Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks Nintendo, See You Next Year Maybe

I'm pretty sure that every time I bring up the Wii U, I state just how difficult a decision it is whether or not I want it, to the point of honestly just not knowing still this week when the console was released to the wild for public consumption.  That's because until this week, the thing was still a mystery of sorts with key bits of information about it merely left in the box to be discovered by those who doled out the cash to partake of its design.  Perhaps it was that lack of transparency that bothered me or perhaps it was a slightly higher unwillingness on my part compared to others in accepting the latest from Nintendo in whatever form it carries or even some other factor, but there had been something, something gnawing at the back of mind for the longest time now about it and I do believe I know what it is.  Or rather, what they are, as there are quite a few factors that have pushed me into a decision.

Earlier today, I was in a situation when someone who does not share an enthusiasm for video games and the like, but understands and appreciates my own verve, took a circular from some store, I believe it was Target, and fixed me with a curious look.  "What's this?", she asked, referring to the Wii U display on the front page of it, taking up an inordinate amount of space than I would've liked to see.  As I began to rattle off the basic gist of it, that it's a brand new console and its main draw is a gamepad that does this and that and the like, she nodded and took a moment when I was done before looking at me again with that same expression.  "Would that be something you'd want?"  Posed to me like that, the question seemed almost rhetorical to me, in that it took me not even a beat to answer.

"Nah.", I said.  "Not this year, at least."

It seemed odd to me that it was that easy to answer this question that has...well, not agonized me for a while, but certainly has been something I have not gone a day or a considerable amount of time thinking about.  But, armed with the knowledge that's been released in positive and negative feedback about those who have this thing in their homes, their living rooms and their hands, I can safely say that, as it is, it's just not for me.  Not in the state it's in which is one of being favorable, but not without several flaws that I'm sure nobody can really argue against -being- flaws.  And even some of the things that can be hand-waved away for....some reason are just telling of things to come that I'd rather be on the opposite end of thanks to a bit of waiting.  In any case, it's left me all a bit wary to say the least, and that's pretty much all I needed to push back the interest and the subtle cravings for the new tech that I was feeling.

Primarily, my concern had always been the library, being that I'm not one to be taken in by the next Mario game (that will never ever ever again be Super Mario RPG:  Legend of the Seven Stars, also known as the best game with Mario in it as a titular character) or the next Zelda as, indeed, I've skipped so many of those at this point I've lost count.  I'm very, very comfortable with Sony's first and second party studios generating enough exclusives that I can have my fill on those and even skip those I might not be so enthusiastic with that I'm not really hard-up for 'new' 'original' games, leaving it down to the third-party support.  And, well, seeing as the bulk of the Wii U's library consists of games I could go out and purchase now, some even for a bargain price, there's not really anything there for me being that the few titles Nintendo has to itself don't really draw much interest from me.

Beyond that, however, the hardware and the network had always been the points where Nintendo had to 'prove themselves' so to speak and honestly, they came up a bit short.  They took very, very large strides forward with the Nintendo Network ID that was never completely explained until people were unboxing their Wii U's, downloading the gigantic firmware update and setting one up for themselves.  And that, more than anything else, had me wary from the beginning to the point where I began to wonder if the NNID -was- something you generated yourself or not.  After three different pieces of hardware with the much-despised Friend Code system, you would think they would shout from the rooftops, "And here is the Nintendo Network ID page where you create your own ID name, whatever you'd like so long as it's clean, to share as you game" and just hammering that point in.  If you want to be XxLinkRulezxX, hey, you can.  You'd be utterly, utterly terrible, and that probably exists out there, but you can, and that's really something that Nintendo should have covered in no uncertain terms.

Another facet that's a bit off with the network is that there's going to be almost no unified system beyond the NNID, which means things like no platform-wide achievement/trophy system.  It seems like a little thing to harp on, and in truth it might be, but I'm honestly less concerned about not having Nintendo's equivalent to Achievements and more concerned with the message it's broadcasting.  I imagine, being new to this in a sense, Nintendo's playing it a little conservatively, keeping network things to a minimum while simply concerning themselves with running a shop and the actual Nintendo Network and that's fine I suppose, but I just expected a little more out of them.  Not fully embracing what's already out there and instead cherry-picking what they want to embrace that is out there (Digital Distribution, Online Multi-player and the like, things they'd never be interested in unless their competitors didn't also have it) seems stubborn, and it'd just be a much, much easier sell if you could just say "Yeah, it does what everyone else does, -plus-" and then you rattle off the few exclusive bits that the Wii U has to offer.  But it doesn't, and that is a problem, considering we might have six years or so of the Wii U to look forward to.

People don't like to admit it, but there is an inherent value in Achievement systems nowadays and when even mobile phones and tablets that just so happen to play phone games are incorporating Achievement systems, you just go with it.  It is a gaming thing now, much like more than two buttons, much like dual sticks (or control methods to mimic that) and the like.  Embrace it and make it your own, because, especially at launch, you want to give people reason, any reason at all, to keep playing the few games (comparatively speaking) that are out there while getting more out.  Personally, I would've liked to see what Nintendo could have made out of such a system, and in truth, I suspect we'll see it just yet.  If the 3DS has taught us anything, it's that Nintendo will be quick to cave into pressure so long as it means selling their product over another, so expect such a system to show up late to the party (much like the PS3's trophy system) if a formal price drop happens for the PS3 or 360 or, by some chance, the next version of either console is announced as well.  Anything to direct some of that thunder onto themselves while also making it a somewhat more appealing package.  I don't particularly like it, if you couldn't tell, but it's just business and that is a thing they do in business.

On the hardware side, it's rather telling that this is Nintendo's first attempt at a big, bad system like this, with reports from....what, like everyone who owns the system? that there are definite issues with it still that need to be ironed out.  Hard locks, crashes and the like, thankfully not leading to bricking in most cases, are entirely more common than is acceptable, I should say, and that's something that just can't be overlooked.  And while these crashes and locks aren't leading to system bricking, something fairly consistent is, however, and it is a very dreaded thing.  Upon plugging in your Wii U and setting it up, you will need to download a System Update if you want just about anything but play some of the games, completely offline.  Miiverse, Wii Backwards Compatibility and a slew of other things are handled and/or unlocked in the initial firmware update (as well as the whole not being able to be online with it unless you're up-to-date) and it definitely shows in the size.  There's no official word out there that I know of, but I've seen some statements claiming that the update is just under the 5 gig mark (based on bandwidth usage for those who have a cap, take that for what you will) which is absurd.  Now, folks out there seem to be saying that if you turn off the console, unplug it (which you should never do on these two fronts) or in at least one case that I read, if your internet cuts out (which is...well, not your fault), your system could very well turn into a shiny paperweight.

That is exceedingly alarming for me personally when you consider that I have a very, very shitty internet speed and, unless you buy an ethernet adapter, you're stuck with Wi-fi which is not always super good in terms of signal strength and reliability.  The absolutely insane amount of time I would need to download 5 gigs (if estimates were right, of course) almost insists that I would have a period of time in which the internet would -not- be up, cutting off the download short.  That's just based on general signal strength and the like, not that my ISP likes shutting the internet off in the wee hours of the morning sometimes for 'maintenance', usually only for 10-15 minutes or so if they do it, but, well, it's taking away any sense of reliability that exists.  Knowing that the only thing as a broad network that's waiting beyond that is Miiverse leaves one a little less than enthused as well, which is not a very good combination to have going on.  It's doubly worrying that it's something that's never really going to go away either, I imagine, since you -always- need a firmware update when you get a thing, no matter how new it is.

The final gripe I have is with the whole Gamepad thing itself, and it's just -in general-.  The battery life on the thing is a joke and it's like "well yeah, but-".  No.  No butts.  It is a controller that was built to be a wireless thing.  If you can't get more than 3.5 hours out of it on default, then you have a shitty controller, I don't care how much fancy shit is on it.  And seeing as a lot of games -aren't- actually supporting the Pro Controller that has all the same buttons and stuff as many are quick to point out in defense of the Gamepad itself, and is in fact a $40 ($50?) paperweight unless you have one of the few games that uses it, you are stuck with a system that has a shitty controller.  One that I suspect was done on purpose as many have stated that the battery on the thing is small compared to the space it's in, suggesting that an 'upgrade' is likely in the cards down the road.  Which...means that there's either a revision on the Gamepad in-coming before it's actually available for separate purchase (because remember, the only way to have a Gamepad is to have a Wii U, since it's not sold separately, and no game currently supports more than one, negating the need, for now, for another) or there's going to be an add-on that is specifically just a better battery.  Seeing as Nintendo is no stranger to either practice...well, you see where I'm going with this.  It's frankly something that I feel like Nintendo gets by scott-free on, when any other company would be berated into the ground over it at this point.

Regardless of my griping, and I know there's been a lot of it, making this sound ridiculous, but I don't have any honest ire or anything against the system.  I've just taken the bits of information that are out there (plus a couple I didn't even bring up because oh lord this is long enough already, I swear I don't actually hate Nintendo) and surmised that it's all just a little too much for me to justify actually wanting a Wii U without seeing if any of it is taken care of.  And honestly, that's enough of a concern as anything else, since you just don't -know- when it comes to Nintendo.  I don't actually see them as being a particularly user-friendly company, 3DS pandering aside, and I worry that these complaints and any others that people might have just won't actually be addressed in a meaningful way.  Perhaps I'm being a little too cynical, but we'll just have to see in the long run.  Certainly wouldn't be the first time I've had to say "Well, Nintendo proved me wrong" about something, but I'm not going to stand back and say nothing, because I'm not worried about having to say that.  I might even -welcome- it, since it'd mean that there's truly some great strides being made.  Maybe half a year or a year from now, I'll be able to look back and say "Man, I was worried over nothing", but, hey, it's equally possible that I could say "Man, it sucks that I was right".

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