For the last couple of months, I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up a WiiU. People who’ve been following my bullshit for a long time will probably be aware of my unguarded hostility towards Nintendo and their dogged determination to milk every one of their historic franchises dry while simultaneously leading the entire mainstream industry into a motion-controlled fatal nosedive (luckily motion-controls are bollocks so you always pull up before hitting the ground regardless of what you wanted to do.)
So why the sudden change of heart? I suppose it all started in autumn of last year, following the PS4 and Xbox One reveals, when it became painfully apparent that both Sony and Microsoft were more interested in having a pissing contest over hardware than they were in showing us what new games we’d be playing on their consoles (emphasis on the word new, there; Sony’s indie support is really cool, but I can already play Outlast on my PC, so why am I spunking three-hundred quid on a console for the privilege?)
Then E3 rolled around in June, and while it was kind of funny to watch Microsoft desperately scrambling around in the dirt trying to regain a shred of all the good faith they bid farewell to when they were turned their industry-leading console into a less functional TiVo box, it seemed like the best they could come up with to get us all back on-side was releasing all the old Halo games. (Again, if I give a shit about Halo, I already have all the old games and the consoles to play them on; why am I pissing away £300+ on a new console to play old shit?)
Sony, meanwhile, were content to keep strumming that indie bow, while also hinting at introducing backwards compatibility into the PS4, through a streaming service, meaning you still have to pay to buy all the games you already own, again. Hey, it worked with HD collections, we’ve proved that we’re clearly idiots willing to pay over and over again for the same thing, so why not? At least they’re trying.
In amongst this, there was of course a lot of name-dropping going on regarding new titles, but they were new in the same sense that a bottle of Toilet Duck with a different label can be considered ‘new and improved’; a more accurate description would be ‘the next iteration of all the games you played last gen, only massively stripped down for DLC-mining and because we need to make all these games look so good there’s no room left for actual content.’
I wasn’t impressed, is the point I’m trying to make.
Anyway, I’m four hundred words in and I’ve barely mentioned Nintendo, and what caused my about-turn. The reason for that is probably because Nintendo didn’t actually have much of a hand in affecting my change of heart; it was the actions of their competitors that drove me back to them. When I arrived at their doorstep, though, holy shit was I in for a surprise.
It turns out that while Sony and Microsoft were measuring dicks with pre-rendered cutscenes and utterly meaningless hardware diagnostics, Nintendo were actually making and releasing games in tandem with teasing at a modest stable of upcoming interesting titles from esteemed developers and Nintendo, themselves.
While, in my last overly long essay on the topic of the games industry, I lamented the fact that out of all the games announced for the PS4 and One, only a handful were new IP and the deluge of sequels mostly appeared to be watered down versions of their last-gen ancestor, Nintendo are mixing things up with a steady release schedule of the usual suspects (Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros.) while also throwing in new things like Splatoon and The Wonderful 101, and rounding that off nicely with sequels to franchises that literally no other platform wanted to touch, such as Bayonetta 2 (and if you ever want to see a justified use of the word ‘entitled’ to describe gamers, just look to the community reactions for Bayonetta 2 going Nintendo-exclusive.)
So, just to re-iterate: Nintendo’s strategy for the WiiU is to release a variety of different games –in terms of content and genre, not just title– from franchises, old and new? Well isn’t that a novel idea; Sony and Microsoft should try it, some time.
Of course, it would be massively hypocritical of me to ignore the fact that a lot of the games Nintendo have been announcing are technically sequels to existing properties. I can’t really argue against that, but if it please the court I’d like to add one caveat explaining the crucial difference: I actually want to play these ones.
Dismiss that as personal choice, if you wish, but I do have a more objective reason for suddenly giving Nintendo a free pass while continuing to shit all over companies like EA and Ubisoft and their preposterous levels of sequel-whoring, and actually let’s use one of Ubisoft’s flagship properties to illustrate: I have played all the Assassin’s Creed games from 1 through to 3, including all of the expansion packs that stuffed their bras to masquerade as a full-release game, and they are all fundamentally exactly the same.
Sure, one has a tower defense gimmick, (which I incidentally only ever got to play once in the tutorial, because you can apparently only trigger it if you’re shit at the game, so I’m clearly a fucking rockstar,) and ACIII seemed to be more of a property development and lumber mill simulator than an actual game, but at their core they remained almost exactly the same for five games. I’ve heard IV mixed things up a bit and is actually good, but unfortunately for Ubisoft they exploited my interest a few too many times and I no longer give a shit.
Luckily it seems their big thing for the next game is four-player co-op, and since I hate forced multiplayer gimmicks being shoe-horned into predominantly single-player experiences, it looks like I jumped ship at just the right time.
Meanwhile, amongst the games I picked up with my WiiU were Super Mario 3D World and Sonic: Lost Worlds; new titles from two of the most sequel-ridden franchises in gaming history. It’s gonna take some astronomically sized balls to try and defend my liking of these games after that Assassin’s Creed tirade, then, right?
Well, no, and here’s why: I have never played a Sonic game like Lost Worlds, and I have never played a Mario game like 3D World. There are elements present in both games that I recognise, and they are undoubtedly representative of their respective series, but they are also totally unique experiences that I couldn’t replicate with any of the other games (and I have been flagellating myself with Sonic’s 3D efforts since the Dreamcast days, so believe me when I say I’ve done my research).
To me, this is the best of both worlds: using the strength of your brand to test new ideas while, at the same time, not forcing players too far out of their comfort zone with a completely foreign IP. It is exactly what good sequels do and, even though Lost Worlds has a lot of problems, it’s renewed my interest in the franchise much more than invading the increasingly questionable enemies of America in whatever Call of Duty we’re up to, by now.
Aside from sequels, that’s not to say there is no new IP getting made for the WiiU. I also picked up ZombiU which, despite being a commercial failure, has received strong critical support and been commended for being a survival horror game that is actually survival horror and not Gears of War with jump-scares, and I plan to get the Wonderful101 in the near future, on the back of this delightful Let’s Play I’ve been watching.
One of the advantages of the WiiU having the lowest specs of the current generation seems to be that even pimp-happy developers like Ubisoft were willing to float something relatively new on the market because it wasn’t as big an investment as releasing on either of the Triple-A powerhouses. Meanwhile, it’s apparently too costly to put a female assassin in Assassin’s Creed. Although, technically, that should read putting back in since there already have been lady-assassins in the series, before.
God, I really can’t get off Ubisoft’s case, today, can I? Right, back on topic: one of the things I really love so far about the WiiU is that the gamepad, which incidentally feels fantastic to use, is a gimmick that actually has a ton of practical uses. I dismissed the Wiimote and it’s stick waggle nonsense, not only because they were generally uncomfortable to do over extended periods of time and hardly every worked the way they were supposed to, but mainly because there were only a handful of applications you could effectively use it for (mainly swinging, aiming, or occasionally turning something.)
The addition of an extra screen, on the other hand, has an almost unlimited number of uses and, so far, I’ve found that actually using the touch screen functionality and other gamepad elements (such as blowing into the microphone to raise platforms) has a 100% success rate, and feels perfectly natural (if a tiny bit stupid-looking). All things considered, it’s a brilliant example a of hardware existing to compliment the games it runs, instead of creating games that exist purely as shallow tech demos to show off the hardware (See: every single Kinect game ever made.)
The end result of all of this is that, for the first time in probably a decade, I am genuinely excited to own a new console, and every time I see a new title announced for the WiiU I actually can’t wait for it to come out. I literally haven’t felt like this since I was 11 and used to read and re-read my dog-eared copies of Nintendo Official Magazine, desperate to get my hands on what was coming next for the N64.
Even though I doubt the WiiU will ever be as successful as the Wii was, it is undoubtedly the better machine, and it also has a better library of games in the first year of release than it’s predecessor may have had in it’s entire lifetime (not that that matters, since the WiiU is 100% backwards compatible so I can always play my Wii games, or pick up some of the titles I missed out on during my five year Nintendo detox, while I’m waiting for new games to come out).
Do you want to know what my favourite thing about the WiiU is, though? It’s fun. Pure and simple, it’s just straight up god damn exciting to use, so much so that stupid shit I’d normally dismiss as pointless flim-flam -like the ability to turn my TV on using the gamepad- makes me feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
I couldn’t stop smiling while I was playing Mario, yesterday: the bright colours look absolutely gorgeous in HD, and the music is great and so god damn catchy and it has so much variety in each level; from scavenger hunts to time trials to downhill races to traditional sidescrolling mixed in with the more modern 3D platforming. It’s constantly changing but it all feels cohesive and makes me want to keep playing just to see what I’ll get to do next.
Conversely, I had to force myself to play through to the end of Wolfenstein: The New Order last month, even though I really enjoyed the game for the most part, because all the Nazi robot dogs in the world won’t change the fact that I’m still just running around shooting dudes in the face, over and over and over again. I don’t just mean in Wolfenstein: I shot dudes in their dude faces by the thousands in at least a hundred different locations over the last gen and eventually it gets to the point that, no matter how good the gameplay, or how engaging the plot, you just can’t make me care, anymore, when it’s all I ever do.
If there had been just one level where I got to race Nazis on the back of a Nazi Robot Dog then maybe it would have broken up the tedium, but the closest I got was getting into a giant Nazi mech, and what did I do with it?
I realise that this is beginning to rapidly descend into a fanboy love letter to Nintendo, but I really cannot stress how much I did not give a shit about them a couple of years ago, so I’m more surprised than anyone to now find myself fighting their corner. Even when the WiiU was first announced and I saw the gamepad being touted around, I rolled my eyes and wrote it off as yet more bells and whistles over actual progress in pushing the boundaries of game development. I got it wrong though, because this time Nintendo seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and I can’t help but suspect that it’s come as the direct result of seeing where they went wrong with the Wii and actually owning up to it.
One thing I’ve come to respect Nintendo for is their ability to admit when they get it wrong and learn, albeit slowly, from their mistakes. Sure, they still fuck up, but at least they’re trying to change, and it really shows. I still think the PS4 is a shitefest and despite being a loyal customer to Sony for the last two generations (and being one of the five people to own, and enjoy owning, a Vita) I have no interest in picking one up, at all, but I at least respect Sony for listening to their customers and at least trying to implement backwards compatibility (albeit hamhandedly) and for embracing indie developers, even though I can already get almost all of those games for cheaper on Steam.
I’ve never had a lot of love or loyalty to Microsoft and the goodship Xbox, in all honesty, but whatever interest I did have in their console franchise has been completely and utterly dissolved by the Xbox One. I cannot accept nor tolerate a company who think it’s acceptable to wall off basic services that are free on every single other device unless you pay for their subscription service, and I cannot forget nor forgive their attempts to break and tame their customers with the most aggressive DRM policies the industry has ever seen, or their abhorrent ‘deal with it’ arrogance in the face of legitimate criticism. The difference between Sony and Nintendo’s mistakes and Microsoft’s is that only Microsoft repeatedly and unabashedly show open contempt for the consumers who made them what they are.
It is a term that gets used far too much these days, but the levels of Microsoft’s bullshit with the Xbox One roll-out really was Orwellian: A console that the user has almost no control over, that can be shut down at a moments notice if the company that built it so desires, that has a built-in camera that can’t be turned off and which can be used to retrieve data on the user and tailor advertising specifically to them (the topic of in-console advertising is yet another reason the Xbox can go fuck itself)…it’s all so flagrantly anti-consumer that it genuinely seems more like bad satire than a genuine idea Microsoft ever thought they could get away with, and make no mistake: Microsoft didn’t roll back on any of those ideas because they changed their minds. It was only the unprecedented public backlash, (or more accurately, the unprecedented drop in share prices,) that caused them to reconsider their course of action.
This is the beauty of living in the age we do: if the internet didn’t exist and allow the free exchange of information, Microsoft could have easily gotten away with this. They could have told us that all these features were necessary and we’d have had to believe them.
And thank God that Microsoft still seem to believe that we believe them, because it was an utter joy to watch their web of lies get ripped apart on an almost daily basis. Every time they said the console couldn’t function without DRM, there was an engineer who could explain precisely how much they were full of shit; when they said the Xbox One couldn’t function without the Kinect, it took people with dev-kits all of five minutes to prove otherwise; and when Microsoft said that this is what gamers wanted, to be locked into an unrelentingly abusive master-slave relationship, and to pay for that privilege, hundreds of thousands of people turned around and collectively told them to fuck right off.
Okay, now we’ve went too far in the opposite direction and stumbled upon my manifesto for the abolition of Microsoft. This wasn’t even supposed to be another article about the console wars – even I know when I’m flogging a dead horse- it was meant to be a dumb story about my boring life and how much bullshit I dealt with in trying to buy a WiiU. So there’s a spoiler for next week’s topic, at least. Something to look forward to!
Seriously though, if you only plan to get one console this generation, I’d strongly suggest looking into picking up a WiiU. A good PC is still your best bet for the most variety in gaming, today, but if you have to have a console in your life then the WiiU is the closest you will get to that. Actually, I’d argue it’s the only video game console on offer this generation: All Sony and Microsoft are offering is all the headaches and drawbacks of a PC (constant patches, intrusive DRM, artificial obsolescence) without any of the benefits (mods, competitive pricing, backwards compatibility).
It’s like buying a car where you’re not allowed to change the tyres, ever; you just have to keep running them until they wear out and the car can’t drive on them anymore, then you go to the showroom and buy the company’s new model of car, only you’re not allowed to take any of your CD’s and shit out of the old car, because the new car only plays MP3’s now. So deal with it.