Wii U's corner cutting could keep core away
30th Jun 2011 | 17:36
If the hardcore gamer had hopes of seeing a Nintendo bundle made especially for her at E3, the return of the family-friendly Wii mantle was probably a bit disappointing.
Perhaps not enough to cause a mini-sick, granted, but certainly enough to sink the heart knowing that mum, grandma and little sis will yet again be coming along for the ride.
But the old hardcore-casual argument isn't the niggling problem I have with Wii U: there's something more fundamental about Nintendo's new console that suggests to me we might have to wait much longer for it to appeal to the avid gamer again.
We should give Nintendo credit, don't get me wrong. It now has a truly current-gen console in its ranks and with titles like Aliens: Colonial Marines, Assassin's Creed and (hopefully) Battlefield 3 the hardcore is definitely being catered for.
But there's still an itching, worrying feeling in my chest that Nintendo's not quite going all-in to reclaim the core audience, and - shudder - it might even be cutting some corners.
As far as I'm concerned, for hardcore gamers Wii U could easily end up being seen as a console of half measures, a machine that makes an effort but doesn't quite deliver a five star package. I'm worried it'll end up an amalgamation of 'almosts' that falls just short of the luxury we've come to expect from the top end machines like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
What's distorted my anticipation for Nintendo's plans is the way in which a lot of our expectations have steadily been dismissed by Nintendo one by one.
First of all, let's set the smaller details straight; that appears to be a standard definition screen on its otherwise exciting controller - you won't find anything HD on there. It's not OLED either, unlike the stunning hi-def screen on Sony's PlayStation Vita.
That leads me to wonder how long it will take core gamers to ignore the handheld feature altogether, at the thought of having to play Arkham City on an SD screen.
And there's more: those are analogue nubs - circle pads like you'll find on the 3DS or the waning PSP, not proper sticks that core gamers demand, and as featured on every controller anyone ever hammered a game of PES or Call of Duty on.
Soon after E3 came to a close, more issues started to emerge as well. Wouldn't it be great to get involved in some split-screen FPS multiplayer with those Wii U controllers on something like Battlefield 3? Having a full map between the sticks (sorry, nubs) at all times for guiding air strikes?
The good news is that once Battlefield 3 arrives on the Wii U, you'll more than likely be able to do just that. The bad news? You're going to have to gingerly offer your mate a Wii-mote and hope he understands.
I know that the Wii U controller is going to be far too expensive to have a couple of spares stashed in the cupboard (that's another stumbling block in itself) but, as Nintendo fidgets around for a solid answer to the multiplayer problem, the 'one Wii U controller per console' feels like another element that isn't up to modern day gaming needs.
Much like the lack of Blu-Ray or even DVD playback, for example. I like many others use my PlayStation 3 as much for media as I do gaming. It's another important part of the hardcore scene that Nintendo is still refusing to cater for.
Nintendo's discussions on online gaming too have been worryingly ambiguous. Reggie's come out and said that Wii U's approach to online "will be a flexible one", literally taking the best of what each of our third party partners has to offer, marrying that with the best of what Nintendo does, and bringing that with a more rigid, a more closed type of environment.
A flexible, closed system taking the best from third party developers? I desperately want Nintendo to blow us away with online features but all I'm getting is flakes of ambiguity and hints of confusion. If Nintendo wants to compete with Xbox Live and PSN online (and it absolutely has to) it needs to come up with a clear, bold, feature rich plan.
Add all of these points together and you can see why underneath Wii U's otherwise exciting and potentially fantastic features, I'm worried Nintendo's failing to meet Sony and Microsoft toe-to-toe.
And it should: it's clearly an incredibly creative, hugely resourceful company with bags of money and tonnes of influence. Then why does it keep penny-pinching on simple DVD playback and now, standard analogue sticks?
The innovation's still there though in abundance of course; Nintendo can still pull off innovative feats its straight-faced rivals wouldn't even understand.
That's the card that Nintendo's playing and from the fleeting bits of tech demo we've seen so far it looks like the mass of third party devs behind the console could come up with some really creative pulls.
I question, however, without the entire list of bullet points core gamers regard as standard, Wii U's augmented reality or motion-sensing capabilities will be enough. Whether somewhere down the line the problems listed above will become major sticking points in the Battlefield and FIFA gamer's purchasing decisions.
Hardcore gamers aren't easily impressed and it will take more than a few gestures to make them jump ship from the solid platform they're already happy with.
But what's this? Returning to Nintendo's E3 press conference, Nintendo reveals Wii U can stream games straight from the console to the controller's screen. It's essentially a full-on games console and a handheld portable all in one - a hardcore gamer's dream.
"Absolutely," beams Nintendo. "As long as you're in the same room as the console itself."
Oh. Well, it was almost a hardcore gamer's dream.