Consoles are always big business when it comes to gaming events such as Eurogamer. When they’re being showcased, they’re the item that everyone wants to have a go on. You’re curious, excited, eager to see what the next generation looks to offer. And when that new console is being offered by Nintendo, that intrigue turns almost massive.
Nintendo has established itself as an innovator in the video gaming world, and really if you look back at their history they always have been. The Game Boy essentially launched hand held gaming, the N64 giving us console multiplayer, and the small mini-disc sized games of the Gamecube to the motion control of the Wii. There are many, many more examples to give, but with innovation comes risk. Look at the Virtual Boy, the early 3DS and it’s irritating and painful use of 3D. It’s hit and miss sometimes, and with the Wii U’s new tablet controller and more power, the risk was back.
I should start things off by saying that I used to be a huge Nintendo Brand Fan. I was part of the Nintendo Club. My first consoles were a Game Boy and SNES. I bought the N64, Gamecube, Wii all on release. Hell, I even bought the likes of the Super Game Boy. I geeked out when I saw a giant Mario & Luigi at Eurogamer. I loved Nintendo.
But then something happened. As I grew older, I tired of Nintendo’s schtick. Outside the franchise players of Mario, Link and the like, the games were meh. Nothing excited me about them, with the likes of the Xbox 360 appealing more. In fact, after buying the N64 and Gamecube, I ended up trading them in for a Playstation 1 & 2 respectively. And after really finding the 3DS a foul gaming experience, I gave up the ghost.
Therefore, maybe when I looked at the massive queues for the Wii U and finally took the plunge, I was already in a negative state of mind. But surely, Nintendo’s bright colours and positive outlook on games would win me over? Plus, the Wii U’s tablet was another fresh take. I wanted to see if it worked.
What I most wanted to see though when I started queuing was Zombi U, the designated Adult Launch Title for the Wii U. Nintendo have a habit of doing this, showing they’re not just the stereotypical family friendly console that they’ve been labelled. They have guts, and this zombie game will show it! Hardcore gamers love zombies after all!
So, bright and early, I joined the queue to play it. After a moment, a chirpy Nintendo rep came to me, notepad in hand, and asked me a question:
“So, what’s made you wait 2 and a half hours for Zombi U?”
2 and a half hours?!?!?! My answer was simple: “Nothing.”
So I abandoned Zombi U and instead decided to go for the general Wii U showcase. A much quicker queue later and I was in. Nintendo’s area was covered in bright blue walls, with rep’s in bright blue t-shirts to help you along. To an extent. To be honest it was a bit disorganised, and I didn’t know where to go until I wandered over to where Nintendoland was being showcased and got handed a controller.
Nintendoland is a party game. That’s all that you can really say about it in the end. One of those multiplayer ventures that Nintendo does well and that you see families smiling and laughing along with as they play. I played, with 4 others, a game in Luigi’s Mansion, where you had to hunt a ghost. 4 players had Wiimotes that would vibrate when the ghost came close, a good gimmick move, and the player as the ghost had the tablet. The trick was the ghost could see you all on the tablet, but you couldn’t see the ghost; just the vibrations as he got closer. The aim was to kill the ghost or get killed by him. It was fairly entertaining (after finding out that I was holding the controller upside down) but relied heavily on teamwork, which when playing with 3 strangers is less ideal and more open to hostility. After a brief 2 rounds, both ending in loss, we were all ushered away for the next lot to have a go. Overall, Nintendoland was an OK experience, but definitely family orientated and not for a lonely hermit such as myself.
Nevermind, there was Mario!
Super Mario Bros U was… well a Mario game. Once again 4 players ran and jumped and collected coins on a platform level while the tablet player (a recurring theme…) could place blocks to either help or hinder you! Image the craziness that caused!
This is when my negativity started to rise. Mario U looked like a Mario game, but there was nothing to suggest it was a next gen Mario game. I mean, I’m not looking for a gritty reboot that is visually similar to CoD, but… well for example, when I watch a cartoon on Blu-Ray, it looks High Definition. Mario U didn’t look HD. It looked like a Wii game.
And gameplay wise it was more of the same. You ran. You jumped. You jumped on enemies heads, you collected coins and you got costumes with powers. Yes there is an idea of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” but after a while you have to mix things up. It seemed all the risk that Nintendo plunged in the Wii U stopped there, and the games were developed from a template.
What’s more, the Wii U tablet, the main selling point of the console, seemed redundant in Mario U. The blocks that I and another gamer placed felt unnecessary. Players either ignored or ran into them, destroying as soon as they were placed. Like Nintendoland, the rep encouraged co-op, but the lone wolf contingent didn’t listen. We were playing our own game and these other guys were ruining it by jumping on our heads and placing blocks in our way.
After a level or two, I moved on once more and decided to look at tech side of the Wii U. In a sad, lonely corner which was manned by an equally miserable rep, one Wii U showcased the panoramic view that it offered. The demo had you in a tourist environment (I chose a London bus, being the patriot I am) which while the TV was focussed in front, you could move the tablet controller around to see all around you. It was actually impressive, and I decided to ask if this would be implemented in the games.
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask the PR guys.”
In the end, the panoramic view really was what it was: a tech demo. Will it be in games? Who knows, but one would assume so and if it is, then it is curious how it would be implemented. Because if it’s not then the only cool thing the tablet controller offers is effectively just a toy.
Funnily enough, the panoramic view demo highlighted something that I noticed with the games before. While the graphics on screen were functional but not stunning, the same visuals on the tablet screen seemed much sharper and actually, made the main image seem pixelated. For a supposed Next Gen Console, that’s horrifying. Essentially the tablet controller is the real thing, while the Wii U console is a Wii under another name.
In fact overall that’s the problem I had with the Wii U: apart from the tablet controller there was zero forward motion in tech. Or at least it seemed there wasn’t. Take away the tablet controller and you’re left with a slightly better Wii, with the Wiimotes even being used as main controllers. SNES style! In fact, further adding to the fact that the tablet is almost an unneeded addition to the machine, I spoke to some people who played Zombi U. Their verdict was that it was pretty cool, but the tablet only did things which you can do with other buttons on other consoles like zooming while aiming and manually opening item bags. Manually opening item bags? Why on Earth would you assume gamers want to do that!?
There were other games available such as Pikmin 3 (looked decent, but derivative of previous games in franchise) and Rayman (see Pikmin 3 parenthesis), but I was too jaded after my previous tries with the Wii U. After the wait I had I was left with a disappointed feeling. The Wii U wasn’t anything special, and considering the price hike it is launching with it seems like the tablet controllers are an albatross around Nintendo’s neck. It’s as if someone came up with the idea and the main heads were too nice to say no, and made a console out of it.
And in the end, the main problem I see is the same as what occurred with the Wii. People will buy it, and families will love it given the co-operative games and cute visuals. But core gamers won’t find anything to adore, with the lone Adult title Zombi U being a bit Marmite, and publishers will wonder what the Hell to do with it. The Wii suffered from this, with companies deciding to either ignore or sneer at motion controls, eventually clumsily implementing them and making games like Pro Evo and Dead Rising a bit, well, shit.
So far, the Wii U seems like folly (and as a side note, if you’re going to add “U” after every game, eventually you’ll have games called “Super Mario Bros U 2”, which makes it sound like Mario is teaming with Bono). Nothing stands out and the only real innovations seems unwieldy and out of place.
However, I want to end on a positive note.
As I waited in the queue, a rep handed me and another person a 3DS XL to play Luigi’s Mansion 2. Naturally, mine broke. After a bit of a wait I managed to get a go on the other one and… had fun. The problem with the 3D on the 3DS looks to be slightly resolved with the XL version, with a comfortable biting point easier to find and no longer being the equivalent of a dodgy shower. Also, the graphics on a small screen look nice and sharp. As for the game? Of the 3 minutes I played it was actually fun and involving. It felt like a game rather than an exercise in socialising, and bought back memories of the great original on the Gamecube.
So there we are then. Wii U was vaguely irritating but the 3DS XL actually works quite well! Now we just have to wait for the Wii U v2 to come out to really like the machine!