“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.
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
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.