Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nintendo's Wii U, Keynote address and Nintendo Innovations/Gimmicks Throughout the Years.

This week marks one of the “big deal” annual events for any video gamer. The Electronic Entertainment Exposition, or E3, which has become the big tradeshow for the video game industry. I was all rip-rarin' to go and report on the events at this year's show and then I looked around and saw what virtually every blogger who's ever played a video game is doing. So, expect more video-game posts this week, but I'll try to put my own spin on them. Today was the Nintendo keynote address, and yeah, I want to at least mention the new console they debuted, but I'm not going to parrot the same information that several hundred other blogs put up a few hours ago, I want to go in a different direction. Nintendo has had its successes and failures with hardware innovation, I want to talk about the “gimmick” behind the Wii U (Yep, that's what they named the new system,) and revisit the gimmicks Nintendo has introduced in the past, what worked... and what didn't.

In about 2 years, all us video gamers will either be enthralled by, or mocking this thing.

The biggest new feature for Nintendo's Wii U is the controller, a tablet-style thing that looks like an overgrown iPhone with controller buttons on the side, and a screen that splits the difference between smartphone screens and, say, an iPad. The screen on the controller will interact with the TV screen to use techniques used in Augmented Reality gaming, “Zoom in” features, maybe inventory/information screens for RPGs like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for Gamecube, which required a Gameboy Advance for each player. The innovative controller is being paired with strong system specs and at-launch third-party support to try to attract back the “hardcore gamers” who didn't care for the family-friendly Wii. I applaud this effort, and if they really can retain the audience they attracted with the Wii and get the love of the traditional video gamer back, they may win the next-generation console wars before anyone else fires a shot.

The thing about Nintendo's hardware gimmicks is that their success is tied to how well supported they are by software, and how much using them makes gameplay more fun. We've seen games for the Nintendo DS handheld that tacked on support for the secondary touch screen “because it was there,” same deal with the motion control of the Wii. It doesn't matter how cool a technology is for a game console if there aren't any games that support it, or worse, if most of the games that support it do so in an awkward, clunky way that actually detracts from playing a game. Here's Nintendo's list of hits and misses:

Nintendo Entertainment System Era:

This is where it all began for most of us, Nintendo's first mass-market console and the one that put them on the map. Nintendo had 2 unusual peripherals at launch, one more near the end of the system's life-cycle, for a score by my count of one incredible hit, and two misses.

Convinced a generation to buy the "futuristic console that is nothing like Atari,"
 then ignored robots and sold us Mario.

The Light Zapper (HIT): The original home console light gun. Shooting games with a toy gun you fire at the screen, and things on-screen die. Even without a huge number of games supporting this, the ones that used it were great, and needed it to play.
R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy (MISS): Ah, R.O.B. No one knew what to do with you. This accessory looked cool, but no one really developed games that used him beyond Gyromite and Stack-Up, but his inclusion allowed Nintendo to show how different they were from, say, Atari, which was responsible for the first great video game crash only a few years earlier.
The Power Glove (MISS): Expensive, cool looking, utterly extraneous. A programmable glove controller that was imprecise and once again, only got 2 games that supported it: Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler. Aside from appearing in the 1989 film The Wizard, with Fred Savage, this was a dud.

Nintendo 64 Era:

This is where someone might be thinking, “Hey, Doc... you skipped a generation!” Well, so did Nintendo. Super NES accessories were few and far between, there was a version of the Zapper, but Nintendo was busy at the time innovating with handhelds (more on that later.) They got back to being kooky with their main console with the N64, and innovations were centered on the unusual controller.

For a controller that had so many important features, it really was kind of terrible.

N64 Controller (Mixed Bag): This weird looking three grip controller popularized analog sticks and behind the controller triggers, but its unwieldy shape and many unnecessary buttons put it at the top spot on a lot of peoples “Worst Controller” lists.
The Controller Pak (MISS): A memory pak that plugged into the controller. One big problem. Almost no cartridges used it in favor of battery pak saving on the cartridge itself.
Rumble Pak (HIT): Another controller plug-in. Force-feedback vibration, now standard, though built-in to virtually every modern controller.

Handhelds and Miscellany:

Nintendo practically invented handheld video games, from the days of Game-N-Watch, the original Gameboy, and subsequent systems, they've been virtually without serious competition in this area.

Tell me this doesn't look like something Darth Vader might use to discern the location of the
Rebel Base from captured prisoners.

Nintendo Virtual Boy (MISS): Yikes, people still call Nintendo out for this one. Heavy, it strapped to your head, hurt people's eyes because the graphics were greyscale inexplicably done in RED, and the games weren't even good. The only upside... if you still have one that works, it is worth a bundle.
Nintendo DS (HIT): This was mocked on announcement, but a year after launch, the DS critics went mostly silent. Two screens, stylus/touchscreen gameplay... this little handheld broke new ground, and some of what it did first is found in all smartphone mobile gaming.
Nintendo 3DS (Jury Still Out, I'm gonna call it Probable MISS): Another “gimmick” handheld, the cool thing being that it can do 3D without glasses. Problem is, it makes a lot of people sick/hurts their eyes after playing for more than a few minutes, and 3D is a crazy battery drain. You can turn it off and keep playing, but if that's true, what's the point of the system?

They can't all be hits, but Nintendo keeps swinging for the fences, and knocks a few out  of the park.

The best remaining modern example of Nintendo's innovating is, of course, the Wii, as the Gamecube Era didn't really see anything crazy aside from a cord allowing the Gameboy Advance to be hooked in to a controller port. Wii's motion controller and its phenomenal worldwide success (and subsequent imitation by both Sony and Microsoft) is a well-documented phenomenon, that brings us up to date. The only question that remains... will Wii U be another Wii-style Hit, or will it be an expensive and unnecessary gimmick like the Virtual Boy? What do you think?
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Zombie Ad said...

The N64 might have had a clunky controller but, ooooh the memories of Goldeneye. Oh how that rocked my world :)

The Angry Lurker said...

Never owned anything Nintendo, never liked them, I'm a Sony whore but have played the Wii with friends.

Dave said...

I always loved my Nintendo 64. I grew up with it lol.

Biff Tanner said...

I have a R.O.B still in the box son.


Alpha said...

It's amusing to see how far Nintendo has come.

Conspyre said...

Interestingly, apparently shortly before launch, Nintendo instructed third-party game manufacturers to not focus on 3D on the 3DS as a gameplay device, but as a graphical option. I would assume that's related to the abysmal battery life. Hopefully they'll have a second iteration like the DS did, as I'm seriously interested in a few of the 3DS games that have come out so far.

Post a Comment