“This is absolutely the beginning of a new generation,” Fils-Aime told me during a quick interview late Saturday night, just minutes before the official launch of Nintendo’s sixth home console. “With the innovation we’re bringing to bear, with the social community we’re bringing to bear, [and] with the video entertainment we’re bringing to bear, I think this is the start of a new generation. I think those who say otherwise are clearly trying to preserve sales on their current hardware. This is definitely the start of a new day.”
Those who beg to differ may wind up caught in semantics or in an un-winnable argument about whether a Wii U, destined to be vastly out-powered by the next PlayStation and Xbox as soon as late next year, is really the beginning a new gen. But it’s undeniable that Wii U is a new chapter for Nintendo and, as with any new console, a big risk.
It’s a risk for Nintendo to produce an interesting, unusual machine that adds a six-inch touch screen to the standard twin-stick controller.
It’s a risk for gamers who, every time there’s a new piece of hardware out, have to decide whether to spend a few hundred dollars investing in its future.
Fils-Aime believes there are a great variety of games for people to choose from, which he thinks should compel them to pick up the console. He boasted on Saturday night of having 29 packaged games hitting stores, with a promise to get 50 games out through the end of March — the close of the console’s “launch window.” Among the forthcoming games announced for that window are Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101 and Lego City Undercover. “I think we will continue to surprise the fans with announcements and information,” Fils-Aime said. “I would not go so far as to say you know everything in our launch window.”
It is, of course, necessary to convince gamers that the system will be around and have good game support for a long time. Nintendo’s own Zelda and Mario creations are guaranteed. It’s third-party games, which have shown up in abundance at launch, that are not ensured to be there in the months and years to come. Fils-Aime thinks those games will be there, now that there’s a Nintendo console that supports HD graphics and complex online play and communities. The original Wii lacked those things.
But some major upcoming third-party games for the first half of 2013 are not on the Wii U release calendar. There’s no BioShock Infinite and no Grand Theft Auto V, which are slated for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Fils-Aime deflected a question about those two games, which are published by Take Two, suggesting they were too far off in the future to be discussing on launch night. “We’re gratified when we read comments from companies like Take Two,” he said. “We’re gratified when we’re inspiring the world’s best developers to put content on our system.”
Some Wii U versions of games released on other platforms have good bonus features. Assassin’s Creed III and Mass Effect 3 both put the game’s map on the Wii U controller’s big six-inch screen. The latter also lets players pick weapons and powers without pausing or slowing the game’s action. But if Wii U versions lack elements of these games that are on other platforms, players might hesitate on getting the Nintendo console edition of the game. Who’s to blame? Nintendo? The game-maker? Or is this just a matter of imperfect launch-day ports, something that’s been an issue for just about every new console ever? For example, there had been rumblings — confirmed since then — that a Wii U version of Mass Effect 3 might not have the next downloadable content that the PS3/360 versions of the game will have. “We have no policy limitation on DLC or on business model for third party publishers,” Fils-Aime said, implying that any DLC would be welcome on the console. A rep for Mass Effect 3 development studio Bioware did not reply yet to a request for comment about why the Wii U version won’t get the game’s next expansion.
On the day after Fils-Aime and I spoke, the Wii U’s online services ran into problems. Its new social network, Miiverse, kept going offline. Even when it was up, Miiverse’s integration into Nintendo’s own games was only operating sporadically. As of this writing, things seem better again, but it’s just these kinds of issues that can worry a new consumer.
On Saturday night I’d asked Fils-Aime if potential Wii U buyers should worry about the delay of the much-hyped Nintendo TVii service from launch to December. In the US, that service is supposed to integrate a user’s Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and even cable feeds into one on-demand video-viewing portal. The Nintendo president was proud to point out that Netflix was available on day one on the Wii U but shared this answer about the TVii delay. “People should not be concerned about it at all,” he said. “The fact that we are now launching it in December reinforces some key truisms about Nintendo: We launch a product when it is in perfect in our eyes, not just because a certain date in the calendar has come up. Probably any other company would have launched it tonight.”
That promise of delivering perfection reads differently after a Sunday of Miiverse service problems on the heels of a shockingly large day-one firmware update that was required to access five of the 11 Wii U features advertised on the console’s box.
Fils-Aime declined to say specifically what problems had kept TVii from debuting on launch but promised the service would be high-quality when it launches.
The Wii U is an ambitious console. Nintendo is launching a new console, a new type of game controller and a complicated new online service that includes a new online store and a new social network. Things can’t possibly go perfectly. It can’t all be rosy. It can be, however, the start of a new era, if not for gaming then for Nintendo. Say this is the beginning of a new generation? Sure. Let’s hope it’s a good one and let’s hope Nintendo can deliver on what they’ve promised.