Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wii U is as much a successor to DS as to Wii

The Wii has been a huge commercial success for Nintendo, by far outselling its competitors. But its appeal was still largely limited to devoted Nintendo fans and the new casual market, with more hard core gamers shunning the system. This stands it contrast to its handheld sibling the DS which has been embraced by casual players and hard core gamers alike. Nintendo made no secret of their goal to appeal to both these markets with their new Wii U system. They want to recreate the success of the DS in the console arena. How are they doing this? Basically they have adopted the DS to the living room. The DS brought two innovations to the hand held market, its two screens and the touch screen, both found on the Wii U.

With the tablet like design of the Wii U it recreates the two screen setup of the DS. Your TV serves as the primary screen with the controller adding a second screen to your lap. The DS showed how useful a second screen could be, sometimes being used for new clever forms of gameplay but more often used to display data that would otherwise clutter up the primary screen or be delegated to the pause screen, like the map. At the very least the second screen should offer a more immersive experience by moving all forms of clutter off the primary screen, at best it could be used in clever ways to enhance the experience. My previous suggestion of moving the notebook in LA Noire from the TV to the controller is one possible way.

The second innovative DS feature was its touch screen, also found on the Wii U controller. In some ways this is an improvement over the DS with the screen being much larger. The iPad is a great example of how much more a touch screen can used for simply by increasing the screen size. In other ways it would seems to be less useful then on the DS, on which both screen are the same size and quality making it easy to simply use the touch screen as the primary screen in touch heavy games. This setup would be much less appealing on the Wii U since gamers would likely prefer to have their HDTVs acting as the primary screen, making it harder to use touch controls as the main control mechanism. Arguably this is already a problem with the 3DS on which only the upper screen has 3D support and widescreen.

Possibly the critical design choice that made the DS unlike the Wii appeal to the hard core crowd was not one of its innovations but the fact that it retained the traditional button setup, making all this new functionality optional. Something that was not the case with the Wii where the design of its controller more or less forced developers to implement motion controls. In this aspect the Wii U is more like the DS with its dual stick and traditional button setup.

For big Nintendo fans such as myself, we can purchase the system secure in the knowledge that there will always be high quality first party software there for us to enjoy no matter who else choses to embrace the system.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In support of a Pokèmon holocaust

With every new installment of Pokémon Nintendo has insisted on introducing 100 new Pokémon. This is usually welcomed by hard core fans who relish the idea of being able to add another one hundred Pokémon to their previously complete collection which they transfer from game to game. But the sad truth about every new generation of Pokémon is that they are becoming less and less imaginative and are oftentimes very derivative of earlier generations of Pokèmon. So even while the game mechanics improve with every new game the quality of the monsters you are tasked with collecting is decreasing. There is no wonder that fans get so excited every time Nintendo decides to remake an old Pokémon game since it means they get the updated mechanics of later games while they get the charming creatures from the earlier games.

In every Pokémon game the player is encouraged to catch 'em all. When I was a kid this meant 150 pocket sized monsters, 151 counting Mew the special Pokémon Nintendo reserved for their Pokémon events. This was a manageable number that kids could actually aspire to collect. Now there are 646 of them, all of which you have to beat down near death (or unconsciousness) and then attempt to trap in a magic red ball. A much more daunting task then back in the day, it is questionable if any new player would even dare consider trying to fulfill the series catchphrase and really catch 'em all.

For your older players like me which has stuck with the series through the years even if we might have skipped a generation or two, the main appeal of the series is likely to be the nostalgia factor. Red and Blue or maybe Gold and Silver was such integral parts of our childhood that we love to every few years step in to the shoes of a young boy trying to be the very best by capturing all sorts of bizarre looking creatures. But this nostalgia is largely bound up in the first batch of Poèmon like Pikachu, Squirtle or Bulbasaur. As these Pokèmon are replaced by Game Freak's latest creations the appeal of the series lessens. Not only are they less charming then their older counterparts they don't trigger the same sense of nostalgia for older gamer, the very reason they are still playing Pokèmon.

That's why I recommend that Nintendo starts killing off Pokémon as soon as possible. Let's shrink the Pokèmon population to maybe 200. They could keep most if not all of the first gen Pokémon and some of the later fan favorites like Pichu. The rest of them would have to go for the betterment of the Pokémon-kind.

LA Noire could be the perfect Wii U game

When watching Nintendo's big reveal of Wii U I couldn't help but think that it was a cool piece of electronics but they failed to convince the audience that this new controller would actually enhance the gameplay experience.

It was not until last night when I was watching a buddy of mine play through LA Noire that it really clicked for me. In LA Noire you play as a detective inspecting crime scenes, interrogate suspect etc. while doing all this you constantly pick up your notebook which has all the information on the clues you have gathered, evidence collected and it is even used as the interface during interrogations. It would not be an exaggeration to say you spend a good part of the game with the notebook filling up the screen. It struck me that this game would be so much better with the Wii U touch screen since all the notebook functionality could simply be moved to the second screen.

It would be more like having an actual notebook in front of you the whole time, when needed you could simply look down on the second screen and use the touch screen to flip the pages. You could even whip out the stylus and take note. This would greatly improve the game interface but more then that it would bring you one step closer to feeling like a real detective. Which is to be honest the reason everyone fell in love with LA Noire, it's a lot of fun to pretend to be a detective.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What the Wii U needs is a mascot

What is Nintendo's new Wii U missing? I'm probably alone to be of this opinion but I would have loved it to have it's own mascot. Something along the lines of Disc-kun who always appeared alongside the Famicom Disc System in all advertisement. Some adorable little character to associate with the new system.

Obviously this would have no affect of the actual hardware which is arguable what I should be interested in. But using a cute mascot to market the system would really appeal to the 12 year old fanboy still living inside of me, who sees Nintendo less as a game company and more as a way of life. To that Miyamoto-worshiping little boy some new big eyed creature would be the perfect prophet to bring the good news of salvation inherent in two screen console gaming and convoluted control options.

Pulling out the SNES box still tucked away safely under my bed it it easy to see what sold me on the system. Sure the collection of fantastical Mario characters gracing the box informed the consumer of the Super Mario All Stars packin, but more then so for the younger version of me Mario was the very embodiment of Nintendo and their video game system. I wanted the magical system waiting for me inside that box not because of the boring red Nintendo logo printed on it but because it had a freaking wizard Mario on it.