Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Nintendo Wows Audience with Silly Name

Gasp! Look at all those tech bloggers!
Well, Nintendo certainly grabbed everyone’s attention at the E3 conference today by announcing new games, new innovations for their 3DS, and finally, revealing their new (and highly anticipated) gaming console. Not surprisingly, almost all of this stuff is being delayed until Holiday 2011. This translates into a shopping frenzy with limited stock, of course, and means the largest number of people possible punching each other in the face because if they don’t get it, their kid will hate them forever and like the divorced spouse more.

This is specifically what happened with the Wii at launch, which is why I found it so weird that there wasn’t a similar frenzy for the 3DS. It kind of makes sense though, because as far as anyone knows, the 3DS is merely a 3D version of the DS, and everyone who wants a DS already owns one, so only psychotic gamer freaks and the especially skilled whining children got one for Christmas.

I was particularly excited to watch the conference streaming live because I wanted to see the new console. I had been reading for a while about the new controller, and it seemed like an interesting concept. Nintendo’s long been the innovator in the controller realm, from the original NES pad (the first use of a D-pad instead of a joystick) alongside the Zapper, through the 50 button behemoths in the 90s, and up to the minimalist, motion-sensitive Wiimote. (The Playstation controller wins for ultimate design in my book, but that’s a different story altogether.)

Specifically, I wanted to know what the new console would be named. I had already assumed it wouldn’t be Project Cafe, which was its development name; I was crossing my fingers hoping it wouldn’t be the Stream, which shares a name with a service my company offers and might drive us into obscurity. I even submitted my own name—the Squibble—which I still prefer, even though I’m fully aware of how stupid it is.

So what is it? What did Nintendo come up with this time?

The answer was so underwhelming that I didn’t even realize it as they were announcing it. There was a long setup story about how the Wii, doubling entendrically, was how we had fun, and we discovered ourselves, etc. Then they said that this new system would be all about you.

Sorry, I meant U.

The Wii U.

That 2006 console that sits under my television conjured up hilariously onomatopoetic sounds as I imagined little kids playing it. “Wiiiiiiiiiii!” they scream in my mind, as an on-screen Wario yells, “Take that, loser!”

Now they’ll be screaming something else: “Wiiiiiiiuuuuuuuu!”

The “U” is disturbing for me; it reminds me of the time I went to the World of Coca-Cola museum and watched a “4-D Movie” about the origins of Coke in which they promised to reveal the syrupy drink's secret ingredient. Nearing the end of the unbearably long 13 minute film, they still hadn’t told us. But then a man in a lab coat who had been narrating the entire film broke the fourth wall and looked directly at us. In 4-D.

“The secret ingredient is... you!” he said, barely believing it himself.

“What a cop out,” I said aloud to my fiancee and the other three people in the theater before standing up and leaving.

This new console’s name holds an equally undear place in my heart. Naming conventions as of late have been particularly underwhelming, and this one feels like it’s copying Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo’s two closest competitors.

After all, Nintendo’s been leading the market for quite some time. Every time it looks like one of the other two have one-upped the gaming giant, they come back with something extraordinary almost immediately. In this case, Nintendo’s Wiimote offered an interactive gaming experience on a level so profound that Sony rushed a PS3 wand to market four years late and Microsoft developed motion-capturing technology called Kinect, appearing to edge out Nintendo.

Then Nintendo completely blasted the others to pieces with their new touchscreen-enabled controller, which acts as a sort of iPad/D-pad mashup. It’s like playing the Wii using your DS as the controller. The conference presentation included a segment in which the controller was shown being used in innovative ways, such as:

Continuing to play your game on the controller as your asshole dad watches “the game.”

Drawing with a stylus like some sort of futuristic Etch-a-Sketch.

Playing Othello on a tabletop with it. I wonder if they’ll put these in Pizza Huts like the old Ms. Pac Man games.
Augmented reality, pointing at the screen, etc. Maybe the Wii U’s baseball game won’t suck.
Petting your dog during a video call. They need to shrink this down onto a wristwatch already.

Can Kinect do any of that? Is the PS3 even relevant in the gaming world anymore? The answer is probably yes to both, but clearly this little thing’s going to be a powerful device. It’ll also cost a jillion dollars.

So why the crappy name, Nintendo? Did you want to appear like the Xbox, upgrading to Xbox 360? Did you want to follow the footsteps of not one, but three generations of Playstations? Putting a single letter on the end makes it feel like a tiny upgrade, when in fact, it’s an enormous leap. The processor is way more powerful. The video card supports 1080p video finally. The mega-controller blows your mind. It even cooks you dinner and drives you home from the bar.

There are a few unanswered questions here that Nintendo will have to figure out. How is this thing going to be affordable? Will it actually interface with the DS as promised? Will it support Netflix and Hulu? If it streams a live view of my reaction to people above my character as I play Mario Kart online, what stops me from seeing hairy dongs hovering over Luigi’s head?

I have faith in Nintendo. They never disappoint, and they provide a constant flow of unbelievable content. I wish they’d called it the Squibble, but I guess I’ll just get used to saying “Wiiiiuuuuuuuuu!”

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