After talking our way into the Nintendo E3 2011 press conference,* Ferret and I had the distinct honor of watching** Iwata-san unveil what would quickly become the talk of the event: the new Nintendo Wii U.
It has a camera, a gyroscope, a touchscreen, real buttons, analog sticks, and wireless streaming capabilities. If it didn’t cook me dinner I’d be fucking astonished.
And, true to form, the entire Nintendo presentation had an air of magic to it, offering a none-too-subtle suggestion that just like the Wii, the Wii U could magically change gamers’ lives. Just like the Wii. What could possibly go wrong?
After playing the new system in person, I’m pretty sure there are precisely two things that can and will go wrong with the Wii U.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Wii U, despite the flaws I’m about to present, is still an impressive piece of hardware, one full of seemingly magical contradictions. It’s huge (as one would guess), but it’s incredibly lightweight. It’s packed with input mechanics, but it feels simple and intuitive.The screen is bright, sharp, and vibrant; the spacing of the triggers comfortable, even for someone with gigantic paws like myself.
So, insofar as Nintendo seeks to wow hardcore and casuals alike with a new gaming experience, they will probably succeed.
But it’s not the new features Nintendo has to worry about. In stead, mainstays of console gaming for the past decade are what raise my concerns. I’ll stop screwing around and just say it: the Wii U’s analog sticks are absolutely terrible. In fact, I hesitate to call them analog sticks; they’re basically glorified PSP nubs. And anyone who’s twisted those digital nipples before understands that this is a huge mistake.
Playing Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Online immediately revealed just how bad these plastic plates were. Aiming didn’t feel analog, since the tight snap of the inputs forced me to go for all-or-nothing sliding, resulting in imprecise gunfire. The game looked fine… much better than anything on Wii… but without the ability to carefully nuance shots, I was left firing into empty air half the time.
And while this handicap could be overcome with a lot of practice, it presents another problem: that doing so is utterly tiresome. I like to believe my thumb muscles are stronger than the average non-gamer’s, but using these heavily-taught analog inputs for just a few minutes left my opposable digits feeling weary. How would casual, non-gamers with weaker hands deal with this strain?
They won’t. They will break their thumbs and cry, then sue Nintendo. This is my scientific hypothesis.
All right, so that’s an ergonomic issue. It could get fixed, or people might get used to it, or it could just be that I’m an incredible baby. Exceedlingly unlikely, but fine. However, the Wii U’s other problem won’t be so easily addressed.
U see,** the Nintendo Wii U only supports one new controller per console.
Let that sink in for a second. Feel the pain of your dreams shattering and plummeting through your soul, and savor that shit.
That’s right, your fantasies of four-player, independent screen Goldeneye just died. Your hopes of dual-manning the guns of an Imperial Star Destroyer with a friend are over. Your aspirations of simultaneously playing golf and watching Japanese porn are no more. Why does this restriction exist? Perhaps the tech just isn’t there. Or the costs and demands weren’t worth it to Nintendo to tackle. That’s understandable. But what will happen when (not if) Sony announces that the PS4 will trump the Wii U not just in horsepower, but also in innovative controls? If the PS4 could use four PSVita systems as controllers, the scheme would already usurp Nintendo’s tech, if not its price point.
Just as with SEGA’s Dreamcast, I feel the Wii U threw down the glove too soon. Yes the games we played were fun, but they could mostly be replicated by Sony’s tech, without unfortunate ties to legacy Wii controls. And if that is truly the case, it may soon be Sony who does what Nintendon’t.
** Yes, I am that lame.