Out of all the predictions and anticipations of E3 2011, everyone's eyes are on Nintendo. Nintendo has continuously raised the bar in the gaming industry and captured the imaginations of gamers with fascinating worlds, endearing characters, and of course, innovative gameplay.
Turn back the clock to mid 2008 through late 2009, and it was a very different story. Many former loyalists of Nintendo had naught but bitter words to say after E3 2008 passed, showing Nintendo's line-up was mostly casual. Sure, there was Punch-Out!!, MadWorld, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but they were few and far between. Nintendo had offered a delicious gourmet feast of hardcore games from late 2006 to early 2008, but no one company can push out a continuous stream of content to such a vast user-base. The "loyal" Nintendo fans failed to understand this, instead acting like Nintendo had been starving them, when they really looked like some fat, sniveling child whining for some cake after aforementioned feast. But I digress, for the next two E3's, especially 2010's legendary showing, proved the naysayers wrong. The old Nintendo hadn't abandoned them, in spite of what fanboys of Microsoft and Sony, along with so-called industry analysts would have you believe.
Then, the oft-rumored Wii 2/Wii HD/What-have-you was officially announced. And the mere announcement of it changed everything.
My first reactions upon hearing of the Wii's successor was disappointment and frustration. This is coming from a life-long, diehard Nintendo fan. Why did I feel this way? Because the Wii has truly turned the industry on its head, with its focus on motion control and introducing the layman to gaming. It's definitely not the evil-casual-console most gamers rage about. You want to blame any company for encouraging casual games, blame Apple with its App Store and fricking Angry Birds, and whatever other flash-game-crap is dumped in the App Store...but that's a whole different topic.
The only two big problems I see with the Wii is that its lack of hardware power limits third party development – the good kind, not carnival games and movie tie-ins, but the truly innovative good third party experiences. The other problem is Nintendo is limiting online capabilities for the Wii.
The latter issue is pretty self-explanatory, and just needs to be fixed. If Nintendo wants to stay current in the fast-moving world of technology, they need a stable network, plain and simple. The former issue, Nintendo's weak hardware, seems to be an ever-present problem that no one can agree upon. So, what's my stance on it, then? Nintendo having weak hardware is definitely a problem. I don't think anyone will debate that. Now, do I think it warrants a new console? No. Eventually, but not yet. Part of it might be because graphics don't matter much to me if the game is good. That's how Nintendo has operated, and it has worked marvelously, even in this HD era. However, it almost seems like that the lack of hardware muscle might be the excuse for Nintendo pushing out this "Project Café." That would make any development ideas toward motion gaming stagnate, since Nintendo is the leader in that field. What a shame that would be, because I really feel like this control is the best way to control certain types of games, namely any First Person games. While other games, like Fighters, would obviously require a normal game pad, I feel motion-control is the way of the gaming future (and not the Kinect way either).
Sadly, it seems that most gamers don't think that way anymore. It's really disappointing to me that on every gaming site, no matter what the game or how long people have been gamers, what do I see from editors and readers alike? "Oh, the graphics look amazing!" graphics, graphics graphics. A poll I saw on GameRant about a month ago while I was perusing the internetz (lame attempt at joke, I know) posed this question:
What's the most important change the new Nintendo console needs to offer?
Superior Graphics (46%, 477 Votes)
Online Functionality & Multiplayer (23%, 237 Votes)
Multiplatform & Third-Party Game Support (21%, 219 Votes)
Better Controls (10%, 111 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,044
Really? Out of a 1,000 gamers, almost half thought Project Café had to offer better graphics? That's the most important thing they're looking forward to?
I think we all expected there to be a point where technology hit a high point for gaming and any advances wouldn't be as great of a leap as before. The hardware jump from N64 to GameCube, for example, was very noticeable. You could see the stitching on Mario's jeans in Melee! The jump from gamecube to Wii, while definitely a difference, wasn't as jarring. You may think that only applies to Nintendo because the Wii isn't HD, but the same statements apply for the Playstation 1 to 2, and even 2 to 3. I know that sounds blasphemous to all you Sony and hi-def fans in particular, but did we not all think that the first two God of War games looked good? Is the fact that the final game looks a lot more pretty and more detailed than the first two games just as revolutionary as the jump from stubby, block-headed avatars from the PS1 days? Or the jump from 2D to 3D in general? Seriously?!
I don't know how the crowd of gamers over on the GameRant site is, but I know that they're not the only ones wanting HD graphics. We all do, really. But honestly, folks, eventually everyone will be up-to-speed in graphics. The day will come. That's the last thing we should be worried about.
Moving past graphics though, certain aspects of the hardware do limit third party development. This is a fault on both sides of the equation. It's Nintendo's fault for not releasing tech specs for the Wii to these devs sooner. It's the third parties' fault for not even trying to work with the hardware. Most third-parties have played the "We'll wait and see..." game with any multi-platform game that has the slightest possibility of being ported to Wii, and it's infuriating. Especially when these same developers whine and complain about the Wii not being a viable platform. The argument of graphics really sets me off because some devs say otherwise.
It's not just High Voltage either. Early on, there were some pointing out that the Wii is more capable than most third-parties give it credit for. It's really sad that most people honestly think the Wii is just as powerful as a last-generation console. It seems that just because it doesn't have HD, third-parties gave up on it.
Nintendo has, unfortunately, always struggled with third-party support since the N64 era and the loss of Final Fantasy VII. However, its first-party games and the third parties that stick with it are amazing, and better than the rabble of FPS and 3PS for other consoles in my opinion. I'm not alone when it comes to these beliefs. At the end of 2010, while most gamers were jumping up and down in anticipation for 2011's lineup of games, I looked around in disgust. Another Uncharted? Gears of War? Killzone? Even Rage, a new IP, failed to capture my attention at all. And why the heck did we need another "brand new" Mass Effect title after a sequel had just come out last year? Thank goodness Bioware had enough sense to delay their title...Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the little bit of Mass Effect 2 I had the chance of playing, and I realize that development for the title was started during development of the second, but how could any studio possibly produce a polished RPG within less than a year? It's just...oversaturation. That's the best way to describe the mentality of the industry today. "The consumer likes this type of game? Let's shove it down their throat till they get sick of it!"
Nintendo, no doubt, realizes the fact that they're different from other developers. In 2010, Nintendo responded to negative fan reaction by offering a lineup for the ages. On a personal note, my prayers for a fourth Donkey Kong Country game were finally answered! In a way, Nintendo was saying "Screw third party support! If you're going to shun us, then we'll show you what we're really capable of! We don't need you!" Third parties whined about the Wii, Nintendo responded by, essentially, giving them the bird. This resurgence, more than anything, showed the Wii had legs, and it darn well knew how to use them. Then...nothing this year. Except over in Japan. *cough* Localize! *cough cough*. Ahem. Now would have been the perfect time for devs to roll out some software, but things have been pretty quiet...
Don't leave your brothers hanging, Reggie!
So, if I don't think it's the right time for the Wii to go, when do I think it should have gone? And what was I expecting out of it in that time? I would have expected it to last another 3 years. I would have expected there to be lots of ports from third parties over to the Wii, good ports that actually took advantage of the Wii's hardware, titles like Resident Evil 5, Dead Space, and Mirror's Edge. I know those ports wouldn't look as stellar as their HD counterparts, but Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition showed how third-person shooters would work with motion controls. And it is easily one of the best ports of any game in gaming history. It had all the features previous editions had and had the option to play with the Wiimote, which worked wonderfully, I might add, OR with a regular controller! There's also the option of the 3DS too! I remember reading an article on Destructoid not too long ago saying that the 3DS is actually pretty close to the Wii in horsepower, and developers could possibly port 3DS games. (For the life of me, I can't find it anymore). If that's the case, why haven't third parties been developing the awesome games they have developed for the 3DS for the Wii also?
The developers for the HD or 3DS games would just have to rework the game engines for them and then throw in the motion controls. It's really that simple. Yes, it would take time and money, but the return from such a large install base would be worth it. And even if it's 'only' a million copies as opposed to games like Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto 4 which broke sales records, these developers have to realize that if their game is good, it's an investment. Trust is a big thing with gamers nowadays with the prices for games, consoles and accessories being jacked up.
Now, if the developers would have been doing this from the beginning, there wouldn't have been such poor sales for third parties from 2008 onwards. Wii gamers were used to shovelware by that point. Of course, you could also say it was Nintendo's fault for not enabling third parties more. And it becomes a vicious cycle of the blame game. Both sides need to address this in the future. This back and forth battle between Nintendo and third parties has to stop if anyone is going to get what they want. Thankfully, if the 3DS' current lineup is any indication, it seems that old wounds are being healed.
The Wii itself is a very underappreciated console. I feel it has so much untapped potential. It even held up in some areas the other consoles failed in (and, frankly, I took for granted). It just feels like everyone has just turned a blind eye from all the positive things the Wii accomplished and instead focus on every single negative thing it created.
But now, let's stop beating around the bush and chat about Project Café itself. Everything about the console is sounding like a surprise: 6-inch touch screen controller, über-powerful, backwards compatible with Wii games and motion controls...sounds pretty unlike Nintendo, don't you think? But I'll get to that in a minute. What of Sony and Microsoft? Are they one-step behind Nintendo? The sales for Kinect seem to indicate otherwise, as do the revamped versions of the PS3 and 360 that were released. I generally don't listen to the guy, but I have to concede with Pachter on his recent comments.
These are some of the most competitive times in the gaming history. Even though the Wii probably would have crushed any previous console generation competition with it's amazing catalog of games alone – and it is amazing, don't say otherwise; no other console has gotten two 3D Mario platformers and the bevy of retro revivals – it still struggled against the PS3 and 360 for the audience of gamers. Of course, to Nintendo's benefit, both of those competitors followed suit on motion control gaming recently. And the only thing both have done is merely redesigned their console for sleekness and efficiency, claiming their consoles will last at least another 5 years from now. This will be the first time in a console generation for a console to move past the 5-year-cycle that they traditionally followed, making the future anyone's guess.
Regardless of all of these factors, from what the rumors are suggesting, I can't shake the feeling that Project Café is turning out to be anything but a console Nintendo would develop. For starters, Nintendo took the route of a high-end console with the Gamecube, and that accomplished nothing. They still faced the same issues they had always faced with third party support. As Xander Markham pointed out recently, it's going to take a miracle for Nintendo to capture the approval of both the "hardcore" and "casual" gamers. But again, it begs the question, would they try to do it with a super-powerful console? Miyamoto himself suggested otherwise in an interview he gave close to the Wii's birth: "We started work on the Wii around the time the GameCube went on sale in 2001. [Internally, the Wii had the codename "Revolution."] We started with the idea that we wanted to come up with a unique game interface. The consensus was that power isn't everything for a console. Too many powerful consoles can't coexist. It's like having only ferocious dinosaurs. They might fight and hasten their own extinction."
Secondly, the price is a concern. Nintendo has usually been generous when it comes to price. So why make consumers shell out big bucks after getting into the discounted Wii? Especially after the pricey 3DS? Which brings up another thing...if the controller really ends up being part touchscreen, what's the point of the 3DS? I do think the idea of a mobile console is the ultimate future of gaming, but what really is the point to the 3DS? The 3D? Sorry, but not even strong third party support is gonna get me to drop 300 bucks for it.
Now, it is possible that the 3DS will be used for something else entirely, which could work in Nintendo's benefit: THE touchscreen controller for Project Café. The idea popped into my head when I was paging through IGN's predictions for launch titles. It mentioned off-handedly the possibility of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures being a launch title, to take advantage of the touchscreen controller. It has always puzzled me why this game wasn't ported to Wii, like New Super Mario Bros. If Nintendo had really wanted to do the hand-held peripheral thing again, it could always use the DS. Wouldn't it make sense for Nintendo to combine two expensive products at a discount? Or maybe Café will turn out to be a third pillar, like Peer Schneider predicts. That I would actually be fine with.
Is there more than meets the eye to the 3DS?
There is a third reason why I question Project Café, and it's the way Nintendo has acted about it. Revealing the news nonchalantly, along with all the rumors that popped up. It's not like Nintendo. Especially in light of the 3DS's recent release, and the need to nurture it before it's off and running. Is the eShop the only support they're giving it? Apple's App Store, a similar endeavor, exploded because they gave third parties free reign. That's Nintendo's biggest flaw and Apple's greatest strength: third party support. The two companies have the similarity of innovation driving them, which I admire in both, but if Nintendo's trying to compete with Apple through the use of touchscreen controllers and mobile gaming, it better be careful in how it goes about it.
That's why something about Project Cafe doesn't sit right with me. Nintendo has always innovated in one form or another, the GameCube probably being the least innovative console as it was. Is a simple boost in power and gimmicky touchscreens really their reasons for warranting a new console? There must be something else they have up their sleeve...the "streaming", as it's been called? The touchscreen controller and powerful hardware suggest something else...but I'll leave my crazy theories for another day.
The point is, Project Cafe would euthanize the Wii. And it doesn't deserve that, considering how much it's done, and could still do, for the industry. It may seem like I'm personifying the Wii a bit too much, but I'm mainly just frustrated at the possible loss of such a great idea. Motion gaming development will cease when the company that started it ceases to believe in it. And no one, not even Nintendo, seems to care.