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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Next Nintendo Hardware

Is there room for 3 hardcore consoles?

The biggest news in weeks, maybe even 2011 thus far, has been the rumor buzz on the next Nintendo console. If you haven’t read up on the subject, I’ll give a quick breakdown. There have been strong sources indicating that the next Nintendo console: a) is dubbed “Project CafĂ©,” the system does not have an official name yet b) it will be in HD and be purportedly more powerful than the PS3, in what terms of what is unknown, c) Nintendo will be aiming to gain the attention of its hardcore audience again, d) it will be revealed at E3, the Electronics Entertainment Expo, e) the controller harkens back to a more traditional style, meaning dual analog, shoulder buttons, d-pad and will be similar to a GameCube controller in function, not necessarily in form f) this controller will feature a 6 inch screen which will be able to stream content from the console to the screen. These details are available in a more in-depth look can be found at a nifty little list here with links to their sources.

With all these rumors spinning about, it seems rare for a company like Nintendo to reveal its hand so freely when, in the past, the company has played close to the vest, obstinate about giving away details about either game or console. But now that the press has opened up the proverbial Pandora’s Box, the amount of detail we have available about the new system is quite odd. It’s almost as bad as the PSP Go and PS3 Slim leaks, which almost all turned out to be true. Another thing that strikes me as odd is the fact that Nintendo just released another system not a month ago: the 3DS. In atypical fashion, the Big N released a handheld in the same year they are about to blow the covers off a new system. Looking back and the handheld and console cycle for Nintendo, I don’t recall this ever happening. However, I think that it’ll be unlikely the next Wii will be out this year. Releasing two systems in the same year would be an insane move on Nintendo’s part. Any release will more than likely be in the next year or two if the rumors are credible.

With the PS3 and the 360 duking it out for the hardcore audience, does the next Wii have a place in that fight? I’m going to have to argue that it doesn’t. Nintendo has always carried the label of being the “family friendly” consoles. The Big N’s mascots have largely been cute and harmless. Your friendly Italian plumber who saves princesses, the adorable green dinosaur he rides on, a pink soft ball that sucks stuff, a yellow electric rat that rides on your shoulder, I could go on. Sure, there’s nothing family friendly about Samus fighting brain jellyfish, but for the most part, Nintendo’s lineup has been about family accessible titles, and that label has never been truer than in the current generation Wii, and I can predict that the label will continue to persist in the upcoming console. So how does this relate to Wii 2 vs PS3 and 360 in the hardcore gamer demographic?

Simply put, the hardcore gamers want what Nintendo doesn’t really do: gritty, mature, violent games. Now I’m not necessarily going to say that Nintendo NEVER releases such games. A statement like that would be ignorant, as the Nintendo consoles have been the purveyors of the FPS genre on the consoles with such titles as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark being released on the N64, not to mention Resident Evil 4 debuted on the GameCube. Rather, the hardcore gamer will remember that the Wii has brought the family into the gaming room, so the hardcore experience won’t be as prevalent on Nintendo’s next console. Family games aren’t what hardcore gamers latch on to. Yes, Nintendo does have hardcore franchises like Zelda and Metroid. Yes, Mario is a fantastic series and is probably the best platforming series, but this game is not hardcore. Metroid and Zelda don’t grab enough of the hardcore gamer audience for the next Nintendo console to succeed. 3rd party developers know that their “kiddie games” sell on Nintendo consoles, and that’s largely what they are going to make. Unless Nintendo leads the way in developing IPs that speak to the hardcore audience, they will never win out against the PS3 and 360 who have cornered that audience.

In addition, Nintendo has frankly never been good at getting the hardcore audience since the NES and SNES. After those years, the PlayStation brand has been king for the proceeding generations with PS1 and PS2. Even this generation, the 360 has that position, with the PS3 nipping at its heels. What makes Nintendo think that the hardcore will be able to capture the hardcore gamer three generations removed of being the top dog in terms of hardcore gamers? Not only that, but who is going to buy the Wii 2 for hardcore games instead of their contemporaries who have been developing hardcore games for much longer and at a more consistent rate? In terms of capturing the hardcore before, I recall Nintendo largely failing in their attempts with the GameCube. The hardcore titles that did release on the GameCube never did as well as the PS2 and Xbox hardcore games. The PS2 had GTA, the Xbox had Halo, and the GameCube? It had the usual gamut of Nintendo IPs which satisfied the Nintendo fanboys, but not much else to appeal to the hardcore. Unless the new Nintendo consoles see the multiplatform releases of their contemporaries like Fallout, GTA, CoD, Nintendo will never succeed at gaining the hardcore audience it wants to.

A dog fight between three consoles is much too much. Developers can be very lazy when it comes to developing multiplatform games. There will always be one console that developers first develop on when making a game. This console will be the highest common denominator, ie the console with the biggest install base. The 360 has this right as of this generation in terms of the hardcore releases, even though the Wii has by far the biggest install base. This is why oftentimes the 360 version games will look slightly better than the PS3 version games, even though the PS3 is more powerful. The Wii 2 will most likely also get this sort of treatment from the get-go and will get the shaft when developers are creating games for it. Developers simply won’t use the power of this new system simply because it will cost too much money for developers to utilize it and maximize its potential, especially if it does not lead in terms of its numbers. Why spend so much more money when there are already more 360s out there? It simply does not make sense for multiplatform developers to harness the next Wii’s power. Of course, the developers that take time to specifically develop for the next Wii will make games that may very well look better than anything on the 360 or PS3, but the amount of time and money it would take to create and engine and graphics system that works with the new Wii games of such caliber will be a long time in the making. So who’s really winning in this situation?

For me, I think it’s a big mistake for Nintendo to be releasing a system with tech that will most certainly be outdated once the PS4 and the new Xbox release. This move to out the newer system way before the other two is flawed, assuming that the next versions of Sony and Microsoft’s consoles don’t appear anytime soon, which I sincerely doubt as the Move and Kinect has increased the lifecycles of both consoles, not to mention that graphics can still be much improved on these consoles. Nintendo does not have it in them to win a three dog HD war; there are just too many knocks against it. These arguments I’ve presented do not fully encompass my thoughts. If you want to hear more, comment below and I’ll try to answer as extensively as I can.

-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

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