The Wii U is magic (but that magic is going to be hard to sell)
I can explain to you, in very simple terms, why the Wii took off. Now that the Wii U has been in my home for at least a few days, with a few guests dropping by to check it out, I’ve discovered that it’s much harder to describe why people should or shouldn’t buy the system. Some people think it’s like an iPad, and the GamePad is a portable system. Other people are confused about whether or not the new controller can work with the original Wii. I’ve talked about this problem before, and Nintendo has done little to improve the situation. That being said, I’ve had my share of great moments with the hardware. Examples: I was lounging on the couch playing New Super Mario Bros. U when my kids came in and said they were interested in seeing the game. So I hit the TV button, turned on the television, switched the input to the Wii U, and turned the volume up so they could see and hear what I was doing on the big screen. I had already set the GamePad up to work as a remote control for my HDTV, so I could do all this without getting up or grabbing another remote. It’s seamless. When they decided they wanted to watch the television again I switched the TV back over to cable, and put on my headphones so I could hear the sounds of the game over their cartoons. Again, without picking up another remote or controller. The selling point for families is pretty clear: Parents, you can now play M-rated games with your children in the room! The Wii U provides a fluid, comfortable gaming environment. If someone wants to play on the television, they can. Or they can display the game on the GamePad while their kid, wife, husband, whatever watches television. Once the system’s updates go live you’ll be able to watch a film on Netflix with the GamePad and a pair of headphones while someone else watches the television. My son loves watching Dr. Who, but it’s too scary for my daughter. I don’t like the idea of putting a television in his room for a number of reasons. This allows him to sit back and enjoy his own shows while the younger kids watch a DVD on the TV.
Once you detach the television, amazing things can happen
You can argue that things like the iPad and even portable systems like the Vita provide something close to the same experience, but once developers see the possibilities of games that don’t use the television, the opportunities for play become very interesting very quickly. We’ve already seen some of that promise with games like Johann Sebastian Joust, a game that could easily come to the Wii U if it used Wii Remotes instead of Move controllers, with options configured on the GamePad. A video for the upcoming Wii U game Spin the Bottle also shows some of the things that can be done without using a television, and this opens the door to the sort of play that doesn’t need a screen, but still benefits from accelerometers, gyroscopes, and a central scoring system. “The game pushes the players' attention away from the screen and onto each other with a series of collaborative micro challenges where players have to look at each other in order to win. The players sit in a circle around the Wii U Game Pad and spin a virtual bottle in order to pair up two random players to take a challenge,” the description of Spin the Bottle states. “The challenges are carried out with Wii Remotes and might involve tight coordination, daring trust, body contact or extreme flexibility.”The Wii U offers many interesting ideas for play with friends and family; having an extra screen for a player to hide information or interact with others opens many possibilities. We’ve already seen a few novel uses of the technology in Nintendo Land including perhaps my favorite game for the system so far. Split-screen gaming can also come back, as both players can now have their own screens to play competitive or co-operatively. I’m going to pick up a copy of Black Ops 2 on the Wii U as soon as its available for just that reason. The problem is that it took me a few days of living with the system to really understand what it can do. The good news is I’ve never been more enthusiastic about the Wii U, but the bad news is that it’s taking me hundreds of words written for an already engaged gamer audience to explain why I’m enthusiastic. All these ideas and concepts are going to be hard to sell based on a 30 second commercial. For those of us who buy in, however, I hope for many imaginative games in the near future. Either with the TV or without it.