For this week's Burning Questions, Jason and Kirk return from E3 to talk about their impressions of Nintendo's next big console. What kinds of new games will the Wii U make possible? What will it take for the Wii U to be a success for gamers? Why can't any company but Microsoft make an easy-to-use gaming network? What's the story with Carl's Jr., anyway?
Someone douse those questions! They're so very... Burning.
Jason: Hey Kirkleton. We're just starting to recover from a wild E3 week that involved lots of coffee, lots of writing, and lots of no sleep. But it was a blast, don't you think?
Kirk: Yes! Jasonbro, I had a whole ton of fun. However I may have felt about the games, I have to say that I had a good time running around the event. It helped that my roommate was a pretty cool dude.
Jason: Your roommate was a total jerk! (Kirk's roommate was me. We set up a war room with two laptops, two iPads, two Mi-Fi wireless Internet devices, and roughly four billion cups of coffee. It was great.)
Kirk: Don't forget the Carl's Jr.!
Jason: I was TRYING to forget the Carl's Jr.
Kirk: I will never forget the Carl's Jr. I believe that parts of it are still digesting a week later.
Jason: That was one of E3's grosser moments. Let's move on.
Kirk: Yes, let's.
Jason: So what'd you think of the GAMES?
Kirk: The games were mixed. There were a few that I really liked, a lot that I already knew everything about, and one or two big surprises. I now want Persona 4 Golden even more than I thought I could, for example. You?
Jason: You know, I think the press briefings painted a grim picture of the future of gaming, but the actual show floor was a different story. I saw tons of cool-looking games: South Park: The Stick of Truth, Dishonored, Ni no Kuni, The Last Story, Orgarhythm, Final Fantasy Dimensions, and many many more. And, of course, there's the Wii U.
Kirk: It's easy to read a lot into what the companies showed at their press conferences, but there were plenty of cool games and interesting ideas on the floor. And speaking of the Wii U... why, that's what we're gonna talk about today! That was one smooth segue, my friend.
Jason: I am the king of smooth segues.
Kirk: I've been noticing that.
Jason: I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Wii U—and I'm sure we'll get into all of them shortly—but first and foremost I have to give props to Nintendo for trying something unique. Love it or hate it, the Wii U looked drastically different than anything else at E3 this year. It's a totally new beast.
Kirk: And really, in a year where so much of the big-deal stuff felt recycled, it was nice to see someone up there trying to convince us that this new idea would actually make games more interesting. I'm not sure they had the software to back that up, but I'm much more convinced about the hardware than I was when they unveiled it last year.
Jason: So you can see yourself using (and loving) the Wii U's tablet controller?
Kirk: At the very least, I can see myself seeking out games on the platform. That's for one reason, really—I played ZombiU.
Jason: I'm sure everyone's already read your preview, but just in case they haven't, give us a quick summary of what makes ZombiU so rad.
Kirk: So basically: I went in thinking it'd be a gimmicky zombie game, which, who the hell needs another of those? But I was surprised by it partly because it uses the Wii U controller really effectively (rooting through your backpack on the lower screen while watching the upper screen to be sure you're not getting ambushed is tense and unlike any other game), but also because its coolest idea—that when your character dies, you come back as a new character and must find your old character's zombie—doesn't have anything to do with the Wii U controller. I'm curious how that sounds to someone who hasn't played the game. Does this sound cool to you?
Jason: I don't know! It's hard to tell how much I'd enjoy a given Wii U feature until I try it, because it takes so much attention to bounce back and forth between the TV screen and the controller screen. It's not like the DS, where you can easily keep both screens in your eyeline at the same time.
Kirk: It's funny—it's hard to describe playing the damn thing because so much of it is physical, right? Like, game critics have gotten good at talking about the stuff going on onscreen, but the stuff that happens in the world with you can be trickier. And the cool thing about the Wii U is how it comes out into the world with you in a new-feeling way.
Jason: So on one hand you have these features you can put on the controller screen, right? Like the inventory or backpack or whatever. On the other hand, one of the Wii U's selling points is that you can turn off the TV and keep playing the same game on the controller. But if the controller's features are really integral to a certain game, you can't turn off the TV, can you? It seems like one of the system's coolest features is at odds with the other.
Kirk: Well, to a point. I think that part of the challenge of marketing anything like this is that there are a whole lot of different applications that, while not mutually exclusive, need to be thought of on their own terms. For example: yes, you can play Mario while your significant other watches the Mario movie. (You know, as you do.) But you can also play ZombieU with both controllers. They're entirely separate things, and both are cool in their own way. Who says the Wii U controller needs to only have one application? I think that's more of a marketing challenge than a shortcoming of the system.
Jason: But can I play ZombiU while watching a zombie movie?
Kirk: That would be a lot of zombie action for just one man. I never thought I'd say this, but that would probably be TOO MUCH ZOMBIE.
Jason: In other words, it'd be Reddit.
Kirk: Haaaaa you're playing with fire! At any rate, one of the things I like about the Wii U is that it brings a whole lot of new, possibly super-interesting options into gaming. Like, multiplayer—Nintendo kept talking about the multiplayer you can do as a "disruption," which is just what it is. By having asynchronous local multiplayer (like, one player with the screen plays a ghost in Luigi's Ghost Mansion while the other four players are on the big screen trying to find him/her)... that's actually really cool! I like that the Wii U's core idea is fresh enough to feel that versatile.
Jason: Yeah! The Wario game has some cool applications like that too. In one, the player holding the tablet gets to pick a character and then walk around a crowded town stealing pieces of fruit. Then the other players have to try to figure out which character is the thief. But... how many of these ideas work beyond mini-games?
Kirk: That's another marketing challenge, right? There's almost no way to tell how long-lasting these games will be until people are playing them in the wild. I thought that Nintendo totally dropped the ball when they debuted Nintendo Land at their press conference. I had no idea what the hell it even was, and suddenly they were doing this really in-depth demo of the Luigi ghost game... it was a head-scratcher. Some of this stuff doesn't lend itself to being explained, people will just have to experience it. The cool thing is that that was how I remember the Wii feeling, and it wound up great. The fact that one player in any Wii U game can be the "dungeon master" with different information than the other players... that feels like something with a whole shitload of great applications. To the point that inviting friends over to play Wii U could truly work.
Jason: I'd pay $300. Probably no more than that, unless I really, really had to. And definitely not even that for the current launch lineup. It's sad: Nintendo's two big launch titles are Pikmin (which I don't really care about) and a Mario game that looks safe, dull, and boring. I'm done with the New Super Mario Bros. brand. It's generic, uninspired, and got very little to offer me—and it's definitely not enough to convince me to buy a whole new piece of expensive hardware.
Kirk: Ugh, agree, +1. I'm way not into New Super Mario Bros. either.
Jason: It's lame, right? I remember when the Wii first launched with Twilight Princess—that was a game that convinced me to wait out in the cold until 3am just to get my grubby little paws on it. The Wii U's got nothing like that.
Kirk: Agree. I'd pay $250 for the thing... $300 feels like a stretch. And considering that it's going to come bundled with Nintendo Land (I guess?), well, that feels like a fail. I know I'm not alone in thinking that Nintendo really needed to bust out a Zelda or Metroid game for this thing...
Jason: Some sort of system-seller, a game that says "hey, we're not fucking around here." For some people, maybe that's Pikmin. Not for me.
Kirk: Me neither. Really, the promise of the WiiU was matched by Nintendo's depressing lack of good games. Why is it that all of these game companies keep breaking out new hardware without any games to back them up? The 3DS, the Kinect, now the Wii U...
Jason: It feels like they're being rushed. Desperate times, etc. We all know the 3DS should have been delayed six months and released alongside both Ocarina of Time and Mario 3D Land. And now the Vita is in a lull period because it was also released too soon. Sure, maybe some game-makers are waiting to see how each system does before they commit to making lots of games for it, but when you're Nintendo, that's not something you have to worry about. When you're Nintendo, you have to worry about making games to sell your OWN hardware.'
Kirk: So the upside to that is that we can probably count on Nintendo releasing the first really great Wii U games a bit later than the console—they'll be late, but they will come. The downside is... well, we have to hold out hope for games we know nothing about. Considering how many fricking game consoles there are out there these days, that's a lot to make a $250-$300 gamble on.
Jason: Yep. I'll probably buy one for work (and to impress all of my friends), but if I didn't have professional obligations, I'd almost definitely hold off. At least until we get some Zelda action.
Kirk: There's also the question of online multiplayer. I'm still not sure that Nintendo has a real bead on it. Moderating messages? Sounds good, but also sounds kind of insane. Pikmin 3 not offering online play because they can't make it stable? Not a good sign.
Jason: Yeah, and the depressing news from Reggie that there are still friend codes.
Kirk: Right? What the hell. I don't care how much "friendlier" Nintendo makes friend codes, if the system doesn't work like Xbox live, I'm not interested.
Jason: If Nintendo can't get together an online service as decent as PSN or Xbox Live this time around, I think Wii U is finished before it's even out of the gates.
Kirk: Why can't these companies get this right? Friending needs to work effortlessly, and through a web browser! PSN even still feels lackluster, and that's considering that the Vita has made it much easier for me to find and interact with friends. This stuff can't be THAT hard, can it?
Jason: It's pretty easy: just open up Steam and copy everything you see.
Kirk: Right? I'm sayin'. I swear the longer it takes these guys to get it, the more I think they just never will. All of which isn't to say that the Wii U won't have a lot going for it, but it (and really, the next Xbox and PlayStation) could be so much more if they just followed Valve's example.
Jason: In true Nintendo style, they're leaving us with a ton of questions about the Wii U and how it will work. And we're only a few months away from launch.
Kirk: Jason, would you say those questions are... burning questions?
Jason: SO MANY burning questions. How will the online services be integrated? Will we be able to use our tablet controllers to shop and interact with things online? Will we be able to play Virtual Console or Wii games on our tablet controllers?
Kirk: Will Fire Emblem be coming to North America? Oh, wait. We answered that one.
Jason: It's kinda surreal that if I hadn't bugged Reggie after a press conference, we'd legit have no idea that it's coming. Like, Nintendo didn't think that was worth announcing.
Kirk: Which may just speak to a set of priorities that we're simply not seeing. But yeah.
Jason: Nintendo needs to come out with a giant FAQ or press briefing or something.
Kirk: Despite all of the questions that Boss man Totilo asked Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime (while shamelessly stealing our "Burning Questions" title), we still have loads more questions. Many of them burning even hotter than the ones that got answered.
Jason: Yeah, like where the hell are the RPGs?
Kirk: And what's the story with Fire Emblem?
Kirk: Oh yeah.