The Wii U is struggling. No matter how much you love or hate Nintendo, this is an undeniable fact. Equally undeniable, whether you like it or not, is that the Wii U now has several absolutely brilliant exclusive games, with many of its upcoming titles likely to be added to that list. None of that changes the fact that the machine hasn’t shifted nearly as many units as Nintendo was hoping, nor the fact that the Wii U is slowly but surely bleeding third party support. Is there a chance, though, that the recent announcement of the (admittedly poorly branded) ‘New 3DS’ is part of Nintendo’s plans to reverse its home console fortunes?
Due to the aforementioned sales woes, many people have confidently predicted that – probably within the next twelve months – Nintendo will (a) permanently withdraw from the home console hardware market, or (b) announce the Wii U’s replacement. Both these ideas seem unlikely to say the least. Yes, it’s now become apparent that Iwata and co are starting to feel the pressure from shareholders. Nintendo is still sitting on a huge pile of money, though (mostly due to its handheld dominance) and there are no signs of the notoriously unpredictable and idiosyncratic company changing its ways any time soon. Consider too the many recently announced Wii U games, the release window of which stretches well into 2015. Most telling of all is the new Zelda. This far from finished game, surely, would have been ideal to lead the charge into a new console or multiformat publishing?
Going back to the issue of the New 3DS; it’s clear that it’s essentially a supercharged version of the existing 3DS. It will have built-in NFC functionality (a feature finally to be put to use via Amiibos) but, more interesting still, the specs reveal it to be a more powerful machine; a more powerful machine with extra triggers and a second stick. The remake/re-release of Xenoblade Chronicles will in fact not run on any of the current 3DS/2DS models. Hmm. A handheld device with a touchscreen and motion controls, built-in NFC, two sticks, four triggers, wireless functionality, and able to effortlessly run a game originally intended for a more powerful home console?
That sounds an awful lot like a Wii U GamePad.
Nintendo have for a while now openly talked about how they’re moving to integrate their home and portable development, but have been rather vague about what, exactly, that means. I think that Amiibos were the first public sign of that (allowing you to carry player data between the 3DS and Wii U versions of Smash Bros) and the New 3DS just may be the second. Hiding in plain sight, rarely discussed (or even acknowledged) in the gaming media, is a remarkable fact. The Wii U has been on shelves for very nearly two years at time of writing, and yet the primary controller can still not be bought separately. This is what I think has happened, and what now will happen:
In order to maximise console availability at launch (apparently), the relevant people at Nintendo decided that the GamePad would not go on sale by itself at the same time as the console. By the time they were confident their manufacturing sites could comfortably produce console packages and solo GamePads in tandem, they were faced with the alarming fact that many – possibly most – retailers had started to discount the Wii U heavily in an effort to kickstart sluggish sales. What they had not revealed to the public (I suspect) is that the controller costs more to produce than the console itself. This, combined with the disappointing Wii U sales and widespread discounts, meant that Nintendo now found itself in the position where it couldn’t sell the GamePad by itself for much less than the cheapest console package without taking a huge blow to its finances; a blow it wasn’t prepared to risk. Games and features that allowed for more than one GamePad in use were put on the back burner.
Then, a new 3DS model was put through R&D; one that could act as a GamePad, yet justify its price by also being a standalone console. The XL and 2DS models of the 3DS proved that the market was hungry for repackaged versions of the same machine meaning that, in all likelihood, yet another model which had significant additions and more powerful innards would also sell. Should, in fact, sell even better than the others.
I’m aware that Nintendo has not made any such announcement about the New 3DS working so closely with the Wii U, and even if no such announcement is made before release, I still believe that it can happen at a later date. Though nothing has been said, I believe that the New 3DS has the GamePad’s capability to stream graphics and sound both to and from the Wii U. So maybe – just maybe – Xenoblade Chronicles will be the first to allow you the option of playing a 3DS game on your TV. I’m not at all sure that, even if I’m right, the New 3DS will be backward compatible with all existing Wii U games. After all, they were designed for a controller with just one, generously-sized screen. Does that mean, conversely, that perhaps some future Wii U games will be developed that rely on the use of a dual-screen controller? I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand it could open up a whole new world of development opportunities; but on the other hand it would split and confuse the market, and force the purchase of another console for certain games. I hope that’s not an option.
While acting as a controller solves some problems for Nintendo, that alone wouldn’t help drive sales of the Wii U itself – especially as only an XL screen would come close to working properly for many Wii U games. The main attraction, I suspect, would be game streaming; especially if it worked for ‘normal’ 3DS games. How many people have expressed frustration at Luigi’s Mansion 2 not being a Wii U release? Wouldn’t it be cool to play your 3DS Virtual Console games on the TV without having to buy them again (something Nintendo should have sorted out a long time ago anyway)? And if it worked for all 3DS games, it should in theory work for your DS back catalogue too.
In fact, as the New 3DS is so functionally similar to the GamePad, what if there were an option for some New 3DS games to stream or even download to the Wii U so that you turned this idea on its head, and used the Gamepad (with its much bigger screen) to play an adapted version either on or off TV – a Nintendofied version of cross-buy…