The Wii U: worth buying?

TWiiUhe Nintendo Wii. The Wii was a breakthrough video game console. A breakthrough in several ways. It brought gaming to a whole new group of people. It got gamers actively involved in the games via the innovative and simple Wii Remote and its add-ons.  It reintroduced others to a whole raft of classic Nintendo characters.  As cool as the Wii was, it was lacking in many ways. The biggest strike against the console: it’s lackluster graphics. Yes, it is about the games, but its lack of high-definition video output made the console seem obsolete right out of the gate. It also had a huge storage issue: you could only use the SD cards for storing data, not the games.  Nintendo fixed that, but could not do anything with the video output. Yet, the console sold tens of millions of units. For four years, the console remained difficult to purchase.  And then, it was. Nintendo could not give them away. So, what do they do? Why, they introduce the Wii U.

The Wii U hardware was bolder: it was true high definition, featured HDMI output and, what’s this? Another oddball controller?

Playing on the tablet craze, Nintendo made the Player one controller Windows Phone 238this odd, six inch touch screen tablety device. Sure, it has all of the standard controller controls, but this touch screen? What the hell are they going to do with that? Well, the intention was to use it as as secondary screen for games that were designed to use it. For example, Call of Duty uses it for your heads up display. There’s a golf game where you set the pad on the floor and use a Wii Remote as your club. You swing and aim for the ball on the display, which then transfers to your television. Cool. Only…well, it hasn’t’ really caught on.

In fact…

The Wii U has not set any sales records. While it may have surpassed the Intellivision and the GameCube in sales, it is nowhere near what the Wii did.

Why?

Well, there are many reasons, but Nintendo deserves the biggest blame. Not the console.

The console is terrific.  It is fast, has gorgeous video and a friendly user interface. It has user profiles and parental controls.  The eShop works well.  You can tie it to your Nintendo.com user account.  There are tons of virtual console games and more on the way. Games can work with the 3DS and the retail games are slightly cheaper. Plus, many third party publishers have supported the console.

Well, they DID support it. Many have abandoned the console while others are still supporting it, but it has taken a back seat to the XBOX and Sony Playstation. Games like Call of Duty Ghosts and the Batman games are out, but the DLC have been cancelled. No map packs for Call of Duty and the new story line for the Batman game is history.  Buyers of these games on the U have been given the royal shaft by these publishers.

Blame Nintendo.

This company has done nothing to differentiate the console from its predecessor. They pulled a George HW Bush: rather than saying WHY he should be re-elected, he rode on the coat tails of his success against Iraq during the first Gulf War. Nintendo tried to rely on the success of the Wii to sell the new console. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell consumers that the Wii U was NOT a Wii add on, which many thought. They didn’t tell consumers WHY the U is better. They failed to show what the U can do. They had one or two short lived commercials in the US and that was it. For every Nintendo commercial I saw, there must have been ten for the XBOX. 

Is it too late?

No, but they don’t have much time.  There are some big hitters coming, like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Brothers U. A new Zelda game has been promised and a few other favorite characters. The problem is that these should have been out already. These are system seller games and should have been out when the console debuted and certainly in time for the previous holiday season.

The console is spot on: build quality, ease of use, compatibility with Wii accessories and good games. I think the Wii is a bit more attractive, but the U is nice to look at as well.  It’s storage is still a bit weak, but much better than the Wii.

Look, even with the woes, this is a console worth buying and it is a shame that it gets little love. The media have also contributed to the consoles poor reception. They, the gaming press, finally got their revenge for the Wii. Remember, they poo-poo’d the Wii. Dogged it for years. When the sales stayed constant, they did back down. The stories about Wii’s collecting dust must have been a pile of poo since Wii software also dominated the sales charts for most of the console’s life.You don’t sell that much software if the product is collecting dust. And those sales were not all new purchasers.

Nintendo would do well to start advertising this thing as a new console. Let people know why they want this thing. Create buzz.  It really is a worthwhile purchase if you play games.  I hope they start supporting their product. If they wait much longer, Mario might need that iPad. And so would Nintendo. Let’s not let that happen.

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Sony’s PS4 scam at E3 and new Nintendo titles

ps4So, apparently, Sony pulled a fast one over the public in its E3 keynote address introducing the PS4. During the keynote, they stated that there would be no DRM and no restrictions on used games. What they FAILED to mention, however, was, like Microsoft, that third party publishers were free to place restrictions upto and including the prevention of resale of used games.

What appeared to be a slam dunk for Sony’s PS4 is now a ‘oh really? Huh.’ This bait and switch tactic is old, tired and Sony should be ashamed.

During an interview, Jack Tretton, President of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, stated that they (Sony) would provide the platform and publishers were free to impose any business model they wish. Meaning, Electronic Arts could, theoretically, only allow certain games to be resold or otherwise transferred from one person to another, all or none.  Strike 1. (And, for the record, EA has publicly stated that they have no immediate plans to do so on either the XBox ONE or the PS4.)

And, that $399 price? Well, it does not include the Sony Eye, which is the motion tracking piece of the pie. So, for the PS4 to be feature complete with the XBox One, you have to purchase the Eye for $69 US, which brings the PS4 right in line with Microsoft’s offering. Strike 2.

Lastly, Sony last big advantage over Microsoft, the free online multiplayer component, is now going to be a paid service. You must buy Sony’s equivalent of XBox Live Gold in order to play multiplayer games online.  Strike 3, your out!

So, why would I want either of these consoles?

Nintendo announced a bevy of games for both Wii U and 3DS.  Included in those titles are a new Mario Kart for the Wii U, Super Mario Brothers for the Wii U, two new Zelda games and a new Smash Brothers title.  The Wii U online play is free, it is now an HD console and it is cheaper than the other consoles. It’s looking better and better…

E3 2012: The year of ho hum

The E3 Video Games expo was held in Las Vegas this past week.  The big three, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all held their respective conferences on upcoming games and hardware.  Microsoft showed off more Kinect games and showcased its SmartGlass technology.  Nintendo held three press conferences to spotlight the upcoming Wii U hardware, Wii and Wii U games and 3DS games.  Sony, with no new hardware and few standout games spent an ungodly amount of time talking up some higher profile and ultra violent games.

Nintendo was first out of the gate with press conference number 1, which was about the Wii U.  Details like the new controller, resolution (720p, sadly) and other details were given.  The Wii U will, contrary to earlier speculation, handle two of the new game controllers. The new controller features an LCD display, stylus, dual analog sticks, standard controller buttons and the ability to stream the currently playing game to the panel.  The panel can also act as a secondary screen, forming a DS like experience.

Microsoft was next with its presser about new Kinect games and SmartGlass.  I’ll skip the games and talk about the SmartGlass.  SmartGlass is, seemingly, Microsoft’s answer to the Wii U’s new controller. The big difference:  the secondary screen can be a tablet or smartphone. Microsoft announced support for, of course, Windows Phone, but also Android and iOS, meaning iPad and iPhone will be welcomed into the XBOX family.  Among the uses for said screen:  ability to show secondary information about a television show being watched via XBOX and something like Xfinity or HBO Go. The example they showed was Game of Thrones. The show was being watched on a big screen while a map of the current location of the on screen characters was on the secondary screen along with other information.  When playing SmartGlass enabled games, the secondary screen can do things like allow the player to map out their next move (Madden NFL was used as an example).  The technology looks fantastic and is tightly integrated with Kinect for voice.  Microsoft is, clearly, leveraging Kinect for a multitude of uses.  The early stuff is looking very promising.

Sony was up next with its lackluster presentation. Try as they may, the games were mediocre with one or two exceptions.  God of War whatever looks great.  Last of Us looks good too, it is another, rather violent, shooter featuring zombies. And, really, you can never have too much zombie action.  Right?  Sony also unveiled WonderBook.  WonderBook is a peripheral (OK, so they DID have SOME hardware) that is used with its silly ‘MOVE’ Wii mocking controller.  The idea is get you immersed in a book. The book they demoed was by JK Rowling and is an extension of the Harry Potter universe. You have to learn spells and potions.  While the idea is novel, the implementation looked rather embarrassing as the software failed to properly read the MOVE a few times.  I don’t really see why they bothered with WonderBook, but they did, which is a wonder to me. Sony did highlight the tight interaction of Vita, its latest attempt in the handheld market, and the PS3.  I have to admit, that was pretty impressive. However, it is, yet again, a take on the Wii U console and tablet integration, so not much new here.

Nintendo was back up with more on the games for Wii U and 3DS. The standard fare will be released…new Mario Brothers, a Luigi Mansion sequel, a few more adult oriented games (or, as some say, ‘hardcore’) and others.  Once again, Nintendo proved just how clueless it is when it comes to E3 presentations. They really need to look at Sony and Microsoft for these things.  Sony had zero to show, but the crowd went wild.  Why, I have no idea.  Anyway, the lack of a Mario Kart title was puzzling.

The last Nintendo presser focused more on the Wii U and a game called NintendoLand, which is really a bunch of tech demos wrapped up in a theme park theme. Included mini games are an Animal Crossing game, Zelda and a Donkey Kong mini game.

Companies like Activision and UBISoft also presented. The only game the interested me was, of course, Call of Duty: Black Ops II.  An impressive and lengthy trailer was shown at the end of the Microsoft presser that showed off part of the single player campaign mode.  The President of the USA is a female who bore more than a striking resemblance to former First Lady and current Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. While not much of the back story was given, the game is a continuation of the original Black Ops and, seemingly, does not incorporate the events in either of the Modern Warfare games. It looks great, though.

All in all, this years Expo was lackluster.  Disappointing, actually.  With the PS3 and the XBOX 360 both maturing and nearing end of life, there was lots of speculation that replacement consoles would either be announced or actually shown. Neither was. And Wii U? Well, let’s just say it is not overly impressive either. Of course, it will sell, since it is compatible with current Wii games. No announced date or price, but speculation has mid-November as the date and $299 as the price.  We will see.

Until next time, happy gaming! 

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