Let’s not sugar coat it – the Wii U is struggling at the moment. So far both hardware and software sales haven't met expectations and with new consoles from Sony and Microsoft just around the corner, Nintendo’s future as a console manufacture appears to be in jeopardy. The recent loss of Rayman Legends as a Wii U exclusive is a clear sign that third parties have no faith in the system but what can Nintendo do to change that perception? Let’s discuss…
The first few months of 2013 is jam-packed with notable videogame releases. Tomb Raider, God Of War Ascension, Gears Of War Judgement, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Rising, Dead Space 3 and Bioshock Infinite are all brilliant examples of how far our industry has come; yet none of these fine titles will be released on the Wii U. But is that really a bad thing? No, not necessarily. Are there really gamers out there who are clamouring to play Bioshock on the Wii U? Did anyone out there purchase the Wii U to experience the third entry in the Dead Space saga? That’s highly doubtful. What the Wii U needs are less ports and more original titles that take full advantage of the systems unique capabilities. Nintendo Land and ZombiU demonstrated the system’s potential at launch but those are just 2 games out of several dozen. Much like the Vita, the Wii U is currently stuck in a chicken/egg scenario. Gamers won’t fully support the system because there aren’t many games for it but developers won’t develop those games until software sales improve.
Nintendo are partly to blame for this. The company has done a poor job convincing us that the Gamepad is as innovative as the Wii Remote was back in 2006. Instead of giving us a remake of a Gamecube classic or yet another Mario Kart game, why not show us something that we haven’t seen before? Something that is only possible on the Wii U and could never be ported over to the PS3 or Xbox 360. Since a majority of Wii U owners already own other consoles, developers shouldn’t waste their time porting games to Wii U, especially when we all know that the Wii U version won’t sell even half as much as the others. Instead they should be using the Wii U as a platform to showcase their inner creativity as they conjure up new ways for us to play. Stop using the Gamepad screen as a map or display hub and instead use it as a tool that challenge gamers to think differently. Of course this is all easier said than done but the longer it takes for a major player like Activision or EA to take the first step, the harder it will be for other developers to take the ball and run with it.
One aspect of the Wii U that has yet to be fully realised is the system's potential for some incredible local multiplayer experiences. Not everyone wants to play multiplayer games in a strictly online environment, especially if they share a household with other gamers. Nintendo has the opportunity to position the Wii U as the go-to console for offline multiplayer but to do so they need to start transitioning away from the Wii Remote. As long as the Wii Remote is required for offline multiplayer games, the experience will always be gimped in order to accommodate for those less fortunate players. By making the Gamepad inexplicably expensive, Nintendo has made it unlikely that games will ever have support for more than one Gamepad. But what if the company released a new Gamepad that was specifically designed for players 2-4? This new gamepad could ditch “luxury” features such as motion controls and NFC capabilities as a cost saving measure and would allow for some truly innovative multiplayer fun. Imagine playing a local co-op game where each person has their own unique perspective or playing a FPS akin to Goldeneye 007 where your buddies can’t simply glance at your corner of the screen to discover your whereabouts? Nintendo could combine the freedom of online gaming with the excitement and thrill of a local multiplayer session but this isn’t possible with one gamepad and a few remotes.
Finally, I’ll like to touch on Nintendo’s digital distribution strategy. I don’t want to bash the Wii U’s eShop too much because it really is better than I expected it to be but Nintendo still has some ways to go if they wish to compete with PSN and XBLA. Yes it’s great that I can download The Cave, Trine 2 and a slew of retail releases from the comfort of my couch but the selection is pretty barren at the moment. Nintendo has already announced that Virtual Console games would be coming to the eShop but why will it take them 6 months to get here? Also why do I have to pay an additional fee to re-purchase VC games that I’ve already bought on the Wii? Nintendo’s implementation is just sloppy. Recently Nintendo announced that GBA games will be coming to the eShop but why stop there? There are so many great Gamecube and Wii titles that could be given a second life on the eShop. I probably won’t ever dig out my Gamecube to play Chibi-Robo but throw that sucker up on the eShop for 20 bucks and my money is yours! The same can be said for a host of other games such as the Metroid Prime trilogy, Zak & Wiki, Paper Mario 2 and Mario Galaxy.
At this point it’s clear that the Wii U won’t ever eclipse its older brother’s commercial success but that doesn’t automatically make the system a failure. Wii Fit, Mario Kart and Smash Bros will eventually get the system in to millions of homes but from there its up to Nintendo to ensure that the innovation well never runs dry. In a year or 2 when developers shift their focus to the next generation platforms, the Wii U will have a harder time than ever trying to remain relevant. Nintendo can’t rely on the same 5 franchises to save them forever unless they are willing to make some drastic changes to their tried and tested formula. As Nintendo are losing money on every console sold and must rely on software sales in order to sustain profitability, it really is “innovate or die” for the makers of Mario.