Welcome to the second half of my two-part article on 10 hopes and dreams for Project Café. You can read part 1 of my article, which focused on the controller and its famous screen here. In part 2, I will consider the rest of the system’s functionality.
In part 1, I let loose with crazy (some would say brilliant) gameplay ideas made possible by the screen-endowed controller of Project Café. This article will be a more down-to-Earth discussion of what additions and changes Nintendo needs to make in order to recharge its standing with the enthusiast crowd, overtake its competitors, and provide the most fun console possible.
6. Competent online play
Gamers are a whiny bunch, and they’ve found plenty to complain about with the Wii, but for nothing more vocally, or more justifiably, than the absence of competent online play. Nintendo needs to start from the beginning, because their current online strategy is a mess. Forget friend codes, move on to user names. More importantly, let users add friends in a simple and intuitive fashion. Forcing players to share long numeric codes and then requiring both to enter the code of the other person is obnoxious to a degree almost unimaginable in an industry which is supposed to sell fun.
Even all of that only covers one small component of what Nintendo’s competitors already offer. Imagine online leader-boards for Time Trials in the next Mario Kart in which you can compete against your online friends and the entire world. Imagine showing off a Nintendo-equivalent of Trophies or Achievements for your New Super Mario Bros. Café accomplishments. Nintendo should integrate all of this functionality with every aspect of the new system’s games and its operating system to push interactivity as well.
7. Appetizing downloadables
A major component of getting gamers online is giving them something to buy. Sure, there’s plenty of fun to be had competing with and against your friends, but the industry is heading toward downloadable games as a major stream of revenue. As big games have gotten bigger, and medium games have been pushed to the bottom, online app stores have become the place to be for smaller developers. Nintendo needs to ensure these companies have a place to sell their wares that’s simple for consumers. Broadening third party support means catering to their needs.
Nintendo should focus on building an OS that integrates the online presence of the new system with what’s happening locally. Consumers, quite simply, need to know when and what new products are available. If Nintendo fails to provide more than weekly email reminders of their download releases, they will again find few using those services.
8. Less plastic
This generation saw a glut of peripherals and unneeded hardware invade the homes of many gamers. No company was more guilty of this than Nintendo, and it’s time to cut back. Start with the sensor bar. Clearly the Wii technology needed it, and for the sake of backwards compatibility, Project Café may very well as well. If it can’t be gotten rid of all together, then I’d like to request that it at least be made wireless.
The Wii Wheel was genius, the Zapper, not so much. Nintendo needs to hone in on a few key peripherals it knows make sense and forget trying to make any more. The Zapper, in particular, felt like a peripheral for the sake of another peripheral, it added nothing to gameplay. Even the game it came with worked just as well, if not better, without it. Nintendo, please tidy up my living room.
9. Hardware parity with competitors
I’m not a fiend for the latest tech. I’m more enamoured with addictive gameplay than pretty graphics. I have no problem with the way Wii games look, even now. Having said that, this generation has made it clear that third party developers need to be able to bring their games to the most number of systems as cheaply as possible. Ballooning budgets have ensured that the day of the third party exclusive is gone.
So much of what held the Wii back from having a strong line-up of third party titles was that those third parties couldn’t afford the risk of creating something different for the system, and creating something different was unfortunately the only option companies had. The Wii was so underpowered compared to its competition that third parties were unable to reuse assets from their efforts on other systems. Ports were a non-starter. Profits were more likely to be found developing across the 360, PS3, and PC.
If Nintendo wants third party support for its new system, it’s going to need approximate hardware parity with its competitors. That means something powerful enough to get cross-platform titles with the 360 and PS3 now, and something that can still hold up when the 720 and PS4 come out. All the Wii 2 needs to do is be powerful enough that companies can easily port up (or down) to it and the 3rd party floodgates will finally open.
10. Strengthened first and second party offerings
Third party software is incredibly important, but Nintendo hasn’t kept going without them this long for no reason. The company has a remarkable knack for producing compelling in-house software too, and it needs to keep it up.
In comparing Nintendo’s first and second party offerings on the Wii to the company’s previous systems, the Wii side looks a little thin. Don’t get me wrong, the Mario Galaxy games and Metroid Prime 3 justify a system purchase on their own. Still, the lack of entries in the middle tiers of Nintendo’s pantheon of heroes glares at me. No Pikmin (yet), no F-Zero, no Wave Race, no Star Fox. We eventually got a Donkey Kong game, but surely Retro could have pushed out two or three rather than one in the span of this generation if they had better focus.
I get the sense that the creative freedoms Nintendo gives its developers are a strength and a weakness. It’s fun to imagine all of the crazy ideas the guys back in Kyoto are toying with, but the turn-around to making those ideas into games is staggeringly slow compared to other companies.
Nintendo needs to get smart about internal development cycles to prevent the patented Nintendroughts that were all too common this generation. I’m not suggesting the company pull a full Activision and place every resource into factory producing cookie-cutter games, but it would be nice to see Nintendo focus on pacing out pre-planned pairs and trilogies from the outset of its new system. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a game every two or three years from each of a stable of about a dozen proven franchises.