So we know when it’ll be here and how much it’ll cost, but Nintendo’s Wii U preview event yesterday left several important questions unanswered — most conspicuous of all, the list of day-one launch games.
In case you missed it, here’s what we know: Launch day is Nov. 18 in the U.S., it’ll run $349.99 for the 32 GB decked-out “Deluxe” version and $299.99 for the entry-level 8 GB model. Nintendo’s including a new service dubbed “Nintendo TVii” that’ll let you mash up live TV with streaming content and control it with the Wii U Gamepad, and the company promises we’ll see over 50 games between launch and March 2013.
That said, I still have some questions:
Where’s Zelda? Donkey Kong? Star Fox? Samus? Kirby for Pete’s sake? Okay, I kid: For once, Nintendo isn’t resting on its IP laurels. We have a Mario game and Wario in a “game & watch” style title, but that’s it, and should we be grateful or what? I’m honestly more intrigued by stuff like LEGO City: Undercover, Bayonetta 2, Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101 and Nintendo Land. We’ll see how many of those turn out to be day-one games (or strong titles), but kudos (on paper) to Nintendo for trying to mix up the launch software for a change.
Will the Wii U have achievements? Nintendo says it won’t include an overarching game-specific achievement system because it doesn’t want to tell developers what to do (as Microsoft does on the Xbox 360) or gamers how to play. It’s instead leaving achievements up to developers, so if we see them at all, they’ll occur in-game, meaning they probably won’t associate with your Wii U user ID or a “gamer score.” I’m not sure how I feel about that. I used to look down my nose at achievements, but now they’re as integral to what I’m thinking about when I play a game like Skyrim or Batman Arkham City as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2.
What about the storage options? Are you stuck with 8 GB forever if you buy the Basic model? Nintendo president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime apparently answered this in part during a post-show briefing, telling Engadget, “You can plug in a full-on three terabyte hard drive if you want. I’ll love you as a digital consumer.” Still, I’d like to see it laid out in more detail. Are we truly talking any external storage device? USB 2.0 or 3.0? Can we access save data for backup purposes, say we’re not fully onboard with the whole cloud-save thing (or playing somewhere without Internet coverage)? Can we replace the internal storage if it goes bad? And can we somehow transfer our Wii data to the Wii U?
What’s the price for a second Wii U GamePad? Nintendo didn’t tell its U.S. audience this, but it did tell its Japanese audience: 13,440 yen (USD$174), or roughly half the price of the Japanese Basic console. Could Nintendo sell the Wii U Gamepad for $150 or more stateside? It seems likely, given Japanese pricing. The good news: No one’s (yet) announced games that use two Wii U Gamepads, and you can play alongside someone else using your current Wii peripherals or the presumably much more affordable Wii U Pro controller.
Does Nintendo have wiggle room with the Wii U’s pricing, say the system doesn’t take off? Don’t expect an answer, but it’s a question on everyone’s minds, especially with the high-end system clocking in at $349.99 and the entry level model going for as much as a new Xbox 360 (and $50 more than a 160 GB PlayStation 3). But don’t expect Nintendo’s 3DS price-drop to be a precedent: Companies lower prices early-on as last resorts, not first ones, and my guess is Nintendo’s betting against press and analyst skepticism much as it did when the Wii arrived and proved every snarky pundit dead wrong (for several years, anyway).
Is the Wii U’s backward compatibility with Wii peripherals a super-secret ploy to nerf the secondary Wii market? Probably not, but it does pose a conundrum for Wii owners: Hold on to your Wii to keep using your Wii Remote and Nunchuk with the Wii U (several games really require all of the above)? Or trade it in to help offset the price of the new system? GameStop’s trade-in pricing may help you decide: The company’s only offering $50 for the Wii (compared with $90 for an original Xbox 360, PS Vita or 3DS and over $100 for an original PS3 or slimline Xbox 360), plus a $10 bonus (to any of the above) if the trade-in’s toward the purchase of a Wii U.
Will gamers be satisfied with the Wii U’s visual horsepower once Microsoft and Sony launch their next-gen rigs? The Wii U finally brings high-definition (up to 1080p) visuals to the Nintendo-verse, but by all accounts, the system’s either slightly less or more powerful than an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, i.e. it’s “next-gen” in a conceptual but not technical sense. Assuming Microsoft and Sony have exponentially more powerful systems in the offing, and also assuming they don’t introduce new peripherals to outclass Nintendo’s Wii U GamePad, will gamers care about the visual differences? I want to believe, perhaps foolishly, that gaming’s matured to the point we’re not playing games because of their polygon counts or shader wizardry, so it’ll be interesting to find out.
Can you play Wii games on the Wii U GamePad (that is, using its screen)? Can I play Xenoblade Chronicles curled up on my couch? The Last Story reclining in a hammock on my deck? The two best RPGs to come out on any system in years? [Update: Sounds like that's a no -- Nintendo just confirmed to me that it's not possible.]
How much will the games sell for on average? Wii games sell for $49 on average. Xbox 360 and PS3 games go for $59 or more. How much will we pay for Wii U games? [Update: Nintendo told me in a phone conversation that the first two games, Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U, which both appear to be day-one titles, will cost $59.99.]
Will Nintendo eventually offer the system in other colors? Black, white…kind of boring after all these years, aren’t they? Where’s my “chartreuse” option? “Cinnamon-orange”? “Midnight mist”? “Frilly-lilly”?
Will the Wii U upscale older Wii games, the way the PS3 did when it supported PS2 games? Nintendo isn’t saying, but wouldn’t it be cool if it let you play Wii games at HD resolutions through upscaling?