It’s been a mixed few weeks for the Wii U really. First there was the news that Rayman Legends had not only been delayed but had also lost its platform exclusivity, a move that left many Wii U owners noticeably angry. On the other hand, yesterday saw EA stating that the Wii U version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted would be visually superior to what’s already out on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
In some respects, this second piece of news is encouraging for the Wii U. The fact that third parties are actually putting some effort into software on the platform is certainly a good thing. Of course, there is also the fact that when the game actually arrives on the Wii U it will be four months old and likely to flop badly among those with multiple consoles, but the general idea is vaguely hopeful.
In a comment on that news story, Peter called the Wii U a ”stop-gap, power-wise” and that has me wondering if that’s all the Wii U can ever be? I mean it’s very unlikely that what the Wii U has under the hood will top what the next consoles from Sony and Microsoft will feature, and in terms of pure power it probably will just be a stop-gap. Hopefully it will be close enough to those potential powerhouses for engines like Unreal to allow easy ports, although the fact that Need For Speed on the Wii U is based on the PC version of the game suggests that ports from that direction may be a more common possibility.
Of course, we all know that Nintendo don’t really play the power game, and it’s hardly surprising that their latest console probably won’t top what’s coming from their competitors in that regard. The bigger question with their approach is whether or not the machine is innovative enough to survive against more powerful opposition, and I think they may have a harder time of it.
That’s not to say that the Wii U isn’t innovative, it certainly is. While many complained that Nintendo Land didn’t have the same accessibility as Wii Sports, and to be honest it probably doesn’t, it certainly does its job in terms of showing off gameplay possibilities for the GamePad. The idea of asynchronous gameplay can seem a bit daft until the moment you actually sit down and play a game that’s built with it in mind, then it rapidly becomes a lot of fun.
The problem is that while Nintendo probably have the best solution for introducing a second screen into the equation, unless Sony or Microsoft take the unlikely route of building one into their next console that is, their competitors already have answers for the technology in the form of SmartGlass and the Vita. Neither of these is ideal, and the Vita is certainly lacking with regards to simple screen size, but I think they may well be good enough to appeal to developers keen to explore them and counter any advantage Nintendo is trying to seize in the area.
There is, of course, the possibility that things may go the other way, that a less ingrained version of the GamePad’s gameplay systems on next gen Sony or Microsoft consoles may drive people towards the Wii U by offering them a taste, but I don’t think it’s all that likely. Even if any such effect did take place, it wouldn’t really have much impact for a few years, with people unlikely to pick up a Wii U too quickly after buying a PlayStation 4 or the next Xbox.
Ultimately, if Nintendo can give third parties a reason to bring their games to the platform with some innovation, like EA have with Need For Speed, then the Wii U can be more than a simple stop-gap, providing different experiences. I mean look at Aliens: Colonial Marines on the Wii U, that’s set to feature a motion tracker on the GamePad. Doesn’t that sound great? And I mean the game isn’t cancelled at all, just delayed a little while. In fact it’s not even a delay since they never announced a date. Really, it’s totally not a cancellation and I’m sure Sega will follow through on their promise.
With delays to titles like Colonial Marines and Rayman Legends starting to taint the console, and with games like Need For Speed coming out so long after their companions on other platforms, Nintendo really have got a huge mountain to climb, even if they can convince developers to provide interesting, unique experiences.
But don’t worry, I’m sure Luigi will save the day.