Wii U, a fanboy’s history

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The Wii U is here and guest blogger Jared shares his Nintendo fanboy history.

“Fanboy.” It’s a term that’s thrown around too much, but in the case of Nintendo and me, it’s a proper moniker. I’ve been in love with Nintendo since the NES, and I’m about to tell you that I’m worried about the Wii U.

Now You’re Playing With Magic

One Christmas morning long ago I received an Nintendo Entertainment System complete with Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers 3. I was a little late to the ownership game, but I had played the Nintendo at every friend’s house and at my barbershop for a few years. It was the beginning of my love of gaming, the birthplace if you will. We all know the original Mario, but Mario 3 was something else. It was a grander adventure with tons of nooks and crannies with secrets. It made owning the players’ guide essential. That sense of hearing about something from a friend, to play the game for hours to discover if it was true, was unforgettable.

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One of the best games ever. Oh how far we’ve come.

After the NES, Nintendo launched the Super Nintendo, a console that, in my personal opinion, was one of the greatest in the history of gaming. Games were more polished and deeper than ever. Game developers successfully navigated the fine line between difficult and fun, and so many of the games in that generation are still considered classics. These games defined Nintendo as a true innovator on its established characters and concepts, making old things seem new and fresh. With the Super Nintendo and the games they developed for it, Nintendo had taken classic to a new level.

New Kids on the Block

Nintendo followed up with the Nintendo 64 in 1997. I remember playing Super Mario 64 at a local game store in my hometown. Controlling Mario in 3D was mesmerizing at the time. I had always imagined Mario in 3D, so for me it was an actual dream come true. However, Nintendo 64 didn’t become my favorite console. There were only a handful of games that I loved – StarFox 64Ocarina of Time, Blast Corps, and Super Smash Bros are the ones I have fond memories of playing. But I ended up trading that Nintendo 64 and all of my games for a Sony Playstation at the very same game store in which I had originally fallen in love with it. The Sony Playstation offered more mature games like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy. (Later in life, of course, I regretted parting with my Nintendo 64, and I’ve since worked to rebuild my collection.)

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After years of dominance, Nintendo started lagging behind.

Then the GameCube came around, and somehow Nintendo’s magic wasn’t really there. Super Smash Bros Melee came out around launch, and I believe that game alone sold several systems over its lifespan as it was probably the system’s best title. I appreciated several titles near the end of the GameCube’s life but only a few standout as amazing (Metroid Prime, Pikmin 2, Wind Waker). I even bought the bongos. The GameCube wasn’t a bad system, and often is referenced to a low point in Nintendo’s history. And although the system may not have been as revolutionary as the Nintendo 64, I do believe it held a deeper catalog of games and more polished concepts from Nintendo themselves. Ultimately, I liked the GameCube more than the Nintendo 64, even though it wasn’t much more than just a better Nintendo 64.

The GameCube had to compete head-on with the Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s new XBOX, and it made the Nintendo look like a child’s toy in comparison. The Playstation 2 had so many new games and concepts we hadn’t seen before (i.e., Katamari Damacy) in addition to more violent games that appealed to our more adult tastes (I’m looking at you, God of War).

Powerless Revolution

In 2005 we started hearing about a new console, codenamed “Revolution.” It would have innovative wireless motion controls and a service called Virtual Console that would allow us to download our favorite games from the past – not to mention online play and new downloadable games. It seemed like Nintendo was going to have a console with real staying power. And it did, initially. Regardless of what you may believe, in 2006, 2007, and maybe 2008 the Wii had a wide array of amazing games. Nintendo also went out of their way to appeal to the fabled “casual” gamer. There were senior citizens playing Wii Bowling! But with Nintendo being Nintendo, they were too sure of themselves. They thought they could keep the status quo, and failed to keep what some people call “hardcore” gamers attached to their system. They also failed to see HD televisions growing as fast as they did. And to make things worse, Nintendo’s online multiplayer was and always has been very clunky and cumbersome.

The XBOX 360 is, I will admit, the best console of this generation. It’s a year older than the Wii, but it’s hard see it’s age mostly due to it’s rapid evolution. When the 360 came out, it’s UI was miserable, and it’s online offerings weren’t super plentiful. But Microsoft planned ahead. They rapidly developed the 360, changing it’s UI, adding online features, streaming video, and even recently integrating with mobile devices. It even tried to entangle the casual gamer with it’s more futuristic controllerless wonderment, the Kinect. It’s not the same console that launched 7 years ago. Within that time the 360 has transformed completely, and within that same time Nintendo launched the Balance Board. The Wii looks and feels almost completely the same as it did in 2006. 

Forget Grandma’s Virtual Bowling

But that brings us today – the Wii U. Wii U is a horrible name, by the way. I wasn’t as disappointed by the Wii name as some were back in 2006. I would have preferred Nintendo Revolution. (Of course, that name would just be painful to swallow now.) But this new name is just downright confusing. Is it a Wii? Yes… but no. It still works with all our wiggle waggle wiimotes, but they are launching traditional controls that look awfully similar to another famous controller. They are also launching the Wii U Gamepad which is the central focus of the console.

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Can Nintendo capture lightning twice? Not likey but at least it’s HD!

I got to play with one in a local Gamestop, and I can tell you that this thing is better than you think it is. The integrated controller screen is so much better than XBOX 360’s smartglass concept which launched just recently. There is no latency, the screen looks great, and the controller feels hefty. It’s big, and when I handed it to the kid in line behind me, I was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to hold it.

But so much remains to be seen. It’s competing with current generation consoles despite being in a new generation. It doesn’t seem as powerful as the XBOX 360 was when it launched. There’s already debate about whether it’s graphics are any good. Nintendo is catching up by making it a media hub despite most people already owning another. It doesn’t have centralized multiplayer or chat, as that will handled from game to game. But they finally dropped the friend code realizing it was more of an annoyance than protection for younger gamers.

We also haven’t seen any games that really sell the concept, or a new console in general. Nintendoland is unique and different, but it’s not going to sell the system in the same way Halo made XBOX a household name or how Wii Sports sold the Wii. It’s launching with a traditional 2D New Super Mario Bros game, the fourth in a series that calls back to the originals we’re all familiar with.

But there is something that I do see, albeit briefly, in this console’s proposal. It’s that Nintendo is sorry it forgot about us, the non-casual gamer. At this point it’s only unspoken words, but I think Nintendo realizes they alienated a few people who wanted more than Mario, Zelda or Kirby.

So do I think anyone should buy a Wii U on launch day? Not really. I can’t even sell it to you as a fanboy. Will I get one? Yes, but it’s only because I still believe that Nintendo has more magic up their sleeve. I still believe Nintendo games are so well done in their polish and execution. Even though they aren’t new they are still hard to compete with. They’ve always had the magic, it’s just been a little misguided.

Plus, I really really want to play Mario in HD for the first time!

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Jared is a lifelong Nintendo fanboy and all around gamer. Follow @jarbochov on Twitter or stop by his blog at http://www.wyomingjarbo.com

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