With news of the Watch Dogs and Drive Club delays, I somehow found myself shelling out for a next-gen console ahead of time. Last week, in fact. It has second screen functionality that means I can play in the palm of my hand if Coronation Street is on. It’s HD. And it’s a shiny black box that looks showroom-sleek under my TV. It’s a Wii U.
It’s had a sluggish start that’d make even the 3DS blush, but Nintendo’s latest home console has found its way into my heart, and living room, in a big way.
Wandering through high street videogame retail has been a bleak experience for the Wii U owner these past 12 months, and I sympathise. The space apportioned the Wii U chart is generally three boxes wide and five games strong. The thing is, those five games, as was often the case with the Nintendo 64 and GameCube, are – in my honest opinion – each worth much more than many of the games battling for space in the top 20 on other platforms. And, dare I speak too prematurely, they’re creatively far more adventurous and engaging than many of the coming wave of early next-gen titles appear to be.
While cutting edge in their own way, a key reason Wii U attracted me and my parched purse this month is that its library of games, performance in the charts and current public perception – as a sort of platform curio at odds with the path and preferences of the other platform-holders – is an echo of the past. Just as Sony has been getting its groove back (and wonderfully so) with its PS4 strategy, it seems Nintendo is harkening back to its own pre-Wii status as the outsider with the best software and most unique (and divisive) input method.
How appropriate, then, that Wind Waker – the pinnacle of GameCube-era quality – should be the game to get the HD treatment on Wii U. In this context, Wind Waker HD isn’t something I now perceive as fan service, rather, it’s a symbolic echoing of the past. Like the Wii U itself, Wind Waker was greeted with some furrowed brows when it was first unveiled, and like Wind Waker I believe – I hope – Wii U will slowly but surely be welcomed into the hearts of players with equal passion. And how can you forget Pikmin 3, flying the flag for a series that was birthed and blossomed on GameCube. The echoes become louder the more you entertain the notion of Wii U as spiritual successor to pre-Wii Nintendo platforms. There’s generally been poor thirdparty support, with developers either unwilling or incapable of taking risks on the platform. There’s been subpar ports of key franchise titles.
But then, as with the N64 and GameCube years, the lack of thirdparty power on the platform has served to make the exceptions to the general lull of quality shine brighter. Rayman Legends and ZombiU might be two of the finest tailor-made experiences on a Nintendo console I’ve ever played. Ubisoft’s risks with these titles may not have paid the dividends in commercial terms that they deserve, but I think this one-two punch of quality defines Ubisoft’s legacy of balancing out-and-out risk and creativity with safer bets that are as polished and perfectly crafted as a punter could hope for. If ZombiU is Ubisoft’s Damien Hirst, Rayman Legends is it’s Royal Doulton, and few other developers in the world would bankroll such diverse projects on such an untested and unproven platform or have the talent under its umbrella to do so.
On another positive note, Wii U revives the golden age of stellar Nintendo retail boxart. As the industry shifts towards digital dominance, it’s a joy to see Wii U cover art alive and kicking – unafraid to pump rainbows of colour onto its wraparounds – when so many games seem to be half-asleep, or half in shadow, on store shelves. Where most games brood in the charts, Wii U’s stable brims and bursts with life, making promises to consumers that there’s life, laughter and a labour of love awaiting on each disc. Wonderful 101’s dense, dynamic cover is the artistic equivalent of a pick n’ mix, promising a candy store of action and adventure. Super Mario Luigi Bros. U reminds us all with its cheeky graffiti that it’s the year of the lanky one. Wind Waker’s new cover is framed like a Drew Struzan composition that’s been coloured in by an anime professional; a reminder that you’ve got a classic adventure in your hands that’s already proved its timeless worth.
In Neil’s recent opinion piece he argued, strongly and commendably, that iOS was the antidote to next-gen fever; that iOS was the superior alternative to the big black boxes battling for space in our living rooms. That the itch of old-fashioned gaming could be scratched by the friction-free experiences of Apple’s tiny tactile titans, the iPad and iPhone.
I’d hereby like to extend the Wii U as an invitation to anyone who read that piece and thought: I miss the old days. Wii U is the console for anyone who wants pure, old-fashioned gaming with a slight contemporary twist. It’s a beautiful paradox, if you think about it: Nintendo has taken the cutting edge technology and terms of engagement – the second screen play, motion control and connected world – and built it around its own wonderful world of colour and invention. In opposition to the Wii’s manifesto of shared experiences, and despite the presence of titles like Nintendo Land and Super Mario Bros. U, I’ve found the Wii U’s trick to be all in that new suffix: it’s about you. It’s a selfish console, one that encourages a single player to be king of the castle, to revel in the role of sole owner and overlord. Pikmin 3’s plot may outwardly appear to pivot on teamwork but there’s another reading to made here: it’s about one big cheese and a litter of minions. The chunky Gamepad is something to cherish and cradle; adults feel like big kids, kids feel like they should: like kids.
And so what if Wii U proves a harsh hurdle for thirdparties and a tough first-run sell to consumers: Nintendo isn’t in a rush, it never has been, even if it did usher in the next-gen first this time around.