When you log into the Wii U's eShop today, here is what you'll see on the front page: New Super Mario Bros. U, Batman: Arkham City, Ninja Gaiden 3, and Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition.
In other words: the same launch games you saw a month and a half ago. When the Wii U came out.
Where are all the cheap new indies? Where are all the re-packaged classics? Where are all the titles I've never heard of but get the urge to impulse-buy because they look that damn cool?
Where are all of the new games?
Over the past six weeks or so, I've grown quite fond of Nintendo's newest system. The controller is slick and comfortable, games like Nintendo Land and Zombi U are a blast, and I love that I can play Mario while watching TV. I can't wait to see what game designers—particularly the ones who make RPGs—wind up doing with the GamePad.
But Nintendo is dropping the ball when it comes to their online store. In the month and a half since Wii U launched—a time period that Nintendo could have used to show the world that they're serious about becoming a digital powerhouse—the eShop has seen very few new releases. While indie developers seem excited about the system's possibilities, and Nintendo seems to be doing a good job of supporting them, the only real digital games we've seen so far are the ones that came out when the Wii U launched. Back in November. There are some cool-looking digital games on the horizon, like Toki Tori 2 and The Cave, but the past six weeks have been disappointing.
Granted, this is a console in infancy. It's unreasonable to expect the Wii U to be at full strength after only six weeks. But this sort of delay, this sort of lag on kicking the eShop into gear shows that Nintendo didn't launch prepared to prove the Wii U can actually compete with the likes of PSN and Steam. We are expected to just cross our fingers and hope that yes, we'll be able to access a large library of indies and digital gems... one day.
And what of the Wii U's Virtual Console? Nintendo's other two big systems, the Wii and 3DS, both have libraries of old games from classic systems that you can purchase and download. When the Wii came out back in 2006, you could take it home and immediately buy The Legend of Zelda or Mario Bros. on NES. New games came out every week after launch. Not all of them were great, but they were there.
You can access the Wii's Virtual Console on your Wii U—if you transfer over all of your files, and you're willing to dig through nested menus. But you can't play any of those games on your GamePad controller, nor can you buy GameCube games, which Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told me he'd love to see on the Wii U's VC. The Wii U will get its own version of the Virtual Console, but Nintendo has been strangely quiet about the specifics. What games will it come with? What platforms will it support? Will it link to our other systems' Virtual Consoles?
Yesterday, I asked the Mario makers what the deal is.
"We do not have any specifics to share at this time," a Nintendo of America rep told me in an e-mail. "However, we are moving ahead with development of Virtual Console for Wii U, and we plan to make it so you can play it on the Wii U GamePad alone."
Excellent news. Off-TV gameplay is the best reason to get a Wii U, and the thought of playing games like Wind Waker or Skies of Arcadia on my GamePad is already making me drool, even if Nintendo does make me pay something like $10 per game for the privilege.
But right now, all we have is promises. Assurances from Nintendo that, yes, the Virtual Console will come eventually. The eShop might be filled up eventually. The online store could be a digital powerhouse... eventually.
Should we get our hopes up? Nintendo's digital prowess has improved astronomically over the years, and they're releasing new content every week on the 3DS and even the Wii, but so far, they've failed to bring new games to the machine that could use them most.
If Nintendo expects to compete not only with traditional console-makers like Sony and Microsoft, but with Apple, Valve, and all of the other big competitors that want a bite of the living room pie, step one is turning the eShop into the type of store that rivals Steam and iTunes when it comes to getting cheap, high-quality games. The type of store I can log into, browse for a few minutes, and immediately find an indie or five that I've gotta play this second.
That hasn't happened. Sure, there are some great small games available on the eShop right now—Little Inferno and Trine 2 are well worth your time—but the only new releases since November have been games like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Nothing against Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. It's just that Wii U owners are looking for a bit more.
So it's time for Nintendo to turn "eventually" into now. It's time for them to launch the Wii U Virtual Console, beef up the eShop, and start delivering weekly dose of new experiences to play on their sharp new system. We're waiting.