Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why the Wii U should support GameCube

Recently announced was Nintendo's next generation console: the Wii U.

A lot of buzz has been generated around the new console, and with good reason.

Begin a long time fan of Nintendo, I am highly intrigued by the new console. It supports a new array of features, including an innovative touch screen controller and high definition game support.

The funny thing is, I remember reading an article a number of years back that suggested a touch screen controller was among the first prototypes for the Wii; but they decided against it due to fear of imitating the DS too much....I have no idea if that's true or not; but if so this certainly seems an interesting turn of events!

I'm glad to hear that the Wii U will support Wii games and all current Wii-based controllers (classic controller, balance board, etc); although this rumored concept of only one Wii-U Tablet controller per console sounds limiting; Nintendo might just figure out a way to make it work (they could also change their mind on this as supposedly it's already been suggested that you could bring your controller over to a friends house).

But what I really want to talk about is legacy game support on the Wii U. My understanding is that the Wii support for GameCube games is due to having an on board GameCube processor, of which the GC controller ports and GC Memory Cards are wired into (but also have an inturrupt to the Wii processor so they can be used by Wii software as well).

My experience when playing a GC game on the Wii has been just that: it basically acts just like a GameCube and is indistinguishable from the original console. It bypasses the Wii processor altogether.

It is obvious to see why it's tempting to remove GC support: removing the processor leaves more room in the chassis for newer, powerful processors and makes the console cheaper by not having to manufacture a second processor. Plus, the GameCube console is over 10 years old and approaching obsolescence.

But I think there's a very good case for providing GC support on the Wii U, in some form or another.

When the Wii came out with GameCube support, most people were pretty happy that they could ditch their GC with ease, why have two consoles when you can have just one? But then came the real kicker: There was also going to be a Virtual Console which would allow you to play games from the NES, SNES and N64 consoles. I think this, more then GameCube support, really set our imaginations a flame: any Nintendo fan will tell you how much they love the charm and nostalgia of the classic Nintendo games. Playing our favorite classics on a modern, updated console, without having to blow on the cartridge 50 times? Queue the drool in 3....2....1....

But Nintendo did more then they realized when they announced the Virtual Console: they set a precedent. For once; a company was saying "We stand by our old work; we want you to enjoy it as you always did, now and for years to come." It wasn't that you could only play Nintendo Wii games, but you could play nearly the entire Nintendo home console library: NES+SNES+N64+GC+Wii. From that point on, I was left with an potentially dangerous expectation: consoles should only add functionality onto their predecessors and never remove functionality (or at least, remove the minimum possible, only where it would significantly conflict with the design of the next console: e.g. the GameBoy Player on GC).

As a result, I imagined the Wii as less of gaming console and more of a gaming hub: a device that could support many different types of games from many different types of systems. As a fan of removing redundancy, this was a very exciting prospect, and a trend I personally expected to continue into future consoles such as the Wii U.

So then another question presents itself: Will the Wii U support Virtual Console titles?

Although no official word on this has been presented, I'll be fairly shocked if the answer is anything other then "Yes."

If my assumption is correct, then let's look at the list of consoles of the Wii U would support:

Wii U

with one glaring omission: the GameCube!

Why would you develop a console that A) Supports the 3 oldest consoles; B) Supports the 2 newest console, but C) Simply decides to ignore the 4th console in the middle?

It doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to me. Thus, I think the Wii U should absolutely add some level of support for GameCube games, if nothing else, so that it doesn't feel like they are pointlessly skipping a console in their gaming library (supporting all consoles except one).

Now, I'm not saying the Wii U has to support GC games in the same way the Wii does (use a GC chip, have on board GC controller & Memory card slots).

But there are lots of other ways they can add GC support. One of the most obvious ways is to include GameCube games onto the Virtual console. As for controllers perhaps sell an optional adapter to connect the GC controller to USB, and run the GameCube games with emulation (I'm going to assume the Wii U's processor would be powerful enough to run GC emulation software).

Another option is to sell some sort of "mini-GameCube" device for a cheap price that includes GC ports, a disc reader and memory card slots and connects to the Wii U but is otherwise an empty shell that relies on the Wii U for processing: a "GameCube player" or sorts if you will.

There are hybrid approaches as well: allow the Wii U to read GC discs natively, but not include the ports on board but only via an optional mechanism and run the games through emulation. Heck, I'm sure you could figure out a way to connect a GC controller with a Wii-U controller or even a Wii Remote!

Point is, there are lots of different ways to do it; and no serious excuse for not doing it. The absolute minimum I would like to see is GC games on the Virtual Console and support for playing them via the Wii's Classic Controller (which we know to be supported). But this presents a problem: as much as I am a fan of eliminating the need for multiple devices (see my previous post on the subject), I am not of fan of needing to purchase the same things multiple times. In fact, I fully expect a migration tool for porting your Virtual Console purchases from the Wii to the Wii U (again, Nintendo set a precedent for this by announcing you could transfer DSi games to a 3DS).

What I think would be a great option for Nintendo and consumers is to allow a "trade in service" where people could send in older games and receive a credit to get the same game (or an equivalent in Nintendo Points) on the Wii (-U) Shop Channel. You could do this for GC discs, N64 cartridges, etc. Nintendo could recycle the components to make new games/equipment while the consumer would not have to purchase the same thing twice. I really wanted to see this materialize with the Wii Virtual Console, but it never did. However, if more of Nintendo's legacy games continue to wind up on the Virtual Console, I feel it's becoming more of a necessity.

So, not saying any of this is going to happen, but it's a possibility. Would lack of GC support altogether stop me from purchasing a Wii U? Probably not, but it gives me less of an incentive knowing that I'd need to hold onto my Wii (or GameCube) as well. Obviously Nintendo is a company first, with a revenue line to think about, without which they can't produce new consoles and games. But I seriously hope Nintendo continues to put their customers first, which I feel to date they have been doing a good job of. In the end, it will be more profitable for them since it will make many of us, including myself, more likely to purchase their games and equipment.

It makes no sense for the Wii's successor to not support Virtual Console games and it makes even less sense for Nintendo to simply ignore GameCube in the list of consoles the Wii U supports.

Let's hope Nintendo sees it that way too.