Thursday, September 13, 2012

Assessing the Wii U reveal

The September 13th Wii U reveal has come and gone and now it’s time to review my eight expectations (8 things I want to see from the Wii U conference) prior to the event to see how well they matched up with what was presented. 

Pricing – This came right down the line to what we have been expecting all along.  Although late breaking rumours tipped the needle as low as $250, the $300 pricing falls on the low to mid range of my predictions.  The real surprise is the deluxe set  at $350 and the respectable 32GB Flash memory included, comparable to mobile and tablet storage solutions.

What puts the scoring for this category over the top into perfect territory is the decision to sell the Wii U GamePad separately.   While Nintendo of America has yet to commit on when they will sell the Wii U GamePad, aside from promising to make it available once two player GamePad experiences are available, the fact that the process is in place at Nintendo to sell this separately is significant.

Wii U 32 GB Deluxe Set
Although this is somewhat unrelated to pricing, from a strategic perspective, this gives them the chance for iterative upgrades to the Wii U without replacing the Wii U core unit.  As I argued in an earlier piece (Three Reasons for Multiple Wii U Tablet Support), a Wii U GamePad (UPad) 2.0 with increased screen resolution, more functions and perhaps even native processing is all a possibility as part of a iterative upgrade strategy that doesn’t reset the installed base and minimized out of pocket expense by only replacing half of the console.  

The pricing is also instructive.  At 130,000 Yen in Japan or roughly $130 using Nintendo’s 100 Yen to $1 conversion, the GamePad is likely overpriced given the current unit is a glorified screen with gyros a mic, li-ion battery, but no internal memory or processing. However, this pricing level serves the basic purpose of raising the perceived value of the core set (Console + GamePad) but also leaves them plenty of room to tinker with the internals for a 2.0 release without shocking the consumer with a expensive new peripheral.   The iterative road is set by familiarizing consumers with a $130 GamePad today and sell them a $150 Wii U GamePad 2.0 with twice the resolution, improved internals and a processor in 18 months.

A $150 GamePad with augmented processing backed up by the Wii U would easily outperform any similarly priced standalone tablets for the things people like to do at home with their tablet devices. Nintendo could well be planning, either by design or simply by the sheer luck of the draw for a backdoor entry into the low cost tablet space via Wii U and its GamePad while maintaining its core games business.


Games – I noted previously that we were well aware of the Nintendo launch window titles such as Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Brothers U that have been teased since E3 in June and that the company could ‘sweeten’ the pot with announcements of new games.

Aside from a lengthy but entertaining Metroid themed Nintendo Land presentation and going into new modes available for NSMB U, Nintendo more or less met expectations here.  Of the two games I specifically asked for,  Call of Duty Black Ops 2 and Resident Evil 6, Call of Duty made it to the presentation.  The lack of RE6 was softened somewhat by the reveal of Capcom support in the form a fully on-line Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for Wii U which features concurrent progress link-up system with the long-awaited Monster Hunter 3G 3DS version and that both games will release worldwide next year.

Bayonetta 2 was a nice surprise as well, though I’m not a fan of the original, Wonderful 101 is however on my radar.


Miiverse -  I had expected the presentation would have a segment for Miiverse.  However, Nintendo continues to confound my expectations by approaching Miiverse from a different angle.  It is increasingly apparent that the Miiverse isn’t a tacked on ‘social’ element  to ride the wave of a trend that can be isolated and talked about.  They are serious about this and have integrated it into the Wii U in a way that it has become inherent in the design of all Wii U applications.  While Bill Trinen of Nintendo did hint more on how Miiverse will be utilized in specific games such as NSMB U will be discussed at a later date, the service in general was discussed.

The most interesting integration is perhaps its use in the newly announced NintendoTvii initiative.  A kind of all-in-one hub for TV, movie, sports viewing.  The Miiverse is active while watching a TV, Movie or sports program and the option is open for the viewer to comment, rate, and vote on polls about that show in a timeline service that also serves as a kind of vox populi soapbox for friends in your Wii U circle.

Nintendo of America COO Reggie Fils-Aime also went out of his way to mention that when joining a program in progress , it is possible to scroll back in the timeline to see what happened before you joined, comments, polls and social interactions included.  The NintendoTvii stuff is its own thing I want to talk about in another post, but generally, the Miiverse integration is fairly impressive here.

While it is still a little early to judge on its full impact and potential without getting more details on the specifics of its game integration, the way it is integrated as a full living service rather than an afterthought is promising.  This one gets a big thumbs up from me.


Virtual Console – As  part of the presentation, Nintendo confirmed  one of the bullet points on my wishlist by confirming that WiiWare and VirtualConsole content will transfer to the Wii U.  The bad news is, in order to maintain near perfect emulation for these older content, the Wii U switches to a Wii mode when running this content, and worse, Virtual Console games on the Wii will NOT be playable on the Wii U GamePad.

I feel like this is a wasted opportunity.  GamePad support for Wii VirtualConsole content is one of the most requested features by fans.  Surely there will be Wii U ready Virtual Console games released on the Wii shop?  If so there must be a solution for a patch similar to how many iPhone apps were patched to work better with iPads.   In that sense, there is hope that many of the VC titles will see Wii U ‘patches’ that make them fully Wii U compatible, allowing with Miiverse and GamePad use.  The open question is, will it cost money or will gamers who purchased their VC content on Wii get the patch for free?  And will Nintendo bother?  (please?) 

Until this issue is resolved, I cannot give it more than a 4 out of 10.


Nintendo Accounts – Missing in action and with the suggestion of the Wii to Wii U transfer process being similar to the 3DS to 3DS transfer process, this has raised concern that there will continue to be no accounts based solution to purchases.  
Not much to say here.  No credit for the big N.


Nintendo Network  Functions -  Nintendo Network wasn’t mentioned but its presence was felt everywhere from the NintendoTvii presentation to the Black Ops II presentation.  We know the backend exists.  We simply don’t know what kind of hub/store it will have, whether communities similar to the one in Mario Kart 7 will come built in or not, whether accounts exists (see previous point), and pretty much everything else related to a modern gaming network service.
It’s clear the Wii U will be heavily reliant on the internet, but we really don’t know much beyond that.


eShop -  The Wii U storefront remains missing in action, but we got some really nice tidbits from the Japanese presentation.  NintendoLand and New Super Mario Brothers U will be available for digital download day 1.  We also got some neat surprise eShop reveals in the form of Nano Assault Neo and Mutant Mudds Deluxe as Wii U eshop downloadable titles in the launch window.
As we expect at least one more presentation prior to release, this will get a passing grade for now.


Thumbs up on passing the test
Surprises I went in expecting surprises and we got surprises.  Aside from Bayonetta 2, the biggest surprise is the paradign shifting transformation of the TV functionality from a kind of quaint TV universal remote at E3  to an integrated TV solution attacking the TV set-top market from an unexpected angle where Nintendo isn’t selling a TV solution, but rather giving it away for free.  There’s a lot of potential there for NintendoTVii, but that’s for another time.


Total Score  53/80     66% 

A final Note: The score may appear to be very low, but I don’t rate on a 8-10 scale.  Nintendo convinced me to get a Deluxe 32GB set sometime around launch, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for more and to put them to task for not answering some key questions about the Wii U, mainly on their Nintendo Network and accounts side of things.

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