel says about Nintendo’s offerings in the past two generations. Despite being a lifelong Nintendo fan, the GameCube was one of the most disappointing consoles I’ve ever bought. To slam the Wii for its “poor library of titles” makes me think that Daniel hasn’t played it much or only really likes certain genres. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of the best games of the past 10 years! Not only that, but visually speaking I’d go as far as to say that it was better than some Xbox 360/PS3 games.

        I do agree with Mat about the amount of time it takes for Nintendo to pump out new titles. With two systems to cater for, it makes sense that releasing a ton of games for both is not possible, but what annoys me is how in previous press interviews, folk like Reggie just assume that we all own Wii and DS systems, and can, therefore, switch between the two in an instance.
        I’m going wildly off point but it does link in somewhat. As much as Nintendo is trying to woo the third parties in, I just can’t see the behaviour of the core demographic changing. If I have the choice between trying the new Assassin’s Creed or the next Zelda game, I’m always going to pick Zelda, probably because of my fanboy tendencies. And, as I believe someone said, for games like your Call of Duties, you’re always going to want to play them on a Microsoft or Sony console because they deliver in the visual department.

        The Wii U should be used by third-party developers to create really innovative games that utilise the controller in a heck of a lot of cool ways. This probably boils down to creating exclusive titles for the system, which just seems highly doubtful in today’s industry (although perhaps they could be ported down to 3DS?). 

        Instead, what we’ll probably see is a million and one ports where all the developer does is release the same game but shifts the HUD to the bottom screen or adds in a touch menu. If all systems had a Wii U-esque controller, you just know the creativity would suddenly emerge.

      • “If I have the choice between trying the new Assassin’s Creed or the next Zelda game, I’m always going to pick Zelda”
        I fully agree. While Zelda games try to add something new, the AC games seem to just be about going one step further in the story, and that’s really just done to make money. I love both franchises, but I like what Nintendo do with theirs much more. What I want from the third-party titles is Nintendo-quality games, rather than ports. That is what the enthusiastic gamer inside me is telling me will happen, and I want to believe it’s true.

        On the point about Galaxy 2, I thought it was good until about a quarter of the way in, and then it became repetitive. I do usually like that style, but I’m not particularly crazy about Galaxy 2.

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