Here’s why a Wii U is a better option than PlayStation or Xbox (and it’s not just because of Mario Kart)
Since it’s somewhat confused unveiling at 2011’s E3, Nintendo’s Wii U has faced an uphill battle. Unlike its massively successful predecessor, sluggish sales and confusion amongst the mass market has plagued the Japanese company’s current-gen console. With continued losses and calls for CEO Satoru Iwata to radically change strategies, the question must be asked; is the Wii U a lost cause?
During its financial briefing on March 31st, Nintendo announced its third consecutive annual loss of $457 million – thanks mainly to the underperforming Wii U, which was revealed to have only shifted a meagre 6.18 million units since its launch in November of 2012. Compare this to the relatively enormous shipment of 43.33 million 3DS consoles, and it’s clear that Nintendo’s stereoscopic handheld has been the Big N’s saving grace in the face of such adversity. In regards to Wii U’s outlook for the next 12 months, Nintendo has put its faith in Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. to spur on sales.
Unlike Microsoft, which has chopped and changed the functionality of its Xbox One console based on consumer feedback (with the most recent announcement of a Kinect-less console bundle), Nintendo has doggedly stuck to the Wii U’s main selling point – the GamePad. Critics have slammed the peripheral, claiming that not only it adds nothing of value to the game experience, but Nintendo could do well to remove it entirely from the Wii U package. In addition, the relative lack of horsepower has been an issue of contention amongst some gamers, as has the absence of pivotal third-party games. This, combined with Nintendo’s seemingly shrinking market share, has certainly painted a bleak picture for the console. However, is it really all as bad as it seems?
First, let’s tackle the issue of the GamePad. In this writer’s opinion, Nintendo is right in sticking to its guns. If anything, Microsoft’s decision regarding the Xbox One portrays a company that completely lacks faith in its own ideas. Sure, there is something admirable to be said for appeasing disgruntled consumers, but there is a fine line between satisfying the people and desperately placating them. Instead of shrugging their shoulders and dumping the device, Nintendo instead needs to emphasise why the GamePad is so essential. Aside from off-TV play, and a few neat inclusions in games such as Zombi U and Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party, the second screen has so far failed to offer anything genuinely new in Nintendo’s own first-party efforts. However, Nintendo has said that it aims to right that wrong by showcasing software only possible with the GamePad at E3.
Next is the issue of power. Put simply, Nintendo’s choice of de-emphasising raw specs was one of the smartest things it has done. Abiding by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi’s mantra of ‘lateral thinking of withered technology’, the focus on innovation over power has ensured that Nintendo has enjoyed great success over the last three decades. During the advent of HD gaming, Sony and Microsoft’s obsession with making the PS3 and Xbox 360 super-powered pieces of plastic caused development costs to skyrocket, resulting in the closure of countless companies and billions of dollars in losses. The turmoil facing Sony has been well-documented, with the closure of internal studios, the firing of around 5,000 employees, the selling of its US and Tokyo headquarters, the cancellation of games, and the spinning-off of branches such as the Vaio PC line. Yet, despite the enormous success of the PS4, Sony still posted a $1.2 billion loss, with a projected $500 million loss for next year. Even Microsoft has been feeling the sting of the Xbox brand, costing the Redmond firm approximately $2 billion per year. In contrast, by shrewdly resisting the arms-race, Nintendo has remained in good shape, with the construction of new buildings and the hiring of new workers a regular occurrence. Besides, Nintendo has proven that the Wii U has the capability to achieve beautiful graphics, as evidenced by Mario Kart 8 (which runs at 1080p and 60 fps), Super Smash Bros, Bayonetta 2 and Monolith Soft’s ‘X’.
Regarding the issue of third-party support, well, what else is new? Sounds like a cop-out response, I know, but truthfully, Nintendo is a more open company than it ever has been. Third-party support is present on the Wii U but it comes from a new source – the Indies. In fact, there are about 240 new games coming to Nintendo’s console that are being crafted by the independent scene. Affordable Space Adventures, Mighty No. 9, Soul Saga, Pier Solar HD, Armikrog, Nero… There are so many of these new and unique games coming to the Wii U, that dismissing them simply because they don’t have multi-million dollar budgets would be doing them a massive disservice. In regards to the ‘triple-A’ industry, the truth of the matter is that the third-party culture is currently a very volatile one. Much like in the last generation, these developers and publishers are losing millions; resulting in staff cuts and studio closures. In a desperate bid to retain profitability, unsavoury business practices have become more prominent – such as micro-transactions, DRM, disc-locked content, and pre-planned DLC. Go ahead and take a look at your recent collection of games – chances are that at least a few of them have adopted these features. Both Sony and Microsoft have created consoles that are welcoming of such penny-pinching practices, but Nintendo has been more reluctant to accept these methods. Rightly or wrongly, Iwata feels that such means are unwise for the long-term health of the industry. Though Nintendo itself has experimented with DLC and free-to-play software, its efforts have been seen as quite generous and non-exploitative.
On a final note, the overall shape of Nintendo’s market share is still excellent. Though the advent of smartphone gaming has had a major impact on the industry, it’s been proven time and time again that the company has the capability to adapt. In addition, it has been revealed that the eShop is a haven for smaller developers, compared to the over-crowded iOS and Google Play marketplaces. Titles such as Gunman Clive and Mutant Mudds have actually sold the most on Nintendo’s network, whilst 3DS games such as Pokemon X and Y, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 have all sold a massive total of 47 million units. Remember, once upon a time, the 3DS was supposedly down for the count, too.
There is one thing that should never be underestimated; a desperate Nintendo. The Wii U will endure and survive whilst providing many outstanding gameplay experiences in the years to come. Right now, the console is better value than ever – especially with the free game that comes with Mario Kart 8. There are many great titles now available, whilst being a much cheaper alternative to the competition. Even its online features are free of charge.
With future titles such as Zelda U, Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, Dragon Quest X, Hyrule Warriors, Project CARS, Sonic Boom, Yarn Yoshi and Watch_Dogs (as well as all that indie goodness), do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in the Wii U. You won’t regret it.