The Wii U?s launch is imminent and the industry is prepping itself to see what Nintendo has achieved to top their previous generation giant, the Wii. Arguably the most demographically expansive video game console since the NES, the Wii?s success rests far deeper than its motion control hook. It was? how it smelt. Yes, the smell of the Wii. The smelly Wii. The stench of the console that so adamantly drew in one broad audience that video games had since succeeded to neglect - the ?casuals?. It was this indescribable aroma (a mix of the Wii?s user-friendly user interface, advertising, software library and all the sound effects that people just like to hear when they want to pretend that they are real gamers, classic Mushroom Kingdom beeps and boops) that had brought to the video game lounge a host of grandmas, girlfriends, old friends, best friends, ex-friends, golf dads, soccer moms, groupies, babies, teachers, nurses, doctors, fire fighters, puppies, mafia bosses, alligators and pretty much every other conceivable audience that the PS3 and Xbox 360 hadn?t claimed for themselves. We have the Wii?s overall stench to thank for this very important expansion in the history of video games.
Before I fall into six-year-old habits of making Wii/urination puns, I?ll point back to the little fella you?re going to be holding in your hands come the weekend. That?s the Wii U GamePad. A lot of high-nose industry analysts have already blurted their very professional opinion as to the foreseen success of this unique device, and one of the consensuses filling the air is the notion that the GamePad will not draw in audiences as the Wii remote had, and in fact it will even go as far as to shun casual audiences for appearing to be too complex and overpriced, and hardcore gamers for being too different (because yes, sadly, hardcore gamers are now associated with the idea of flailing their arms and screaming sporadically in their rooms at night in their sleep when any minor change or innovation is introduced to this sacred industry).
But that?s okay, because negativity is a thing that exists, and people like to be negative to draw attention to themselves and prove how smart they are - a fact easily recognised by a more common contemporary phrase that goes something like ?haters gonna hate?. While such opinions have the incredible power to affect consumers? and developers? opinions about things en masse, the success of the Wii U doesn?t really come down to the naysayers. It rests with Nintendo?s engineers, Mr. Miyamoto, and the rest of the guys who usually go unnamed, Genyo Takeda, Yoshihisa Morimoto, Ko Shiota, and Tetsuya Sasaki, he?s not such a bad guy once you get to know him. And by extension, Nintendo?s public relations department whom work in the promotion of their ideas. My uselessly long-winded point is, Nintendo?s success lies entirely with their ability to draw in audiences - whichever of the aforementioned audiences that may be with whichever project they?re leading, and this all comes back to the Wii U GamePad.
Now, Ninty?s already thrown us a few fish as to what makes this device so cool - the ability to move the game from the television to the GamePad is my favourite. But hey, love your DS? It can also act as a second gameplay screen, and you can touch it. Love your 3DS? Good, the Wii U?s capable of displaying 3D. Want to connect with your friends before, after or during gameplay? Miiverse has got you covered. Want a fully-integrated gameplay experience that combines your television, the internet and the console? The Wii U is actually pretty great for managing all three of those elements seamlessly. Don?t want friend codes? Neither do we, and Nintendo?s got your fix.
To be sure, the Wii U is a plethora of features and technologies new and old, and with the long-awaited addition of HD visuals, Nintendo fans such as yourselves can be sure that you?re in for a very refreshing console generation. What we don?t know so much as of yet are the sorts of new gameplay experiences we?re going to be having beyond what we see in Nintendo Land and the Miiverse. If you think back to October 2005 when the Wii remote was revealed at the Tokyo Game Show, you would remember the brainstorming that spurred from this announcement - how can we use that controller to play games? And so our imaginations exploded all over the internet: the Wii remote could act as a sword, a fishing rod, a gun, maracas, a hose, a bow-and-arrow, a steering wheel, a giant space laser of death - whatever developers were creative enough to think up.
What I?ve noticed in recent months however, is that there has not been nearly as much speculation as to how the Wii U GamePad will introduce fresh gameplay mechanics. Which is odd, because when you stop to think for a moment, there?s actually a lot of cool things that Nintendo and other developers will be able to do with it.
Let?s think about Zelda, in case you haven?t already done that today. Not just any Zelda though, I?m talking about the original Legend of Zelda from the NES era, which I pray for your soul that you have played and finished.
Compared to modern Zelda games, you might note how difficult this game is, and this might be due to the fact that a large majority of secret items, caves, rooms and even dungeons are hidden behind the most ordinary walls, and under the most indiscreet rocks and bushes. Shigeru Miyamoto, who was the director and producer for that game, had intentionally designed the game in this way so that players would go beyond the in-game experience to find clues that could help to make their adventure a little bit easier. The internet in 1985 wasn?t as it is now, so players had to rely on reading magazines and exchanging drawings and notes with friends to find those Heart Containers and old men with a heap of cash. This was the world of secrets and discovery that Miyamoto had originally envisioned for Hyrule, and while Nintendo had attempted to recreate this explorative feeling with objects like the Stone of Agony in Ocarina of Time, it has gradually become much easier for players to find the answers to secrets in Zelda games with the help of the internet. Due to this, the games have over time become largely single-player experiences with assistance only from an impersonal walkthrough and an ethereal entity such as Fi, Navi or Midna.
See where I?m going with this? The invasive presence of the Miiverse in New Super Mario Bros. U is as good an indication as any that Nintendo are going to have us asking about Hyrule?s secrets to the Wii U community, before we can hop one step further onto the internet for a walkthrough. I hope that, when Zelda Wii U launches, we see signposts (or something similar) around the overworld featuring markings and drawings from other adventurers: ?secret cave, bomb wall ten steps west?, ?so many keese in here! got 100 rupees total?, ?watch for darknut ambush up ahead?, ?running man walks through here everyday at 1pm?, ?lost woods secret exit: north north east south east?.
It sounds like much more fun than seeking an online walkthrough, doesn?t it? And furthermore, I hope the world is expansive and complex enough to warrant hundreds of tradable secrets such as these.
I think it?s this kind of connectivity that Nintendo are aiming to implement into their design practice, but who can be sure? I didn?t even mention the use of the second screen on the GamePad, and we can only imagine that that may be utilised to make notes on maps a la Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. Maybe we?ll be able to mark maps and sell them off to the rest of the Wii U community? Perhaps we?ll run into a tavern in a village where we can meet with other players, and show each other our discoveries? It?s a creative vision that I hope will imprint the spirit of adventure back into Zelda.
Of course, the ideas don?t have to stop there. There?s infinite potential for all of Nintendo?s franchises, and other games too. We might end up using the GamePad screen as a map to mark sentries when playing a Metal Gear Solid game, but maybe we can radio in on other players and have them send over one of the rocket launchers or sniper rifles they?ve got in stock - it would only take a few seconds, and we wouldn?t even need to leave our current game session. Imagine a boss in a game that encourages you to pause the game, open the internet browser and google some facts to answer questions about hydrostatic pressure, or something, or even a top-down boss battle which forces you to push the boss onto the GamePad screen, and then hurt it by shaking the GamePad around. It will be a marvel to see what developers can come up with, if they strive to push their creative practice forward.
To say the Wii U won?t push innovation in the industry is close-minded. To say the same experience can be had with another available console on the market is ignorant. It?s in my opinion that the Wii U will right off the bat push boundaries that the original Wii had decimated, and continue to pose a strong influence to the rest of video games through the industry. It?s Nintendo who has pushed innovative gameplay from the very start, and it?s also the Big N who will continue to do so. With so many technologies and capabilities packed into the Wii U, gameplay possibilities really are endless. It?s just a matter of seeing to what lengths developers are willing to go, and to how much of a stink the Wii U can put up.