The state of play – Wii U and the ‘core’ gamer
June 30, 2011

We’ve heard it time and time again from Miyamoto: how a game looks should be secondary to what new ideas, innovations and surprises it brings with it, and whilst I’m inclined to agree with his omniscient words, I am only human, and as such, I find myself hopelessly drawn towards shiny things, and, like the dudebro that I am, that includes graphics. A massive part of my infatuation with Nintendo lies in their seemingly unique philosophy of videogame design – substance over style.

If you’ve been following what Nintendo has to say about the Wii U recently, you’ll have noticed that there’s been a distinct lack of discussion about its graphical capabilities, as was the case with the Wii. The implications of this may present cause for concern to some, but to me, this is just Nintendo’s way of taking the emphasis off presentation, and onto innovation and ideas, as has always been the Nintendo way. This quote from Animal Crossing producer Katsuya Eguchi summarises their viewpoint:

“Rather than compare specs with Microsoft and Sony, I’d like for people to view this as a different type of machine altogether. For me personally, what’s most important is what makes Wii U original, and that’s the controller.”

If the Wii taught me anything, it’s that a game doesn’t require modern vertex shaders, heaps of normal mapping and per-pixel rendering to provide an entertaining experience. Why, then, do I find myself snooping around the Internet at night, restlessly hounding down the faintest whiffs of articles pertaining to the graphical capabilities of the Wii U? Curiosity can account for much of it, but there’s simply no denying that advanced hardware can lead to more immersive, more enjoyable experiences when – and only when – it’s twinned with solid design.

First, lets tone down our expectations. Nintendo have stated that they’re trying to strike the balance between sophisticated hardware and affordability. As with the Wii and the GameCube before it, they want the Wii U to be the most financially viable console on the market in order to broaden appeal. Therefore, the Wii U was never going to be an absolute powerhouse.

Of course, Nintendo had to step up to the mark and provide a console that at least matched current gen offerings, – anything less would’ve been, candidly, embarrassing. Improvements in hardware are essential and, alone, they are usually enough to constitute the boundary between generations, but is there really a necessity to go above and beyond what’s already on the market? Looking ahead to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, Nintendo will no doubt want to remain competitive to a degree in order to receive acceptable-looking ports from those platforms – something that the Wii kind of missed out on – but to put it simply, who cares?

Let me start by saying that I don’t hugely care for the whole casual vs. core debate; it’s full of generalised, ignorant, inaccurate and arbitrary views, categorisations and opinions which generally amount to nothing. However, I do think there is a clear divide between the two, and it’s at least worth talking about.

Despite what the ubernerds at NeoGAF might have you believe, the average ‘core’ gamer isn’t going to notice if Call of Duty Wii U runs at 720p whilst the Xbox version only runs at 600p. Nintendo fanboys aren’t going to care if Arkham City has better lighting effects on Wii U than its current-gen counterparts – they’ll be playing Zelda and Mario. Parents and kids sure as hell aren’t going to care about how many GFLOPS this thing can push. The only demographic that will care has already been lost by Nintendo, potentially forever – the dudebros.

The dudebros will not see the Wii U as a viable upgrade for two reasons.

  • It has Wii in the name.

  • It has a slightly unconventional controller.

Sadly, it’s as simple as that. Your average FIFA nut will not play with this controller. End of story. Besides, all their chums are already on Xbox LIVE. Do you really think they’re going to trade friend codes? Because they’re not.

“But, but, but…the developers!” I hear you cry, and cry you might – third party support is something that may prove to be hugely important to the success of the Wii U, so they ought to keep them happy; righting the wrongs of previous generations is a priority. Reggie talked about ‘ticking boxes’ for developers – powerful hardware and 1080p output are two of those boxes, but I personally feel there are more important shortcomings that Nintendo ought to tackle, namely a solid, robust yet flexible Online infrastructure.

Besides, third party developers seem perfectly happy with the system’s horespower. Japanese developers commented on how the Zelda HD demo simply isn’t possible on current consoles, whilst EA don’t even seem to know how powerful it is, and don’t seem to care; as far as they’re concerned, if it can run Battlefield 3, it’s powerful enough.

So, why do I care? Frankly, I enjoy a visual feast. Whilst I’m of the mindset that how a game makes you feel is more important than how nice it looks, I can’t help but want both – style and substance. Above all though, a hidden, illogical part of me just wants to see Nintendo really make a balls-to-the-wall machine with cutting edge specs, a robust Online system and heaps of third party support and I really, really don’t know why.

I am a multi-console owner. One of the main reasons I enjoyed this generation was due to the fact that I had two complementing systems – the Wii and the Xbox 360 – that offered two totally different experiences. In a utopian world, Nintendo could offer me the best of both into one package, but I just know they can’t – so why would I want two consoles which offer almost identical experiences? As long as the leap to Wii U is in line with current technological advancement, I don’t really care.

After re-reading this multiple times, it’s nowhere near as concise or succinct as I’d hoped, so I think it’s time to wrap up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Nintendo improving their game in the fields of hardware and Online networking is by any means a bad thing; it’s something that I very much welcome. However, I don’t feel that graphical prowess should ever be the main draw for a Nintendo console, and to me, it feels like all this talk of upping third party support is a somewhat futile effort to pander to a crowd which will never be satisfied by anything that Nintendo does.

 – Rory

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