Talking Point: The Problem With 'Old' Wii U Ports

The classic catch-22

So, it looks like Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut is coming to Wii U, with a ratings board classification and the common knowledge that Australia-based studio Straight Right has been working on a high profile Square Enix franchise for Nintendo's new system. Although still in rumour territory until announced at PAX East this weekend, the box-art leaked by Amazon and the overwhelming evidence suggest this is one that's pretty much in the bag. The Amazon listing also has some spiel about a new "neural hub" utilising the GamePad for "an immersive and empowering experience, right at the tips of your fingers". How are we supposed to feel about this? Delighted, frustrated or, most deadly of all, indifferent?

This isn't the first game already well established on the market being belatedly brought to Wii U, with the launch lineup including some high-profile examples. In some cases, such as Darksiders II, it could be justifiably argued that it was a relatively recent release waiting for the system to launch. The debate drifted towards grey areas, however, with Mass Effect 3 — a "Special Edition" with included DLC and GamePad features — and most notably with Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition, which had some fairly minor changes and some neat GamePad tricks to join all of the additional DLC from other versions. The trouble with these two titles neatly highlights the issue of allowing too much time to pass before unveiling a port.

In the case of Mass Effect 3, while it was arriving in the same calendar year as the original, it was going up against Mass Effect Trilogy on PS3 and Xbox 360, which offered three times as much bang for your buck. In addition, DLC expansions have arrived on rival platforms, including a significant one that essentially closes the trilogy off for the development team, yet none have come to Wii U, making the on-disc DLC an appetizer without a main course.

With Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition, missing DLC was no problem, as it's all right there on the disc. Hooray! The downside? The game was launched on PS3 and varied platformers in October 2011, over a year before the Wii U hit stores. The DLC was all there because, frankly, the game was such old news that it no longer merited any fresh content; its audience had long since moved on.

These ports, among others, filled out what was a packed Wii U launch line-up. In hindsight — which is always a wonderful thing — doubts expressed about the sheer number of ports or updated re-releases seem to have been proven right, with low software attach-rates combining to share the bulk of the sales between high-profile exclusives and big brand titles. Comments began to emerge from the D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit, with developers and publishers supposedly referring to Wii U projects being canned and bemoaning sales of specific titles. That maelstrom of negativity also led to fake anonymous sources being widely reported (not, in this case, by us here on Nintendo Life) as fact in relation to comments from Activision about Wii U — that was blatantly untrue, but it contributed to more negative stories spreading.

Even if only a fraction of the reported developer/publisher sentiment towards Wii U's debut is true, it's nevertheless an issue for Nintendo to tackle — a subject we've covered before. We've maintained here that there's an exciting range of exclusive software destined for the system, even if Nintendo is having to pick up publishing duties for third-party efforts such as The Wonderful 101. In some quarters we've also seen sustained support for Wii U as a viable option for multi-platform, big budget games. It may have made a spectacular mess of the Rayman Legends situation, but Ubisoft for one is bringing Watch_Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag to Wii U, with the former also being a PS4 launch title. Only time will tell us how far support like this goes once PS4 and Xbox Next are truly in their stride, but it's a positive to enjoy right now nevertheless.

Of course, publishers will ultimately decide based on the Wii U's technical capabilities, userbase and a perception of its gamer's enthusiasm for a lot of titles; one factor or another scared many away from multi-platform titles on Wii. For one thing the arrival of Assassin's Creed III was fairly long-sighted of Ubisoft, as it surely knew that sales would be relatively low with just early adopters with a lot of cash picking it up — though we were told that Ubisoft's system-exclusive ZombiU was "among the best selling launch titles on Wii U". Multi-platform releases with a simultaneous release on Wii U didn't necessarily fare badly, either, with over a quarter of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed sales being on Wii U, the figure of 260,000 (as of 31st December) being pretty good for a system launch multi-platform game.

So those are examples of publishers giving their Wii U releases a fair shake, yet whispers suggest that it's some of the supposedly "high profile" older ports that have failed to shift many copies. Frankly, for the reasons already outlined, we wonder how anyone can possibly be surprised. If a game is over a year old or has far better value offerings elsewhere, only a select group of keen consumers without access to other versions will buy these releases. That this group exists is beyond doubt, but it'll be a small and hardy collection of gamers. Titles like Mass Effect 3 or Arkham City have probably been played by Wii U owners with a love for those kind of games on PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 already. Even if they haven't, a lot of Wii U titles aren't exactly cheap, so what do you buy? A new game that utilises the tech for a fresh experience, or one that's been available everywhere else for a good while?

So, for our money, a prospective release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut has big problems in gaining respectable sales. Assuming the leaked date of May is correct, it'll come onto the market with, as a guess, around five million Wii U units in the wild — Nintendo has estimated four million up to the end of March, and let's anticipate a potential bump with some big releases in the coming period — and this is a game originally released in August 2011. Square Enix can throw in GamePad features and include DLC on disc as much as it likes, but we question whether many will pick this up ahead of new or exclusive releases such as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (greatly expanded re-release of an old game, yes, but of a Wii exclusive), LEGO City Undercover, or games that we can reasonably predict for Q2 such as The Wonderful 101 and Pikmin 3. It'll have some sales, we have no doubt, but rather like Need for Speed Wanted U going up against those aforementioned releases in North America this week, it's debatable whether the numbers will be be enough to satisfy budgets and expectations.

Our fear is that Square Enix will release a 17 - 18 month old game, observe sluggish sales and simply throw its hands up with the old "Nintendo gamers don't want these Triple-A games". That kind of false assumption would be patently unfair; if titles like Watch_Dogs or Assassin's Creed IV tank on Wii U then, yes, there's clearly an issue in whether these kind of multi-platform blockbusters will struggle on the system, but this Deus Ex release is potentially onto a loser from day one. Gamers don't have endless funds, so offer new, current-day experiences — Tomb Raider would have been nice — and then see how things go.

We truly hope that publishers give the Wii U a spin with some major current multi-platform titles. If these games arrive and fail then we face another generation where a Nintendo system may rely on the occasional big third-party game, some excellent efforts from smaller studios, indies and, or course, all of the first-party content Nintendo can muster.

At the very least though, release new games that have a real chance, not a big hit from 2011.

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