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Wii U holds promise, but will developers deliver?

I was in the audience yesterday as Nintendo unveiled its next home console, oddly monikered (but not as odd as “Project Cafe” and some other Internet speculation) “Wii U.” As it turns out, the rumor mill gave us a number of spot-on guesses as to the controller’s form and function, but I care more about what Nintendo plans to do with this new platform—what sorts of software I can expect.

The prevailing desire amongst the hardest of the “hardcore” was this concept that one could migrate their TV-game-in-progress to the Wii U’s controller and play it there. Nintendo led off with this concept with a presumed-sequel to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, showing a player happily relinquishing the TV to a family member and continuing to stomp Goombas on his own private screen. But it didn’t stop there; many other concepts were shown, including painting with a stylus, using the controller as a viewfinder to aim at the TV, providing a second view on the action, and several other things. Wii U provides a lot of options… so many that I wonder how well developers will be able to deliver on its promise.

Nintendo Wii U controller angle with stylis

I think we can count on Nintendo to deliver games built around each of the concepts they’ve shown today, and others we haven’t thought about yet. But I’m afraid that the wealth of options and the different kind of development culture fostered in third party developers will result in games that don’t really take advantage of the Wii U, instead using its features as tack-on fodder. It’s a story that’s played out before, throughout the DS’ and Wii’s respective histories, and it makes for games that don’t live up to their potential because they aren’t designed with the Wii U in mind from day one.

Whether this actually proves to be a problem is up for debate. I can point to many games of both stripes–those that embrace the platform and those that ignoring or only slightly pay respect to it–that have been successful both critically and financially on Wii and DS, and I’ve certainly enjoyed titles of both stripes.

I’m also a little concerned about a design choice that we heard about during the presentation: the choice to apparently stream video to the controller in lieu of delivering it actual software, which seems to me, in conjunction with the lack of video clips illustrating more than one Wii U controller in use, to potentially limit the possibilities of Wii U—you may not be able to create a Four Swords Adventures on Wii U.

I’m cautiously optimistic about what Wii U will deliver here. It’s has some apparent limitations, both technological and—for lack of a better word—political, that may stymie its development. But I still think the idea is a great one, and I really look forward to what Nintendo—and hopefully others—may eventually deliver. I’m looking forward to heading to the show floor to try it out for myself; I’m hoping that using it—much like in 2006 when I played Wii Tennis on the show floor—will convince me that Wii U’s potential is not to be missed when it launches next year.

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