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Wii U: From confused mess to hardcore must-have in one day

From its announcement at E3 2011 right up to Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct presentation, I’ve looked upon the Wii U as a theoretical console; a machine that physically existed but which had no determined identity, direction, or market. The innovative touch-screen pad and local multiplayer focus, although a lot of fun, were too confusing and potentially too expensive for the casual market they courted, and nigh-impossible to explain. The machine had a great ‘proper’ controller, too, as well as a supposedly hardcore launch line-up, but in reality its rag-tag bunch of non-exclusive and often aged games weren’t convincing anyone that the machine was a must-buy for the core gamer.

But on Wednesday all of that changed.

You see Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct was a definitive battle-cry, as the Wii U finally chose a direction. The console boldly broke from the cover of its confusion cocoon and sprinted proudly into the fields, bellowing of guns and swords and mushrooms and combos as it went. Wednesday was the Wii U’s coming-out party. After a clumsy, awkward start in life, the Wii U has discovered what it is. And what it is is a proper, honest to goodness, hardcore video games console.

This isn’t just about the undoubtedly core-focused line-up that was discussed, though let’s just recap that for a moment. New 3D Mario, new Zelda, , , new Mario Kart, new Smash Bros., whatever Monolith’s co-op mechs ’n’ guns monster shooter is, , Pikmin 3, and only one party game.

No, more than that lineup, this is about the way that Nintendo presented both the Wii U and itself. It delivered the Wii U not as a generic family entertainment device, but as a games console. It didn’t talk about ‘software’, as it has for so long. It talked about ‘games’. It spoke not of consumers and families, but of an engaged gaming community who want more games than it, on its lonesome, probably can make. It spoke of the need to service those players with a steady string of titles regardless. It spoke directly to those players with honesty and respect about the need to ensure that the games coming from its workshop are quality is higher (surely a nod to the old, long-tarnished Nintendo Seal of Quality), and the necessity to court third-party developers in order to make those games happen.

In short, Nintendo addressed every criticism it has taken over the last five years, it made no excuses, and it pledged solution upon improvement upon reconciliation.

Mr. Iwata’s explanation of user-created communities for the Wii U’s Miiiverse network was the first telling move. Remember, this is the same Nintendo that once avoided the Internet altogether, and then mollycoddled its users with restrictions and choking online ‘safety measures’. Now it has a fully featured innovative social network in its home console and is giving its users control.

The appearance of Twitter-style verified Miiverse accounts for companies and developers is a seemingly innocuous addition, but it’s a big deal ideologically, opening the Wii U’s community up to more external input and making a big reach toward third-party involvement. And don’t ignore the smartphone connectivity either. Such modern additions feel like they’re coming from a completely different company than the one Nintendo was a couple of years ago, the latter in particular speaking to its audience as engaged, passionate, tech-savvy lifestyle-gamers.

As for those third-parties--so often the crumbling bricks in the walls holding up any Nintendo machine--they were everywhere. Nintendo is fully aware of the symbolic importance of Bayonetta 2 (the niche, hardcore sequel to Platinum Games' much-loved brawler), and so ‘Netta was front and centre. More so, the format of the excellent Iwata Asks Q&As is changing, with the executive no longer just discussing internal games but also external studios. It’s clear that third-party games are a key part of Nintendo’s strategy going forward. Mr. Iwata gave his later tease of more third-party announcements as much time as he gave the entire 3DS format.

Speaking of that tease, the reference to news via future Nintendo Directs or 'other opportunities' must surely have been a veiled reference to E3. Iwata had already pledged the appearance of multiple big-hitting core games at the show (a playable 3D Mario alone would have been enough) and that’s damnably interesting. Nintendo famously stepped out of the three-way console arms-race at the start of the Wii years, but now here it is, publicly booking its big guns into that fight’s biggest arena. And doing so in January, way before either of the other two have even started referencing the show’s existence. Nintendo’s gloves are off and it’s stepping back onto the canvas.

This week’s Nintendo Direct wasn’t just a corporate preview. It was an exorcism of the Wii-era disenfranchisement that still haunts long-time Nintendo gamers. It was better, more positive, and more exciting than either of Nintendo’s last two E3 press conferences. And it was the binary opposite of the few that came before those.

Where once Nintendo executives simply told core gamers to 'keep playing Mario Kart', now Nintendo literally states that it can’t do enough for its base. Where once Reggie passed off Animal Crossing as a big hardcore announcement, now Nintendo is bringing Japan’s brightest and best into the fold, and creating a game with Monolith Soft. that looks for all the world like a Japanese Borderlands.

Things aren’t perfect yet, of course. Nintendo next needs to extend the third-party love to a few Western developers. Retro Studios’, maker of Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns, has a track-record of excellence, but like Nintendo itself, it can’t produce enough of titles alone. But hopefully that was exactly what Iwata was talking about when he mentioned more third-party announcements to come. It would certainly be a wise assumption given the tone of everything that had gone before.

When thinking about this week’s Nintendo Direct, I can’t keep the old anti-Wii jibe of ‘GameCube 1.5’ out of my head. Because dropping the phrase’s negative connotations regarding horsepower, and instead applying the term positively to the culture of its games line-up, GameCube 1.5 is exactly what the Wii U feels like to me now. A brand-new, fresh, souped-up hardcore Nintendo games console equipped for the present and, more excitingly, the future.

I know the GameCube didn’t exactly manage that second part in terms of sustained market share, but that’s where the .5 comes in. If Nintendo’s focus on first- and third-party fun-times continues, then the Wii U will be a classic Nintendo console on its own terms regardless of anything the Xbox 720 and PS4 might eventually come up with. And personally that will be more than good enough for me for a very long time to come.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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70 comments

  • GOD - January 30, 2013 1:21 a.m.

    As long as Nintendo maintains their first party support I don't even really care. The games that they make are more than enough to justify their own console and that's why I'll continue to get every console they push out. I don't have to worry about good third party support when ninty is gonna put out multiple first class games, that are extremely polished, well designed, and look way better than what you think would be possible on the hardware, and play fantastically. Also Smash Bros. I guarantee when that releases Wii U sales will shoot up.
  • Pruman - January 28, 2013 7:53 a.m.

    Sorry, still not buying one. I have literal stacks of unfinished games going back to the PSXboxCube era, and I need another new platform like a hole in my head.
  • sxh967 - January 28, 2013 7:35 a.m.

    they want you to be excited for a zelda game which didn't even need a graphical overhaul? Great.. definitely going to buy a Wii U now... you've absolutely sold me on the idea... Just kidding.
  • Chaoscoolperson - January 28, 2013 7:04 a.m.

    This is interesting... I may have to start paying attention to the Wii u and stop saying bad things about Nintendo. My 3DS will hold me for now.
  • Aquasol - January 28, 2013 1:27 a.m.

    While I pretty much agree with what Houghton said, I take issue with this: " (surely a nod to the old, long-tarnished Nintendo Seal of Quality)" No, no, a thousand times, no. That was a marketing tool that only guaranteed that the game was both licensed and would boot, and you know it. >> It never guaranteed a good game, and should you ever need proof-- just go and play a crappy NES/SNES game, like the first TMNT game.
  • Pruman - January 28, 2013 1:40 p.m.

    Actually, it was a response to what happened to the Atari 2600. That system lacked the NES's security lock-out chip, so anybody who could program and manufacture cartridges could make them for the 2600. On the one hand, this loophole helped get Activision off the ground; on the other, it is the reason why awful pr0n games like Custer's Revenge exist. I believe Atari went to court to stop production of unlicensed games and lost, but don't quote me on that. The point of all this background is that Atari's failure to control their platform resulted in a flood of dreafully awful, bottom-of-the-barrel crapware on the 2600 in the early 80's. In the consumer's mind, ALL of the crap, even the crap Atari didn't make, was that company's fault. This was a major contributing factor to the Great Crash of '82. Nintendo, not wanting to repeat this mistake, started putting the Seal of Quality on their games to indicate that they were inspected and approved by the company, and also for what you said above. A lot of crap did sneak by their system, but they never had Atari's problems, which was the entire point.
  • Armondo28 - January 27, 2013 12:02 p.m.

    While I would love for this to truly be a sign that Nintendo is on track with the Wii u, a couple of things keep me skeptical. Things like the N64, The Gamecube, and the Wii. What tends to happen is that for the first year, maybe the first two years of a Nintendo console's life span, there will be a fair number of games, and some good ones at that. but all of a sudden, the games stop coming. This is even more likely with new, more powerful competition coming at the end of the year. What gives me hope is the very real possibility that the next generation of games will not be the quantum leap forward that everyone has projected. I've seen some supposed "next gen" graphics videos, and is it just me or are they not THAT impressive? If The graphical differences are minimal, Nintendo could attract developers looking for a less expensive platform to develop games for....
  • doominatorx6 - January 27, 2013 10:54 a.m.

    WiiU needs third party exclusives, but at least the ports of games on other consoles (Assassin's Creed 3, Black Ops 2) aren't half-assed this time. But other than ZombiU, the thing's got no real good exclusives... yet.
  • Armondo28 - January 27, 2013 12:06 p.m.

    yes, Nintendo has to understand that most people who buy the Wii U are largely uninterested in ports. Bayonetta 2 is a big deal, cuz its a sign that Nintendo gets it...maybe.. ...is it me, or should Nintendo have bought the rights to the Darksiders franchise? The series is already trying to be a gritty Zelda, Throw Miyamoto into the mix....
  • AmigaEngine - January 27, 2013 2:40 p.m.

    The problem is the ports where poorly ported or should have been collections. Mass Effect, Assassins Creed, Batman should have been collections. Darksiders was perfectly done by THQ. EA really shocked everyone with there rushed last minute ports of madden and Fifa LOL. Far as Nintendo with Darksiders !! That would be heaven and is something Nintendo should look into.
  • Aquacure - January 27, 2013 9:37 a.m.

    Nins problem is that they are too content with rereleasing the same games they've had since 8-bit or SNES. They appear to want to throw their mascots in anything they can, tennis, racing, golf, party, fighting etc... They may get new IPs but these are overshadowed by the rehashes and there's no consistency. GC got MGS:TTS but SOL and SE were never ported. It got RE0-RE4 but was overlooked by RE5 & 6, instead they had an on rails revisit to a story people saw way back in PS1 days. Need For Speed was on GC, this gen saw none. So this promising that its gonna have this darker tone or more 3rd party support isn't anything they haven't said before. After a while they still slip back into their own fold of coming up with the next Mario, Metroid, Kart, Party, Pokémon, Smash, Zelda etc...and it may not even be so much new as it is an updated old.
  • gopikmin - January 27, 2013 6:22 p.m.

    MGS:TTS was largely developed by Silicon Knights who turned down working developing with Konami to work on Eternal Darkness and Too Human. Also Nintendo systems got couple exclusive NfS particularly Nitro. The problem is that Nintendo is too good of a developer (there's a reason why Super Mario Galaxy is almost universally loved by critics) and the other developers don't want to waste their resources on versions that might not sell which they soon realized after the first couple years. The Wii got several dark games like Madworld, Deadly Creatures, House of the Dead and Disaster: Day of Crisis but they sold very poorly turning even more developers away. Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition is phenomenal, considerably better than the other versions
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - January 27, 2013 2:56 a.m.

    Japanese borderlands? Nice. The rest of the world is generally quite shit when it comes to visuals and character design. Handsome Jack? Pfff
  • brickman409 - January 26, 2013 11:06 p.m.

    I'm typing this from my wii U! :D
  • TheMariner - January 26, 2013 9:37 p.m.

    I have to agree. I knew I wanted a Wii U but it was just sort of a back-burner want until the announcement of these games, specifically Bayonetta 2 and the new Xeno game. I'll probably pick up the Wind Waker remake because I sold off my copy of Wind Waker a while ago. Those should keep me set until they come out with the next Zelda and Smash Bros. I still think they should come out with a new Star Fox, though. That, and games like Pokemon Snap or Fatal Frame are just begging for a Wii U title considering their main gameplay mechanics..
  • Killingjoke - January 26, 2013 5:46 p.m.

    Hopefullly this announcement will bring in more buyers of the console. Personally Im just going to wait it out longer until the console is cheaper, Im more interested to see what Sony has to offer.. Huge fan of Nintnedo since the NES days but Im not dying to get one yet.
  • Fringe_Agent13 - January 26, 2013 1:59 p.m.

    Super Smash Brothers is the only game I'm looking forward to on the WiiU. Smash Bros. is the only reason I buy a Nintendo console and it's like this for every new Nintendo console until they bring a few more games that catch my interest. Throughout the generation, I'll only end up with less than five games for my Nintendo console. The only game that keeps me interested throughout the generation for Nintendo is Smash Brothers.
  • tehtimeisnow - January 26, 2013 12:54 p.m.

    must haves? ha ah these ganes all look horrable and there all just reahashes games like the 100th maroi game its all the same gane and that yoshei game looks horrable just for llittel kids just face the facts guys there no way nitedno can compete with the superier ipad
  • Dante1924 - January 27, 2013 5:04 a.m.

    I just love your new profile picture, by the way.
  • winner2 - January 27, 2013 6:20 p.m.

    I also think your new pic is brilliant, true art

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