I’m not all that enamoured with the Wii U. Bring it on, fanboys. Action stations! Brace for impact!
OK, so none of said fanboys are actually reading this (even if this blog gets 1,000 subscribers, I’ll still keep this no-one-reads-this-blog shtick up), but such is the nature of the internet that I wouldn’t be surprised if a group of hardcore Wii-ites are currently sat around a conference table in a nuclear bunker, staring at a cinema-sized screen of this very page and plotting their assault upon my little website. One can but dream.
Quickly, let’s get the aesthetic stuff out of the way. The controller looks oddly low-tech, what with its bulk and slightly squat shape, and at present it just looks a little tacky. The receptions for the original PSP and the IPad, the products that this controller most closely resembles, were ecstatic in its praise of the look and feel of the hardware, but the Wii U doesn’t replicate this. It has that fun, less serious Nintendo appeal, but it could do with a bit of a makeover. On this view at least, feel free to disagree and savage my opinion in the comments.
Technically, the Wii U is certainly interesting, but at present that’s all it is. Perhaps its cleverest feature is the fact that games can be played on the TV or the controller screen, meaning that players can continue their session if someone wants to flick channels. Pretty neat – but compare that to the innovation brought in by the original Wii and it looks paltry. Each of the features demonstrated in the promo video at Nintendo’s conference are nifty enough, but are so specialised that they will hardly bring about a new style of play. It’s excellent that Nintendo have beefed up the graphics capability of the console and will thus attract more third-party support, but that’s hardly revolutionary: it’s just catching up with the competition.
What Nintendo seem to be aiming for with the device is not a revolution in gameplay; its not going to provide any more or less immersion than that offered by the 360, PS3 or the good old PC. What it is instead aiming for is a social change in the perception of gaming. By making the controller imitate a console in its own right, perhaps they’re trying to make gaming feel like a more personally appealing idea to non-core users, by creating a device that shies away from being seen as just another piece of kit under the telly and is instead trying to become more personal.
Honestly, I’m fishing in the dark here. I’ve got no idea how the Wii U will turn out (and neither, let’s be clear, do Nintendo), but I’ll venture a quick theory about consoles. Development in the industry will not come from hardware. Console makers, graphics card manufacturers, electronics experts creating better processor chips – they’re all about expanding the scope of what is available to the developers, giving them the technical wherewithal to bring their ideas to life and dictating the absolute boundaries of what is possible. The Wii didn’t do this: it limited development options, albeit into an intriguing channel, but it was a limitation nonetheless. The Wii U appears to be much the same, a device that might spark some new ideas in gameplay, but will not revolutionise gaming in the long run.