Friday, 15 October 2010

Where Do Wii Go From Here?

The line-up for Smash Bros. 4 was the
weakest yet.

Come March next year, millions of Mario aficionados will have their dextrously conditioned hands gripped tightly around Nintendo’s latest handheld, the 3DS. That it’s going to be a hit is a no-brainer, but with the Wii looking increasingly dated the question is what are the plans for Ninty’s next home console?

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t time to pull the curtain on the little white box just yet. Epic Mickey, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Goldeneye are all on the horizon while 2011 has both Kirby (for Europe) and Zelda at hand. Still, 2010 has seen an inevitable decline in Wii sales and with the release of Move and Kinect this is only going to get worse. To be fair, it’s highly unlikely that either product will capture the public’s imagination quite as impressively as Nintendo has, but sales figures aside, the Wii is far from infallible:

1) The technology is dated and has been from the moment it launched when the much hyped motion controls turned out to be far less accurate than originally thought. In fact 1:1 precision movement didn’t become available until 2 years later by which time most third parties had settled for using the remote as little more than a stick to be shaken. This leads me to:

2) Shovelware. Without the Nintendo seal of approval, studios have seen fit to publish any old rubbish and as such the Wii is often seen (wrongly) as a children’s toy. Admittedly, Nintendo hasn’t exactly endeared itself to fans by pursuing the casual market but there’s no denying that Wii Sports et al provide great entertainment for all but the most ardent of game snobs. And the last year has in fact seen a gradual return to hardcore gaming with the likes of Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M.

3)Unfortunately, what sells best on Nintendo is Nintendo and third party games rarely achieve the same level of success as a Mario or Pokemon. As such, the big N has pretty much exhausted it’s main catalogue for this generation, SMG2 being the peak. Sure there’s Zelda and Pikmin to look forward to, but after that? Should the Wii Vitality Sensor ever see the light of day – yet another useless peripheral – it certainly won’t be enough to sustain a 2-3 year lifespan.

4) Nintendo is staunchly opposed to embracing the internet, at least to the degree of its competitors. Whether this trepidation towards online functionality is based on cultural factors or an arrogant unwillingness to follow the crowd I can’t possibly say, but it is one which has plagued both the Wii and DS since their release. The lack of memory space, regular updates, online support, multimedia and freedom to explore has aged the Wii considerably over the past 4 years.

So what should we expect? And more importantly, when? Well, it seems blatantly clear that ‘Wii 2’ will arrive before Sony and Microsoft’s efforts. Their current machines were built for longevity and with Move and Kinect just launching they’ll want to get the most out of these latest accessories. The Wii on the other hand really has very little left up its sleeve. The technology which once wowed us has now been eclipsed and all the reliable franchises have been used up. Sure there’s always the possibility of F-Zero X or Starfox making a late appearance, but I wouldn’t count on it. With the 3DS poised to become the go to console over the next few years, I’d expect it to be the number one system for any first party series. And you can rule out a third Mario Galaxy right now. So unless Nintendo choose to milk the Wii for another 3 years, 2012 seems to me the likeliest date. It would be economic suicide to release both a home console and a portable within the same year so that rules out 2011. 2013 on the other hand leaves a huge gap with very few quality titles and the already inferior graphics will look positively draconian in three years’ time. My guess is that the first solid mention of the Wii’s successor will be during the next E3. In true Nintendo fashion this will be little more than a teaser, with the following year being the big reveal.

Regarding the specs, at this point it’s anyone’s guess. If the 3DS is anything to go by, expect a significant boost in horsepower, with a sizeable increase in memory and Sony/Microsoft-rivalling graphics. Nintendo has stated categorically that it won’t pursue 3D unless the effect can be achieved without the need for glasses so I’d rule that out entirely. Whatever happens though, you can guarantee that when it comes to Nintendo, expect the unexpected.

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