Talking Point: Wii U - Revolution or Evolution?
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Is the Wii U innovative enough, or just a big DS?
When looked at logically, perhaps there is a valid point to be made about the Wii U. Admittedly, launch is a while away, and further details on the console and its capabilities will no doubt flow in the coming months, but the focus of this article is simple: will Wii U ‘disrupt’ the industry and allow Nintendo to set the trends for gaming once again?
The Nintendo Revolution. Remember that?
It’s easy to forget that when the Wii was first announced, it was initially called the ‘Revolution’. Announced at E3 2005, Nintendo made it clear that this was a console that would change the way games are played, opening gaming to new audiences and experiences. Whatever your opinion of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as well as peripherals such as the Balance Board, it cannot be denied that they changed the face of gaming. Controller methods like this had been tried in previous generations — the Power Glove being an infamous example — but with the Wii, motion controls had arrived in the mainstream.
A key element of the huge sales of the Wii, along with competitive pricing, has been the platform’s control method; there is no escaping that fact. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk have enhanced conventional gaming experiences such as Super Mario Galaxy, and the sideways Wii Remote also performs as a conventional, NES-style controller. Beyond this, some of the major software successes have included Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit and the Just Dance games; these titles use the controllers or Balance Board to provide experiences that were not previously considered as big selling experiences. The Wii changed that perception.
It’s clear that, in this case, Nintendo identified and defined the next step in gaming, and Microsoft and Sony have flattered Nintendo’s innovation by joining the motion control experience. Gamers loyal to Microsoft and Sony may carp, but many probably own and play the Kinect and PlayStation Move, respectively.
Is Wii U an heir to the Revolution’s crown?
Considering the impact of the Wii, it was interesting the see the muted response to the Wii U unveiling at E3 2011. There was enthusiasm in some quarters, but also plenty of journalists struggling to decide on an opinion. There was also a rather drastic drop in the Nintendo share price, as investors showed clear concern with regards to the concept and its potential commercial success. The slightly vague presentation video didn't help, and raised a couple of different questions: is it a standalone tablet, a new handheld? Once attendees got their hands on the device, it became clearer that the so-called tablet was the new controller, and that the Wii U would incorporate Wii Remote and Nunchuk combinations as additional controllers. This backwards compatibility opens the possibility of some interesting multiplayer opportunities, one angle that Nintendo seemed keen to emphasise.
As our own Wii U preview suggested though, this isn't a console that necessarily inspires instantaneous gasps of excitement. The controller clearly has various technological delights: gyroscopic capabilities, an inward facing camera, the ability to ‘stream’ the console’s game in progress, as well as touch controls on the hefty embedded screen. The demonstration videos even showed interactive elements where the touch screen could interact directly with the TV, a swipe or gesture sending objects between screens.
Nintendo gamers may look at the Wii U controller and, in a sense, feel some deja-vu. Touch controls that involve drawing, tapping and swiping, as well as an inward facing camera and gyroscope controls. Sound familiar?
A 3DS XXXXXXXXXXXXL?
One thing that is clear is that many of the proposed interactions and control gimmicks of the Wii U have already been used prominently on the DS ‘family’ of consoles, with the 3DS adding features such as motion controls to the mix. Aside from the potential interaction between Wii Remotes and Wii U controller, there is arguably very little in the Wii U that can’t be achieved on a 3DS system, or multiple systems for multiplayer experiences. Let's look at some examples.
There has been talk of the Wii U controller being used for displaying maps and inventories in major releases, allowing item selection and navigation with a simple tap. It is safe to say that this is prominent in DS titles, with Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass providing a perfect example of how this can be done. The idea of items being ‘swiped’ from one screen to another has also been done on the DS, a flick of the stylus moving an object from the touch screen to the top screen.
Much has also been made of the Wii U's gyroscope controls being used for a ‘shield’ demo, as well as the screen being used to view a world from different viewpoints. The 3DS already does this, with gyroscope functionality, as well as the potential uses of outward facing cameras and augmented reality capabilities. Of course the 3DS is significantly less capable in terms of graphical prowess, but in terms of concept and functionality it stands up well to the Wii U pad. As a result it isn't surprising that Shigero Miyamoto has voiced the idea of the 3DS acting as an extra Wii U controller.
Is the Wii U enough to capture the wider market?
Just to be clear, we are not suggesting that the Wii U is without potential, nor are we implying that it’s not going to be a lot of fun. What we are suggesting is that, arguably, the Wii U doesn't provide the same sense of gaming revolution as the Wii unveiling in 2005, as the concept includes many well known features of the best selling handheld console of all time, the DS. Perhaps the developers of the console saw the gaming experiences that the DS could deliver, as well as the features being implemented in the 3DS, and took their inspiration from these sources.
However, in a world of smartphones, tablets and technologically superior motion controlled gaming from Microsoft and Sony, it's becoming more difficult for Nintendo to shine as innovators in the field. With so many competitors innovating and invading the lucrative ‘casual’ market, if you can pardon the term, it's a concern that the Wii U won’t grab attention as successfully as the Wii. It is questionable whether the concept behind Wii U, and the impression that it will make on a consumer, will have the same commercial impact as the Wii. Similarly, while some suggest that 3DS sales are slow to gain speed because of the similarity in form-factor with the DS, will the Wii U suffer in similar terms because it looks like a tablet device? Let's remember that not all consumers are gamers who research and read about consoles in detail: some are swayed by marketing and first impressions alone, and it is a valid concern that the Wii U controller will be lost amongst other gadgets that, to the untrained eye, all look the same. If the next offerings from Microsoft and Sony incorporate some form of Kinect- style motion tracking, they will be able to distinguish themselves from rivals such as Apple and Google's Android service, whereas the Wii U may be perceived as the Nintendo iPad.
Perhaps this is a pessimistic view, and maybe the coming months will prove these fears to be unfounded. Nintendo and major third party developers are no doubt experimenting with development kits and producing brilliant ideas to excite customers and sell the concept; time will tell.
What do you think? Is Nintendo raising the bar of innovation with the Wii U, or is it running out of ideas? Share your thoughts with us below!