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Is the Super Nintendo Wii doomed to fail?
by Andrew Testerman

As you may already have heard by now, Game Informer dropped a 37-kilotonne news bomb on Thursday when they broke the story that Nintendo has been developing a new HD console, and that it’s in developers’ hands right now. Though not officially announced by Nintendo, GI’s report has been confirmed by several developers, who are allegedly already hard at work learning the ins-and-outs of the new platform. They say it’s powerful (in the neighbourhood of the Xbox 360), they say it’s "do[ne] right", and they say we’ll see it at E3, if not sooner.

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of millions of Nintendo fanboys crying out with joy, who would not be silenced. The old reverse Alderaan effect.

If these reports are true (and I sincerely doubt that several independent publishers would be so deep in cahoots to concoct such a fib), Nintendo has an interesting future on the horizon. Wii sales have been gradually slowing, and even the multitude of awesome titles seen last year couldn’t slow its inevitable sales decline. If Miyamoto and friends ever needed a shot in the arm, it’s right here, right now.

But is it too little, too late? With its competitors so firmly dug in, can Nintendo’s new wonder toy even hope to gain a following, and avoid ending up like the Dreamcast, Atari Jaguar, and so many other failed consoles before it?

Like so many things in life, that depends.

The biggest thing Nintendo has going for it right now is the momentum started by the Wii. Sure, it may not have caught on with too many 'hardcore' gamers, but more people have Wiis than own landline phones, and it would be foolish to ignore that massive install base. As much as dedicated gamers want to believe that HD means exclusive titles like Gears of War and Killzone - which, from a brand standpoint, is probably the worst thing that could happen - Nintendo would do well to leverage the folks who bought a Wii the first time around. Whether it’s backwards compatibility, a new Wii Sports-style hook, or some new Blue Ocean gimmick; the more Nintendo can do to bring back the grandparents and soccer moms that made the Wii a hit, the better.

That said, Nintendo will have to work double time to woo fed-up gamers who wrote off the Wii as a toy suited only for the very young or the very old. Fortunately, the additional power promised by the report could be the key to patching things up with the Nintendo-loyal who abandoned the Wii, in favour of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. HD graphics akin to the 360 or PS3 would go a long way towards making it appear that Nintendo has rejoined the side of the hardcore.

Of course, HD power means more than just prettier games. Third party developers, a crowd that Nintendo has been notoriously unsuccessful at courting, would have an easier time porting their triple-A titles to Nintendo’s console than in the past; perhaps, instead of a pared-down lightgun-shooter version of Dead Space, we can get a full-on, legit version of Dead Space 3 when it finally releases.

Part of me is sceptical about what this new console can accomplish. Nintendo tried throwing its hat into the multiplatform ring before. Remember the GameCube? The 'lil-purple-lunchbox-that-could' failed to carve identity for itself in the market, and wound up collecting dust in third place. Nintendo ultimately found success by doing something different from its main competitors: motion control. By crafting the Wii as a unique experience, Nintendo didn’t have to compete, and instead forced Sony and Microsoft to consider the benefits of motion control as a conduit for family play themselves.

But what will the market make of Nintendo’s new potential competitor to the other seventh generation consoles? If the only thing it does is play third-party games in HD, it will lose; if I have the option to buy the new Call of Duty game on Nintendo HD or on 360, I’m going to buy it on 360 because that’s where all of my friends are. It’s not enough to play catch-up, and Nintendo needs to have a brand new secret sauce if it wants to differentiate itself from its two well-established competitors.

This is the tricky balance Nintendo must walk during the time before its release: it needs to be familiar enough for Ubisoft to be able to port 'Assassin’s Creed III: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' to it without a hitch, but it likewise needs to stand separate from Sony and Microsoft as a unique experience. Stay too samey and no one buys it in favour of Xbox 360 or PS3; stray too far from gaming as we know it and third parties are once again in the dark.

Which brings to question the now-famous bread-and-butter of the Wii: motion control. Will they do away with the system in favour of a traditional controller, or will Nintendo manage to somehow integrate both the Wiimote and a dual analogue setup that gamers have used for the better part of twelve years? Again, it’s all a balancing act, and one that Nintendo will have to work hard at to make appear natural.This doesn’t even include the catch-up that Nintendo would have to play if it wants a piece of Microsoft and Sony’s hardcore pie, including a top-tier online functionality, strong third-party support, and media components beyond simply playing games. It’s this sort of thinking that makes me wonder if Nintendo will even want to go after the hardcore again; so much work is required to get to the status quo, it almost doesn’t even make sense to try.

One way or another, this will be a crucial E3 for Nintendo. It needs to bring the casual Wii fans and the Nintendo diehards together under one umbrella, or risk losing them both entirely.

Time, as they say, will tell. I will say this: I want this new console to succeed. As a lifelong lover of all things Nintendo, I want to see them thrive in the gaming space that I inhabit, as well as the space of my parents, little brother, and tiny Japanese grandmother. And who knows, maybe Nintendo’s patented first-party goodness, coupled with robust third-party support, will be enough; there have certainly been enough claims of "I would buy a Wii HD" from the gaming press.

I know I'd jump at the chance to play Super Mario Universe on the same console I use for Battlefield 4.

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- Andrew Testerman

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