The Nintendo Wii's meteoric rise to power has all the makings of a made-for-TV movie. The underpowered underdog ("two Gamecubes duct-taped together!") barreled to the head of the class, delivering a fresh, innovative gaming experience and capturing the hearts of the masses.
Will lightning strike twice with the Wii U? If the massive crowd enveloping Nintendo's E3 booth today is any indication, the answering is a resounding Yes. Still, while I'd be a fool to doubt the wisdom of the masses (again), the Wii U's buffet of features could prove tricky to comprehend -- for consumers and developers alike. And if the bulk of the original Wii's software library is any indication, that could prove disastrous.
In an E3 that has largely been defined by sequels -- Deus Ex 3, Gears of War 3, Halo 4 through 6 -- Nintendo has once again arrived out of left field with a product so bizarre it defies definition. The device features augmented reality, care of the pair of cameras, a high-fidelity sketching with a stylus and an independent, 6.2-inch touchscreen that functions as a separate display -- keep in mind that I'm just talking about the controller.
More importantly, the Wii U represents a dramatically different Nintendo -- and this is where I start to get a little concerned.
The original Wii kept things simple, and accessible: you already know how a remote control works, just point it at the television and you're off. For the "hardcore" gamer whose Xbox360 is little more than a Halo delivery system, Nintendo's anemic white box offered little of substance. Graphics underwhelmed. Internet connectivity was woefully obtuse. And waggling? We'll stick to shooting folks in the face with analog thumbsticks, thanks.
Where the Wii was simple, the Wii U is complex: a touchscreen, triggers, cameras, dual analog sticks -- it's a mish-mash of gaming peripherals, from mobile all the way up to current-gen consoles.
The Wii U is an attempt to bring us (read: traditional, meat and potatoes gamers) back into the fold. For every fanciful clip of colorful characters playing sports, or bouncing about idyllic landscapes, there was something tuned towards the Mature-rating connoisseur -- namely, splattered limbs and frenetic gunfire.
But it's also an attempt at attracting the "new" breed of gamer, equipped with internet-ready multi-touch smartphones and tablets. And let's not forget the casual audience, who will appreciate Mii-infused Mario escapades between rounds of Othello.
Take a look back at all mediocre to bad third-party titles available for the Nintendo Wii -- when game developers don't have a clear idea of how to take advantage of Nintendo's characteristically wacky hardware, the results are disastrous. There may be something for everyone here, but the Wii U's success is going to be irrevocably linked with game developers understanding how best to make use of the contraption.
Nintendo's first party titles rarely fail to disappoint. And with design and control decisions being so similar to "normal" consoles, Wii U-flavored ports of first-person shooters and the like will certainly be feasible. So let's just hope clever designers get on board and make the most of this intriguing platform.