Game on for Nintendo: the new Wii U has a smart act to follow
The growth in popularity of smartphones and tablets is a challenge to console gaming, but the console makers aren’t giving up without a fight
As Nintendo prepares to launch its latest games console in Europe, the era of console gaming is under threat from the growth in popularity of smartphones and tablets, offering convenient and addictive games more cheaply than ever before.
But predictions of the death of the console may be premature. The release of major titles such as Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Halo 4 prove there is still a market for blockbuster games with high production values and significant investment from the studios.
And the console makers aren’t giving up without a fight. The current crop of consoles has been hanging around for longer than usual, with the lifecycle extended by the introduction of motion sensitive controllers.
Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft have been concentrating on making the games console the hub of entertainment in the home, adding services such as music, movies and TV to the consoles.
Nintendo is hoping that its Wii U, with high-definition graphics, a touchscreen controller and – eventually – streaming TV services will be enough to grab the collective gaming imagination.
It has a tough act to follow. The Wii was a hit, carving itself a niche as a family console and selling almost 97.2 million since its 2006 launch. While the Wii U appears to be targeting the same audience, it’s also trying to shed the image that its predecessor had of being a less serious games console.
The high-definition graphics will go some way towards this, something the Wii missed out on. The graphics and video quality on the Wii U will eclipse its predecessor, and open up more games possibilities for the new console.
There are 23 launch titles available, with a further 29 set to be added in the coming months. Games such as Assassin’s Creed III stand up well against the Xbox and PlayStation 3 counterparts, and in the launch line-up is an exclusive survival horror title from Ubisoft, ZombiU.
But you also get the titles for which the Wii has become known – family-friendly favourites such as Just Dance, which will include special functions available only for that system such as a puppet master mode that allows a fifth player to control the choreography in real time.
A version of Super Mario Bros built for the Wii U, New Super Mario Bros U, will also be available, and EA’s Mass Effect 3 will make its way to the console.
The big selling point for the Wii U is the 6.2in touchscreen controller known as the GamePad. Intended as some sort of compromise between the tablet and the console, it tries to tap into the trend for touchscreen devices.
The controller can be used as a personal screen to play games, as a controller or to complement the controller with additional functions. So consumers who are already familiar with the type of gestures common on smartphone games – swiping and tapping – will be able to make the leap to the touchscreen Wii controller with little difficulty.
Nintendo has also promised TV services for the console through Nintendo TVii, which will allow access to pay-TV streaming services; that won’t be available until December. YouTube access is also planned for the console, but that has also been delayed.
The Wii U’s backwards compatibility is another bonus. Most of the Wii games that players have spent the past six years building up will play on the Wii U, and the motion-sensitive remote controls are also a key part of its control system.