On the 21st of May, Microsoft announced the much anticipated next entry in the Xbox line. With this reveal, all three major console manufacturers have drawn their lines in the sand as to what their idea of the next generation will look like. This current console generation has gone on now for the better part of a decade, and honestly games look great. We have a wide swath of titles out now, for various price points. While Triple A gaming seems to remain and brown and gray, shooter-filled hell by and large; one can look across the entirety of the gaming landscape to find a plethora of titles more just as diverse as any point in gaming history. So with this generation featuring such a range, why do we even need new gaming consoles? Can graphics really get better without driving the already high cost of game development into the stratosphere? What new features do we need on our consoles? Which ones need to be improved? Let’s take a look at each next generation offering and see what each company has put out there thus far, and what it needs to do going forward.
Nintendo I am going to talk about first as their “next generation” offering is already out in the world. The Wii U is an interesting system, but it suffers from a ton of problems. First and foremost, this is not a next generation system, at least in so far as what Sony is offering, and what I am presuming Microsoft will offer. Nintendo finally has an HD system out there, but it seems to be roughly as powerful as the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, maybe even not as much. It has ports of games that have already been out forever, such as Batman: Arkham City and suffers from frame-rate issues the older versions of the game do not. However, those ports are already drying up, and Nintendo is already starting to suffer from a drought of third-party games. Ubisoft, usually a great supporter of Nintendo’s experiments has already pushed back their formerly Wii U exclusive Rayman game to the fall of 2013, and is now offering it on everything under the sun. On top of that, staple games for any console such as Madden are not coming to the Wii U as well. While I am not a fan of the Madden games, I can see where this easily will be an issue for Nintendo, and seems to be symptomatic of a larger problem that has plagued the company since the Nintendo 64. Nintendo it seems will have to be the main provider for worthwhile content once again, but without the enormous install base of the Wii, I am worried it will not be enough.
Features wise, the Wii U is…lacking. Foregoing the popular social networks of today, Nintendo has put their eggs into their self-created Miiverse. While a source of pretty pictures, I have not seen an actual benefit to using this service over something that has a far larger install base. It seems to work as some Nintendo-patrolled forum where people can either talk about how much they love a game (which is implied as they are actually using the service, making it seem a bit masturbatory in nature), or in the case of Rabbids Land, talk about Willem Dafoe. I have looked at this Miiverse quite a bit, and I don’t see any scenario in which it provides an essential, or even helpful service.
As far as I know, the Wii U plays no DVD’s of any kind, but it does have good digital options such as Netflix and a newly developing Virtual Console. Right now it is pretty bare-bones, but Nintendo has one of the deeper back-catalogs in gaming history and has a lot of product to leverage. The Wii U is also the only system in the next generation to play games from the console before. The Wii U plays Wii games just fine. The main question is how and if they choose to leverage this back-catalog.
The controller with the screen plastered on it is kind of nice, but nothing really new. It is really a mashup of features previously offered on the Gamecube with old GBA’s, and the second screen experience the DS and 3DS offer, and have offered for years, albeit on a larger scale. This is the main draw of the Wii U, as it offers both interesting options for multiplayer games, as well as enhanced media options. One of the best quirks about the system no one knows exists is their second screen, enhanced TVii. Enhanced TV is becoming a thing in niche corners and Nintendo does a good job in integrating that function on what is close enough to the ground floor to where people may very well buy the system in part for this feature. However, it is still a niche market that want to actively engage in their TV viewing, so this may not be the killer feature Nintendo would like it to be, more of a passing curiosity.
What Nintendo needs to do: Put out games. Not just any games, but exclusive games. This system is woefully underpowered compared to what Sony and Microsoft are putting out next year, and cannot hope to compete from a technical standpoint. The ports of current generation games coming to the Wii U will stop right around the time the Xbox One and PS4 hit store shelves, so Nintendo cannot count on continued third party support for any length of time. With the new, very powerful machines coming, few companies will be willing to put in the development time to either scale down their game for the Wii U, or make new games entirely for a system as of yet, very few people own.
What they need to do is leverage the incredible staying power of their tent-pole franchises and quickly get out those must-play games that often help define not only a generation, but the pastime of gaming as a whole. They need Link, Mario, and Pikachu out there, touting the fact the Wii U is a force to be reckoned with, because right now it is not. Very few people know it exists outside of gaming aficionados, and a lot of people seem to think the tablet controller is some sort of add-on for the Wii. That leads to the other thing Nintendo needs to do: Market the system properly. Run commercials showing the good, unique games that are on Nintendo’s first HD system. Especially since too few people seem to know about the system, Nintendo has an opportunity to roll it out for a second time.