Talking Point: Wii U and the Importance of Backward Compatibility
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Long live the Wii
In future years, maybe even in a matter of weeks, there's likely to be plenty written about Wii and its lifespan, with judgements made on its strengths and weaknesses. The list of negatives is fairly predictable: it was underpowered, with motion controls that brought an unrelenting wave of sub-par games, it struggled for major third-party support in later years and missed out on the key, supposedly hardcore audience. Those are all perfectly reasonable, defensible things to say, but Wii was also the success that Nintendo desperately needed.
Let's not forget that a large part of Nintendo's audience was lost during the Nintendo 64 and GameCube eras, with huge sales leading PlayStation 2 to dominate the latter's generation, while Xbox pushed the 'Cube down into third place. Nintendo needed to find a way to get back to number one in terms of sales, and that's exactly what Wii delivered. Motion controls changed the landscape in attracting new gamers and, when done well, genuinely enhanced the experience. The fact that Sony's Move bore such a striking resemblance to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and Microsoft innovated in its own way with Kinect, showed that Nintendo had hit a nerve.
As our recent Wii coverage has hopefully shown, however, Wii also delivered a unique and surprisingly deep games catalogue. There can be a perception that Wii struggled to produce quality games, but our Wii Retrospective and top 20 Wii games, along with the many comments from the Nintendo Life community, amply demonstrate that Wii has offered plenty of high quality and exclusive software that deserves to be recognised above the shelves full of mediocre party games.
Wii U, with its GamePad, is notably making a move away from such a commitment to motion control, maybe a recognition that it's no longer quite the attraction that it was in 2006. And yet, plenty of Wii U titles won't just offer the option of using Wii controllers, but on occasions will actively encourage it for asynchronous multiplayer or, in the case of Pikmin 3, because it's the best way to play. As the name makes clear, this system is an evolution, not a revolution, so all of those Wii Remotes and Nunchuks will still have a major role to play. By that same token, the Wii catalogue, both retail discs and WiiWare, will still have a presence. The new system will have a "Wii Mode", which like the original Wii's compatibility with GameCube games will allow the older system's library to run as normal.
Would built-in resolution upscaling have been a nice feature? Of course, but that would have also been a costlier, more time consuming feature for Nintendo to develop. The Wii U to Wii compatibility has an extra advantage, in that we expect save data and so on to work in the same way, with on board flash memory, disc based saves and SD cards — there'll also be a system transfer feature to carry across Wii Shop purchases to your new system. Wii owners will already be equipped and know how it all works, but GameCube's proprietary memory cards may have come as a surprise to Wii gamers looking to sample some older classics, necessitating an online purchase of a previous generation accessory; that's not a headache with Wii on Wii U.
It's understandable that some will say, "I don't buy a new system to play old games", which is fair enough. That said, it's surely a welcome extra. While Nintendo understandably wants to earn money from older generations via its Virtual Console (we expect GameCube on the Wii U eShop, eventually), it's an act of generosity to provide the means to play your most recent catalogue of games at no extra cost. The fact is that Wii has an extensive range of games, some of which will now be available at a budget price, and with over 90 million Wii's purchased around the world there are a lot of people with all of the tools ready to play.
Much like the original DS "phat", 3DS and Wii, Wii U will not only offer something new, but provide the means to enjoy the old for free. Wii hardware sales may be stagnating and its Wii Shop service at a practical standstill, but it's not dead yet. Its extensive game catalogue and stand-out WiiWare titles (which are expected on eShop) will have a second chance on Wii U, and we shouldn't let it go to waste.
What do you think? Is fully supported Wii backward compatibility an important part of Wii U, or do you have little interest in playing older games on a new system? Let us know in the comments and vote in the poll, below.
Does Backward Compatibility on Wii U Matter? (410 votes)
Yes, playing Wii games is a great bonus
I guess so, but I won't use it much
I think it's a waste of resources to include it
I don't care at all
Please login to vote in this poll.