Stuck in the Middle With U

"Yeah. That went well."

“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight”

Sometimes you can plan things right down to the smallest, most painstaking detail, only to have everything go wrong in spite of your diligence. It seems like there’s always an overlooked variable lurking in the equation somewhere, the one slippery little bastard that wriggles past your best-laid whatchamacallits like a greased otter, whose only goal is to toss an empty mollusk shell into your finely tuned machinery as he floats lazily down the river on his back, chuckling his evil otter laugh and planning further acts of aquatic-mammal sabotage. Don’t you just hate otters? Boy, I do.

Maybe you’re on your way to the mall to pick up a new Grateful Dead t-shirt and a pair of Sketchers, and some blind moron prick bastard pulls out in front of you, causing you to spill your hot caffeinated coffee-flavored beverage all over your crotch, as you were holding it between your legs at the time of the manifestation of this unforeseeable occurrence. Or perhaps you were simply sitting on a park bench, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature’s sensory cornucopia, maybe eating a hot dog, maybe not, when a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, flares into a meteor as it streaks across the summer sky, and makes a beeline for your friggin’ head. The headlines the next day all state something like, “PERSON OF INDETERMINATE GENDER OBLITERATED BY METEORITE, HALF-EATEN HOT DOG POSSIBLY FOUND AT SCENE.” The debate as to whether you were actually decorporealized by a meteor or a meteorite rages in the nerdosphere for a few hours, until all references to your improbable demise are purged from the news by breaking stories that somewhere in the world some Kardashian just had a bowel movement.

"Clown's to the left of me..."

“Clown’s to the left of me…”

Or maybe you’re a fairly large corporation that recently released a new gaming console. Maybe your console isn’t selling so well, partially because your competitors have just announced their new consoles, both of which are capable of tossing your equipment to the floor and waving their larger RAM in its face. Maybe your new console is also a bit thin on the software side, and maybe it’s a little overpriced and a little underpowered, and people are in a “just-wait-and-see” mood. You’re confident that you can turn things around with some quality content later this year, when all of a sudden third-party publishers start showing reluctance to develop games for your pretty new machine, apparently because it hasn’t sold enough units to make said development worth their while. There’s that variable again.

But is it a variable? It isn’t like Nintendo didn’t know that Microsoft and Sony were coming out with new consoles this year. It’s not like they couldn’t extrapolate the specs for these systems, and it’s not like they couldn’t predict a tepid consumer response to the Wii U, which is, at best, on par with the current generation of consoles. So what gives, Big N?

Nintendo has repeatedly claimed that they want to go after “hardcore” gamers with the Wii U. They want the subset of gamers who’ll buy games before clothes, who’ll eat Ramen for a month in order to be able to afford the limited edition of Assassin’s Creed III, whose friends exclaim upon seeing/smelling their Cheetos-littered apartment, “Damn, dude. You’re hardcore.” They keep using that word, but I do not think it means what they think it means.

"Joker's to the right."

“Joker’s to the right.”

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, so hold on to your aquatic mammalia; hardcore — or simply core — gamers cannot be won over with gimmicks, and that’s exactly what the Wii U GamePad amounts to; a gimmick. It’s this hardware generation’s motion controller, but instead of having to get up and wave their arms around the room like a coked-up semaphore operator at the Battle of Midway, Wii U devotees must perform tasks with the GamePad that were previously performed on the game screen. For most games, this is a giant leap backwards, representing the disintegration of information as it’s presented to the player; instead of vital statistics and quest parameters and maps being shown on the game screen, where the action is, that data is now divided among two different locations. Why? Because someone from Nintendo decided that a touch screen controller would be nifty.

First, let’s start with the GamePad itself; it’s not like you’re thumbing and dragging your way across an iPad Mini or a Nexus 7 with this thing — it’s got a resistive touch screen, which makes input rather effort-intensive when compared to every other mainstream touch device on the market. Conceptually, a touch-screen, analog-stick-and-button hybrid controller sounds like an intriguing idea, but its execution on the Wii U leaves a lot to be desired; it frequently fails to register input if the user doesn’t give a sufficiently hearty press against the plastic screen, which collects fingerprints like they’re being discontinued.

Second, with the screen at full brightness (5), the battery life on the GamePad is about three hours: a little short, sure, but it’s not such a big deal if you’re within reach of an electrical outlet while playing. What turns into a big deal is the fact that the Wii U comes with a single charge cable that can be used with either the charge cradle or on its own; using the charge cradle to charge the GamePad during downtime and using the charge cable to charge the GamePad while playing requires either the purchase of another charge cable, or some logistical shifting and juggling of accessories. The battery life can be extended to about five hours with the brightness at the lowest setting (1), but the screen becomes difficult to see at (2).

Hardcore gamers have been known to play for more than three hours at a time, so the GamePad is a liability as far as they’re concerned. Sure, you can plug the damn thing in while you’re playing, but this is not an issue with either the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360, and it likely won’t be an issue with the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, either. As far as the controller goes, Nintendo is decidedly and all but irrevocably behind the curve with every other console on the market; there’s talk of an official battery pack peripheral being released in Japan, but who knows if it’ll make its way over here?

"Here I am. Stuck in the...hell, you know the rest."

“Here I am. Stuck in the…hell, you know the rest.”

Its shortcomings aside — a lack of software, the gimmicky nature of the controller, its schizophrenic interface — there is one thing that can redeem the Wii U for the upcoming PlayStation 4, Xbox One generation: its price. As it stands now, the Wii U is the most expensive console on the market while being only marginally (if at all) more capable than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. In the fall, when the PlayStation 4 launches at $399, the Wii U is going to be the worst bargain in gaming — in order to survive the approaching tandem juggernaut of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, the Wii U needs a price cut of $100 across both its variants. It can’t compete on content with the current systems, and the way thing are going it won’t be able to compete on content with the new systems, and it can’t compete on raw power. It must compete on price.

A lot of people were surprised when Nintendo denied any plans for a price cut for the Wii U at E3 this year, especially after Microsoft and Sony announced the prices of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4; in spite of the Wii U’s lackluster sales, to announce a price drop now, with no system-selling software on the shelves to help recoup their losses on the hardware, would have been monumentally stupid. I don’t think the Wii U can survive without a significant price drop, and I think it’ll get one this year, but I’ll bet that Nintendo is going to wait until the other systems are closer to their launch dates in order to announce it; it might not be the full $100 that would help the Wii U become a holiday best-seller, but it’ll definitely help put some GamePads into some hands this winter.

Fingerprints and all.


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