Editorial: Anything Wii Can Do, Vita Do Better…?

Please, pardon that title. I have been out of this game journalism loop (at least on the writing side of things) for a few months now, so I might be a tad rusty at dreaming up clever headlines.

At the recently-held Develop Conference 2011, Sony discussed some interesting features of their forthcoming handheld, the PlayStation Vita. It would appear that the Vita can interact with a PS3 to create an experience not unlike that provided by Nintendo’s Wii U. As this Eurogamer article details, the Vita will be able to receive visual data from the PS3 and display it. And, yes, it will be possible to use the Vita – trackpads, touchscreen, gyroscope and all – as a controller for the PS3.

I am actually glad they are moving past the Xcross Media Bar
A sleek device, no doubt

Now, this is hardly surprising. Personally, I called this myself some months ago, before the Wii U had even been revealed. It makes sense that Sony would see the innovations and benefits that such compatibility could make possible. And, Sony has been more than happy to quietly emulate Nintendo’s ideas in the past (rumble and motion controls immediately come to mind). So, if they have the means to challenge Nintendo’s newest gimmick – and perhaps improve upon it – then why not go for it?

What immediately comes to my mind, though, is this: if Sony really can imitate the Wii U experience through the Vita, Nintendo does not have a fresh, exclusive gimmick to sell the Wii U with. I mean, to my knowledge, nobody really went wild over the Wii U’s unveiling in the first place. But now, as a piece of gaming technology, it is even less unique than it was initially.

I doubt I need to remind anyone, but when the original Wii was launched, its motion-sensitive controller was one-of-a-kind. Yes, Sony and Microsoft did follow suit eventually with the PlayStation Move and the Kinect, but for four years, the Wii was the only kid on the block with the waggle controls. And oh boy, did people love those waggle controls. Nintendo was in a class of their own now; they did not need a piece of the core gamers’ pie, so they left Sony and Microsoft to battle over that while they baked their own pie out of grannies, fad-following Christmas shoppers, and other representatives of the “casual” crowd.

But then, something happened. Nintendo ate their entire pie. Or… the pie went bad. Or the pie figured out that Sony and Microsoft now offer the same experience as the Wii, but with shiny hi-def graphics. Oh yeah, and the pie also figured out that they could play games for cheap on the go with their smartphones. Nintendo is now realizing why it was a mistake to put all their eggs in the basket of the casual crowd: they are not a particularly brand-loyal demographic.

Maybe it will grow on me.
Not very sleek looking, despite its iPad influences

Now, Nintendo wants to make things right. They want their core fans back. Hence the Wii U, a hi-definition console with a potentially intriguing control scheme that promises to deliver graphical experiences on par with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. They even showed us a demo of Link fighting a giant spider in HD, just to get us all pre-salivating even though we probably will not see such a game for a number of years.

But, speaking personally, it is difficult to become excited over the Wii U, because, well… it kinda just feels like Nintendo playing catch-up. The fact that Arkham City, for example, is coming to the Wii U is certainly intriguing, but hardly exciting; I will buy and play the exact same game on my PlayStation 3, which I have owned for years. With the Wii U, Nintendo is clearly trying to re-claim their old piece of pie. But it does not seem genuine, it seems forced, a tad desperate, and above all else, uninspired. The tech is not new. The gimmick is not unique. By all appearances, neither the core nor the casual fad-crowd that made the original Wii such a success have any reason to become excited over this thing.

The PlayStation Vita, however, is in a far more favorable position. In fact, it looks like Sony’s new handheld is poised to offer PS3 owners significant new features and advantages. The ability to use the device as a PS3 controller is only one example; the Vita looks to have several intriguing features such as cross-platform play, remote play, and cloud saving. I like the idea of being able to seamlessly transfer game saves between my PS3 and Vita via cloud saving, and being able to play PSN games on either on the couch or on the go. Also, while I have not held either of them in my hands, it is worth noting that the Vita looks a lot sleeker than the Wii U’s controller.

Now, in fairness, I should point out that we certainly do not know how ambitious developers will be when it comes to integrating cross-platform compatibility in PS3 and Vita games. As has been noted by Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, the Vita was not built from the ground up with cross-platform play in mind. Presumably, when used as a controller, the Vita would interface with the PS3 through a wi-fi connection, which surely could present latency issues. However, another interesting thing that Yoshida reveals in that particular article is that cross-platform play between the Vita and the PS3 was first introduced by developers and that “going forward our design will allow developers to make connectivity easier between platforms.” The point being, I think Sony will be able to make the thing work. They are crafty like that.

My intent is not necessarily to bash Nintendo, but I do think Sony is in a more comfortable place these days. I know it is early in the game, but I have a difficult time seeing the Wii U as much more than an attempt by Nintendo to win back their old fans, many of whom have long since moved on. Sony, on the other hand, is selling the Vita to their very sizable base of core gamers – and simultaneously beating Nintendo to the punch with their own gimmick. What are your thoughts, readers? Do the possibilities of a PlayStation 3 interfacing with a Vita intrigue you? Or are you holding your breath for more info on the Wii U?

17 comments

  1. My favourite type of games are console games. My favourite way to play games is with a handheld. I would get a Vita if it did nothing more than stream PS3 games with a tolerable latency.

    Nintendo are in a horrible position.

    -The Vita has a multi-touch screen, the Wii U does not.
    -The Vita screen will likely have a much higher resolution.
    -The Vita looks much more comfortable to use than the Wii U controller.
    -The Vita can stream your PS3 over PSN, so you can use it anywhere.
    -The Vita/PS3 combo will have almost a year to take the shine off of Nintendo’s apple.
    -Nintendo have snookered themselves.

  2. Have they said that the Vita will interface with the PS3 via Wifi? I think the system has bluetooth hardware, couldn’t it just connect to the PS3 directly via that? I’d love it if I could just use the Vita as a standard PS3 controller in a pinch (like if I go over to my family’s house and they’re short a controller).

    I’m also with Riddles in that I’m not particularly excited for the ports they’re emphasizing. Sure, it’s great that their system can stand up against the current gen stuff (until new hardware’s announced next E3, at least), but I’ve already GOT several machines that can play B:AC, as do (I imagine) most people who are interested in the game at this point in the console generation. If they want the hardware to sell, they need some good, exclusive software to support it, otherwise the launch will be similar to the 3DS’.

  3. How many people don’t have a PS3 or 360 yet?

    Nintendo will have to sell this system with 1st party software, just as they will have to sell the 3DS with 1st party software.

    Interesting times.

  4. It’s nice to see Nintendo finally releasing a real seventh generation gamin console, but it’s a bit late for that now.

    I am highly amused at how excited people were when they heard the Wii U would be about as powerful or a bit more powerful than the PS3 and 360. Those launched about five years ago. The Wii had damn well better be a more powerful system.

  5. The videos they ran at E3 didn’t even have Antializing – that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it doesn’t fill me with confidence in the Wii U’s technical muscle …

  6. I heard another possible title was “Wii don’t mean a thing if it ain’t Vita screen.”

    I’m pretty pumped for the Vita.

  7. That was supposed to say “WiiU don’t mean a thing…,” but my fingers aren’t used to typing such things. Forgive me.

  8. The Wii U looks to be about as fast as a modern mid range gaming PC which is quite a bit faster than a 360 or PS3. The thing with more powerful hardware is that lately, at least, it doesn’t seem like developers are really doing much with it.

    What I’m most curious about with the Wii U is how it will affect the quality of multi-platform games? Right now when a game comes out on both PS3 and 360 one version is frequently significantly better than the other.

    The Wii U’s going to have newer Radeon-based GPU like the 360, but will be programmed using OpenGL (presumably) like the PS3 instead of Direct3D like the 360. The CPU’s a quadcore Power derivative similar to the 360’s tricore (six threads), but probably higher clocked and probably an out-of-order execution design. So it’s looks like it’ll be a mix of PS3 and 360 programming and hardware.

    Personally, I’m not interested in the Vita. The touchscreen stuff in the Uncharted demo was dreadful. I’d get a 3DS Lite (or whatever it ends up being called) as portable RPGs are more what I’m interested in in a handheld.

    The Wii U looks OK to me. They’re keeping the waggle shit for fools who liked it and they’re adding stuff to attract good games in HD. The Wii has really been Nintendo’s first successful home console since the SNES and it really only did so by capturing the casual audience that mostly left after the PSX/N64 era as games became more complex in general. People who used to “play the Nintendo” are now (or were) “playing Wii”. I could see it being pretty successful if it ends up getting the prettiest looking versions of multi-platform titles AND Nintendo discovers how to get it on the Internet.

  9. I’m not at all convinced that it will be a tangible upgrade to the PS360 experience, though it may show marginal improvements once developers learn the ins and outs of the hardware – but then of course it will be utterly obliterated by the next Playstation and Xbox.

    Also, I’m pretty sure it has been confirmed (or at least credibly rumoured) that the CPU has been clocked at 3.2ghz the same as the 360. It will be faster due to efficiency increases of newer hardware, but they will be clocked at the same frequency.

    I see only hard times ahead for nintendo, as most people already own a PS360, and so don’t need another seventh gen console.

  10. I don’t think the learning curve will be as steep as moving to the current generation was. Developers now know how to program multi-core CPU consoles and work with unified shaders. The Wii U is more of the same except two hardware iterations later.

    The CPUs are both clocked at 3.2Ghz, but the Wii U’s is an out of order design (reportedly), so you can expect it to probably be ~20% faster clock for clock. Not huge, but a 20% boost can have framerates playable where they were too stuttery before. The GPUs in the 360 and PS3 are both DirectX 9 class hardware. The Wii U’s is DirectX 10.1 class. If you play Bioshock on PC in DirectX 9 and then 10 mode it’s a quite noticeable difference in shader quality. There’s also the issue that many current gen console games don’t actually run at 1080p and newer hardware with more memory bandwidth might make that possible. So I think it is quite possible for a tangible improvement in gameplay experience.

    But I think you’re right though that Nintendo has a steep uphill battle. Montok the Destroyer won’t be dumping his 360 to play Call of Duty on a Wii U unless all the people he plays with who call him racial epithets and question his sexuality do as well. Especially if Nintendo ends up pricing it at $400+ dollars. That controller’s going to add to the system’s cost quite a bit I think.

  11. I don’t think terribly safe to assume that the Wii U will be “quite a bit faster” than the PS3 or 360, and even if it is, the only games that will ever take advantage of it will be first-party titles, I guarantee you.

    Multi-platform games will probably look identical on Wii U to their 360 and PS3 counterparts, with perhaps very marginal differences. PS3 and 360 games look generally identical these days; it used to be that you could count on the 360 version to be superior, but that was only because developers didn’t know how to make the PS3 version shine.

    Developers don’t care to make different versions of their multiplatform game look superior even when they can. In fact, they avoid it; obviously, you wouldn’t want (for example) the 360 version of your game to be accepted as the “inferior” version.

    Also, EvilPaul, I must disagree with the statement that “People who used to “play the Nintendo” are now (or were) “playing Wii”.” This could not be further from the truth. People who used to “play the nintendo” are the core gamers of today, and they are playing PS3, 360 and PC games. Those who “play the Wii” are, for the most part, an entirely new and different breed.

    ALSO, while the Wii may be the first world-phenomenon of a console that Nintendo has released since the SNES, it is certainly not their first “successful” console since then. Nobody may have cared about the GameCube, but it was profitable for Nintendo. Why? Because they’ve never been in the business of selling products at a loss.

    Point is, no matter how you slice it, it’s difficult to see the Wii U as anything more than the awkward dude who stumbles into the party super late when everyone is already drunk and has formed their social clicks for the evening.

  12. I’m extremely leery at reports that the WiiU will be able to outperform the PS360 by any significant margin. Nintendo’s own E3 videos show it running in 720p @30fps with no Antializing – this does not impress me. Further, many developers have come out in support of the WiiU, but none of them comment on the incredible technological leap it represents, they’ve mostly spoken about it as being on par with the current seventh gen consoles. I do think it will be a little better, but not enough for it to distinguish itself.

  13. Honestly I think the gimmicks involved in current Nintendo systems are a lot of what are bringing them down. They think everything needs to have a screen or a speaker or a camera on it, or they try to get people moving around with a crappy motion controller. Granted, the Vita has it’s own gimmicks, but they aren’t using them as the main selling point of the system. Just more things that you will have the option to use. WiiU feels to me like Nintendo’s Dreamcast. The timing of the release is terrible, the controller looks absolutely awful, and the only really well made games will be first party. When you alienate the people who could be making you new successful franchises, as well as the fans who would play them, you dig yourself a hole and carve yourself a coffin.

  14. This is what happens when you use a big-idea gimmick as a crutch for your otherwise mediocre system – if that gimmick misfires then you’re left with nothing to sell the hardware …

  15. It seems like most gamers have been predicting doom for Nintendo before they announced any new systems… The one thing that has really sold their consoles (since the beginning, but especially N64 onwards) is their first party games. I’ve never regretted purchasing one of their systems because of the quality and innovation with each generation. The problem will not be if the WiiU’s hardware is not up to par with the others, but if its games are anything short of incredible. Mario Galaxy 3 and Metroid Prime 4 won’t cut it. The insistence on third party ports are a bad sign, because they’re better elsewhere. You can’t however play Nintendo games on another system – though Sega’s proven there’s software life after console wars.

    I honestly wish Nintendo luck. They just don’t seem to have the wide support of the gaming industry they enjoyed in the 80’s and 90’s.

  16. They need to invest in some more first party developers, and have those first parties make games that are targeted at a broader cross-section than just colourful platformer enthusiasts.

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