By Leo Stevenson
This isn't going to win me any popularity contests, but I can't possibly be the only person who was left less than impressed after watching Nintendo's most recent Nintendo Direct, can I? Sure, I can admit that there was some interesting, even promising, news revealed last night. But for every interesting tidbit there were just as many "announcements" that either only confirmed what we already knew, were "too little too late" or a thin smokescreen frantically attempting to veil the truth. That truth? That the Wii U is struggling to find traction with consumers, is failing to shift the numbers Nintendo were hoping for and is once again a Nintendo console without much of any third-party support.
I want to preface this piece by letting you readers know that I have always and am still proud to call myself a Nintendo fanboy. I love their games and their consoles and am always eager to learn anything new about them and upcoming products. Time and time again in recent years though I have come to experience what I call "Nintendo Expectations Syndrome" or NES. Far too many times have I become insanely excited about some Nintendo announcement or another only to be spectacularly disappointed sometime shortly thereafter. So while I welcome the news of a new 3D Mario, Mario Kart and Zelda I can't help but feel like it's simple misdirection. Nintendo's attempt to distract consumers with something pretty and hope they don't notice it's the same trick they've pulled dozens of times before. So, let's get into it shall we?
Nintendo Direct - 23.01.2013
Prior to last night's Nintendo Direct, the Internet was abuzz with rumours and speculation as to just what would be announced in the first video from Nintendo for 2013. The announcement of a Wii U Virtual Console was popular, as was more information regarding Miiverse. Both of which proved to be accurate. Let's look at each announcement individually and let me explain my interpretation and/or opinion as we go.
Miiverse update and future plans
To be entirely honest, the Nintendo Direct started off fairly strongly. The announcements regarding Miiverse were welcome and will definitely improve an already great service. The announcement of a mobile browser based version of the service and an eventual smart phone app are great steps. By being able to access Miiverse away from the Wii U console, Nintendo are sure to see even more activity on the service and more users logging in regularly. The other updates to the service including creating communities, filtering posts and adding Miiverse functionality to Wii U Virtual Console titles are all great news as well. All in all Miiverse has and continues to be a great asset for Nintendo and the Wii U, so a big tick from me there.
Wii U system updates
Continuing the trend of good news were the announcements of twin Wii U system updates coming Autumn and Winter (Spring and Summer for those in the northern hemisphere). There wasn't a whole lot of detail given regarding these updates other than that they are designed to improve the speed of the Wii U's loading times and menu and to introduce the Wii U Virtual console. Neither of these things could in anyway be considered bad news, but as they were being described I caught myself thinking, "so what?"
The Wii U has been available for nearly two months now and only now are Nintendo acknowledging the loading and menu issues. Worse still is that while they acknowledge the problem they won't fix it until some unspecified time later in the year. It was bad enough that the Wii U launched with over 1GB of its functionality absent, but to announce that firmware updates to fix the slow performance of the console are between one and four months away is kind of a slap in the face. I personally have never had much of an issue with loading times or the menu on my Wii U, but I have witnessed some absurdly long waits for a game to boot up or the console to return to the menu. The sooner this issue is fixed the better. On the one hand I applaud Nintendo for admitting there is an issue I have to condemn them for taking upwards of six months to rectify it.
The other aspect of the updates that was discussed was the implementation of the Wii U Virtual console.
Wii U Virtual Console news and promotion
Everybody knew that it was only a matter of time before Nintendo announced a Wii U version of the Virtual Console and last night they did it. The two updates they announced would bring the Wii U Virtual Console to Wii U owners everywhere (well everywhere with an Internet connection at least). Initially there will only be first-party NES and SNES games available with 3DS style save state functions, off TV play and GamePad functionality. If you have previously purchased a game on the Wii Virtual Console you won't be forced to pay for it again, but you will have to pay a small fee to access the Wii U version.
Excuse me, but what?!
First of all, when the Wii was launched the Virtual Console was fully operational from day one. Sure, additional games and consoles were added over time but on day one you could download NES, SNES and N64 games. With Wii U we have to wait up to six months before the service is even added to the console and then we get a gimped version of it. Worse still, we have to pay again for games we already bought the first time around. I understand that there is some cost in preparing these games for use on the Wii U but surely the cost would be offset by the new sales of Wii U Virtual console titles or, I don't know, the more than 10 million Virtual Console titles already sold.
We now know the pricing for major regions: $1.30 AUD, $1.70 NZD, $1 USD, €1 or £1 for NES games and $1.95 AUD, $2.55 NZD, $1.49 USD, €1.49 or £1.49 for SNES games. This does seem really low, but imagine for a second that you own 50 or 100 or even 200 VC titles. Not all of them will be NES or SNES and judging by the current pricing N64 titles will be even more expensive. So, being conservative, if you have 50 VC titles and they are a mix of NES, SNES and N64 (not to mention the myriad other consoles available) you could be looking at anywhere between $50 and $100 or more, just to bring your Virtual Console collection across to your Wii U. A system you already spent around $400 or more on.
Don't get me wrong. Virtual Console is great and a great selling point of the Wii. But coming to the Wii U after a six month delay and forcing gamers to pay to use games they've already bought once before is just wrong.
If there is something that the Wii U is sorely needing it is announcements about games. Specific and detailed announcements. There needs to be dates and they need to be soon. Unfortunately, everything that was shown in the Nintendo Direct was either old news or a title so far off it may as well not exist at this point. Don't get me wrong, I'm as excited as the next Nintendo fan to hear about a new Mario or Zelda but when I barely turn my Wii U on due to lack of available games, I'd rather Nintendo told me about soon to be released titles and not something out there in the ether.
Nintendo showed us a new trailer for The Wonderful 101 which looks like a lot of fun and appears to use the GamePad in some interesting and clever ways, but no release date was given and no further details were revealed. We know it's coming, we know it looks good... now tell us when we can play it.
Next up we were "treated" to a behind the scenes look at Platinum Studios other Wii U game, Bayonetta 2. There was some pretty art and a few nice wire frame models to admire before the video was over and we knew not much more than when we started. At least we got to be reminded about it's Wii U exclusivity again...
The Nintendo Direct took a break from showing off it's exhaustive list of non-first party exclusives for Iwata-san to apologise for the lack of games during January and Februaryand to promise more games were coming from March onwards. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Lego City Undercover would both be released in March and following them would be GAME & WARIO, Wii Fit U, Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101, none of which were given a release date. We were once again given the same list of games we've seen time and again with no new information. No rough idea of when they'd be released. Nothing other than their titles and a promise that they would be available some time after March 2013.*
Then they brought out the big guns...
It was announced that Nintendo EAD are currently developing a new 3D Mario game while work on a Mario Kart for Wii U is also under way. If this is actually news to anyone I'd be very surprised. I'm a big fan of Mario games and Mario Kart and the news is welcome, but with both games being playable at E3 this year it's likely they won't see a release until Christmas or possibly later. I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem likely that either game will be out in the next six months. The Super Smash Bros. name was dropped but only in passing with a brief mention that we'll see it at E3. Wii U Party was also announced, looking like a cross between Wii Party and Mario Party. While it looks fun I don't see people racing out to buy a Wii U for it.
The announcement of Mario games coming to Wii U is the equivalent of a man dying of thirst being handed a bottle of sea water. He drinks it all down because there is nothing else, but all it really does is make him thirstier and drives him mad. From my perspective Nintendo was simply wheeling Mario out to distract fans from the reality that there isn't anything much to play on the system at the moment and that is unlikely to change for some time. With the promise of Mario dangling out there like a tantalising carrot, Nintendo are hoping fans will stick it out, like they always have. How is it that only two months in and the Wii U already looks like the system you'll play twice a year (if you're lucky)?
More "announcements" of games followed including a Yoshi game developed by the team responsible for Kirby's Epic Yarn, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Zelda Wii U, a Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei game and and unnamed game from Monolith Soft that looked suspiciously like a Xenoblade game. Both the Fire Emblem crossover and the Monolith Soft game look interesting but so little was revealed that they could barely even be considered teasers. At least there are two more games in development for Wii U.
The Yoshi game looks fun but once again looks like it's a long way off. The small amount of footage and screens that were shown made the game look as charming and cute as you'd expect and the graphics looked gorgeous. But lets face it, Yoshi won't sell Wii U consoles. It's nice that a game is coming but it's not the killer app Nintendo so desperately needs.
The information released about the Zelda Wii U title can be summed up as, well, it exists and Nintendo are trying to play with the formula. Like the announcement of Mario before it, Zelda is being trotted out to please the fans and direct attention away from the lack of actual, tangible games coming to the system. Wind Waker HD is being developed to tide gamers over while they wait for the new Zelda. HD re-releases are the norm these days and the screens that have been released of Wind Waker HD look really pretty. It could be great fun to play again and would be a great way to fill the void while we wait for new Zelda but no footage was shown, no release date was given and other than the fact that it exists we know nothing about it. Nintendo seem to think that a drip feed approach to information will keep gamers engaged, when in actuality it infuriates and annoys.
In all the Nintendo Direct did deliver a lot of information and at the same time it diverted attention away from some of the most glaring issues surrounding the Wii U right now. The improvements to the system's performance and inclusion of a Wii U Virtual Console are both great news, but are both coming far too long after launch. Having to pay a second time for Virtual Console titles is an absolute joke and only having a small selection of NES and SNES titles available is a major oversight. However, the biggest and most pressing issue facing the Wii U right now is its lack of games. Something which, I feel, this Nintendo Direct did nothing to alleviate. The fact that Mario and Zelda are coming isn't a surprise and their mere existence doesn't make up for or change the fact that as of right now there are few games to play on the system and few with confirmed release dates in the next few months.
Iwata-san mentioned that Nintendo is making an effort to bring more third-party titles to the system, but so far it isn't apparent. All you have to do is look at a release list for the next few months to see that Wii U is being left out. DmC, Dead Space 3, BioShock Infinite, Metal Gear Rising and Tomb Raider are not coming out for Wii U. It's a major problem. I don't want my Wii U to become just another dust collector, but without a steady release of games it's in danger of doing just that. It doesn't matter how many Marios, Zeldas, Metroids or Super Smash Bros. we are promised, the Wii U needs new games and software and it needs them now. No amount of hand waving and smoke screening from Nintendo will change that.
[UPDATE] - As of 6:30pm AEDST 24 January I received an email from Nintendo which states that both The Wonderful 101 and GAME & WARIO would be available in the first half of 2013. No exact dates were revealed and all the other games mentioned in the Nintendo Direct remain without release dates or release windows.