Alt Trend

Nintendo seems to think that everyone has been doing multiplayer wrong for years. Everyone. Usernames are dumb. Bluetooth headsets are clunky. Voice chat is a fad. Among other things, it seems like they are intent on reinventing the wheel, along with fire, water mills and most other human technologies. This is not entirely without precedent; this is Japan we’re talking about.

With their latest venture, Nintendo had a shiny new CEO in place and sounded eager to shrug off its outdated habits. Many fans hoped for a brighter (or at least more up-to-date) future of modern multiplayer and OS design.

Many of those hopeful fans were betrayed, or at best ignored.

From the start, things were a bit off. While many hoped that the company would finally enter the current decade and embrace usernames, their hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the Switch would still use friend codes. This alone is embarrassing enough, but then again this is also the same company that applied its addiction to friend codes to an actual game.

But at the same time, this goes against the grain. Nintendo has prided itself on being a company that promotes social gaming; ostensibly this was a driving force behind the development of its “XL” handhelds, and was a prominent element of the marketing campaign for the Switch. Yet they also implement arcane and overcomplicated ways of socializing in their games and services.

Notably, in Miitomo (Nintendo’s re-version of Sony’s Playstation Home environment), there are four methods of adding new friends: find them by scouring your friend lists on social platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, bring your phones into physical proximity, invite them via email or text, or add someone who is a friend of a friend. There is no way to simply search for a person and then add them, like every other social platform in existence allows you to do. No, Nintendo has to build their own drum, write their own beat, and march to it in their own strange way.

But now the humiliation has extended to their latest multiplayer franchise, Splatoon. The new Switch features 4v4 online matches, local matches (either with one unit shared via split-screen or multiple units communicating wirelessly!), and offline play, including co-op on the side.

But therein lies the first caveat. The co-op isn’t just a normal line item on the game’s menu, like every other game ever concieved. No, sir, it’s part of the game’s online map rotation. Players don’t simply vote for the next map to be played, nor is it determined randomly. Maps are on a fixed rotation–only two maps available for play at a given time, cycling every four hours. If you don’t play well on the two maps currently active, you’re just screwed.

But wait, there’s more! Co-op isn’t just a mode, it’s a map! This means that if people want to play co-op online, they have to wait to play it at specific times of the day! Right now you might be saying, “Wow, that’s just Nintendo giving everyone a giant middle finger,” but no, there’s still more to come.

The real piece de resistance here is the hardware.

See, Nintendo thinks that wireless chat headsets are dumb. Who really wants to use those, anyway? And voice chat, on the system you’re playing on? That never works, it’s too unreliable. Microsoft and Sony have just been chasing their tails for the past 15 years, with no success. But Nintendo knows exactly what to do.

What you do is, you roll out a voice chat app for smartphones. On its face, this isn’t too bad, it just feels quirky and odd. On the one hand, separating voice chat from the game itself has its advantages. But there is something more lurking beneath the surface, because next you have to consider: what if I want game audio and voice chat at the same time?

Nintendo’s got you fam. All you have to do is sit there with your Switch in your hands and your phone on the seat next to you, with this damn goofy looking adapter somewhere between them. You could put your phone in your pocket–that’s not entirely an unreasonable demand–except you might accidentally input a command or something, because the screen must remain on, with the app in the foreground, or it drops the call. What’s that? Battery life? Just plug in one of those big external batteries for that. Problem solved. You need to check a text or look up a guide real quick? Just have another phone handy. Simple!

Yeah, now this is just bullshit. It might actually just be Nintendo trolling people, or being ironic. I don’t know, but it’s definitely bullshit. There’s a good deal of overlap between these categories. Personally I don’t give a shit about voice chat–if I make use of voice chat while gaming, it’s going to be with friends, via an external app I can control independently, rather than with 12-year-old edgelords who claim to have slept with my mother and think I’m entirely incapable of playing the game in the singular manner they have determined is correct.

I suppose next Nintendo will announce that wifi is too difficult to implement, and release a little modem/router you have to carry with you everywhere that will just siphon power off your smartphone.

Here’s hoping they don’t read this.


My Nintendo and Miitomo finally reached the West the other day. For years Nintendo’s fans have endured outdated, sometimes badly-supported online systems, and finally the light has arrived to drive back the dark age.

Sometimes you just need a brighter bulb.

So far, My Nintendo is mostly a replacement for the long-beloved Club Nintendo. There are certainly some nice things in there: you can use points to get games at a discount, or get games for free outright, or get new digs for your Mii. Points can be earned by doing social activities like logging into the eShop or doing things in the Miitomo app, or by spending money on the eShop. So far, it feels like Nintendo is trying to be a facsimile of itself, and not entirely doing it well.

For one, coins are no longer awarded for registering games or doing surveys. No, you actually have to spend money on Nintendo’s eShop to get those “gold” coins that can later be spent on…other games. The loss of surveys particuarly irks me. They allowed for a channel of feedback from people who played the games to state what they did and didn’t like about those games, which could (hopefully) be used by developers to improve further releases. It was one of the few survey systems out there that actually rewarded the survey takers with something more concrete than a vague chance at winning an undefined prize. Not only was this communication allowed, it was encouraged…and now that’s gone. It’s a big loss in my mind. We’ll see how long that sticks.

Now there are three types of points, and three primary means of earning them. Miitomo points are earned through actions taken within the Miitomo app, such as making friends, answering survey questions and logging in. Platinum points come from slightly more meta activities like logging into the eShop and Miiverse, and linking a Nintendo Account to various social media. Gold points are only given in response to eShop purchases, and (thus far) can only be used to redeem games or discounts on games on the eShop. Everything is now broken down into categories…if you want something specific, you have to do something specific. Most notably, if you want an item with some real value (ie, a game), you ultimately must spend money for it.

This categorization alone isn’t something that concerns me. The rate of return, and relative value of these points, seems to be somewhat less than in the old Club Nintendo system. Super Mario Land 2 on the 3DS Virtual Console costs $3.99. It is listed as a My Nintendo reward for 35 points, making MN Gold points worth roughly 11 cents apiece. But to get 35 Gold points, you have to spend at least $30 on the eShop. Is it worth it to spend $30 just to get a $4 download for free? Of couse not, but it still puts it in “nice bonus” territory. You definitely don’t spend purely to get the freebies, unless you’re really that gullible, but it’s nice to get what amounts to a loyalty reward. But just to ruin the experience a little, physical purchases can no longer be registered to get points, only eShop purchases do. This cuts out a lot of people who prefer owning games on disc, and kind of turns this into a shit sandwich for them.

Now the rub: My Nintendo points don’t live forever. In fact, they have a rather short shelf life of six months. Yes, you have half a year to use up those points before they vanish forever. I get the impetus to drive customers to “use it or lose it”, but this just feels barbaric to me. It reminds me of retail store gift cards that would expire, sometimes within a year, whether they were used or not. Of course, this isn’t an entirely comparable situation, as these points are very much not intended to fill the role of a gift card. But it’s still kind of dickish. Then again, it will depend entirely on how often the virtual stock of the My Nintendo rewards rotates.

I still can’t quite figure out Miitomo. It’s like Nintendo tried to make their version of PlayStation Home, except it doesn’t have the big persistent lobby. Or they wanted to reinvent The Sims via the Wii U dashboard. I don’t know. It’s weird. Other than the odd activities like dressing your Sim Mii, what really confuses and irritates me is the lack of social integration. Well, not even that…there is social integration in the app, but not with Nintendo’s own social network. What?

Among the swell of hopes and promises of this sea change, many anticipated the arrival of a modern account system, something Nintendo has had trouble grasping over the past decade as Microsoft and Sony passed it by. While they’ve made strides with the web-accessible eShop, purchases are still heavily tied to hardware rather than accounts, making replacing a broken console a tedious and frustrating process. But Miitomo seems to have been concieved in a bizarre quantum state, a mix of old and new, lacking most of the advantages of both.

When you first launch the app, you can login via your Nintendo Network account, and then link the two together. This is an obvious move, being that all these things fall well within Nintendo’s ecosystem. The next obvious move would be effectively tying Miitomo and NN accounts together, making your friend list accessible from the app, right? Not in Nintendo’s world. Not only does Miitomo not give you direct and immediate access to your friend list, you cannot add friends via Nintendo Network IDs. Only three methods are available: the first two involve linking Miitomo to your Twitter or Facebook acount, which will trigger the app to search for friends who are also on Miitomo. The last method involves phones being in physical proximity to each other. I get that Nintendo wants people to be social, and that’s nice, but this is kind of a ridiculous method to rely on for something that’s intended to be internet-based. Oddly, there is a screen to generate a QR code, which you can distribute to people to scan in via their phones, but this does not function as a friend-adding mechanism; rather it only adds their Mii to your app. What exactly this does, I have no idea, and I find it rather pointless.

But still, Nintendo…why? Why isn’t there some cross-functionality with Nintendo Network? PSN and Xbox Live let users buy games, manage friends message people and organize groups from any point of the holy trinity of console, smartphone and PC. Nintendo saw this, and decided it needed to catch up…but then stopped somewhere along the way, presumably to talk about another Star Fox Zero video or reference its long history as a card company. It looks like they still have some studying to do. Or maybe even more changes are in store, and they’re just keeping them as pleasant surprises for now.

Let’s hope.

perfect silence

He's actually just pumped about a new Potbelly opening nearby.

Horizons are broadening. Nintendo’s newest and most original IP in a long time, Splatoon has been looking quite impressive for something that failed to get the attention of Miyamoto the first time around. Impressions have been almost universally enthusiastic since its first public display, and the gaming world can hardly contain itself long enough to wait for its release just over a month from now. It could well be instrumental in turning around the Wii U’s fortunes.

It’s not quite perfect, though. Splatoon is missing a feature that is key to games these days, something that many people can’t imagine a game not supporting: voice chat. To many, this is simply unimaginable. How can you play an online team-based third person shooter with no way of live, direct communcation with the other members of your team? The simple answer is the internet sucks. But it’s more complicated than that.
Actually, it’s not. The internet is not known as a haven for rational, well-articulated debate, and the gaming community even less so. Playing online games is often an exercise in self-restraint, and more often than not involves use of ignore lists and offline modes to maintain a buffer against the tide of verbal excrement that constantly flows in. In almost any given online match, the majority of the participants do not have a microphone active, or have incoming voice chat muted–often, if it’s one of those, it’s both. People just do not want to interact verbally online, for the most part.
And it’s not because gamers are antisocial. It’s because gamers are assholes to each other. If they’re not raging over their most recent death streak, they’re lording over everyone else and putting all their extra character points into Hubris. Things are spoken (and screamed) over game chat channels that are often reserved for the most bigoted of rallies. And when people try to break the cycle, it only gets worse. Some games don’t have voice chat at all, and probably wouldn’t benefit from it. For many, talking to strangers on the internet is like opening a gate in a dam holding back an entire lake of fecal waste: you can do it, and you can even probably avoid getting covered in shit, but chances are you’ll be looking for a change of clothes regardless.
Nintendo is hoping to avoid the issue entirely by eschewing voice chat. In the past, they have replaced this with a simplistic interface meant to encourage positive interaction and keep focus on the game. I didn’t mind this, because I would rather play (and rage) in my own solitude than subject others to the siren call of my frustration, or subject myself to others’ frustration. I extensively played Black Ops 2 online via my Wii U and never once used voice chat. And I didn’t miss it.
Don’t misunderstand–This is also a result of some of the more inane limitations of the Wii U. Unlike with its competitors, the system has no support whatsoever for a wireless headset. If one really wants to engage in this sort of thing, there are only two possible methods: use one of an elite few USB headsets that work, or use a 3.5mm headset wired directly into…the gamepad. This is only possible with the gamepad, as the Wii U Pro Controller does not have a 3.5mm connector. It’s not nearly as asinine as some past solutions, but it’s definitely not going to motivate any “core” gamers to switch to Nintendo’s console for their gaming needs.
Then again, does anyone out there really, seriously want to LISTEN TO THIS?

one more time

In a Nintendo Direct yesterday, Satoru Iwata announced a new model of 3DS to be released next year, featuring various improvments. Among these include a larger screen with better parallax effect, a faster processor, more memory, a second analog nub (finally) and more shoulder buttons. The New 3DS’ screen can adjust its brightness automatically to compensate for ambient conditions, and track the player’s face to keep things looking just right.

The internet hasn’t taken this well, with complaints that the current hardware is now completely obsolete, that this move by Nintendo is an “insult” to its longtime supporters, and cries of how Nintendo won’t support their hardware for any considerable length of time. One complaint which strikes me as particularly ignorant is that which “this is the first time Nintendo has ever split the userbase…depending on which re-release of the handheld they bought.” Most forum comments stop just short of outright claims of fraud. I’m left wondering how long it will be until lawsuits from jilted customers start popping up.

I really don’t see where any of this hate is coming from. It’s not much different from the overall progression of Nintendo consoles over the past 15 years or so. While the original Game Boy persisted for a good deal before finally needing a successor, the Game Boy Color was only on shelves for three years before the Advance model was rolled out. It was another three years before they changed gears entirely and released the DS in 2004. The original 3DS was released in 2010…and here we are today.

Notably, the hinge of Nintendo’s strategy was that each new model included full backwards compatibility with the previous model, allowing customers to continue playing their older games on the new hardware, and continue to get their worth out of them. While the new 3DS will have some new hardware (namely the second analog nub and second set of shoulders) that will undoubtedly result in newer games that will be unplayable on the “old” 3DS, the new model can still play the old games. An upgrade is in no way forced, and the old hardware is nowhere near being cut off from support. Even if that were a possibility of some kind, developers simply could not ignore the over 40 million 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS units already out there. Games will still be made for these handhelds. They are not going away.

That being said, I’m not a mindless cheerleader blindly supporting the move. There are aspects I don’t like, first and foremost the name. With Nintendo still smarting from the confusion caused by the unimaginative name and bad marketing related with the Wii U, one would think they would at least try to come up with a name to distinguish the new from the old. But no, apparently Nintendo is still taking notes from Apple and are just calling it the “new 3DS”. I wish them luck in helping customers tell the two apart, and I don’t envy the legions of Best Buy and GameStop employees whose jobs it will be to enlighten them.

Hardware-wise, I actually don’t think Nintendo went far enough with the changes. The second analog nub is a joke. I fail to see how it will be comparably useful to the existing circle pad on the left side. Personally I enjoy eraser-head mice over touchpads and such, but this is a very different application. Besides the limited method of movement detection, it’s crammed into a tiny space that only leads my imagination to conjure scenarios involving my thumb slamming into the base of the hinge at high speed. I’m also less than enthusiastic about the extra set of shoulders. More shoulders means more can be done, but the placement of these buttons makes their practical use seem awkward. But I could be wrong, you never really know until you actually hold it in your hands and use it.

Other than that, the beefier CPU and extra memory mean better performance and more detailed graphics in the future, and microSD support is a nice step forward, though I question the placement of the slot in a recessed well in the bottom. In all, it seems like a mixed bag. I won’t be planning to upgrade anytime soon, as I’m quite happy with my 3DS XL. Maybe the next revision will have the true second circle pad I’ve been waiting for.


As the seventh generation began winding down, everyone had high hopes. The Wii had smashed even its enthusiastic expectations, bolstered by a generous library of classics. Microsoft cemented its place as a major player, with successful franchises and the continuing expansion of Xbox Live. The PlayStation 3 managed to pick itself up and race to a close third. Overall, the three together managed to eclipse the sales of their combined predecessors, and as the eighth (and current) generation loomed on the horizon, everyone was riding high waves of success and victory (and income). Those waves have since crashed on the rocky shores of a new land, and those who thought they would stick a perfect landing have had something of a rude awakening.

Everyone has taken a step (or multiple steps) back from their originally-ambitious offerings of a few years ago. Microsoft recently announced a Kinectless Xbox One package (as well as finally announcing free access to services like Netflix), doomsayers are predicting the demise of the Vita, and the Wii U…it really doesn’t need to be said. So far the only real successes are the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS, both of which seem to be enjoying incredible popularity and acclaim. This feels to me like the strongest example yet of Darwinian gaming, vicious competitors adapting to 1) keep themselves alive a bit longer, and 2) try to gain an advantage over their neighbors, to keep themselves alive even longer.
Almost all of this is attributable to marketing blunders or bad design decisions that went uncorrected. Nintendo’s Wii U seems to be loved by most of its owners, but horrible–even nonexistent in some cases–marketing left many prospective buyers confused about what it was. Even highly acclaimed, well designed games like Wonderful 101, Sonic Lost World, and Pikmin 3 haven’t done much to shore it up against the onslaught of its competitors. Others, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Batman: Arkham City, have demonstrated the strong possibilities of using the gamepad to augment the user experience, but it hasn’t caught on. More than ever before, Nintendo is relying on its first-party offerings to keep the life jacket inflated.
Meanwhile, Sony has had wild success with the PlayStation 4, but its little cousin the Vita has been struggling. This despite the handheld’s greatest strength: Remote play. The appeal of playing your PS4 over LTE while on break at work is undeniably strong…yet it doesn’t seem to have motivated that many cross sales. Sony has at least seen this and put out a bundle for sale in Europe–but they have no plans to market this in North America. They’ve seen the light, but seem to be trying to look at it from an odd angle, or perhaps in the wrong wavelength.
Listening to Joystiq the other day, an interesting idea was posited: What if Nintendo radically changed their strategy, and changed the Wii U as we know it? What if they dropped the gamepad, made the Virtual Console a subscription service, and scaled down the hardware until it was essentially a “Nintendo Ouya”? Legions of fans would gladly fork over cash every month to play Nintendo classics, that much is beyond doubt. There are still dozens of games that could put huge momentum behind the Virtual Console, but Nintendo so far has failed to tap the torrent. Meanwhile, Sony puts out tons of games each year that are freely accessible, as long as you’re willing to pay a recurring fee, a model that seems to have had resounding prosperity. (Of course, PS+ has far more useful features than just that.) This is something Nintendo could adapt themselves to, and exploit, and probably carry right into the endzone.
But I feel like I may as well ask animals to stop trying to cross the highway.

virtual consolation

Nintendo is having a very odd month so far. I have to wonder if they woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or perhaps misread their horoscope. Maybe the Earth’s magnetic field is just out of alignment. I don’t know, I’m not a fortune teller.

So far this generation their modus operandi seems to be that they don’t quite know what they’re doing. They’re out of their element, trying to catch up with the times and not quite succeeding. So like any desperate geriatric, they seem to be doing anything they can think of to get the attention of the hip youngsters. Problem is, they’re not thinking of the right things.

The failure to market the Wii U properly is just now reaching the synapses of Nintendo’s upper management. To their credit, rather than shifting blame and making meaningless promises, Satoru Iwata imposed on himself a 50% pay cut, which will no doubt motivate himself and his management to make greater strides in improving the appeal of their product.

Number one at the top of the list of the moment is the Virtual Console. It’s an abysmal failure. What could have been a flood of titles has been woefully underutilized. Even when it has been utilized, it’s been in the most backward way possible. Currently there are a total of 66 titles available on the Wii U Virtual Console. This pales in comparison to its predecessor, which had 186 titles available at this point in its life cycle. Nintendo seemed to notice this vacuum a couple months ago, but so far have made very little progress, despite (or maybe because of) some lofty promises. Only now are they getting around to the release of A Link to the Past on Wii U, a full two months after its sequel hit 3DS. This would have been a perfect double sale to promote both products and both platforms, but I guess it wasn’t too high on Nintendo’s list.

It’s understandable that licensing is a major issue in these matters (something that kept EarthBound in the vault for so long), but in the case of first-party titles, said licensing issues are far less signifcant, or even nonexistent. Across both Wii U and 3DS, there are a grand total of 11 Mario games. They could easily have launched with all the NES, SNES, Game Boy and GBC games, ready to blow the doors off. But they didn’t. Super Mario Bros 3, one of the most highly acclaimed of the series, is still in the “TBA” category. That’s just sad.

It’s also understood that Nintendo is obsessively meticulous in the titles that are ported to the Virtual Console. They strive for perfection, and many titles go through a rigorous process to ensure there are as few issues as possible for those who should play said games. But a great deal of titles were successfully released on the Wii VC, that much is beyond debate. Wii games also run in emulation on the Wii U. But to play older VC games on the Wii U, it is necessary to switch the console into Wii mode. If the games are already running in a shell of some sort, why is it not possible to have the games switch over automatically, and switch back when you’re done? (This is a serious question; if there is a real reason, I would like to know it.)

More than this, it is not possible to use any Wii U hardware to control these games, meaning to play SNES games one must utilize the somewhat awkward arrangement of connecting a controller to a controller. What makes this particularly ludicrous, is that it’s now possible to play in Wii mode through the gamepad, using it as a primary screen. What does this mean? It means if you do this with a game that requires the use of the classic controller, you must sit there staring at a 6″ screen, with a controller plugged into a Wiimote that does nothing but sit next to you. It’s ridiculous. If games are going to be playable on the gamepad screen, why not at very least allow the use of the gamepad’s controls?

Of course, if this were actually done it would remove most of the incentive to buy Virtual Console games on the Wii U. And we all know where Nintendo cashes its checks.

Another market they seem to have forgotten about is the 3DS Virtual Console. While a total of 131 games have been pushed to the platform thus far, the depth of this catalog is broad but shallow. So far only Game Boy, Game Boy Color, NES, Game Gear and (for a select few) Game Boy Advance titles are available. Where are the SNES games? I would be happy just to be able to play Super Metroid, EarthBound, or Link to the Past on the go. For that matter, where is a cross-buy option? It’s entirely possible to buy a PS Vita, PS3 or PS4 game from any computer and have it installed while you’re out, one cannot buy a 3DS game through a Wii U, or vice versa–this is despite the rather glaring fact that one can view games from both platforms. I can see Wonderful 101 in my 3DS eShop, but I can’t look at its details or choose to buy it, let alone have it installed and ready when I get home. This feature alone would be an incredibly convenient feature. So of course Nintendo hasn’t done it.

Oddly, their most recent announcement has been that of DS games on the Virtual Console. This is an interesting move; I’m curious to know what the market is for playing DS games on a home console, but I’m willing to wager it isn’t as significant as those involving N64 and Gamecube games. We’ll see how this year pans out for Iwata.

wii woes, part 3

Nintendo has managed to correct its wrongs in recent years, but the list of things they’ve failed to do right is still considerable. With the Wii U, many old mistakes were learned from…and many new ones are in the process of being downplayed, if not ignored.

Part Tri Ultimate: Nintendo Network
Online gaming has been something of a mystery to Nintendo. In the 90s, a small but thriving community existed in the form of Satellaview. While the service’s user base never exceeded 120,000, it had a loyal core that helped keep it alive well into 2001, just 18 months before the debut of Xbox Live. In 1999, Nintendo launched RANDnet as a successor service to support the 64DD; unfortunately both failed.
Perhaps feeling burned by the winding down of Satellaview and the downfall of RANDnet, Nintendo refused to even consider the possibility of online gaming as they went into the sixth generation. While a broadband adapter was released for the Gamecube, only seven games supported it, and only four of those supported online play. The Gamecube’s online community–if it could be called that–scraped by, barely existing for about six years before Nintendo delivered a coup de grace in anticipation of the Wi-Fi Connection service.
But WFC was just another blundering stepping stone for Nintendo. The service wasn’t concieved until after the DS and Wii had reached the market, and the software was difficult to deploy to both platforms. Nintendo’s solution was to put it in the game cartridges, which only created more problems. With no centralized piece of data to rely on, it was necessary to make use of friend codes.
Oh yes, friend codes. Their legacy is so damning and tainted I won’t even go into it here.

With this generation Nintendo has made their first real attempt at creating an online service to compete with Microsoft and Sony. Behold, Nintendo Network. Finally, a service with a centralized profile, a messaging system, and the ability join online games in a manner similar to that on competing platforms.

But it’s still not quite enough. The Network lacks a real method of mass interactivity; the Miiverse seems to want to emulate environments like Sony’s Home, but is really just a visual representation of a message board. The board itself lacks many features that have been long integrated into even the most basic forums. Direct responses are not an option; one can only respond to the main post in a thread, and hope that anyone else addressed will see the message. The one function that is both unique to NN and useful is the ability to post a screenshot of a game to the forums. This is actually something I would love to see in other services.

The system is also heavily fragmented; Nintendo leaves virtually every aspect of it up to the publishers of each game. While this is great for publisher freedom, it means the user has a very inconsistent experience. Some games may support parties, some may support voice chat. There are no cross-game parties or chats. These are things that need to change for this service to compete.

Even headset support itself leaves much to be desired. There is no bluetooth support; only 3.5mm headsets will work, and even then coverage is spotty. Really the only good choices are Nintendo’s first-party headset or one made by Turtle Beach specifically for the Wii U. Even then, headsets can only be used with the gamepad, as the Pro Controller lacks a 3.5mm port. This all adds up to create a distinct impression of a colossal lack of planning. At the very least, adding a connector port to the Pro Controller would be greatly appreciated; Bluetooth headset support would be ideal, however unlikely.

From Nintendo’s point of view, the Network is a huge leap forward, bringing them closer to their competitors’ online gaming and social webs. From outside, though, it’s less significant. I would really call it a Planck step, personally. But it’s a step. Now if they can just take a few more…

wii woes, part 2

I feel it necessary to point out (constantly) that I am, and always have been, a Nintendo fan. Ever since I got my SNES over 12 years ago, I’ve always preferred their consoles. I also happen to be curiously conservative on the issue of consoles; I believe that gaming consoles should focus primarily on gaming, with other functions being secondary. While I love that my Wii U can play Netflix, I don’t care for systems that can access Twitter, Facebook or Internet Explorer during gameplay. That is the realm of desktop computers, and compromises the console’s ability to run gaming software.

That being said, I’m not blind to Nintendo’s mistakes…past or present. And the Wii U has issues. And I’m not done ranting.
Part Deux: The Gamepad
The gamepad is a great idea. It provides a second screen with which to display extra information. It can provide a sense of immersion, like serving as an inventory manager or as a Batcomputer. It can also allow unique involvement of players, such as in New Super Mario Bros U. It has even sparked a new movement, motivating both Sony and Microsoft to come up with their own second screens for their consoles.
It’s overplayed.
Its use is enforced in far too many circumstances. System settings, Miiverse, and the eShop all require its use. It is actually impossible to navigate any of these subsystems without the gamepad. The worst part? It’s completely unnecessary. In the case of the system settings, the TV screen is wasted with just a message telling the user to look at the gamepad. In the Miiverse and eShop, it’s entirely redundant–the content on the displays is mirrored, and it’s possible to navigate using on the gamepad’s buttons, meaning these sections could be used with a pro controller or wiimote. But it’s not an option.
These issues also persist in some games and third-party apps. The Netflix app requires the use of the gamepad, once again with near-complete redundancy. Nano Assault Neo can make use of the pro controller, but only for a second player–the first must use the gamepad, even though there are no integral functions assigned to it.
At the same time, its use isn’t standardized enough. One of its most popular features is Off TV Play. This moves the game’s main display to the gamepad, allowing a game to be enjoyed without the TV being set to the Wii U input, or even turned on at all. It’s a great feature. But it’s purely up to developers to implement. Often its implementation is unintuitive–switching to gamepad mode may require navigating through several layers of clunky menus. Other times it’s literally as simple as a button in the corner of the screen. But it’s really something Nintendo should have worked out on their own beforehand, and placed a button on the gamepad dedicated to its use.
On top of all of this is the ultimate issue…battery life. The gamepad can manage about 2-3 hours on a full charge, depending on use, because it comes equipped with a woefully undersized 1500mAh battery. Nyko sells a 4000mAh pack that fits inside the same compartment, and a larger unit that attaches to the back and doubles as a stand. But Nintendo should have seen this one coming. Even just watching Netflix, with the screen off, drains the battery in less than 3 hours. I would say there should be a way to actually turn the gamepad off, but certain apps require its use, so it would be a moot point. But that just brings me back to my earlier rant, thus completing the circle of bitching.
Nintendo initially announced support for only a single gamepad per base station, but later stated that two was a possibility. Games with support for this have yet to be seen, but the point is moot, because gamepads still cannot be purchased separately. But there are still technical issues with the concept, chief among them being framerates. The gamepad runs at a maximum of 60 frames per second, each of these frames being delivered from the base station to the screen. Two gamepads would mean halving this to 30 at most, often lower than that depending on how busy the screens are. This is all the result of the fact that the gamepad is literally just a wireless screen. It’s not an independent piece of hardware. But you know what is? The 3DS.

wii woes, part 1

Let’s be honest. The Wii U is not doing well. There are a lot of reasons for this. Some are Nintendo’s fault, some aren’t. More importantly, some of these reasons can be compensated for. Some can’t.

Perhaps Nintendo’s single biggest error with the Wii U has been regarding marketing. The name “Wii U” was a terrible choice. It carries the implication that the product is either an addon to, or an upgraded version of, the Wii. Many people are still under the impression that it is nothing more than a tablet that works with the Wii. The direct result of this is that many people don’t feel inclined to buy it. Nintendo hasn’t done enough to differentiate the new from the old.

While the name can’t be changed (at least, not without causing even more confusion), Nintendo can always retool their marketing, and make customers more aware that this is a new product. Meanwhile, there are far bigger issues that need to be confronted by Iwata and company.

Part The First: Third Party Support

This is where Nintendo has traditionally trailed far behind its competitors. Ever since the Nintendo 64, they have struggled to maintain connections with other publishers and developers while Microsoft, Sony and others shovel dozens of games with long-running consumer bases onto their consoles.

At this point the Wii U is stuck in a vicious feedback loop. Currently, Black Ops 2 has an online player base of about 2000-4000 players on a daily basis. Xbox Live tallies about 200,000 on an average day. As a result, Activision feels less inclined to provide higher support, including releasing DLC on the system. As a result of this, less DLC can be sold. So far none of the Black Ops 2 DLC has been released on Wii U.

In a similar boat, the Wii U release of Injustice has recieved significant content support, but still little in comparison to its bretheren. The DLC that has come to the platform has all come with considerable tardiness. On top of this, Injustice lacks a very particular feature: the ability to play with friends online. The only available option is to play against random opponents (or not so random, in the case of ladder games). One cannot simply pick their friends off a list and play them. This can only be done in local multiplayer.

In September 2012, the Mass Effect trilogy was released as a bundle for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. While it wasn’t much more than a convenient package for 360 customers, it allowed the PS3 to experience the first game for the first time. The trilogy was not released on Wii U, and there are currently no plans to do so. A reworked version of Mass Effect 3 was released making use of the gamepad. It received good reviews; however it only includes DLC that was already on the market beforehand, and EA does not plan on releasing any more of the paid content that was released afterward.

Speaking of local multiplayer, there are some games that omit online entirely, even if it seems like an inescapable conclusion. Tank! Tank! Tank! is one of these games. Despite having broad appeal and a variety of game modes, the best that can be done is four-player local. At this point, the upcoming Arkham Origins is not planned to have any multiplayer at all. While I’m not particularly interested in multiplayer with regards to the Arkham games, no doubt it comes as a slap in the face to the millions of Wii U owners who plan (or were planning) to buy on that system.

While the userbase is lacking compared to competing platforms, the fact remains that a product never placed on the shelf can never be sold. One certainly isn’t going to build consumer confidence when their consumers feel punished for buying their product. The community has been practically begging publishers to release DLC, with responses that can be generously described as indifferent and ambiguous. Then those same publishers turn around and state that upcoming games will not have comparable feature sets because of the lack of sales, seemingly baffled as to the cause.

Someone needs to break this cycle. While the Wii U and Nintendo Network aren’t what everyone wanted, on the whole it’s been a step forward for them. Nintendo finally has a system and a network that can sustain the functionality its predecessors long lacked. It’s time for the publishers to take the risk. Put the content out, and people will buy it. They’ve been begging for the privilege to do just that.

I for one will likely be buying the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts on Wii U. While the PC version will likely recieve more content, have a far larger player base and let me do things like listen to music while playing–not to mention the natural advantages of shooters on PC–my desire to see this system move forward trumps that. If the publisher is going to take the risk putting content on the system, I as the consumer will take the risk buying that content, hoping that they will see it’s worth their time to invest further in. Ultimately, the antidote to these vicious cycles breaks down to hope and trust.

past masters

I like to think of myself as having been a Nintendo fanboy since at least 1991, and I still prefer my Nintendo consoles to my others, for various reasons.  But what’s been bugging me lately is their library.  Not their new releases, which we all know are somewhat limited.  No, it’s their overall library on the Wii and 3/DS/i that I’m talking about, specifically the digitally-distributed sort.

Nintendo started off the Wii launch with its most promising venture–its entire collection of previously-released games.  The Virtual Console, paired with the Wii Shop Channel, opened the door for classics of all shapes and sizes to pour through the floodgates, bringing a wave of nostalgia to longtime fans–and bringing some dejected oldies to the attention of a new generation of players.

But as of right now those floodgates remain in a rather unfortunate state.  Of late I’ve noticed a distinct lack of new releases on either the Wii Shop Channel or the eShop on the 3/DSi.  Okay, I noticed it several months ago, but this time I decided to run some numbers.  They don’t make for a great outlook.

Total Nintendo Download Releases.

At present, 392 games are available on the Wii’s Virtual Console service.  This amounts to roughly 3 new games every two weeks since the first games were pushed out on November 19, 2006.  This doesn’t seem so bad in the end–400 games is a lot to choose from.  But this is paltry compared to the vast libraries Nintendo has built in the past three decades.  Just counting the NES, SNES, and N64, about 1,958 games have been released over the (many) years, depending on where you get your list.  This number is highly debatable, and it is impossible to build a comprehensive list of all releases, so I will round down to 1,900 to be safe.  Out of this number, Nintendo has tapped a mere 20% of the product pool, as it were.  But that’s not the entire library, either.  Games for the Master, Genesis, TurboGrafx, Neo Geo, Commodore 64, and arcade machines have also been made available.  While it is impossible to account for all games released on the last two platforms, all the other systems total a count of nearly 3,500 games.  This reduces VC’s library to a mere 11% of its total potential.

The Virtual Console has also been made available on the 3DS Shop.  Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and NES games have been pushed to the platform, but so far less than fifty titles are available.  The GB and GBC alone open the possibility for over 1,100 games.  I’m hoping they see more potential in it than they have previously.

Moreso than this, Nintendo has neglected some of the aforementioned systems on the 3DS Shop.  The Master, Genesis, and SNES would work beautifully on the 3DS–in fact, I would be far more likely to play SNES games on the 3DS, because I’m not keen on using the Classic Controller with my Wiimote.  Interestingly, the Virtual Boy could also be implemented on the 3DS, making use of the true 3D screen, and possibly even with full-color graphics.  This is something I would like to see Nintendo do (but that’s a very long list).

Note: This chart does not include PSN.

Now for the damning comparison.  Nintendo’s efforts have foundered compared to its two noncompetitors. While Microsoft has made fewer overall games available on Xbox Live, the most original titles are seen there.  PSN features the fewest original works, possibly due to the burden of cost being shifted to the developers, but Sony has made oodles of games available for download via the service.  The chart below visualizes the release rate for Nintendo and Microsoft only.  Sony is not accounted for, since virtually all PSP games, a vast proportion of PS3 games, and considerable original titles are available for download.  In addition, TurboGrafx and Neo Geo games are available on PSN, in greater numbers than what Nintendo has to offer, along with Dreamcast games.

A little perspective.

While the graph shows Nintendo in a solid lead over Microsoft, it’s worth noting Microsoft has released fewer than 40 of its original Xbox games on Live. Both Xbox Live and PSN are making much more headway with original works, and have fostered better connections with indie developers.  While is isn’t surprising given Nintendo’s history with third party developers, that doesn’t make it any less dismaying.  Nintendo is only leading the pack with sheer numbers of regurgitated titles, instead of working with independents to help create innovative and quirky motion-controlled (or 3D) games that could revitalize their catalogue.

If Nintendo’s long-term strategy is to lean on its golden oldies, so be it.  But they better grab an oar and start paddling, because the propeller has long since given out.  If not, they better start building a whole new boat, and set sail post haste, because their rivals have seen much more ocean.