It’s that time again. The previous console generation had sputtered on so long, it seemed as if we’d never have to experience our favorite developers slow and stop releasing games for our favorite consoles. And then perforce rumination on whether to drop a few hundred bucks on an unproven system that is barely supported as of yet and appears to offer very little in graphical upgrades. But here we are, the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii are all breathing their last, abdicating their modernity and destined to enter the realm of historians, hobbyists, and hipsters. It will be a while yet until their true death rattle, but focus has shifted. Let us look ahead.
It’s a frustrating, eye-rolling trend for the previous industry-leader to immediately make poor decisions on their follow-up. Perhaps, like timeworn accounts of mad kings, they feel their digital fortress unassailable. There’s a reason the ancient Greeks were obsessed with tales of hubris. Anyway. The PS2 blew everything else away, had possibly the best library of any system ever then followed it up with a prohibitively expensive PS4 launch, with nary a great game in sight for much too long. Now, my last-gen favorite, the Xbox 360, has a too-expensive successor that originally laser focused itself as a ‘media center’, whatever the hell that is, and not on what matters — the game library. It has gone through multiple embarrassing marketing shifts, reneging on earlier goals, replacing public figures, acquiring a humbling albeit catchy nickname (Xbone!). Its 2013 E3 game-conference presentation was marked by a horrific show of misogyny, showcasing a major issue in gaming writ large. And it still barely has any games, either released or in the pipeline, that I would like to own.
The PS4. Well, at least it has avoided the baggage and marketing shitshow Microsoft has garnered. But otherwise, it has similar problems with price and gameplay. The… prestige of being an early adopter seems to be the biggest perk to dropping $400 right now, instead of waiting another year or two for a library to develop and the price to drop. The days of amazing launch titles like Mario 64 or Halo are long past, unlikely to return. It’s a peculiar turnaround when the excitement of new console releases is backloaded to some arbitrary point in the future when just the right amount of decent games are released to make it worth buying. Peculiar is fine, but much worse, it’s boring. Major launches, especially the kind that require substantial financial investment, should be an occasion for joy, not patience.
Which brings us to the Wii U. Released first and with marketing so anemic that many of the people that made the first Wii so incredibly successful either don’t know it exists or don’t care. Maybe there’s a certain ultra-casual audience that would never care. Even my parents, who ostensibly understand console lifecycles due to grudgingly buying me a few in my youth, would be hard pressed to be convinced they need another Wii. Further perplexing is this incarnation’s controller gimmick: a controller-as-tablet that actually seems pretty cool, or at least potentially cool (it does require game devs to think in new, maybe risky ways), but is a total departure from the immediate, obvious simplicity of the Wii-mote. You can’t get results just waving it about.
Yet, and possibly because it was first, the library is now starting to come together. Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, Super Mario World U, Wind Waker HD are respectable. But now, yes, now, the tipping point has been reached.
And Smash Bros hovers on the horizon. Yes, the cynics among us ought to point out this is an entire slate of sequels, some with bare updates on the past and including a mere HD remake. Others may peg this is a purchase rooted in nostalgia. They’d be right. But as someone who skipped most of the Wii’s lifespan, it’s been a while since I hurled turtle shells at a gorilla on a go-cart.