Dabe Alan

Roll for initiative: the Sunday Debates (Debut episode: Should you buy a Wii U at launch?)

Roll for initiative: the Sunday Debates (Debut episode: Should you buy a Wii U at launch?)

Welcome to Roll for Initiative! Every Sunday we’re going to pick an issue or question from the week and debate both sides. Sophie and I often argue with each other throughout the week while working on stories, and now we can share some of those disagreements with you, and give you a chance to fire back in the comments. Let’s get started!

Should you buy a Wii U at launch?

Ben for the affirmative:

The decision to buy a console at launch is always personal, and it depends on your personal likes and dislikes and budget. With that disclaimer out of the way, I’m actually one of the few who seems to be pretty happy with the Wii U’s launch lineup. When both time and money are limited, I look for three games that I want to pick up at launch, and Wii U has three games I’m excited about playing: ZombiU, Nintendoland, and New Super Mario Bros. U.

ZombiU is doing some interesting things with that controller, and I enjoyed the section I played at E3. I’m also a sucker for all things Mario. People like to argue that the Mario games don’t change enough anymore, and there is certainly truth to that, but I’d counter by saying that Nintendo has a team of people put together that are absolute masters at platforming. Sure each title is similar, but the level designs are new and they’re always a joy to play. I felt the same way about New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS. It may not have blazed any trails, but it was fun and definitely worth the money.

Nintendoland may look basic, but after playing some of the included games I’m pretty sure it’s going to appeal to both families and groups of drunk people, and that’s a fine line to walk. The PAR crew played Nintendoland for a good long time at PAX Prime, and we had a blast. Three games worth playing, two of which use the hardware in a novel way? I’m in.

Sophie for the negative:

Ben is absolutely right that personal tastes and budget will be a heavy factor in whether or not to purchase a new system, especially at launch. That being said, my hesitation for picking up a Wii U doesn’t come from a gripe with the price or the slate of games coming out. I’m not ready to reward Nintendo with my money for what I see as a lack of innovation. Seems crazy to say about a system that has a touchscreen interface on the controller, right? The truth is we’ve been using systems like this for a while now.

The other day I picked up The Avengers, which came with a small insert advertising a “second screen” experience on my iPad. While I watch the movie I can interact with it on my handheld device, unlocking and exploring all kinds of new content with a unique interface. Sounds familiar. Microsoft is likewise expanding their control of games to the small(er) screens of your home with SmartGlass. It remains to be seen if SmartGlass will be able to provide the kinds of experiences the Wii U has in store, but it’s undeniable that it stole at least a little of Nintendo’s thunder at E3. That’s particularly troubling for Nintendo, who’s lagging almost a generation behind in terms of raw processing power.

Even looking to the technology of today and not tomorrow, I’d wager I’m not the only one who’s propped open a strategy guide, website, or app while I’m playing a game to help my progress. The Wii U needs unique gameplay experiences - a new IP, please! - that are strongly tied to the system’s functionality, not just added convenience or accessibility. While those things are important, we’ve seen Kinect and PlayStation Move catch up to the Wii’s motion controls with a fair amount of their own success, and I doubt Microsoft and Sony will let those potential sales slip by for quite so long this coming generation.

Ben with the rebuttal:

That’s the thing though, I think we are going to see some novel uses of the technology, and the launch games have some good examples. Being able to play with a friend on Black Ops 2 where the television and the controller allow multiplayer without split screen is white hot in my opinion. That sort of co-op experience with one television, one system, and one copy of the game but two players with their own display is going to be a huge selling point. The extra screen in the controller is going to change things in multiplayer, simply due to the fact you can hide information from each other. One of my favorite games in Nintendoland uses the second screen to great effect, and I think that’s the one title everyone should buy at launch. Nintendo always knows how to show off their own tech.

SmartGlass is a new technology, but I doubt Microsoft is going to find much developer support for it. Nintendo is going to be able to sell developers on the idea that every system will ship with a built-in second screen, and using the controller as a way to gather information in ZombiU is just the beginning of the sort of things we’re going to see. The question is whether you should buy one at launch, and I think we’re already seeing good uses of the hardware, including current generation games with extra content and more features.

Darksiders 2 may not be a big deal to hardcore players who have already played the game, but players upgrading from a Wii are going to get the best versions of these games. I think Nintendo did a really good job creating a collection of big name first-party games, titles that take advantage of the hardware, and existing franchises. Do you really think you’re going to be able to resist a system once Bayonetta 2 is released? If the sale is a foregone conclusion, just jump in now and start enjoying yourself.

Sophie with the final word:

The biggest problem I see is that Nintendo let go of the so-called “hardcore” crowd for a generation, and now has to win them back. Black Ops 2 may be fun to play split screen on the Wii U, but it’s Microsoft’s system where the Call of Duty titles have been, and likely will continue to be, dominant. There may be a market for players upgrading from a Wii to a Wii U who want the hardcore titles, but I’ll call it right now and say it’s not going to be statistically significant.

Mass Effect 2 came out for the PlayStation 3 a year after its release for Xbox and PC. It came packed with refined graphics, plus downloadable content, including the much-beloved Lair of the Shadow Broker. EA didn’t release sales numbers, but the PS3 version didn’t break NPD’s January 2011 top ten, and the lowest spot on that list sold 195,000 copies. Compare that to the 572,000 copies sold for the 360 a year earlier. I don’t think anyone will see Mass Effect 3 on the Wii U and think, “I have to get this version.” Ditto for the other titles that are playing catch-up.

Here’s my problem with the Wii U GamePad: The screen is relatively small compared to our technology. Remember the days when Saturday Night Live showed Will Ferrell as a trendsetter with a phone the size of a fingernail? Those days are over. People are carrying phones with screen sizes of 5 inches and up. They have iPads with screens larger than 9 inches. Flat-panel televisions are more affordable than ever, and the average size is 38 inches, according to the NY Times. Is a 6.2 inch touch screen with 854 x 480 resolution going to satisfy the split screen Black Ops 2 player sitting next to the person playing on a 50” television at 1080p resolution? My wager is no. I don’t doubt that more interesting stuff is coming down the line, but we’re talking about launch, and I don’t see true value in the system come November. Too many recycled IPs, too many games from last year, too little of an advancement in technology all add up to a sales pitch that doesn’t convince me the system is going to be a significantly different experience than what I’ve had so far.

And now we open the floor for comments. Are you going to be buying the Wii U at launch?