5 Reasons Why Nintendo Made a Believer Out of Me

The same day fans told me they wanted CIDER for Wii-U, Nintendo proactively reached out and provided me with an overview of their basic set-up with indie devs (details of which I have to keep confidential).  So after I read them and thought they looked great (something I can say), I went straight out to buy a Wii-U to evaluate its console experience.

And how you know I’m sincere about this here, I am still a big supporter of the Ouya, conceptually for the Indie Cause, but have decided it’s not right for Astrogun projects right now due to its low horsepower and comparatively low install base (though it had only just launched).  By the time I got my devkit, I had moved on to targeting consoles and platforms I felt were right for the demands of the projects.  So if I truly didn’t think Wii-U was right for Astrogun projects, believe me, it would be my policy. 

I’m a game dev, so you know I’m going to buy every console anyway for research.  If I had to pick just one, it’d be a much tougher call.  But most gamers usually don’t pick just one.  It’s safe to assume most hardcore gamers this gen will get (at least at first) a PS4 and gamers that just love games no matter where they come from will probably get both a PS4 and eventually a Wii-U (more on why below).

And if any one of the below reasons might have been off, I can’t say the Wii-U would’ve captured my imagination.  It’s how they all are working in concert that did.

Finally, you may know that I had previously been pretty vocal before on how I felt about the Wii-U and the Gamepad, and admittedly, did so with less tact than I wish I had displayed.  I’ve taken heat for those words, but that also didn’t change my mind.  I still had my reasons.  So what finally did change my mind?

Nintendo changed my mind.

Here are 5 reasons why:

 

5) The Horsepower I Wish Nintendo Had in 2006

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When Nintendo famously said graphics have reached a saturation point, I think that was a generation early.  It’s one thing for mobile to have HD retro graphics, (and even now, iPhone & iPad game graphics are getting on par with seventh gen consoles), but this is the 2005 - 2013 living room console space we’re talking about.  Nintendo’s “saturation point” statement was said during one of the biggest mass consumer display revolutions in history: the switch from CRT standard-def analogue televisions to flat-panel digital 16:9 1080p HDTVs.  Because Nintendo thought they didn’t need to concern themselves with this in the seventh gen, I had to wait seven years longer than I should have to play New Super Mario Bros. in 16:9 1080p.

But now that it’s here, I’m glad.

For indie devs, whom tend to make retro-ish games anyway, I think now the bar of graphics is totally acceptable for Wii-U to fair well this generation.  Minecraft doesn’t look like Tom Clancy’s The Division, but that has never once mattered.  So even though the eighth gen will have blockbuster graphics, new great games don’t require them.  It’s actually become an issue that generally gamers aren’t as impressed with the leap in graphics from the seventh to the eighth gen.  So, Nintendo would be more correct now to say this, and they proved that to me when I got to play a game with a design from 1985 in a suit made of HD Pixar-like art direction.

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Part of my own goal for CIDER is to make a retro 90’s-Squaresoft / Zelda-like which lives up to Mikaël Aguirre’s groundbreaking, famous 2008 video game paintings, re-imagining them in HD.  With the Wii-U (and the PS4 alike), this vision is possible.

 

4) Games

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When New Super Mario Bros U came out, I started getting that inevitable itch to pick up the current Nintendo console for the first time.  Nostalgia.  But hey, it works.  Nintendo’s IP is my favorite thing about them, going back as long as I can remember, so it’s hard to resist.  Then I know there’s going to be amazing first-party Nintendo IP games coming, like a new Mario, a new Zelda, a new Metroid.  I’m really excited for Super Mario 3D World.

Basically, amazing software is going to sell this console, which is a pretty obvious rule of selling consoles.  For Wii-U, especially in light of Iwata’s apologies, the software still has a chance to get there, and people will gladly want to feel that Nintendo magic once again, even if they also have a PS4.

Which leads to Nintendo and indies coming together, a great way to fix a software drought.  With the Unity deal happening a few months before the console launched, now I will be expecting to see a lot more awesome indie games on Wii-U by next year and then throughout this generation.  I believe indie games are going to breathe some much needed fresh air into the console market at large, on both Wii-U and PS4 (Xbox One, not so much, unless Microsoft gets wise).  Developers that have less overhead can take more risks and do more innovative and unique things with games.  Right now, these developers are almost entirely indie devs… whom can now feasibly appear on major consoles to a global audience.

Games are about to get very interesting this generation and consoles may once again resume being the premiere place for the most exciting games (not necessarily the most big-budget: see also, Hotline Miami now on Cross-buy PSN).  Nintendo set a precedent and together Nintendo and Sony are making self-published indie games on major consoles the new normal.  That’s going to be awesome for everyone, especially gamers.

 

3) Yes, the Gamepad

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The magic of the Gamepad to me is still not the concept of the 2-screen simultaneous experience, as switching focus back and forth seems very jarring.  The magic of the Gamepad is 1) touch controls for menus and 2) not having to use my TV at all… but being able to for that big-picture living room experience when I want.  Instead, mostly, I have my Wii-U Gamepad at my home office desk where I work, with the nearby TV that the console sits beside… off.  When I need a break, I just pick up the Gamepad and play a few levels of New Super Mario Bros right at my desk, in front of my iMac, and Facebook, and Twitter, and Unity.  It’s amazing how sucked into the screen you get, a credit to its size for a handheld, and it’s a great feeling to play these games with directly integrated physical controls.

There was a moment when I realized I’d rather use this as a handheld as I lounge around at my desk and even in bed, and it does something that Vita on its own cannot do.  That totally changed my perception of it.  Conversely you can’t take the Gamepad anywhere, but you can’t throw a Vita signal wirelessly up on your HDTV.  Even so, I could see PS Vita getting popular with PS4 now that the PS4 will be playable on companion handheld Vita through Remote Play.  Once again, Nintendo innovates and does something the industry doesn’t quite understand or want until later.  I guess that’s the price Nintendo pays for being first.  I’m still not sure anyone has really pulled that off with motion controls, but with this, I think so.

Now I consider “remote play” with both Wii-U and PS4 onto a handheld one more reason not to get an Xbox One.  Nintendo has now spoiled me, and I can’t imagine not having the option to play console-grade games portably in my hands throughout my home as a standard part of the eighth gen console experience and beyond.

 

2) Don’t Knock It Till You Try It

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None of these things ever truly clicked with me until I rolled the dice and finally just bought the console and a proper first-party Nintendo game for it.  I was basing a lot of my assumptions on deductive logic from a large web of industry-related factors, many reasons that suddenly don’t matter.  Now that I’ve played it, I’ve enjoyed it.  In a metaphor inspired by the above Smash Bros / Fight Club mash-up, sometimes you only “get” Fight Club when you start playing its game.  And in combination with all other four reasons here, I think Wii-U’s best days are indeed ahead of it.

 

1) Indie Dev Support & Terms are Phenomenal

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I can’t go into details, but from what I’ve read of the initial Wii-U Developer overview, Nintendo has set the bar for their support and terms to make indie development very attractive.  This is a win for indie devs and it’s a win for gamers.  The console is about to get a lot of great content.

 

And Other Stuff

There are a few other things, like… imagine the 2020’s, where the Gamepad will be the entire console with the ability to project to then-standard smart-TVs on its own… no box.  Imagine it having an incredible solid-state 4 TB hard-drive that could contain all of your account’s games you’ve downloaded like Steam?  Imagine it being 100% portable?  A lot of this is starting to sound like the nVidia Shield, actually.

But I think Nintendo is also happy to exist in its own ecosystem, outside of the dogfight between Microsoft and Sony.  It offers a kind of parallel reality where Mario, Link, and Samus are doing just fine.  Nintendo making their own hardware does allow their own… independence.  And competition is of course good here.  Imagine if Nintendo had signed exclusively with Xbox One right now… yikes.  I suddenly think Iwata’s right to not let Nintendo’s IP on other platforms.  Compared with nVidia Shield, it’s easy to imagine how Shield sales could probably use exclusive IP.  For Wii-U, now indie devs can bring even more great new IP to a Nintendo console… that Xbox One won’t get.

And what if the digital-distribution / non-disc revolution on consoles ironically picks up most on Wii-U, after the big triple-A industry had set its sights on Xbox One and PS4 but indie devs bring an explosion of awesome Wii-U download-only games to the system?

And finally, to be honest, there’s a kind of impulse deep down, the child in me that grew up holding an NES controller, a SNES controller, an N64 controller, that would absolutely love to ship a game for a machine with that Nintendo logo.  I would be making that kid’s mind explode.

 

So for all of these reasons, Nintendo has made a believer out of me.  I’ve come to believe, especially now, that the Wii-U’s fate is in our hands.  If we make great games and make them for Wii-U, it can be an awesome console.

UPDATE: Curious, isn’t it, how a few weeks after a post like this (as well as many vocal indie devs on the topic of self-publishing), Microsoft suddenly announces self-publishing is coming to Xbox One and Xbox 360…

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