Let me make sure that one thing is crystal clear: It is September. The date of publication of this article is Sept. 28. Halloween is the next major holiday, followed a month later by Thanksgiving. Why is it, then, that my mind remains absolutely fixated on Christmas, which is more than three months away? I’ll tell you why:
To be fair, my obsession with Christmas may be caused by additional factors. However, last Thursday’s announcement of a Nov. 18 launch date means that Nintendo’s next major console will probably be the big Christmas present for hundreds of kids and adults across this fine nation. Kids and adults. Let’s take a moment to examine why exactly that statement excites me so much.
Old followers of mine may recall my discussion of a business strategy employed by Nintendo called the “blue ocean.” To recap, this strategy involves leaving a saturated market (the “red” ocean) in search of an untapped new market (the “blue” ocean) with the ultimate hope of reeling all the new customers gained from the blue ocean back into the more familiar territory of the red ocean.
The colonization of the blue ocean has been ongoing since the launch of the original Wii in 2006, and Nintendo has been quite successful in cultivating a new market of older gamers—exposing them in the process to the rudiments of game controls, level design and basic gameplay. Good, right? In theory, but Nintendo’s strategy had the unwanted side effect of alienating a group of dedicated gamers who had previously comprised Nintendo’s loyal “core.”
This Christmas, Nintendo seeks to do something bordering on the impossible: introduce the new demographic of gamers hooked on the Wii to more complex and traditional games and redeem themselves in the hearts of their loyal fans by expanding their offerings of traditional platformer and shooter titles from both their in-house studios and from third parties like Activision and Ubisoft. Difficult, yes, but now that the WiiU’s stats and launch titles are known, I’ll tell you this: I’m optimistic about their chances.
My optimism springs from two main sources. First, the WiiU’s hardware is purposefully very similar to that of the Xbox 360. While I still firmly hold that the PowerPC processor needs to die a quick and painless death in console manufacturing, the fact that the WiiU’s processor and graphics card are based on slightly beefier versions of the 360’s guts means that Nintendo has made the WiiU not only capable of playing games of the same graphical quality as the 360 and PS3, but it has also made it an attractive console for both ports and primary development.
Second, the launch lineup for the console looks outstanding. Rarely at a console’s launch have we seen a lineup of both this quality and diversity. To placate Nintendo’s former core, there is New Super Mario Bros. U, Rayman Legends, Game & Wario and Pikmin 3. For the transitional audience coming from the original Wii, there is Wii Fit U, Nintendo Land, Madden ’13, FIFA ’13 and a number of other family/party-oriented games. Also, for the first time since Rareware’s 007 Goldeneye on N64, a bone or four for the “hardcore” crowd: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3, ZombiU and Aliens: Colonial Marines. Add in other major titles like Darksiders II, Epic Mickey 2, Wipeout 3, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Batman: Arkham City, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Bayonetta 2, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge and…WOW. The only thing Nintendo might have to worry about is giving players too much choice this Christmas. Games that appeal to nearly every type of gamer, from casual to hardcore, are on that impressive launch list, and much as I have issues with the series as a whole, the fact that a Call of Duty flagship title is launching on a Nintendo console alongside a traditional Mario Bros. game is enough to give me a great deal of hope for the console’s future, and, by extension, the future of the gaming industry.
With the WiiU, Nintendo has acknowledged the triple-rift that has formed between players of casual games, shooter games and fantasy games. At the same time, however, they have also made an extremely powerful assertion that all three can coexist on a console powerful and extensible enough to appeal to all. Is the WiiU really that console? Start singing those carols now, because it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas will decide!