Catching up with the Wii U
Until yesterday, it had been rather quiet on the Wii U front for a good nine months. Following a large helping of (badly presented) information at last year’s E3, the Wii U went stealth as Nintendo focussed on reversing the fortunes of the 3DS and the gaming press busied themselves with Nextboxes and Orbisi. I had hoped that Nintendo were using this down-time to devise a new name for the follow up to the Wii – Super Fami-Wii, the Satoru Box and the Wii Wii would’ve all been preferable – but it would seem that Wii U is here to stay.
The new console was back to making headlines this week, as word spread that Nintendo's next generation hardware is barely up to spec with the current. The following is taken directly from GamesIndustry.biz, who broke the story:
"No, it's not up to the same level as the PS3 or the 360," said one developer who's been working with the Wii U. What does that mean? "The graphics are just not as powerful," reiterated the source. This developer is not alone in their opinion. Another developer at a major company confirmed this point of view. "Yeah, that's true. It doesn't produce graphics as well as the PS3 or the 360," said the source. "There aren't as many shaders, it's not as capable. Sure, some things are better, mostly as a result of it being a more modern design. But overall the Wii U just can't quite keep up."
If these gobby developers are to be believed, then the first foray into the eighth generation may well be a step backwards, at least in visuals. Perhaps Nintendo will once again be content to have the least powerful home console of the big three, as dated hardware didn't exactly prevent the Wii from being a runaway success. Graphics are not the be all and end all, though I have always found the drop off in visuals from my PS3/360 to the Wii to be rather jarring, causing me to demote my white box to a party piece, reserved for drunken karaoke sessions and tennis elbow.
|Either Satoru Iwata has tiny hands or that tablet controller is huge!|
Of the three home console manufacturers, Nintendo is the only one who could possibly get away with a sideways move. A simple jump to HD for Mario, Zelda and other prominent franchises may prove enough to convince an audience raised on all things Nintendo to move over to the new platform, but it would run counter to Nintendo's claims that the Wii U would cater to the core gamer in ways the Wii never did. You can port all the Darksiders, Grand Theft Autos, Batmans and Call of Duties in the world, but that audience will not move away from Microsoft and Sony if the Wii U is unable to even match the 360 and PS3.
There would of course be advantages to having a less powerful machine, the most obvious being cost. A low RRP could offer an early advantage over Sony and Microsoft's next gen hardware, which are likely to come out of the gate with inflated price tags that’ll see the manufacturer losing money on each unit sold. Spiralling development costs are ravaging the industry, as developers strive for bigger, prettier but not necessarily better games that can potentially sink all but the biggest studios. If Nintendo are prepared to do away with the age old notion that a new generation must mean better graphics, perhaps developers will ease up a little, leading to more affordable games and more sustainable business model.
For the last decade, innovation as opposed to technological improvements has driven Nintendo’s business. Touch screens, motion controls and fully 3D, portable gaming have seen Nintendo dominate the market. Perhaps the tablet controller is the next in line. However, Sony appear well positioned to beat Nintendo to the punch with whispers of a similar set-up between the touch-screen enabled Vita, the PS3 and eventually the PS4. Tablet based magic may seem rather pedestrian before we know it.
Is the Wii U yet another example of Nintendo throwing convention to the wind, stressing innovation and discarding the traditional benchmarks of generational progress, or is it merely a case of Nintendo catching up with the seventh generation seven years too late, woefully under-equipped for the imminent push towards the next gen? I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to finding out.