After a couple of months on the market, the Wii U’s holiday honeymoon is starting to settle down. That means it’s about time put the Wii U under a preliminary microscope and make an educated guess about the future. And right now, the skies look bright for Nintendo, while we still wait for the clouds to part with regards to Sony and Microsoft's next consoles. But the two "power" companies would be foolish to brush off Nintendo as inconsequential competition and simply embark on another clash for raw power supremacy.
More so than the other console giants, opinions of Nintendo are as divisive as American politics. You have a large pro side, with old and new gamers who relish the thought of the next Mario game, while an equally large opposing group would love to see the portly plumber have a coronary. Then you have the center—a small percentage of unbiased gamers who judge the quality of the product rather than side with the popular opinion.
Nintendo's goal with the Wii U is to convert as many naysayers (or at least those on the fence) into believers as possible, paving a smooth road for the future. It's a tall task to say the least—a marathon rather than a sprint—but Nintendo has done its homework and is taking the right steps towards success.
The most obvious change in focus is embracing M-rated titles, a strong statement made by Nintendo right from the system's launch, with games like Assassin's Creed III, Ninja Gaiden III: Razor's Edge, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Considering the decent sales of these titles over the holiday season, as well as frequent praise of the exclusive features of the Wii U versions, Nintendo may eventually gain the upper hand.
This is the first point of concern for Sony and Microsoft. With growing third-party support for the Wii U, for the next little while it may be a three-way battle for those multiplatform titles. Gone are the days where a watered down Wii title was subjugated by a beefier PS3 and Xbox 360 version. Any distinction in graphical quality and framerate is negligible. Nobody is calling the GamePad utilization for any of these third-party titles gimmicks, instead adding ease and freshness to the gameplay. Right now, the Wii U has to grow their install base, but if it becomes a retail success, it could be the system of choice when deciding for which of your consoles to purchase, say, Modern Warfare 4.
Nintendo has also given third-party developers an extra incentive to develop for the Wii U. The dev kit is very easy to work with, and Nintendo is keeping publishing fees and other barriers at a minimum. This should translate into an influx of indie games (hopefully some of them worthwhile, unlike most of the WiiWare garbage), as well as making it an easy call for major developers like Ubisoft to keep pushing out marquis titles. Think of how awesome Watch Dogs would be on the Wii U, considering a lot of the gameplay focuses on smart phone apps, which the GamePad seems tailor-made for.
Then we come to the likelihood of official announcements of Sony and Microsoft's next generation consoles later this year. While some of you are salivating over the next generation of game systems, bear in mind it's not going to be all wine and roses right out of the gate. Unlike when the current generation consoles launched, back when developers were begging for better hardware, the next level of quality comes at premium price, one that only Square Enix and handful of others can afford. Sure, we may see a pristine looking Final Fantasy on the PS4 or Xbox 720 (or whatever they will be called), but don't expect every game released to sport the same luster. It may take years for developers to have the resources to produce these graphical behemoths. I have a feeling Sony and Microsoft are both aware of this, which is why they haven't shown their hand quite yet.
Nintendo, on the other hand, inserted a PS3-and-Xbox-360-comparable processor, because they know it will still be a developer staple for a while to come. They have delivered a versatile input controller with the GamePad that fits in with the tablet-centric social age we now live, while building off the success of similar hardware of the past (ie. the Nintendo DS family). They've created a simple yet addictive social network with the Miiverse, given us access to all our streaming videos through Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube, and released the chains on multiplayer gaming. The asymmetric gameplay has plenty of potential and room for creativity, and could very well be the new standard depending on how much the GamePad and multi-screen gameplay is embraced by developers and gamers down the road.
Every diehard fan will agree that we are approaching a crossroads in the gaming universe, and 2013 needs to be the year for innovation from every developer, publisher, and console-maker, lest we provoke another "video game crash" (though different from the '83 crash caused by an oversaturated console market).
Yes, I want to see Sony and Microsoft's next console, but I pray it's more than simply a core upgrade. Nintendo has found a lucrative avenue with the Wii U; Sony and Microsoft need to do the same. Just don't play copycats again.
Date: January 10, 2013