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.
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…