Arguably the Wii U has something of an identity crisis when it comes to third party games. In the year since its release it has managed to secure the some big titles – the Call of Duty franchise and the most recent two Arkham games have both landed on the system to name a few – though while they are available for purchase, they’re often stricken by entirely cut content (Batman and Splinter Cell’s co-operative multiplayer), slapdash porting duties, or a microscopic online community in comparison to its competitors, who have spent the last seven years building up an install base in the tens of millions. Electronic Arts has (not indefinitely) dropped its plans for Wii U development entirely, thanks to a few early flops and the charted data that less than 3% of their multi-platform revenue came from Wii and Wii U games combined. You could call out the vicious ouroboros of where the problem derives: are there no players because there are no games or are there no games because there are no players (or the hidden third option: why would people buy the final part of a trilogy or a six month old racing game on a brand new console?) but the bottom line still holds one decisive question. What does the Wii U offer that no other system on the market can match?
There are only two multi-platform games I’ve purchased for Nintendo’s device with the expectation of a better experience, those being Rayman Legends and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Both of these use the presence of the Gamepad to successfully enhance the core of the game, and do so in a way that the hardware of their console brothers cant replicate. However, exclusive touch screen games, motion control exercises, and the ability to keep playing when your significant other wants to use the television can only get you so far when it comes to crafting a more worthwhile experience spent with a game. More often than not forcing too many platform-specific ideas in serves as a detriment. When it comes to this discussion I find that there is something much more interesting and overlooked; the function of the Wii U that has the ability to tickle that part of your brain responsible for joy, achievement, elation, that feeling that’s just so Nintendo. It is of course the Miiverse.
When designing the Wii U Nintendo decided to eschew any kind of unified points system akin to Xbox achievements or Playstation trophies, keeping within the philosophy that it’s the game which comes first. It is a respectful position to hold: I’m sure that many gamers would have saved many hours collecting every last flag in the first Assassins Creed game had there not been a nebulous figure at the end to signify the accomplishment. However, that is not to say that this kind of system is irrelevant. Achievements and trophies can extend the life of a games that should have long passed their sell by date, with extra challenges to be thinking about as you go through. Collecting them, knowing that you’ve achieved something from them, creates that twinge of excitement in the player’s brain – almost ineffable but definitely present – not unlike the feeling you get when someone likes your comment on Facebook. That is where the idea of Miiverse truly comes into its own.
Because when done right, it can effectively be a combination of achievements and social networking. Actually, I should say, the feeling achievements bring the player. In the Wind Waker HD one of the game’s greatest joys is running about the edge of beaches, combing for messages sent from far away like-minded individuals. Sometimes I’d receive a fun selfie of Link that would make me laugh out loud. Other times I’d be inspired to draw my own doodles that I think people would enjoy. On the odd occasion I’d open a bottle and be greeted with a portrait of a rare monster I could use to fill my Nintendo Gallery (Wind Waker’s collectible side quest, where you’re tasked to photograph every single enemy and character in the game), and a nice text wishing it helped in my journey. That right there is an example of gamers helping out gamers, for the sole reason that it feels good to do so. You can’t argue that seeing an oozing creature from Resident Evil: Revelations begin to spout internet memes as you fall in battle won’t bring a smile to your face. You’ll probably find some of that tension of having to trawl back from the last checkpoint evaporated too.
Lets take this thought to the next level. What if a unified accomplishment system was tied to the number of Yeah!’s you could get on a post? An example could be, say in Deus Ex, you have to annotate a screen shot of an unconscious guard at a certain point of the game, but in some way it has to be themed around pizza. Or alternatively, in Zelda you could get a reward for taking the silliest image of Link posing with the ghost ship, as voted by the community. The whole metagame of achievements would no longer be centred around doing something intrinsically for yourself, but on providing assistance, comedy, or just general entertainment to other anonymous individuals. It’s simplicity would encourage people to be creative with their games in a way that today’s practice of “do this action to unlock that item” cannot currently accomplish, and it would almost certainly (thank you Nintendo moderators) provide a much more pleasant connected environment than listening to cussing pre-teens on Xbox live.
Littlebigplanet on the PS3 already has a similar standard in place, where the community can vote on what levels they enjoy the most, and creators are rewarded with trophies for gaining a certain amount of positive feedback. The only issue is, its a huge time investment to create your own level that a lot of players (myself included) were interested in but didn’t have the patience for. However, since Miiverse is integrated into the design of the Wii U, all it takes is a dash of the home button to get your content from your head out there and into the world!
The future of Miiverse integration will be an interesting one to follow. Its almost certain to hit some roadblocks along the way – mentioning Litlebigplanet doesn’t help but invoke memories of tawdry descriptors asking for your praise in exchange for theirs – but it has potential to be a game changer, and a real answer to the question of why you’d choose to buy a multi-platform game on the Wii U. Nintendo has always come up with ideas that were slightly left-field, from the early days of Hiroshi Yamauchi consistently ignoring focus tests to get on with his own ideas, to the present where they started a revolution with motion based control. They’re pioneers, always looking for the next big thing rather than a refinement of what currently exists, and perhaps one day we’ll look at Miiverse and see it for exactly that. The next thing that gamers didn’t know they wanted, and in its current underused state, probably still don’t know is even there.
At first it is hard to see the potential, but when you realize it, you cant look away. For when enabled correctly, Miiverse truly is an inspiring source of gamers coming together to do something positive for one another, and it’s exactly the kind of community Nintendo set out to create.