Analyzing a company's position and their marketing strategy with consoles is often of little interest to me: I'm not an investor, and sometimes the conversations feel like a slightly more sophisticated version of people arguing about the CONSOLE WARS™ on forums. Bleh. And yet I walked out of a Nintendo preview event yesterday with one thought on my mind: why would someone buy a Wii U when they can just buy a 3DS?
Trying to pit a Wii U against other consoles doesn't work. Third-party wise, it's as if the console is playing catch-up with current gen titles (do people really want to buy a console to play stuff that's been out for over a year?), and despite promises, the support isn't likely to improve in the future.
I don't note this because I want to continue the tiring narrative of Nintendo's Impending Doom. Hell, for all I know Nintendo has some aces up their sleeves this E3, and the 3DS itself waded for a bit before finding its stride. The 3DS had to drop its price first before it got any traction. So maybe things will change for the Wii U.
But right here, right now, between titles like Fire Emblem, Professor Layton, Mario & Luigi, Etrian Odyssey, Bravely Default, a new Zelda game and countless other recently announced titles, the 3DS is the best system out there. That's exactly the problem. It's too good.
If the appeal of a Nintendo system is Nintendo games, then it also means that Nintendo is only ever in competition with itself. You can't pit a Wii U against an Xbox 360 or a PS4 because, despite Microsoft and PlayStation's attempts to court the same wide audience Nintendo appeals to, despite the copycat attempts, and despite the aggressive focus on the casual market, other consoles don't give people the Nintendo Experience.
That's what it comes down to: people buy a Nintendo system to play Nintendo games, because Nintendo games are fantastic. Nintendo knows it, otherwise they wouldn't keep trying to harp on our nostalgia by resurrecting older titles. In that sense, Nintendo's shaky third-party support doesn't matter so long as they have their awesome first-party games. Yesterday, during Nintendo's presentation to the press prior to the preview event, it struck me that even the worst Nintendo games tend to score rather high on Metacritic—85 and above!
The only things that can provide the Nintendo experience are the Wii U and the 3DS, not other consoles. But if someone were to ask me right now, what should I buy? A Wii U or a 3DS? There would be no contest; I'd suggest the 3DS. Having a 3DS means I have zero desire to acquire a Wii U.
You can get nearly every big franchise that Nintendo has to offer on the 3DS, and for cheaper: both the system and its games are less expensive than dropping cash on a new Wii U or any of its games. You can take the games with you, and you can play them in the in-between moments of your life—while on a bus, while waiting for something to finish—or you can sit down for extended periods of time to seriously play something. Whatever you'd like.
The Wii U gives you some portability thanks to its tablet-like controller, which allows you to play games without the usage of a TV, but you're still chained to the living room. With the 3DS, you can experience Nintendo games however you'd like, and at nearly the graphical fidelity of a Wii U to boot. Let me tell you, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, which I played a bit of yesterday, looks freaking amazing on the 3DS. Usually, Nintendo's handhelds don't nearly match up, graphics-wise, to its console offerings. That's not the case anymore.
While there's nothing wrong with wanting to play your games on the big screen, more and more I'm finding that I want to play Nintendo's games on a handheld device. I don't want to play the new Animal Crossing on my TV, and turn-based games like Fire Emblem feel best when played on-the-go. While I'm sure games in the Mario franchises play just fine on the Wii U, I'm more in love with the design decisions made on the portable iterations—I want to play the follow-up to Super Mario 3D Land more than I do the next big Mario game on the Wii U. Maybe that one is just me, though.
Regardless, the 3DS is excellent, perhaps too excellent. Nintendo has had this "problem" before; in previous generations, the DS was a top contender. Only, the DS provided a substantially different experience from that of the Gamecube and the Wii; the Wii was all about motion controls whereas the DS gave you a dual screen. I would have recommended buying both at the time.
The Wii's U's one gimmick is its tablet, which gives you two screens and a touch interface. Except...the 3DS already has that. If you're the economical sort, good news, the 3DS gives you the double-screen gimmick and a touch interface along with one more novelty: 3D. Underutilized, sure, but still, it's there. What else? Earthbound, I guess, and Miiverse.
The two desirable things I can name on the Wii U, guess what? I want them both on the 3DS instead.