Soapbox: When It Comes To Software Support, The Grass Isn't Always Greener

Damien McFerran feels that all the Wii U needs is more Nintendo titles

During the Wii U’s relatively short time on the market one of the hottest topics has been the lack of third-party support. After the initial promises made by many publishers the console has largely been left out to dry, with many notable multiplatform titles bypassing the system entirely, despite their suitability for conversion. Forums and sites (like the one you’re reading now) are packed with posts focusing on this rather touchy subject, with many bemoaning the lack of software and the “vicious circle” which remains in place — developers don’t support the Wii U because of its low install base, and potential owners don’t buy the system because it has few games available.

Given my position as the editorial director of a popular Nintendo site, I’ve naturally had to give this subject a lot of thought. This year’s E3 was something of a mixed bag; Nintendo’s decision to not hold a traditional press conference allowed it to avoid the willy-waving exercises undertaken by Sony and Microsoft, but there were some initial feelings of disappointment at the company’s line-up for the next year or so. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze felt like the product of a company playing it safe, and at first glance Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World didn’t seem anywhere near inventive enough. Having had a chance to go hands-on with these games since E3, my fears — and those of many other Nintendo Life staffers — have been allayed somewhat; it’s easy to forget that innovation for the sake of innovation doesn’t always secure success, and that good, old-fashioned gameplay counts for a great deal.

Another thing that has settled in since E3 finished is that the third-party debate is, in my opinion, wildly exaggerated. Sony and Microsoft seem to have no trouble in securing the interest of publishers, but I’ve been casting an eye over videos and coverage for upcoming PS4 and Xbox One games and aside from the obvious increase in graphical fidelity, I honestly struggle to see any other real benefit — at least at this point. Both consoles are likely to be populated with the same glut of “dudebro” first-person shooters, shiny racing games and almost indistinguishable sports titles — with the added irony that many of these games will be available on both systems. It recently struck me while I was flicking through a video game magazine which focused on the Xbox One’s line-up that almost 80% of the games mentioned were not exclusive to the console. When you've got two consoles fighting for market share which also happen to share many of the same key titles, first-party software becomes even more important — and I personally feel that Nintendo has the strongest selection of home-grown games right now.

Given how much we Nintendo fans like to decry the lack of third-party support for the Wii U, my attention has obviously been drawn towards the kind of games being promised for the PS4 and Xbox One. It’s hard not to feel a little underwhelmed at what’s in store. There are few games on either the PS4 or Xbox One that make me want to rush to my nearest retailer and slam down a pre-order. Aside from a few glimmers of hope — EA’s Titanfall and The Order: 1886 both spring to mind — it’s a case of normal service resumed, just with better visuals. In fact, it speaks volumes that my favourite non-Nintendo game of E3 isn’t on next-gen hardware, but current-gen. As a massive fan of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, I honestly cannot wait until Dark Souls II arrives next year.

On Microsoft’s forthcoming console, we have games like Dead Rising 3 — a title which seems to be totally devoid of ideas, with Capcom dumbing-down the innovative time-based challenge of the 360 original. Killer Instinct’s controversial free-to-play model has already removed what little interest I had in the title following the confirmation that it would be Double Helix (Front Mission Evolved and, er, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters) and not Rare handling development duties. Kinect-based on-rails shooter Crimson Dragon was an exciting prospect when it was first announced for Xbox 360 back in 2011, but the recent shift to Xbox One has removed my anticipation for the Panzer Dragoon spiritual sequel — I wanted to play this months ago, and now it has been delayed again. And as for Minecraft: Xbox One Edition? Does that game really need more powerful hardware to render its intentionally retro visuals?

The PS4 is suffering from an equally sparse line-up of titles, at least in my personal opinion. They look amazing, but Infamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall strike me as sequels no one really asked for rather than system-sellers, and while Knack possesses charm which is normally found on Nintendo platforms, it’s hardly the kind of game which will make Wii U owners insane with jealousy — yet it’s apparently the best that Sony’s internal studios can come up with.

Casting a glance towards the current-gen PS3 and 360 only serves to reinforce my perception that despite the lack of third-party support, Nintendo fans aren’t missing a great deal. Granted, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Mirror’s Edge 2 and Killer is Dead are all games I’d love to see come to Wii U, but there’s a lot of filler out there as well. Is anyone genuinely anticipating the arrival of Lost Planet 3, a game which has been subject to two delays so far and still looks totally uninspiring? And what about Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (also by Lost Planet 3 developer Spark Unlimited, as it happens), a largely charmless zombie-filled side-story to Tecmo’s most famous creation? If there's one theme you can see running through a lot of third-party titles these days, it's an almost complete lack of spark.

Contrast this with Nintendo’s own Wii U titles, and if you’re the kind of gamer who still has fond memories of the SNES, N64 and GameCube then you should arrive at the same conclusion as myself: you’ve picked the right console. From where I’m standing, the impending arrival of Pikmin 3 marks the beginning of what could be the Wii U’s golden era, very much like the 3DS’ purple patch started with the likes of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

Pikmin 3 is a captivating experience packed with lush visuals and engaging gameplay, and is the kind of title that I suspect would barely get past the pre-planning stage if it were being produced by a third-party publisher for another format. The Wonderful 101 occupies a similar position; it’s hard to imagine that Platinum Games could have convinced either Sony or Microsoft to fund such an esoteric title in a market which is populated by generic sequels which play it far too safe. Its stablemate Bayonetta 2 would have been just as comfortable on the PS4 and Xbox One — perhaps even more so — than on the Wii U, but as Platinum itself has stated, it was Nintendo’s involvement and support which made the sequel a possibility.

Although many critics will see Mario Kart 8 as too conservative, there’s arguably more invention shown here than there is in the legion of me-too racers on other formats, which often give priority to photorealistic visuals over fun, enjoyable gameplay. I guess that’s the Nintendo difference; we’re so used to the company pushing the envelope in terms of gameplay that when it sticks to a tried-and-tested formula, it’s hard not to feel a slight twinge of disappointment — however, it’s also easy to forget that 99 percent of other developers are even lazier when it comes to breaking the mould. In fact, a cursory glance to the line-ups of Nintendo’s rivals would indicate that they’re scared stiff of taking any kind of chance whatsoever.

It’s also important to remember that the Wii U has a powerful weapon in its arsenal which both the PS4 and Xbox One lack: the promise of dual-screen gameplay. I think it’s fair to say that outside of Nintendo Land and Game & Wario, this unique facet of the console has been criminally underused. Developers seem content to simply use the GamePad’s display as a map or inventory selector, but there’s the potential there for so much more — and I’m sure we’ll see that in the next 12 months. For example, Rayman Legends — the one-time Wii U exclusive — makes superb use of the controller, and will ensure that the Nintendo version of the game is the best on the market. When PS4 and Xbox One owners realise that their new systems don’t offer anything genuinely different from their predecessors, the Wii U could suddenly become incredibly desirable purely because it offers a new way to play — just as the original Wii did a few years back. Let's also remember that the system is gathering an impressive amount of indie support, and indie developers could well be the ones to tip the balance in a future console war.

Despite the poor sales and lack of software, I have little doubt that the Wii U will give me the games I personally want to play both now and in years to come. Sure, a little more software wouldn't hurt and I'm certainly not suggesting that the Wii U doesn't require third-party support of some kind, but I’m more keen to play the all-new Wii U Zelda than the vast majority of titles slated for release on Sony and Microsoft's consoles. And that’s why I don’t regret owning a Wii U one bit, despite what the soothsayers and industry experts suggest.

Do you share Damien's perspective? Are Nintendo's titles more important to potential buyers than the promise of third party support, or do you think that the system needs publishers if it is to succeed against the PS4 and Xbox One? Cast your vote below and don't forget to post a comment.

Do you feel like you've made the right choice in buying the Wii U? (346 votes)

Yes, Nintendo make the best games in the world and I don't really care about third-party stuff

28%

Yes, but I'd like to see more third-party titles on the Wii U as well

59%

No, I expected to see stronger third-party support on Wii U

4%

No, Nintendo's titles and third-party support have both been disappointing so far

9%

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