Wii U Launch Thoughts

Given that the Wii U launch is just a hair over a month away, I figure it's past time that I, the resident Nintendo fanboy, weigh in on the September Wii U press conference and all the information that was revealed (and what information wasn't revealed). We're planning on doing a podcast about the Wii U launch in the coming weeks, so think of this as just a discussion of the major points.

Release Date
Most folks were thinking November. Nintendo had confirmed that it would come out before year's end, so anytime from September to December was technically possible. But several indicators pointed to November. Nintendo would certainly want to have the system on shelves for Christmas shopping. A December release would miss out on far too much of that shopping season. On the other hand, it seemed unlikely that Nintendo would have a press conference in September and release the system the same month, or even the one after it. And last but not least, Nintendo's two most recent consoles launched in November, so history was pointing to that month.

But when in that month? Answers to that question were a bit more varied. A lot of folks were betting on a Sunday (again, looking back to the launches of the Gamecube and Wii). But even banking on that (which turned out to be smart), which Sunday would be the one? The 25th would miss Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. The 4th and the 11th were championed by some, but others thought those dates might be a bit early. Thus, a significant number of people, myself included, were guessing November 18th as the most probable date...if one were to guess. And they/we were right.

I'm fine with that date. It's coming out the week of Thanksgiving, allowing it to almost herald and usher in the 2012 Christmas shopping season.

The Price
Watch out folks, Nintendo is trying some modern approaches. Indeed, many were surprised to learn that Nintendo will be offering two different SKUs on launch day: the basic bundle (MSRP $299) and the deluxe bundle (MSRP $349). The basic bundle is what it sounds like: the system, one gamepad (both in white), a sensor bar, power cables, an HDMI cable, and 8GB of storage space. The deluxe bundle includes everything in the basic (except the hardware is black), 32GB of storage instead of 8, a cradle for the gamepad, a charging stand for the gamepad, stands for the console itself, and a pack-in game (Nintendo Land, which I'll talk about later).

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime explained in interviews that his company is always focused on maximizing purchase value for the consumer. The decision to offer two SKUs is a part of that. Why force people to pay for a game they aren't interested in? Why force people to pay for more storage space when they'd rather hold off and purchase the space (via SD cards or external hard drives) when they need it? This reasoning seems quite sound to me.

So what do I think of the prices? I think they're good. You don't want to go too cheap, because then the consumer will get the impression that the system isn't new/advanced enough to warrant a purchase. But you don't want to go too expensive, because then people won't buy it and you'll have to do price drops and play catch-up for the life of the console (I'm looking at you, PS3, which cost the same as a small country when it launched). $300 and $350 seem just about right.

The public seems to agree. Within a week or so of preorders opening, all major retailers were sold out. The deluxe bundles were the first to go (likely the stronger showing of Nintendo Land at this press conference over the one at E3 helped convince people that the game itself would be worth the extra fifty dollars, not to mention the extra storage space and charging cradle). And the basic bundles followed shortly after.

The Games
At last check, the Wii U will have 23 titles available for it...on launch day. Twenty-three titles is a fairly nice number for launch window (i.e., the first three or so months of a console's life). But for launch day, that's not bad at all. Here's a list of them, with the caveat that the list is subject to some change:

 Call of Duty: Black Ops II
 Skylanders Giants
 Transformers Prime
 Wipeout 3
 Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
 FIFA Soccer 13
 Tekken Tag Tournament 2
 New Super Mario Bros. U
 Ninja Gaiden: Razor’s Edge
 Nintendo Land
 Sing Party
 Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
 Warrios Orochi 3 Hyper
 Darksiders II
 Assassin’s Creed III
 ESPN Sports Connection
 Just Dance 4
 Rabbids Land
 Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013
 Scribblenauts Unlimited
 Game Party Champions
 Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition

I'd say that's a pretty good launch day line-up. There's a lot of variety and balance here, in several different ways. You have both first party and third party games (with third party titles actually outnumbering first party). You have 'core' games (Batman, Ninja Gaiden, Assassin's Creed, Darksiders, Call of Duty, ZombiU, Tekken), 'casual' games (Just Dance, Game Party Champions, Sing Party), and games somewhere in the middle. You have family friendly titles (Scribblenauts, NSMB U, ESPN Sports Connection), and more mature titles (Ninja Gaiden, ZombiU, etc.). You have platformers, first-person shooters, third-person action/adventures, sports titles, racing titles, music titles, and health titles. There really does appear to be something for everyone.

And I have to point out that for the first time since 1996, a Nintendo console is launching with a new Mario game ready to go. Some may argue that that isn't as big of a deal now as it used to be, but the fact is Mario titles still sell like crazy. So this should not be dismissed offhand. And on a personal level, a Mario title launching with a new Nintendo console brings up warm feelings of nostalgia for me.

The Controls
The centerpiece of the Wii U is, at least initially, the new gamepad. Reaction to it has been mixed. As usual, there are folks who almost seem to be looking for some negative spin to put on it (it's not an actual tablet like an iPad and that's stupid of Nintendo and confusing for the consumer, it's not a real advancement in game design as there's not much you can do with a second screen, etc.). Then there are those who attack it not on the conceptual level, but the technological level (it should have allowed for multi-touch, it's too light, some developers say it's laggy, etc.).

I'm going to reserve complete judgment until I get my hand on one. But I can analyze the conceptual criticisms right away. And I'm just not seeing them. Yes, it isn't a tablet, so you can't take it to Wal-Mart or the grandparents' house. But that's what you have a portable for (whether a tablet, a phone, or a real gaming device like a 3DS or Vita). And if you can't see possible innovative uses for a full-buttoned controller with a touch screen, motion sensors, front and rear facing cameras, NFC capability, and speakers, then all that demonstrates is you're not creative when it comes to game design.

As for the technical issues, while I like multi-touch, I don't think its absence is the end of the world. And, personal preference here, if the choice is between multi-touch capacitive or more precise stylus-friendly single-touch resistive, I'll take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sundays. For gaming, I think resistive is the way to go. And also, everything in the world doesn't have to be like flipping Apple (a rant for another day). Things like weight are a matter of personal preference, and I've heard some people say they think the weight is just fine. Lastly, regarding latency, reliable sources (such as Ubisoft's Michael Ancel) have publicly stated that the latency on the tablet is nearly non-existent. To be more exact, Ancel says the delay is only 1/60th of a second. Barring serious fighting game gamers (Josh), such a small delay is of no consequence.

Nintendo TVii
Coming completely out of nowhere was Nintendo's new entertainment hub/index. Not a media service itself, rather it integrates existing services, and adds new levels of social interaction to them.
On the first part of that, in a nutshell Nintendo TVii takes all the media sources a particular user has (Netflix, Hulu, cable/satellite, etc.) and combines them into one searchable database. So, say you want to look up Castle. It will let you know all ways you can watch it (old episodes on Netflix, new episode next Monday on ABC, recorded episodes on your TiVo). For on-demand sources, you can immediately play the episode. This all happens from the gamepad, and appears quite user friendly.
As for the second part, during live programming the gamepad displays a live message board of sorts, where people can comment in real time on what's happening. Screenshots even appear from time to time. With sporting events, the gamepad displays a live, interactive recap of the game (think ESPN's game tracker).

This is a significant move for Nintendo, as they are expanding their focus from just games to other forms of entertainment. I for one am intrigued by it, and am looking forward to watching some University of Alabama football with live gamepad interaction.

The Remaining Questions
In typical Nintendo fashion, the September press conference left some questions unanswered. Perhaps the biggest ones deal with Miiverse, the new social network service that apparently is significantly integrated into the Wii U itself. A few tidbits of info and a few screenshots and video snippets are all we have. Some folks are up in arms about this. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to learn more about it when Nintendo is ready.

Well, I think that's it for now. Again, hopefully we'll have a podcast dedicated to the Wii U launch in the coming weeks.

Until next time,

 - Nic

Posted on October 17, 2012 .