Hype and the Wii U

Coming to a living room near you (11/18/12).

A lot of money goes into video game marketing each year.  The amount of money becomes seemingly astronomical when combined with how much is spent on video game coverage.  I suppose it’s not as prevalent as sports coverage, but there’s a lot of websites and magazine dedicated to video games out there and all of them are trying to keep us, the consumer, interested in the product.

In general, they’re pretty good at it.  There have been lots of much hyped titles in my lifetime as a gamer.   These are the kinds of games that get everybody is talking about before they even come out.  I remember being excited about the prospect of a sidekick for Sonic the Hedgehog when first learning about the existence of Miles “Tails” Prower in Sonic 2.  Anytime there was a big commercial property making the jump to games people would get excited, such as with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even if these games usually turned out poor.

When I think back on these titles there are three that immediately come to mind as the biggest titles, the most hyped of the hyped:  Super Mario Bros 3, Final Fantasy VII, and Metal Gear Solid 2.

I can still remember the day I bought this game and how excited I was to finally have it!

Super Mario Bros. 3 is probably the most highly anticipated game of all-time.  It was insane.  Everyone couldn’t wait to see it.  And since this was before such video game coverage was as big as it is today, a lot of people didn’t see anything from the game until they actually played it.  Unless, that is, if you saw The Wizard which had a climax that was basically a commercial for the game.  On the school playground, my friends and I would talk about all the rumors we heard about the game, the biggest being that Mario would fly!  I don’t think any of us could have guessed it would be via a raccoon tail but when we found out we didn’t care to be bothered by confusion, we were just psyched to play it.

Final Fantasy VII was hyped for a different reason.  Even though the Playstation had been on the market for over a year, a lot of people still felt like we weren’t really experiencing all the Playstation could do until Final Fantasy VII came out.  Television ads bombarded us with commercials featuring mostly FMV sequences from the game that were like nothing we had ever seen from a video game.  It was also the follow-up to Final Fantasy VI (III in the US) which was a much beloved game by all who enjoyed it.  There was some controversy too since the franchise was moving from Nintendo to Sony which just made it seem more exciting.  When it was announced the a demo of the game would be release with Tobal No. 1 it basically guaranteed that title would move half a million units, at the very least.

Metal Gear Solid kind of snuck up on gamers in 1998.  The Metal Gear series was enjoyed by most of those who experienced it, but it wasn’t very popular.  When MGS came out it really blew people away with its presentation and innovative use of the Playstation console’s features.  Solid Snake was a man’s man that appealed to most gamers, and the experience is one of the most memorable of its era.  The sequel promised to deliver the same experience, but with more realism.  I remember speculating with friends upon reading about the sequel and how Snake could hide the bodies of his foes and such and wondering how far Konami would take it.  Would we have to mop up the blood?  Make sure they didn’t start to smell?  Like Final Fantasy VII, a demo was packaged with a lesser title before release (Zone of the Enders) which would help drive sales of the unknown game.  It was the unveil trailer at E3 though that really cemented this one as a must have when Hideo Kojima showed off a Hollywood style trailer featuring Snake jumping off the George Washington bridge.

I still get chills when I watch the opening to this game.

All three of these games were eagerly anticipated by the masses, and all three did something a lot of hyped titles fail to do:  they delivered.  Some may quibble with how well they did.  MGS2 is famous for its inclusion of the much maligned Raiden character, and while he was unloved by most, I’ve never heard anyone call it a bad game because of that.  Final Fantasy VII‘s toughest critics are from those who like Final Fantasy VI more, there’s no shame in being a runner-up to that title though.  Super Mario Bros. 3, on the other hand, is nothing but loved.  It’s one of the all-time greats and a seemingly flawless experience.

Nintendo will now try to stir up hype for its new system, the Wii U.  The hype machine started over a year ago when the console was first unveiled.  It’s basically a powered-up Wii with a tablet controller.  The system won’t be more powerful, or perhaps not even quite as powerful, as the current Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, but that will make it significantly stronger than the Wii.  The tablet controller is a curiosity, one that Nintendo is likely going to have to lead the way on in order to encourage other developers to do something unique with it.

The Wii was quite the hit when it first arrived in 2006.  People were really intrigued by the motion-based controls and were willing to overlook the lackluster horsepower (partly because the system was significantly cheaper than the others out there) and poor online features.  There was quite a bit of hype for it and so far I’m not getting the sense that people are nearly as excited about the Wii U.  The gaming crowd will support it, for the most part, but I don’t think it’s going to be the focus of a South Park episode.  I think it’s partly due to the tablet controller, the main selling point, and consumer confusion regarding it.  Just how much can we expect it to add to the gameplay experience? We’re all already playing touch based games on our phones and do we really need a touch screen embedded in a controller?  Is there anything this system is going to do that a PS3 and Vita can’t?

Must have device? Only time will tell.

In response to that last question, probably not.  However, a PS3 plus a Vita is a pretty heavy investment so few, if any, developers are actually going to develop software that really makes use of both in tandem(especially when considering how poorly the Vita has sold).  Wii U developers get the benefit of knowing their audience has this intriguing controller and will have to incorporate it into their games.  It’s just a matter of how creative they get.  So far, it sounds like many third-party developers are just reserving the tablet screen for menu interactions or maps, which is pretty lame.  The tablet is only good for a few hours, and because Nintendo is expecting a shortage of them, they won’t be sold individually for awhile which means only one tablet per household.  It’s likely most games won’t be designed to incorporate two for the time-being as a result.

Software wise, the system is lacking a killer app at launch.  Or at least, that’s how it appears.  Perhaps as the early reviews start coming in we’ll find there is a must have game in there, but for now there’s Mario.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii U is the big first-party title arriving at launch.  Expect more of the same from this familiar franchise.  The only tablet integration is in multi-player where the tablet player can manipulate the levels and cause trouble for those playing.  Interesting, but nothing that begs to be tried.  There is a new Pikmin on the way, which may be the kind of game that lets Nintendo show off, and there’s bound to be a Zelda and Metroid title somewhere down the road.

When it comes to the Wii U I am intrigued, but not hyped in the same way I was for the original Wii. Despite that, I still have a console reserved for launch.  I can’t not play; it’s a compulsion.  It’s Nintendo, and its track record is too strong to ignore.  Even though I’m not that excited, I’m assured of having a good time.  That said, it wouldn’t bother me if Nintendo did get me hyped for this thing.  Make the next month go by slowly!

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