Talking Point: Nintendo Should Step Up for the Wii U eShop
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
It can be the home of creative new ideas from the big N
So, where does the eShop stand at roughly six months old? It's had an uneven release schedule, but looking at it as a complete picture we feel that it has a solid initial library with decent variety, combining some multi-platform titles with the odd exclusive thrown in, with genres and price points to suit almost anyone. There's also the decent list of retail downloads and the beginnings of the Virtual Console, even if the latter has so far been populated by old favourites that have previous graced the Wii and, in the occasional case, 3DS. Wrap it all in Nintendo's most polished download store interface to date, and there are various reasons to be positive.
If these first six months have lacked anything, however, it's been a notable contribution from Nintendo. While we appreciate that the big N has been busily working on high profile retail releases for both Wii U and 3DS, and may be opting to hand over the spotlight to third-parties and the ever growing contingent of indies, its complete absence to date is a slight surprise.
This thought occurred to us as we clocked the fact that the Wii U eShop has just passed its six months anniversary in North America and, yet, last week's Nintendo Direct still announced nothing first-party and exclusive to the platform. Looking back at the 3DS eShop after its launch in June 2011, it can be argued that the Wii U store's library is far more robust and varied at this stage in its life, but nevertheless Nintendo pitched in with notable efforts in the handheld platform's early days. We had the 3D Classics series, a set of collaborations with third-parties to give memorable retro titles — and Urban Champion — a fresh dynamic with 3D visuals. Before the close of 2011 we'd also seen two new IPs published by Nintendo that showed refreshing creativity and typified what the eShop could be all about, with Freakyforms: Your Creations, Alive! and Pullblox / Pushmo. Throw in Virtual Console releases that were all new, and you can see where we're heading with this argument.
As we've suggested, the Wii U eShop has had stronger early support than the 3DS eShop enjoyed, and as the handheld's platform has since demonstrated, momentum can certainly pick up after an initial drought. If anything, we appear to be having a reverse effect on the Wii U, with half a dozen solid launch releases being followed by a mini-drought, from which time some additional titles have arrived to tide us over at sporadic points, with the Virtual Console now filling gaps. That games are coming is in little doubt, but solid release dates are few and far between, with some having vague release windows and good number pegged in for later this yet or even 2014.
The comparison to the 3DS eShop may be unfair in a respect, as home console games, even of a downloadable variety, in all likelihood require far greater investment and time to get to market than a portable title. In our own staff round table on the eShop at the start of the year we spoke about the sense of home console downloads having a "premium" feel and expectation, which is naturally more demanding on developers. The good thing is that Nintendo's excellent efforts to support indies and third-parties on the platform — with easier access to dev kits and Unity development tools, among other things — have got plenty of projects in the pipeline, while Kickstarter has added a notable number of confirmed titles all on its own.
And yet, Nintendo's not yet pitching in with anything off its own back. It'll be publishing Pokémon Scramble U, yet we haven't heard a peep about a Western release date as yet, possibly due to efforts to arrange manufacture and distribution of the title's accompanying NFC (near field communication) figurines. New Super Luigi U doesn't fit the bill as download-exclusive content, meanwhile, as it's either DLC to be added to New Super Mario Bros. U or a reduced-price physical retail release.
That's why we're hoping for a Wii U eShop segment in whatever Nintendo Direct broadcast — whether it's just one or multiple presentations — during E3. This section shouldn't just show what's coming from third-parties, but also what Nintendo's bringing to the show. Nintendo's been emphasizing how valuable the download platforms on Wii U and 3DS will be to its future business, so we're hopeful that surprises are on the way to show what innovative, creative ideas can be brought to the new console's eShop. The 3DS eShop has given the big N's teams or second-parties opportunities to produce new heroes and franchises, with sequels such as Fallblox / Crashmo and Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger showing that some of these new series can have a life beyond an initial experiment.
We're also admirers of Game Freak's stated policy of encouraging employees to pitch ideas and, when approved, devote a portion of time to make these smaller projects a reality; that's how the excellent Harmoknight came to pass. If the eShop is to be vital to Wii U's long term fortunes, it won't just be retail titles tempting gamers onto the store, but as the 3DS equivalent shows the download-only experiences can gain notable followings and fan bases. It's also a common trend in recent years that nothing gets gamers onto a Nintendo system more than first-party games, so if Nintendo jumps in with new and exclusive content for the Wii U download platform, it should drive traffic to the service and, by extension, give greater exposure to the growing third-party library.
There's little doubt that Nintendo's resources are being heavily utilised at present, as the list of upcoming games on Wii U and 3DS testifies. Yet room should be found to sprinkle some big N magic dust over the download-only content on the Wii U eShop. The possibilities, from a fan's perspective, are mouth watering — more new and polished ideas to match the standards of 3DS equivalents such as Pullblox, or perhaps bite-sized re-imaginings of long neglected franchises like, say, Star Fox and F-Zero. Heck, we've had rumours of a 2D Metroid for long enough, how about a cross-platform release with 3DS of a smaller, lower cost download title, bringing hype to both systems and offering Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate-style save compatibility. In fact, the idea of games that can interact between both pieces of hardware is an area that could be tapped in a big way.
The eShop could be an opportunity for Nintendo to leverage a portion of its obvious development talent at a lower price, while providing a shot in the arm that will help the Wii U store develop as successfully as its portable namesake. Perhaps Nintendo is doing this, or is planning to, but now that the initial foray of the service is over, it's time for the company to show its hand and support what could be a vital part of the hardware's prospective success story.