The Wii U: An oddly anachronistic chalice half empty
The Wii U is the new hotness, recently reinvigorated after a direct address from the wizards on Mount Tendo with promises of a few more 2013 releases beyond the known and waited upon Rayman Legends and Pikmin 3 (and Monster Hunter, for many poor, damned souls.) While some continue to see the console as a gimmick until proven otherwise, what is the other way forward in the dedicated home console market but incremental hardware improvement seeking parity with the PC?
There is still something of a dearth of 2013 releases — “What, just a Legend of Zelda remake?” some scoff while spitting chewing tobacco into an abandoned water bottle — admittedly, but Nintendo has always played the long game. Case in point: look at the 3DS’s doomed first year (what were you playing? I was busy not owning one until all the releases rolled in) and subsequent success. It and its software are selling like dual screen flapjacks and syrup or hydrofluoric acid and plastic tubs.
But is the Wii U really that novel? From where I stand (precariously balanced on an outstretched birch branch while juggling) it’s a step backwards. It’s like I’m the only one who has played the Gamecube’s second best game.
Imagine a world where video game consoles only natively supported two controllers and you didn’t care because stopping that megalomaniac, terrifying clown/possible distorted literary eponym only required the one. Also, you don’t care that your cousin is over and he wants to play too, mom, because this is a one person game and the world is going to downright end if you don’t do something ugh. Hopefully you’re imagining the halcyon days of the Super Nintendo, when everything was dandy.
Still, Nintendo went ahead and made four controller ports standard on the N64 (and since) because I can’t handle this right now your father just passes out on the couch watching the game with a beer every night and your cousins are over for the weekend so just play something you can all play. And from this you may remember such memories as: These Mario Kart 64 3D draw distances are terrible and I don’t know when turns are coming up oh my god don’t pick Rainbow Road; How do you do the thing where you eat people, oh my gosh you can’t do that with Mario; and “Red Warrior is about to die!”
Still, Nintendo wasn’t finished getting people to in proximity to each other. After physically linking together owners of the smash hit Game Boy and its link cables (gotta trade ‘em all), Nintendo thought it would hook the Game Boy Advance to its adorable lunchbox of a console. And why not? We bought Game Boy Players. Well, I did. Yes, in the ‘Cube era Nintendo went “gimmicky” again, introducing the GBA link cables that let the venerable handheld work with the GameCube, usually to unsatisfactory ends. The Chaos Garden in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, for example, where I spent much too much of my time.
Still, like any good idea, its realization required more than a tacked on application. We got that. We got that at least twice. In the lesser Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure — one of the few Zelda games I can claim to have finished — and, more importantly, in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, the second best game on the system.
It’s a multiplayer Final Fantasy game lacking none of the RPG flourishes thanks to each player having their own screen for things like inventory, equipment, minimaps, and so on. And how! I can’t count the hours I, along with two chums and an occasional fourth wheel, spent caravanning around that beautiful world. It was a blast. People complain, still, about having to carry the chalice, a damn gift from the gods that lets your troupe brave the thick miasma poisoning the land, and that’s because those people are either terrible or have terrible friends. In my caravan, we all bore the load, equally and willingly, for the good of the group. For the betterment of the world against encroaching poisonous fog. For adventure!
Yes, the Final Fantasy series jumped ship, gracing the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 with some of the best mainline iterations (and some of the best spin offs, like Final Fantasy: Tactics, though Nintendo lays claim to the lovely Tactics Advance), but the GameCube had Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles — where the Nintendo 64 had little solace, at that. Crystal Chronicles, a gorgeous game with art direction that holds up to this day and an earthy, vivacious score that would make Nobuo Uematsu’s eyes gleam in approval. A game of adventure and friendships past.
That adventure ended eventually, unfortunately. Crystal Chronicles became a spin off series that consistently failed to reach the greatness of the original. Meanwhile, flashing forward in this liberally connected scenario, Nintendo has come out with console that is equal parts an advancement on Crystal Chronicles’ dual screen play. The Wii U’s second screen is an intrinsic part, built into the system, rather than a (small) hassle requiring extraneous cords and the like. Yet, only one tablet can be paired to a console at this time. So goes my hopes for a proper Crystal Chronicles revival. Or even an HD remake in line with the recent Wind Waker release.
It’s one step north east, one step west, and another south in this scenario. Tablets are ubiquitous and Nintendo has shoved a facsimile of one into its controller. But only one, for now, leaving its benefits to lie largely with the solo player. It’s a strange acknowledgment of a supposedly slighted core and a slight…slight to the multiplayer culture Nintendo consoles have bred since the N64. In the interim, Sony is sitting on what will likely be a 2013 PlayStation 4 announcement and a Vita, the interconnectivity of which has not been tested to any substantial degree. Perhaps this seamless parity will be a focus of the next Sony home console, stepping into the role Nintendo embraced, but not fully enough. More boldly than Sony did as an also-ran with the PlayStation Move. In the mean time, I’m conscripting folks for a Crystal Chronicles caravan again. Adventure, ho!
For those patient enough to make it to the end, your reward is affirmation that Resident Evil 4 is indeed the best GameCube game and one of the better games ever made. That’s what I’m sellin’. You buyin’?