I’ve just finished up the climax of Bayonetta 2, a game that truthfully I thought nothing of until I recently purchased a Wii U around the holidays. Bayonetta 2, as many outlets have reported, is a phenomenal game. Sadly, the exposure for it was, and still is, limited. The game is destined for a niche, but rabidly supportive audience by its very birthright. It released on a singular console – one facing a tumultuous but not unwinnable battle among giants in the game industry. Yes, not unlike the primary control scheme of its predecessor, the Wii U is flailing. But the battle for hearts and minds isn’t over, this Wii iteration still has more to offer, and from my brief few months with a console I deemed ‘never to buy’, has plenty going for it right now.
Nintendo isn’t suffering by any stretch. Hardware sales numbers aside, the company’s video game attachment rates are highly laudable, and its 3DS handheld continues to outdo and outsell the competition, hitting nearly 12 million sold as of January. This comes as no surprise. Nintendo’s games are instant hits, and for good reason. The titles already out on the platform are consistently at the top end of ratings charts and typical Wii U owners are picking up sequels to their favourite franchises at a regular clip. Nintendo’s game formula still works; take the slow and steady approach to game design and release on a consistent, yet properly spaced out schedule tends to favour players without ample hours to play after work or school. The games, like 3D World and Mario Kart 8 are easy to pick up and play, and fun to share with others. They’re long enough, but don’t outstay their welcome, and instead of requiring intense, emotional investment, they’re light and colourful, positive even. While games like Dragon Age or Destiny ask for ongoing, sometimes arduous play, Nintendo’s titles still hang back whenever you’re ready to jump in and decompress. This works for me. Gameplay needs and time constraints have changed. If quick, fun or care-free gaming is hitting the top of your list, Wii U has it in spades.
So what exactly IS the problem with the Wii U? The issue seems to lie somewhere between hardware and third party support. Sure, the Wii U is nowhere near as powerful as its 2 main competitors, or even a mid-range PC for that matter, but they don’t need to be. The games are fine to look at and slowdowns and hitches are rare. Though Nintendo games run well and look great, not all ported titles do, and the system is clearly hitting the boundaries for what it can do graphically. For some gamers, that can be a deal breaker. For folks purchasing a console for their family, spending money on outdated hardware is a non-starter. Nintendo’s console remains cheaper than the other guys, and last generation games and add-ons carry over; the value proposition appears to be there, but what truly isn’t – are third-party games.
Nintendo has struggled with third-party relations in recent generations, but none so much as with the Wii U. Third-party support is down across the board, and most major AAA titles are skipping the system altogether. This happens for a few reasons, primarily, the cost of porting and expected return on investment. The Wii U just isn’t in enough households to warrant the work, and big games end up looking better elsewhere. Third-party publishers have seen these trends, and are moving these expensive projects away from Nintendo’s flagship, leaving Nintendo titles to bolster the library and carry the system forward.
Here’s why I don’t think any of that matters:
Nintendo has always been great in a few key areas: nostalgia, accessibility and bringing people together to play. With the Wii U, Nintendo maintains these traits and continues to bring its A-game on game sequels and even new, seemingly risky IP like Bayonetta. These games remain some of the best on the market, and Wii U owners are rewarding this with their purchasing habits. The console still isn’t in enough households to warrant third-party attention, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. Nintendo can be niche, fulfilling the needs of busy gamers and families looking for the familiar and the fun. It doesn’t have to be the most powerful, and other console makers wouldn’t let it happen anyway. It merely needs to provide the instant gratification fans have come to know and love for decades. Naturally, Nintendo is likely planning a newer, more expensive console revision to launch in the next few years, perhaps to recapture its glory or mainstream appeal, but the Wii U truly remains a solid, as needed, living room companion for the rest of us, and with guaranteed hits like Star Fox and Zelda coming soon, one I know I’ll be playing happily for a while.