Nintendo, with the Wii U, appears to have taken its head out of the sand and wants to truly court a demographic that its ignored for some time now: the core gamer. That’s a welcome scenario as Nintendo, in the last five years, became the gaming industry’s laughing stock. Although the Wii’s impressive sales numbers (96 million sold to date) would make you think otherwise, it’s Nintendo’s casual transformation that pushed “core” gamers away and spurned ridicule. To understand this statement you have to understand the core gamer and Nitendo’s history with them.
Contrary to popular belief, core gamers aren’t a blood thirsty, anti-social, aggressive troop that the media has painted. We are passionate gamers that enjoy deep experiences like Journey, Limbo, and Flower. And yes, we also enjoy the bloodfests offered by Gears of War, Call of Duty, and God of War. In all, we appreciate the intricate stories and the innovation and challenges found in games. In recent years Nintendo has spent much of its time and money catering to casual gamers. With Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, and Carnival Games, living rooms have filled with shovelware. Where on Nintendo’s flagship console can gamers experience an amazing story, or a competitive online multiplayer scene?
The Wii slush pile is sprinkled countered by first-party gold like the Mario Galaxy series, Smash Bros., and Skyward Sword (Twilight Princess doesn’t count it was ported to the Wii from the Gamecube). Yes, Xenoblade and The Last Story are solid third-party offerings (Edit: Xenoblade was Published by Nintendo meaning the game is a first-party title) , but those are just two of a handful that appeared in the last six years. My next statement will ring hard through the internet and it might cause a rift between fanboys and myself, but I will stand by these words: the Nintendo Wii is a casual console.
Regardless of the sales numbers, the Wii is, for the lack of better words, a disappointment. The online experience is nearly non-existent, the graphics are sub-par, and the catalog of quality games is embarrassing. Working at Gamestop during my summer vacations made this more apparent to me. For every decent Wii title that I shelved, there were a dozen inadequate shovelware titles beside it.
To understand when Nintendo turned its back on the core audience it once proudly embraced, you have to go back to Nintendo’s earlier consoles. Capcom, Square Soft (now Square Enix), Konami, and other companies can attribute much of their successes to the Nintendo and Super Nintendo (and vice versa). The Mega Man series gained much of its popularity on the NES. The original Final Fantasy saw an original NES release, and it’s next five sequels were only available on the Super Nintendo for a very long time. Chrono Trigger, easily one of the greatest accomplishments in gaming, could only be found on a Nintendo console until recently. During this time Nintendo had an extremely well-rounded third-party catalog on its first two consoles.
Issues began to arise after SEGA and Sony’s consoles displayed the versatility of the disc-based format. Discs were cheaper to produce than cartridges, featured better audio quality, and huge games could be shipped on multiple discs instead of requiring extra memory chips. Nintendo saw this trend, but instead opted to remain with cartridges–a huge mistake. Cartridge’s limitations turned away many developers.
Incognizant gamers will be surprised to learn that Final Fantasy VII was originally intended for the Super Nintendo and later the N64. Instead, the CD format’s scope prompted Square to move to the PlayStation. Square packaged the lengthy RPG, full of extras and beautifully rendered CGI, efficiently across three discs; something the company deemed impossible on the N64. First-party development kept the N64 relevant: Star Fox 64, Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros., Zelda titles, and Donkey Kong 64. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with this developmental approach, but Nintendo didn’t have the relationship with developers that it once had.
The Gamecube certainly was a step in the appropriate direction in terms of software and third-party support. Nintendo received profound support from Capcom. Viewtiful Joe was a Gamecube exclusive for a year’s time, three Resident Evil games graced the console (RE:Zero, RE, RE4) and SUDA 51′s Killer 7 appealed to the core audience. Ubisoft and Silicon Knights heavily backed the console, too.
Nintendo’s hardware decisions once again proved costly. The Gamecube was the only console on the market that could not play DVDs. Instead, Nintendo developed its own 80mm optical disc, which was considerably smaller than a DVD. Developers were forced to remove features, and compress audio and video segments to fit their games on the 80mm discs, thus giving the Gamecube inferior ports. Nintendo also refused to enter the online gaming realm, although SEGA’s Phantasy Star Online series was barely playable via a Gamecube 56k modem adapter. At this point, Sony was beginning to figure out its online gaming policy, and Microsoft had Xbox Live. Overall, besides the online flaw, the GameCube was a great console that catered to core gamers.
Then came the Nintendo Wii with its innovative motion controls. I’ll admit that I was sold on the console when it was revealed at the 2005 Tokyo Game Show. Notions and realizations that I could finally become Link ran through my mind. Being able to swing my fist in boxing games, and turning my living into a golf course were possible–or so I thought. Being an anxious Nintendo fan, I picked up a Wii at launch. I bought Zelda: Twilight Princess, Red Steel, and also played the bundled Wii Sports. Two of those titles were absolutely horrible.
Red Steel demonstrated the Wii Mote’s flaws. The game was unresponsive, and aiming was difficult and extremely clunky. In fact, the Wii Mote would end up requiring an add-on in 2009, the Wii Motion Plus, to capture complex motions. Thus the much improved Red Steel 2 was released four years later. Then there’s Wii Sports, whose charm wore off quickly. After a couple of hours of running through each mini-game with friends, its appeal quickly dwindled. The truth is it only served as a familiarization tool to acquaint users with the Wii Mote, and it should have stayed as that. Instead, Wii Sports, in conjunction with the similar Wii Play, became a building block for hundreds of casual shovelware titles. Soon after the YouTube was riddled with dozens of grandmas playing Wii Sports, and Nintendo began to market the Wii as the family console that’s suitable for all ages. Which was fine at first.
But where did that leave the core gamer? I bought Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in August 2007, and I didn’t pick up another game until later in the year when I purchased Super Mario Galaxy in November. Both games were published by Nintendo. The only other 2007 title that’s even worth mentioning is No More Heroes, which came in December. This was a trend that occurred too often during the Wii’s lifespan.
The Wii missed out on games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Grand Theft Auto 4, Mass Effect, and Orange Box, because developers found it tasking to port games due to the console’s limited graphics muscle. Its online capabilities are extremely rudimentary, too. Adding friends is a chore as you have to exchange friend codes which consist of twenty numbers that are unique to each Wii. Microsoft and Sony have interactive friend lists. Nintendo also refused to support DVD playback…again. In fact, that support didn’t arrive until 2008 when hackers created a software mod that allowed DVD playback, a standard among consoles now.
Although I’ve been critical explaining Nintendo’s fall from grace and its betrayal to core gamers, a sixty minute E3 booth tour restored a bit of faith. It only took one hour for the Wii U to go from afterthought to day one purchase. Call me fickle, but what I experienced was truly amazing. I saw something I haven’t seen from Nintendo in years: core games. You have to hold the Gamepad and look at the beautiful 6.2-inch touch screen to understand the innovative gameplay opportunities.
My hands-on experience began with Nintendo Land Zelda. It served as a great tutorial on how the GamePad works. It’s a multiplayer game that requires teamwork. I played as an archer (which required the GamePad), while Gabriel Zemora and Timothy Torres served as my swordsmen. I had to aim my bow by holding the GamePad up to the screen and utilizing the accelerometer to move my targeting reticule. I was immediately able to tell that the GamePad’s screen wasn’t low quality; the pixels were indistinguishable, and the colors were extremely vibrant and rich. The GamePad’s overall feel was sturdy, and was neither too heavy or too light.
I then moved to ZombieU‘s Capture the Flag multiplayer mode where I used the GamePad Pro (aka, “the Xbox 360 Wii U controller”). The game operates like any standard FPS shooter: the right trigger fires, the R button melees, and Y reloads. Graphically, the game’s on-par with this console generation’s titles. The lighting effects missing on the Wii are finally possible with the Wii U. The GamePad adds an interesting RTS mechanic to the game. The player gripping the GamePad uses the touch screen to direct Zombies towards the opposing player. There were other uses for the Gamepad: a Nintendo rep fired up a video that showed a player hacking a terminal using a GamePad button prompt. Very cool.
I was heavily interested in Pikmin 3, but was a bit disappointed when I discovered that it required the Wii Mote and Nunchuck. However, I can say that the game looks and plays amazing. It’s as bright, bubbly, and complex as other games in the series.
The Wii U’s best E3 game was a title that Nintendo failed to show at its conference. Project P-100, from Platinum Games, is an unique superhero game that mixes elements from some of the quirkiest games out. There’s elements of Pikmin (as players control huge groups of heroes around a small toy-esque town), and the character designs looks very much like Viewtiful Joe. I was enthralled by the gameplay; I ran around town recruiting dozens of citizens and turning them into heroes. Players have two types of attacks: Team Attacks (which result in quick flurries that drain a meter), and Unite Attacks (which require players to draw on the GamePad’s touch screen to perform unique and powerful attacks). Drawing an upward line formed a stack of heroes in the shape of a sword, while drawing a circle caused a huge fist to form. The demo was brief, but it was extremely fun.
Although I didn’t play Batman or Ninja Gaiden 3, I’ve heard nothing but positive things from others. Many criticized Nintendo for showing old titles like these two, but I commend the company. These two titles are shining examples that demonstrate Nintendo’s transformation back into a core gaming company. Yes, Nintendo will have its casual crowd, but as long as Nintendo provides gamers with unique experiences without isolating console owners from the rest of the market, Nintendo should be fine.
It isn’t quite smooth sailing for Nintendo yet. During E3, Iwata tweeted that the Wii U would suffer a frame rate drop when two GamePads are used with one console. This has been heavily criticized, but it shouldn’t be an issue. Not all games will support two GamPads, so the ones that do will be specially made for that type of gameplay. Hopefully, that will eliminate any potential problems.
Nintendo’s online structure is being revamped to accommodate the Wii U and GamePad. Miiverse is being developed with the intent to create a community where friends and other players can play online, share tips, video chat, and stay connected even when the console is not on. It supports all future Nintendo consoles beginning with the Wii U and Nintendo 3Ds. It’s the appropriate step that Nintendo needs to modernize itself and stay competitive in a world thats fixated with online experiences. Hopefully, the days of friend codes are behind us, and Miiverse will prove to be the online service gamers desire.
There are issues with Miiverse, however; many news outlets have reported that the comment system will be hand-moderated by Nintendo, leading to a 30 minute verification period before comments are posted. Again, this is Nintendo trying to protect younger gamers. Nintendo needs to realize that if parents allow their children to interact with others online, mommy and daddy should monitor the content.
Nintendo has all the tools in place. If Nintendo provides unique experiences, along with a steady stream of quality games there is no reason why the console should struggle to appeal to core gamers. Sound off in the comments section below. What can Nintendo do to restore faith in you?