There has been a lot of, let's say, less-than-favorable reporting on Nintendo's position in the console market as of late. Likewise, quite a few rumors have popped up lately about Nintendo working on a new console. As an aside, I'd like to say: of course they're working on a new console. They always start working on a new console almost immediately after the newest one releases; Microsoft and Sony do the same. That said, not much has been said in the Wii U's favor. Perhaps it's a lost cause, but I feel compelled to speak out a bit for Nintendo's benefit, and to remind people not to count them out of a race.
Now, I'll admit to a bit of Nintendo fanboyishness. I've been playing their systems since I was 3 years old and they hold a fond spot in my heart. I've bought every system they've released on launch day since the Gamecube and always felt that I got my money's worth out of them. With that confession, I'd like to say that I'll try to be as objective as possible with my argument.
I've owned the Wii U since the day it came out and since then I've been extremely excited for the promise the system presented. I'll admit, much like the motion control of the Wii, when I first heard about the Wii U's screen-laden controller I was a bit skeptical about it's actual usefulness. It seemed like Nintendo was trying to address a problem that didn't exist. I felt that way until I actually bought one, and I have to say that the potential of the system is amazing. Even the most basic function of the gamepad, the ability to not have to use the TV for games, has proven to be much more useful than I initially expected. It's odd now seldom you recall the problem of someone else using the television while you're wanting to play games until you have the ability to circumvent it. However, the real promise of the system lies in it's ability to create new gameplay experiences that are just not feasible on other systems.
Take, for example, one of the console's flagship titles, Nintendoland. This game, much like Wii Sports before it, was designed to showcase the abilities of the new system. While it's a bit of a simple game, and doesn't necessarily have the greatest replayability value ever, it nevertheless opens up one's mind to the possibilities of the system. The existence of the second screen creates new opportunities for both cooperative and competitive multi-player games. From hunting down your friends in "Luigi's Haunted Mansion" to searching for the Triforce together in "Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest", the game offers unique new gaming experiences to players.
Rayman Legends is another game that takes advantage of this unique new feature. By allowing for a player to take control of Murphy, the game not only allows for a fifth friend to participate in gaming sessions, but makes for interesting new ways to interact with and take control of the game in order to assist your friends. And these things are only possible on the Wii U version of the game.
There are many other games on the system that I could spout off that make innovative use of the gamepad, both simple and complex, but would simply take up a great deal of space. The point is that games like this offer not only new experiences for us, but also show us the promise of what could come in the future. And after all, isn't that why we buy consoles in the beginning anyway, for the promise of what's to come? I mean, if you've bought a PS4 or an Xbox One already it sure wasn't for the copious number of great games that are available right now. It was for the promise of what will be available in the future. You buy it for the next Halo, or the next Uncharted, knowing that the joy you'll get over the console's life will make up for what you pay for it up front. The problem facing Nintendo right now is that the promise of the Wii U is not as evident to people who don't have one as the PS4's or Xbox One's.
The promise of the PS4 and Xbox One lie in something very tangible: visuals. Without ever actually playing a game on either system, you can visually see a difference between the previous generation of games and the new one, and this is the consoles' main selling point. Sure, PS4 has it's social media integration and Xbox has it's integration with TV and all that jazz, but nobody is buying those systems for those things. There are already ways to stream to and interact with social media, and nobody needs an Xbox One to watch TV (clearly they already have TV if they're considering this possibility). No, the selling point of these consoles is the increased hardware power. The problem for Nintendo is that the benefit of the Wii U is not something quite so tangible. It's something you have to experience. Sure, you can see pictures of it or have someone explain to you the benefits of these new experiences, but until you actually play one it's hard to realize the benefits for yourself. And that's because Nintendo is a company less about innovating technology and more about innovating experience. Allow me to elaborate.
Right from the beginning, nearly all of Nintendo's consoles have been about giving us new ways to play games. From their reinventing of the controller on the NES and SNES, to the way they basically invented several genres during the N64 era in order to explore how games could work in 3D, to their emphasis on motion control with the Wii (admittedly, the Gamecube's only real gameplay innovation was in crafting a less god-awful controller), Nintendo has always, for better or worse, attempted to change the way we experience games. And they're at it once again with the Wii U. By comparison, the PS4 and Xbox One are more exercises in refining the way we already play games. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but simply increasing the power of the machines doesn't necessarily give us new gameplay experiences. Consider, for example, games like Knack or Dead Rising 3. These game claim to use the power of the new systems to bring new experiences, but they really aren't. Knack has some impressive particle effects, but they don't really effect the gameplay in any substantial way. Dead Rising 3 sure has more zombies on the screen at once, but it's not as though you could really deal with all the zombies that were already there in the first two, so the addition of even greater numbers is really more an aesthetic change than anything else. Again, that's not to say that these are bad games in any way, but rather that they don't change the way games are played in any substantive way. Something like Zombi U, on the other hand, makes fundamental changes to the way one plays a survival-horror game, even if it doesn't have the prettiest visuals.
So what this whole thing ultimately comes down to is the question of whether you think we should focus on coming up with new exciting ways to interact with games, or if you think that we've got that down now and we should focus on refining what we already have. The thing that makes me so sad is that so many people feel like you have to pick one side. As someone who has spent hours modding and tweaking Skyrim on my PC, I recognize the excitement and value of great visuals. But I don't think we need to forsake new experiences to accommodate that. People are so quick to dismiss the Wii U as a failure because it doesn't have the best graphics or it's sales are low (An argument which is fundamentally flawed, by the way. Sales do not necessarily correlate to the quality of a product. By that logic, Avatar is a better movie than Star Wars and The Lion King combined). People say that Nintendo should pull a Sega and drop out of console making altogether. But I can think of no greater potential loss to the gaming community, because if Nintendo goes away, and Sony and Microsoft keep on the path they're going, there will be nobody left to offer us new ways to play our games.
I guess what I'm trying to say in all of this, then, is that I hope Nintendo can finally get the support they need to make the Wii U a success. It's something that's not out of the realm of possibility; I mean, look at the 3DS. It started off terribly and now it's the best selling system on the market. However, the only way they can get that support is to get people to recognize the value of their system. I realize the Wii U is not the system for everybody, but to be a bit cliched, I'd say don't knock it 'til you try it. I'd encourage everyone to find someone with a Wii U and at least try it a few times. Hell, you might even want to take the plunge and just buy one. If you can find a used one at GameStop you can always return it. I'll attest that every person I've talked to who's actually played one for any extended period of time has loved it. And if you still hate it, at least you'll have a better reason for doing so aside from the superficial "it's not as pretty as I'd like."