Why the best thing about Wii U is not the thing you've been getting excited about for the last year

“Ooh, Nintendo is making a new machine! It runs in HD and it has proper, hardcore games, and a really pretty Zelda tech demo! Yay, Nintendo is coming back to us! How powerful is it? Is it better than a PS3? Will it make Mario Kart look as shiny as Forza? Will we be able to veritably taste the icing on Peach’s photorealistic innuendo-cake?”

Those are the kind of things we’ve been asking for the last year. But we’ve been getting excited about the wrong thing. Because having gone hands-on with a lot of Wii U games recently, I can tell you that there’s something much, much better about it. And it comes by way of something you’ve probably already discounted as crap.

Above: Sorry Batman. For once Animal Crossing is just cooler than you

It became increasingly apparent as I worked my way through the not-insignificant playable quota of Nintendo’s E3 line-up the other day. The big, shiny, obvious AAA stuff just was not where the real excitement was coming from. ZombieU? Fun, but I’m not convinced that any of the survival skill stuff attached to the GamePad screen is anything I haven’t done before in conventionally presented first-person adventures.

Arkham City? Currently looks a bit ropey, and the tacked-on touch-screen interface bits actually add clumsy and unnecessary extra inputs to what was once a beautifully fluid and empowering game. Platinum’s Project P-100? Loved it rather a lot, but it did come across a little like a simplified XBLA mash-up of Bayonetta, Pikmin and Viewtiful Joe. And again, the GamePad did little I couldn’t have done if it were an actual XBLA game, bar one clever but clumsily presented dual-perspective puzzle.

“Hmmm”, I thought. “Hmmmmm indeed”. Verily my brain did buzz with the maudlin hmmmmming of a thousand alcoholic bees, as the realisation hit that not only did the best seem over, but the best did not in fact, seem to have actually been all that good in the first place, thank you very much. 

Above: Killing zombies in the head is always fun. Always has been. But that's the problem. Nothing new here 

But then suddenly my day, in fact my entire opinion of the Wii U, was turned around by a most unlikely of trios. Namely a twee-looking minigame based on a franchise I have less time for than herpes, another minigame that I had previously written off as “essentially Pac-Man”, and a long-maligned French also-ran mascot who for over a decade could most charitably be described using the phrase “at least he’s not Bubsy”.

Because the real, brilliant, exciting, absolute tip-top best bit, and the thing that now has me really excited about the Wii U, is not its potential for proper, PS3 and 360 equaling epics (although being a long-standing, long-suffering Nintendo fan who can remember when Ninty machines were traditionally beasts in the horse-power department, they’re very welcome). No, you see the thing is – and this is actually something else that appeals to my long-standing Nintendo fan status -  the Wii U gave me more clever, fresh, invigorating local multiplayer fun in one afternoon than the other HD machines of this generation have given me in five years.

Above: Oh Bomberman. At least you've never left me. But seriously, what happened to offline multiplayer this generation? 

Remember when multiplayer happened in your house rather than on a server? Remember when developing a formidable set of racing skills was as much about knowing when to punch your mate in the arm as it was perfecting your apexes? Remember when your communication with other players wasn’t through a headset as you talked about the game, but was an unspoken communication that you made through the game itself? The Wii U does. And at its best its games provide that stuff in swathes.

That trio of games I mentioned above? Nintendo Land’s Animal Crossing and Luigi’s Mansion-themed offerings, and Rayman Legends. And don't think it's just the novelty that these games even actually offer local multiplayer that excites me. No, it’s that they offer what feels like the next-generation of what friend-based couch play would have evolved into had this generation of consoles not squandered the medium almost entirely. This stuff might look simple, but it’s amazing how satisfying its hidden depths turn out to be when you really pay attention.


Nintendo Wii U


  • Fruitbat - June 21, 2012 12:26 p.m.

    Off the top of my head, I have at least 10 multiplayer-centric games on my PS3, including classics like Worms and Bomberman, but also new franchises like Battle Tanks and Castle Crashers. The local multiplayer hasn't gone away, but it's mostly to be found in the download market rather than part of a bigger title, which has its good and bad points. Still, I see a lot of potential in the Wii U for multiplayer, and it's nice to see it being exploited already. Definitely a point in its favour for me.
  • Rub3z - June 17, 2012 9:16 p.m.

    You know what I haven't done in a long time? Sat down next to someone on the couch and challenged them to some pedal-to-the-metal racing mayhem. Autolog in the newer racing games is all well and good, but it , as well as racing against others over an online connection, cannot possibly compare to racing against someone who's every bit as confident at said racing game as you are, right next to you. Couch racing, imo, can provide for local multiplayer at its most pure. There's not even any reason for someone to complain about "screen-looking" that's so prevalent in, say, FPS games. But you know when your opponent starts starts sniggering to himself, or you hear the roar of his engine or the scream of his speedboost go off, when he howls in laughter at bumping you to the outside of a corner, or groans and curses when you do the same... there's really nothing quite like it. :)
  • jackthemenace - June 15, 2012 3:42 p.m.

    Totally agree about the lack of local multiplayer this generation- one of the reasons I love Borderlands so much is because of being able to play it splitscreen with my friends. There's been such a major focus on online multiplayer that local multiplayer's kind-of taken a backseat, and been neglected altogether in a lot of games, but it really doesn't deserve that- it's something developers should value very highly.
  • Alex_Syros - June 15, 2012 3:32 p.m.

    Your articles, Mr. Houghton, are pure gold! Both content and delivery. Bravo!
  • IceBlueKirby - June 15, 2012 11:50 a.m.

    As someone who has spent more hours playing Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Kart Wii, and other games with people in the same room than playing anything online, the focus on local multiplayer would certainly be welcome. I just hope that, like others have said, it doesn't dampen the single player experience, since I'm not likely to have anyone to play the games with most of the time.
  • mikes1025 - June 16, 2012 4:14 p.m.

    it won't dampen it. it can't. it has everything that the other consoles have as well.
  • bobob101 - June 15, 2012 11:11 a.m.

    I understand the fundamental point he is trying to make, and it seems like a good one. But I have always preferred to game solo, and that is when I find gaming most enjoyable. To try to sell me on a system of gaming that is the most fun with at least one other person really turns me off, and I think that I may not be getting a Wii U for this reason.
  • ZhugeLiang - June 15, 2012 10:02 a.m.

  • shawksta - June 15, 2012 7:32 a.m.

    Coming from you Dave, I couldnt agree more. NintendoLand in general is easily thrown off when people dont realize its true meat. And whose to say there wont be awesome core single player games, P-100 and Pikmin 3(I still cant believe how every singtle pikmin is SHINY) look awesome and Multiayer games too. Nintendo really means it when they wanted to bring players closer.
  • ncurry2 - June 15, 2012 7:24 a.m.

    Another great article Mr. Houghton. I agree, I love local multiplayer.
  • Mooshon - June 15, 2012 5:29 a.m.

    Makes me a little bit sad really. My fondest gaming memories are local multiplayer Goldeneye, Bomberman, ISSoccer/Pro Evo with the lads. Facts are though that being in your 30's and married kind of locks you out of such jollies. Hard enough to get everyone together for a drink up let alone a LAN party - and my missus, bless her, is frankly crippled at gaming. If the single player experience is standard (at best) I'll probably be skipping this one.
  • Cyberninja - June 15, 2012 5:27 a.m.

    I know what means I never play online mutiplayer, but when I gathered up a few friends and played rayman orgins it was a blast.
  • theycallmegep - June 15, 2012 4:14 a.m.

    great article
  • SiPod - June 15, 2012 4:07 a.m.

    Ah this is reassuring. I'd be starting to get quietly confident about the console, were it not for Nintendo's unrealistic demand that unsavoury characters such as my self make some friends. And as for having them congregate in the same room, well.
  • mikes1025 - June 16, 2012 4:19 p.m.

    what about family? im sure not everyone is thrown off by you.
  • patrick-donaldson - June 15, 2012 2:52 a.m.

    Couldnt agree more, the best thing about the Gamecube was lugging it round a mates house for 4 player Bomberman, I cant wait to re live those days with shiny graphics.
  • tehtimeisnow - June 15, 2012 2:43 a.m.

    wii u is the biggest fale i ever seen it will fale so hard espacially since the new iphone will b out soon seriuosely when the neew iphone goes out there wont even b a wiiu
  • ShadowTails - June 15, 2012 3:06 a.m.

    'The biggest fale' Hahahahahahahaha. Really?
  • AuthorityFigure - June 15, 2012 4:43 a.m.

    "When the new iphone comes out there won't even be a Wii U" ? I don't even think YOU understood this when you tried to beat it out of your small, soft, wet brain-case.

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