I emerged from the Nintendo Wii U presentation yesterday with a sense of anticipation that I'd previously never had. Although Jon was at E3 and fervently defended Nintendo's upcoming console against the broad scepticism exhibited by myself and Carl, tat enthusiasm failed to prove infectious for this writer in the long run. I'll be honest: ZombiU looks interesting to me, but it's certainly not a console seller in my book. Nintendo Land will suffice in the short term as an introduction to the console but will hardly prove the simple-yet-vastly-effective gaming one stop that Wii Sports did on the Wii U's predecessor. I couldn't be more apathetic towards New Super Mario Bros. U if I tried.
So why the cautious excitement?
Hello Mr. and Mrs. Casual, Meet The Right Hon. Hardcore Niche
Well it's partly because the Wii U shows every sign of being a combination of the Wii's two greatest achievements: a reserve for the innovatively casual and quirky, and a domain for niche titles that no one else will have and that I really want. Nintendo Land is something I really want to experience properly, in spite of all my criticisms, I want it in my hands for a good few hours. It looks fun, feels fun, will be completely throwaway, but that's ok. Mario is the man that Nintendo will turn to for deeper investment, and even there they promised that NSMBU will provide entertainment for newcomers and veterans alike. The party-esque multiplayer gameplay will be balanced out by reams of challenge modes. "So you think you're good at Mario games?" Shibata-san said, with the gameplay footage suggesting that players will finally have the chance to prove it.
For me, it's all about Rayman Legends. After Rayman Origins, I'm perfectly willing to throw my money at Michel Ancel. That both platformers will be available at launch is a very fine thing indeed. Toki Tori 2 impressed as well, even if Nintendo tried to gloss over it as best they could. Having played LBP on the Vita, I can say with some authority that creating levels on a Wii U GamePad could prove an utter joy. That reveal should have been a loud embrace of a play-create-share policy, I can only hope that this is the case and Nintendo simply ran out of trumpets to blow at the time.
Of course, the biggest coup was a Platinum exclusive - a surprise so utterly left-field and seemingly out of place that Jon was in stitches for nearly half an hour. At a glance we have the follow up to a landmark console in casual gaming, and Nintendo have just announced an exclusive sequel to one of the most hardcore games ever made. We theorised in the podcast that SEGA might have binned Bayonetta 2 just short of completion - the game was a critical darling, but didn't exactly sell hugely well, and SEGA had a few issues of their own this year - with Nintendo gleefully snapping it up. But you have to smile: the idea of the magically coiffured, scantily clad, ass-kicking witch sitting beside Mario, Kirby, and the Pikmin is hilarious. But only if you have a short memory. Anyone who remembers that Nintendo were once able to deliver some truly exciting third party exclusive will be praying hard that this signals a serious statement of intent to pull their heads out of the sand. Toss The Wonderful 101, ZombiU, and LEGO City Undercover into the mix, and there's a strong pull for gamers looking for deep experiences with a twist on the obvious.
Time Is Of The Essence
But Nintendo do not have time on their side, and the November/December release dates mean that far too many big hitters on the system will be games that have already released on the other HD consoles of this generation. That's not a problem if there are enough unique experiences there to back it up, but although very interesting indeed, none of those unique IPs could really be called killer apps. Having Blops 2 on your system is great, but no one who started stat tracking in MW3 will jump ship, then there are friend lists to consider, and the fact that although they may have vastly improved by now, Nintendo have never been the best at providing solid, convenient online play. That said, the potential for one person playing on the GamePad screen whilst another plays on the TV is a really nice touch, although the resolution will undoubtedly suffer, with the Wii U console having to provide the grunt for TV and tablet alike.
We've already written off Mas Effect 3 as idiot filler-material, the idiot being the consumer who buys the game without playing the first two. It's been out for two-thirds of a year. Why would you play full price for it on a system that won't deliver the previous two games, when you can get it for less than half that on an Xbox 360 or PS3? Furthermore, gimmicks won't sell games: Batman AC3, Darksiders II and others are all there to fill the ranks, not spearhead the assault on the current generation.
There's no word on a release for Platinum's titles, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate only arrives next March. After being the best title at E3, where the hell is Pikmin 3? 3DS fans will be getting massive tingles of deja vu, and the worry is that Nintendo have timed this poorly. It's not going to far to suggest that we'll see the majority wait util the new year, once the launch window titles have mostly emerged, and wait to scoop a bargain in the sales. A price cut come spring would not be surprising in the least.
If The Price Is Right...
Ah yes, pricing.
You see all of our hypothesising was mere conjecture without the practical knowledge of how hard this console will hit our pockets. There's still no huge consensus, but at least we have some retailers settling down into comparable brackets. At the time of writing, with six or seven major retailers having dropped listings, MCV's £250 and £300 for the Basic and Premium respectively looks to be the standard for the time being.
It's important to remember that the Wii was up around that Premium price when it first emerged. The PS3 was over £400! But we're in the low ebb of a recession. Nintendo had a real chance to provide an austerity console and price their power-hungry competitors out of the market looking ahead to next year, but I'm not convinced at all by these launch brackets. A Premium pack at £250 would have been incredibly solid. Had Amazon's original £199 mark for the Basic been fulfilled, that would have warranted applause. But £30-50 can make a difference. We like to purchase things based on relatively round upper limit levels, constantly saying "well...maybe if it goes below this figure", and we don't like being short changed. Looking at the US figures in particular, it might prove hard to see how £250 wouldn't have been justifiable for Premium.
Not "Will" I Buy, But "When"
I'm going to get a Wii U, it's intrigued me enough for that. I am in the niche that titles like Bayonetta 2 are targeting, it floats my boat as a gadget hound, and I think it has bags of potential. But getting one at launch could be a fools errand. There needed to be one more game, one more big hitter. If Nintendo and Namco turned around in a month and said that Smash Bros. would be available at launch, for example, I'd travel back in time with what I knew and make people pre-order for their own good. At the moment, it's looking like a January buy for me; maybe even March or beyond. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
However, I'm also keenly aware that I'm a games journalist, and that I've got plenty of gaming fixes elsewhere too. Most of my money goes on games, and so buying a Wii U eventually wouldn't be hard to justify. But for others on a tight budget this Christmas, that £250-300 could be spent on eight AAA games this winter, games like AC3, Dishonored, Halo 4, MOH: Warfighter, Borderlands 2, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Hitman: Absolution, and many more. Some of those will come to Wii U, but possibly too late for the eager beaver. If Rayman Origins couldn't weather the storm, how will Legends do it. I love Rayman, but I'm not paying £320+ just for the privilege of Ubisoft's asynchronous multiplayer, and neither will many others. With only six retail titles currently set for launch day, now we've calmed down a bit after the Bayonetta 2 announcement, it kind of looks like Nintendo are nearing the hole they dug themselves with the 3DS launch once again. Based upon all of this, it's difficult to see the Wii U being anything other than a flop, especially when the majority of thec asual market Nintendo so brilliant tapped into with their last console don't even know that there's a new Wii coming out.
The question is, will you be buying it? And, if so, when?