Talking Point: The Downside to Delayed Releases on Wii U

What a difference a delay makes

At the start of the year we published a list of our biggest Wii U games of 2013; despite the beginning of a software drought on the system, we felt that the list showed the promise of the software lineup to come. There were eight exclusives at that point, either with fixed release dates or windows that we're confident will fall within this year.

Of course, that list was published before Nintendo brought us its Wii U Direct broadcast. After a slightly lackluster video in December, the big N took the opportunity to generate a lot of hype, highlighting a significant number of upcoming releases. Some had release windows, others will be playable at E3 and a few of the new entries were little more than un-dated teasers; nevertheless, Nintendo reeled out some big-time first-party franchises and gave us a far clearer picture of the Wii U software landscape for the rest of the year.

With that context, and with the over-long Wii U 'launch window' slamming shut at the end of March, we decided to update our list with the biggest Wii U games of 2013 - Spring edition. Four titles dropped off the list due to their release in stores, and another was pushed out as a result of the expanding and increasingly promising line-up of titles on the way. Once again we chose to ensure the inclusion of two download-only releases — including the Kickstarter-funded Shovel Knight that'll also arrive on the 3DS eShop — and we saw the number of exclusives drop from eight to six, for various reasons.

In both of these articles we set up polls for the community to choose its most anticipated release, or to alternatively say that their choice wasn't in the list. Both sets of results reflect some inevitable differences due to the evolving lineups, while also showing surprising consistency in other areas. The most recent list attracted more votes, so some titles across the two polls have seen an increase in votes despite retaining a similar percentage. Both are below, with results taken at 3pm on 5th April.

One notable addition, in terms of hogging a large percentage of the votes, is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, which is unsurprising considering the excitement at the announcement that it'll arrive this Fall; there's perhaps a fresh debate to be had about whether it's entirely healthy for a HD remake to be such a priority. Aside from this new entry Pikmin 3 still performed very well, despite losing some of its percentage; in pure numbers, its votes went up a little. In fact, some other titles on both lists maintained their percentage (and therefore increased the number of votes) — Bayonetta 2 maintained at 8%, The Wonderful 101 went up by one point to 8%, while Game & Wario's small share dropped a little to 3%.

There's one notable loser in this comparison due to The Wind Waker's vote grab, however, and that's Ubisoft's Rayman Legends. Its percentage has dropped 8%, going from being the joint second most anticipated game in January to only finishing above Shovel Knight and Game & Wario in April. Despite the increased number of voters in the most recent poll, the lower percentage also leads to a lower number of votes as well. The reasons for this are varied, but perhaps ultimately comes down to Ubisoft's much-criticised decision to delay the Wii U release to coincide with PS3 and Xbox 360 versions in September. It caused quite a storm when that decision was taken in early February, especially as it became clear that the Wii U version was comfortably on course to be ready for its original March release date.

In January, then, Rayman Legends was one of only a few high-profile releases due before the end of March, arriving before Pikmin 3 and in a similar window to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and LEGO City Undercover. While the Wii U userbase is inevitably smaller now than it will be in September, it would have hit the system after a software drought and been a distinct offering from those entries from TT Fusion and Capcom. That's not to mention the fact that an enthusiastic base of Nintendo gamers were clearly extremely hyped about the game, with its delay from the console's launch day being difficult enough for some to handle.

As we and others pointed out at the time, Ubisoft no doubt made the decision based on projections and expert opinion that the game will make more money across all three platforms with a simultaneous release. That's hard to deny, yet that's also a truth that should have been known right from the start — even though Wii U momentum has deteriorated, a game released on three systems always has a larger base to target than one new console. Alarm at Wii U's struggles may have prompted the move, but its timing and the manner with which it was handled caused a lot of ill-will.

Of course, these polls are far from substantial or definitive proof of much beyond the feelings of the Nintendo Life community. But when you factor disgruntlement at the delay — heard loudly around the web during the controversy — and the loss of Wii U exclusivity with an expanding prospective software lineup, the fate of the title on Wii U is distinctly less rosy. At the very least it'll be coming into stores at a similar time to Wind Waker HD, and there's only one winner in that battle.

The test for Rayman Legends will be whether enough enthusiastic Wii U gamers — which surely make up the bulk of the audience on Nintendo's system, rather than more casual gamers (please forgive the term) — still pick it up, and whether it's able to gain traction on rival systems. Perhaps it will, as the not-always-precise VGChartz does have the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Rayman Origins outselling the Wii version; it must be said that the Wii's momentum had lost a lot of steam by late 2011. The overall sales may ultimately justify Ubisoft's decision, especially as the goldfish-like memory of the internet may forget the stink of the Wii U situation by the time it arrives. We suspect that a combination of ongoing unhappiness with the decision and an expanding library will, however, reduce its impact on Wii U.

We'll see, and in truth it would be a shame if Rayman Legends was enjoyed by less Wii U gamers as a result of its troubled route to the system. While its arrival has been delayed, that does nothing to change the fact that, for a number of months until early February, it was right at the top of a lot of wishlists, and for very good reasons. The demo on Wii U is perfect proof of the potentially exceptional standard of this game, and no actions of its publisher do anything to make the work of its development team any less enticing. As our little poll shows, however, good will and timing can be a benefit in the excitement a game generates; Rayman Legends is in danger of falling foul on both counts.