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Nintendo’s Wii U not enough to impress today

The narrative for new gadgets this fall seems to follow the same script: Smaller. Faster. A better and bigger display. All for about the same price as its predecessor, give or take a few bucks.

That may be fine for Apple's iPhone 5, depending on whom you ask, but it's shaping up to be a real disaster for Nintendo's Wii U, the first in the next generation of gaming consoles. It's almost as if you could have predicted it when some of the system's specifics were announced at E3 back in May.

The Wii U was officially unveiled last Thursday in New York, with all the fanfare a new system is supposed to bring. It's unfortunate, then, that Nintendo has failed to deliver.

What is the Wii U offering us for its Nov. 18 release date, exactly? High-definition graphics, which Sony and Microsoft provided last generation. Backward compatability, an idea so increasingly passe in the wake of digital marketplaces, the PlayStation eventually gave up on it entirely. A touchscreen display on an oversized controller, a gimmick Nintendo itself pioneered (and overused) with the DS. Use of motion controls. Integration with your home entertainment center. Portable memory capability. An online community.

In short, everything the Wii should have featured the first time around.

I'm not impressed by the ability to coordinate with TiVo or organize my digital media content with my gaming system. That was so six years ago.

No, in this age of technological entitlement, when anything less than revolutionary cultural touchstones are instantly derided on Internet forums, the Wii U feels like a giant step sideways. It's a lateral move, not a leap forward. And Nintendo has no one to blame for those expectations but themselves.

It was Nintendo's own upstart Wii that changed the game. It sold more than 100 milion units, based on the simple fact that its controls and gameplay were fun and accessible.

The Wii U doesn't boast that same understanding of what people want now. It shows that Nintendo thinks it can get away with upgrading a central processor, cobbling together a coalition of willing third-party developers for about 50 titles in the system's "launch window" (which lasts until March, I must note) and charging dopes up to $350 for the privilege. Oh, and your games are going to cost $10 more apiece, as well, up to $60.

A core reason for this failure — beyond a decidedly lackluster attempt at innovation — is that this new console doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. It wants to continue to satisfy the casual gamers that made the Wii a winner, but tout hardcore shooters like Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It wants to show off cutting-edge capability, but includes relatively little in the hardware package. It wants to promote its new TVii capabilities for Netflix and the like, but requires you have your own TiVo box or DVR if you want to use those features.

All these contradictions may end up killing the Wii U with the death of a thousand cuts. One or two of these flaws would be understandable, but adding it all up means most gamers may very well opt to wait for the latest offerings from Seattle or Tokyo, leaving Kyoto out in the cold.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to disagree with his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Nintendo’s Wii U not enough to impress today 09/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 4:18pm]
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