So whilst getting into sessions at PAX might have been something of a bum steer this time around there was one thing that it really excelled at: getting people together to play games, any kind of games. I don’t mean this lightly either they catered to essentially every time of gamer you could think of with their massive games libraries and spaces dedicated to playing. By far the best time I had there was stumbling into the free play PC area late at night when there were a bunch of PCs free and our group of friends just playing, like the good old days of LANs. It’s also an opportunity for gamers like me, who spend the vast majority of their time on a single platform, to experiment with others and strangely enough I found myself behind the controls of a WiiU.
The game we played was Nintendo Land, a kind of lavish tech demo ala Wii Sports which did the same thing for the original Wii back in the day. Most of the games are incredibly simplistic in nature but are centered around playing together and demonstrating what’s possible with the Wii U controller. My friend who introduced us to this game insisted that we play one which was essentially a game of one person trying to run/hide from everyone else. Catch is the person who’s being chased has the Wii U controller and can see everything that the people trying to hunt them down is doing. I was a little skeptical at first but I figured that I had some time to kill while our friends finished up their game of Puerto Rico.
Then something weird happened, I started having fun.
It’s a simple premise but the game play that comes out of it is really quite fun as you team up against one person to try and chase them down. The other games in Nintendo Land are based around similar premises, like one where you’re a ghost that has to scare all the other players, and they all have that simple joy of co-operative/competitive play which makes them great for both kids and adults a like. I didn’t end up playing all of the modes since we were meandering off to the PC area but I walked away with the feeling that whilst the Wii U might not be the crazy success the Wii was there’s definitely something to it, even if that thing won’t potentially sell.
Honestly I think the problem here is one of market saturation and the value proposition that the Wii U brings to the table. The Wii was successful because it went after the largest target market: people who don’t traditionally play games. This helped spread the console to places where it never would’ve gone before, to the point where just getting one seemed to elect you to an exclusive club. This was at the cost of alienating some of the more hardcore/dedicated fan base, something I’m sure Nintendo was willing to wear for the sales it got. The problem with this is that the difference between the Wii and the Wii U isn’t big enough for those kinds of users to see the value in upgrading, indeed when I told my wife (an avid user of our Wii) about the Wii U she wondered why we’d bother getting it and, at the time, I was inclined to agree with her. After playing it I can see that there are some cool uses cases for that giant controller, ones that I’m sure current Wii owners would appreciate, but I don’t think Nintendo has done a great job of selling that so far.
Did this convince me to buy one? Not particularly as there’s no games that are drawing me to the platform and I can’t see myself getting a group of people together to play Nintendo Land very often. This could change, indeed it might almost be worth it for a HD Zelda game, but there’s little more than that novelty aspect going for it currently. I’m not exactly sure how Nintendo can overcome this, they’re in a bit of a chicken and egg situation at the moment with developers and titles, but there’s no denying that there’s something to the Wii U concept.