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Wii U is still missing the Wii's trump card — universal appeal

Wii U is still missing the Wii's trump card — universal appeal

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While the Wii U GamePad offers up plenty of possibilities for interesting new games, it doesn't yet have its own Wii Sports-style killer app.

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Wii U GamePad controller
Wii U GamePad controller

From the time the Wii U launches in North America on November 18th until next March, we'll see at least 50 games released for the console; the problem is that not a single one sells the Wii U's tablet-like GamePad controller the way that Nintendo needs. Just like with the original Wii, the new controller is the biggest part of the Wii U's draw, with the second screen providing plenty of potential for interesting new ways to interact with games. "It's the next advance in gaming," Reggie Fils-Aime, president and COO of Nintendo of America, said at last week's price and release date reveal. "It's how you will play next." But the GamePad isn't as exciting as the Wii Remote yet, and it's because it doesn't have an equivalent to Wii Sports.

"It's how you will play next."

The Wii Remote was a weird divergence from traditional controllers. It introduced motion controls to much of the gaming public and looked like something you'd use to change the channels rather than a tool for interacting with games. You actually had to swing your arms around to use it. It was foreign for those who had grown up playing machines like the NES or Sega Genesis, and it was hard to imagine how this white controller could replace the two-handed inputs players had grown used to. But it wasn't actually hard to understand at all once you played — or even just saw — Wii Sports. Everyone knows what it's like to swing a baseball bat or tennis racket, and this made the game — and by extension the Wii Remote — seem instantly intuitive. It's what sold millions on the promise of motion controls and ultimately forced Sony and Microsoft to play catch-up (to varying degrees of success) with the PlayStation Move and Kinect.

The Wii U doesn't have that. Nintendo Land is a fun collection of mini-games, many of which use the GamePad in interesting ways, but the game doesn't immediately and intuitively showcase the Wii U's potential the way Wii Sports did for the Wii. It won't even be bundled with each and every Wii U console, instead only coming packed in with the more expensive "deluxe version." Nintendo's Bill Trinen told The Verge that the decision was made to attract gamers who would be more interested in "core" games like Bayonetta 2 or ZombiU — a curious decision considering those gamers will likely prefer the deluxe version, which offers a much better deal for only $50 more. Not only does the deluxe bundle come with Nintendo Land, it also includes four times the internal storage compared to the base model (32GB as opposed to 8GB) and is packed with a few extra accessories, including stands for the Wii U and GamePad.

'ZombiU' may make the best use of the GamePad so far

Ironically, considering the lack of compelling third-party games on Nintendo consoles in recent years, Ubisoft's ZombiU may make the best use of the GamePad so far. The game lets players use the second screen as a sonar device, an inventory management tool, and a way to scan the surrounding environment for clues. It turns the GamePad into a part of the virtual world. But as great as that may sound, it's unlikely that a first-person zombie shooter will have quite the same mass appeal as a cheerful multiplayer sports game.


Of course, that's not to say the Wii U is doomed — the Nintendo DS had a rather paltry line-up of games at its launch and it managed to do just fine selling more than 50 million units in the US alone. And just like the Wii, the DS introduced brand new concepts to gamers, like a second screen and touch controls, and even did away with the GameBoy name. But while it was slow to get going, eventually the DS did have titles that helped emphasize some of its unique aspects, and those proved to be among the biggest hits. Games like Nintendogs and Brain Age, for instance, were strange, but they were perfect showcases for the new touch screen — and the two series have sold more than 23 and 18 million copies each, respectively. Meanwhile, Mario Kart DS was the first Nintendo game that was actually fun to play online, and as of last March the game had surpassed the 21 million units sold milestone.

In contrast, Wii Sports and subsequent games like Wii Fit sold millions on the concept of motion controls for gaming, and while that allowed the console to get a strong head start, it ultimately didn't quite fulfil that promise. Arguably no subsequent game used the Wii Remote as well as Wii Sports did. Well, except maybe for Wii Sports Resort.

Nintendo consoles live and die by their first party-developed exclusives

Wii U, meanwhile, corrects many of the mistakes Nintendo made last generation. There's some strong third-party support right out of the gate with blockbuster games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Mass Effect 3, and the company is even making a relatively strong push into non-gaming functionality with the unveiling of Nintendo TVii. Nintendo may still be behind Sony and Microsoft in these regards, but things are definitely getting better (though the company's online strategy remains a significant concern). But Nintendo consoles live and die by their first party-developed exclusives, and the Wii U will be no different.

It's great that Activision and EA are on board, and no one will complain about Platinum Games bringing an exclusive title like Bayonetta 2 to the platform. These are all secondary considerations, however. In order for the Wii U to truly succeed, Nintendo needs to create experiences that could only be possible with the GamePad, and that are good enough to make people want to buy the console. Speaking to the New York Times, Fils-Aime said that the GamePad "allows us to create content that shows different ways to play together but have fundamentally different experiences." Now Nintendo needs a game that exemplifies that philosophy. It could be a Mario or a Zelda, but it would be even better if it was something completely new — just like Wii Sports was.

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