Saturday, 18 February 2012

Wii U: The Launch Potential

Nintendo's next console could have one of the best hardware debuts ever. Here's why - and what Nintendo must do.

February 17, 2012

When it comes to Wii U, the questions facing Nintendo are vast, varied and overwhelming. The task before the publisher at E3 2012 is greater than what it needed to prove last year, when it simply revealed the core concept behind its innovative new console. While the wait for answers continues, however, some aspects of the console are starting to look sharper.

Judging by the level of third party support for Wii U already announced, the level of support coming for the 3DS, and Nintendo's own firm statements about being ready to launch later this year, this might be a console that is actually ready to debut with some truly stellar software. That's no small accomplishment in an industry that tends to introduce great platforms first and the critical games for them later. Wii U needs to make an immediate impact. It's interrupting the middle of a generation, and is attempting to grab the attention of gamers already being served by two established consoles. Here's why Nintendo might succeed despite those challenges.
Nintendo Power

Nintendo must be at the core of any platform it launches. The company attempted to change its strategy with the 3DS, waiting to launch key first party software until the system's first holiday season. Nintendo paid the price, as gamers did not see software that capably proved the system's key features. Sales lagged as a result. 

It's critical that Mario make an early appearance.

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's global president, has gone on record declaring that he and his team of executives have learned their lesson from the launch of the 3DS. He's stated his company is making the appropriate preparations and adjustments for Wii U. Logic would suggest that means more Mario and less Pilotwings. It suggests a more aggressive software strategy rather than a timid one. Despite his ubiquitous presence in Nintendo's line-up, the Italian plumber is almost a necessity in some form. Alongside Monster Hunter 3G, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 were responsible for the 3DS's late 2011 surge. Each game easily cleared over a million units in sales in less than three months. Simply put, gamers both casual and core will invest in Mario. His titles rarely disappoint, and his branding can be applied to a wide range of genres. It would be a bit surprising to see Wii U launch without some form of Mario. 

If Nintendo is smart, and studies its past successes, it won't rely on Mario alone. At E3 2011, the publisher showed off a variety of game concepts, including Chase Mii and Battle Mii. Though featuring the same generic Miis that frustrate some Nintendo fans, the demos were fantastic showcases of Wii U's innovations. Bundled with a handful of other mini-games, these could potentially be the Wii Sports of this new generation. Nintendo would be wise to pack these titles into the system though, allowing more casual gamers to have instant entertainment – and something to show friends and family. Even smarter would be allowing some of Nintendo's other IPs to invade these games, even just in theme. One of the coolest aspects of Battle Mii was seeing Samus Aran's gunship battle Mii's wearing her armor. More of that would go a long way in appealing to a wider audience. 

The return?

There are two other games to consider when discussing Nintendo's plan for the launch of Wii U. Pikmin 3 has seemingly been in development for a considerable amount of time. Hearing legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto state the game is in active development for Wii U is a reassuring sign. Much like the franchise's original debut two weeks after the launch of the GameCube, a third Pikmin installment would be welcome for Wii U – and seems likely. 

The last possible entry for launch – or perhaps launch window – is whatever Retro Studios is working on. As incredible as the Texas-based team taking a look at Zelda might be, it's worth wondering if another installment of Metroid Prime might be more likely. The brand is established, and Retro's handling of the franchise certainly leans towards core gamers more than almost any other franchise in Nintendo's arsenal. Besides, maybe the developer is still plugging away at Zelda with a second team, or assisting other internal teams in some fashion. 

The Ubisoft Factor

Ubisoft believes in Wii U. The publisher announced significant support at last year's E3, including installments of Ghost Recon,Assassin's Creed and a new IP, Killer Freaks. Ubisoft has stated Freaks is intended for the launch of the system. Given that Ghost Recon and Assassin's Creed are both set to ship for other platforms this year, they seem likely launch candidates as well. 

Ubisoft is supporting Wii U in a big way.

Traditionally present at every major system launch, Ubisoft's support of Wii U is impressive. Judging by the state of its demos last year, the publisher is being afforded a great deal of access to Nintendo's plans for the new console. At E3 2011, Ghost Recon and Killer Freaks demonstrated a variety of great two-screen gameplay ideas, and both properties are very different from Nintendo's own. That's a very good thing. 

Assassin's Creed is a bit of a mystery at this point. It's not even clear what version of the game is on the way, whether it's an improved version of a previous release, the upcoming Assassin's Creed 3 or something else entirely. That Ubisoft wouldn't find ways to simply augment AC3 and port that title to an extra system seems a bit of a stretch, lending more support to that theory. Presumably E3 2012 will hold the answers. Regardless, the Assassin's Creed franchise is one of the biggest in the industry, and its presence – likely at or near launch – will be invaluable. 

Resident Evil

It's no secret that Capcom and Nintendo are enjoying a great deal of collaboration and cooperation these days. That Monster Hunter 3G and 4 are both coming to the Nintendo 3DS, without a word about the franchise for other systems including the PlayStation Vita, speaks volumes. Add in two exclusive Resident Evil games for Nintendo's new portable and it's clear the two companies are friendly. 
RE 6 would be a potent addition to the Wii U launch.

But it's the Capcom game that's coming later this year that really matters. Upon its announcement in January, Resident Evil 6 instantly became one of the juggernaut game releases of 2012. That it and Wii U are releasing so close together begs the question – given the close relationship between Capcom and Nintendo, will the epic action game make its way to the new system as well? Erring on the side of optimism, adding another platform for RE 6 would seem likely. It would seem to be smart from a business perspective. There are a few critical third party releases in 2012 that Nintendo absolutely must have if it wants to prove Wii U is on equal ground with its competition. Resident Evil 6 is one of those titles. 
Anticipated and Announced

There are plenty of other games that could and should come to Wii U, particularly when it debuts later this year. Beyond the next iterations of Call of Duty, Battlefield and Madden, Nintendo should do its best to motivate Irrational and 2K Games to bring Bioshock Infinite to Wii U. The more the game moves into 2012 (it still has no specified release date), the more critical it becomes to Nintendo's agenda. Much like Resident Evil 6 or Assassin's Creed 3, few releases are more important. 

Grand Theft Auto has never made its way to a Nintendo home console. Though GTAV still doesn't have a release date, it almost doesn't matter. The game must be on Wii U, whether or not it's near the system's launch. GTA alone is emblematic of Nintendo's frequent inability to lure in critical, system-selling, mass market third party franchises. It is one of the biggest games lost to Nintendo's low-powered design for Wii. Now that its new console matches and exceeds the competition, there's no excuse. Wii U must have GTA V. 
Wii U could have something for everyone at launch.

Nintendo has already locked down several significant brands if publishers' E3 2011 promises hold true. Tekken, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Ninja Gaiden and Darksiders II are on the way coming from the likes of Namco, Tecmo Koei, Sega and THQ. Even Batman: Arkham City, a game that doesn't feel like it will be entirely relevant to many gamers a year after its release on Xbox 360 and PS3, is on its way. Whether all of these make launch is a bit questionable. Aliens, for example, just slid from a spring to fall 2012 release. 

Yet there are many franchises that aren't formally on Wii U that would seem destined to make their way to the console. Call of Duty has made its way to Wii every year, often with a complete feature set. It would be logical to assume Wii U features whatever COD iteration is coming later this year. Likewise it's tough to imagine EA not bringing Madden to Nintendo's new platform, particularly given how adept the tablet controller would seem in executing football plays. If EA is willing to stretch its muscles a bit, it might port Battlefield, Medal of Honor or, with any luck, Kingdoms of Amalur to Wii U. 

If you haven't been keeping track, here's a quick recap of what might be eligible for a Wii U launch later this year: a new Mario game, some sort of Wii Sports collection, something from Retro Studios, Pikmin, Resident Evil 6, Ghost Recon, Assassin's Creed, Madden, Call of Duty and Ninja Gaiden. That's just scratching the surface, and although this estimate is optimistic in a lot of respects, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility either. 

Nintendo must be aggressive with its own efforts – and aggressive about encouraging third party support as well. Above anything else, this theoretical launch line-up speaks to the potential of a HD Nintendo system in an era where third parties rarely deal out exclusive titles and tend to focus on exclusive features. The Wii U controller alone is enough of a unique angle to make a difference in the mind of many gamers. If executed properly, some games won't be the same without it. 
Zelda might not show at launch, but Darksiders will.

A strong launch line-up, even spread through the end of 2012, won't be enough for Wii U. Things like price, online strategy, downloadable content and much more are going to be important as well. Nintendo also needs to tip its hand in terms of the increasingly-critical launch window and even its 2013 plans. The Nintendo 3DS launched with quite a bit of content and then effectively went dormant for two excruciating months. That can't happen here – there's so much more for Nintendo to lose if its home console struggles. 

Regardless of the remaining questions, regardless of the potential pitfalls, Wii U appears to be arriving at a very opportune time – provided Nintendo is able to convince third parties they'd be smart to take advantage of the possibilities. Still, as a Nintendo fan, it's tough not to get excited by them. 



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