Published on March 10th, 2013 | by G. Bargas, Managing Editor

Editorial | Is the Wii U Heading to the Same Fate as the Sega Dreamcast?


The year was 1999. My Space was a newly introduced website for friends, and impending doom came in the form of the acronym “Y2K.”

Although this might date me, I was 14 years old and living life in the fast lane. Well, as fast as the 8th grade would allow oneself to live. At this point in my life there was nothing more interesting and fun as video gaming.

Nintendo had always been a presence in my life. Growing up like most kids I too played Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and anything else helped shape ’90s gaming trends. The big-named company kept my interest for years only to be duped by the Sony PlayStation. And, much like the world of technology and its subset, there was a new console on its way to the market. That beastly console? None other than the Sega Dreamcast.

The advertising mesmerized my youth mind, remembering nothing other than that dag blasted commercial,”Nine, nine, ninety-nine. Nine, nine, ninety-nine.”

SEGA’s venture impressed many, but ultimately it ended up as the last nail in the company’s console development coffin. Lack of third-party support, a tainted image and a sour taste left by the Sega Saturn’s low-flying career were just a few things that hindered the success of the Dreamcast. This was interesting, considering the console’s power over other competitors at the time, it released before the PlayStation 2 and its ability to access online multiplayer — which is something most home console players didn’t quite understand. There was even a portable memory unit that could be removed from the controller and taken on the go to progress certain aspects of the games you played.

Both SEGA and Nintendo at the time seemed untouchable. Like many rivals, it was almost heartbreaking to see the feud end. SEGA and Nintendo stood as the only real competitors in the market at the time. Sony was new to the scene after being duped by Nintendo (that’s a whole ‘nother can-o-worms). Even though Sony didn’t have the 16 years of foothold in the console market that Nintendo had, it was still a player.

Nintendo too took risks. Ever see, or are lucky enough to own, a Virtual Boy? The bi-pod portable — and I use that term loosely — gaming system gained popularity as it had the potential to “harm” eyesight. It was a risk by the company to deliver depth of field using 2D/3D technology. The lifespan only lasted approximately one year in North America, which is rather sad.

What about your first thoughts of the Wii when it debuted? The console seemed to have launched with not so much as a whimper, and then exploded with popularity while being shunned by many gamers for its “gimmicky” traits.

Nintendo once again dawned its risky attire when it announced its latest console, the Nintendo Wii U. With the launch came promises of games and graphics that were excluded from the Wii’s library due to hardware limitations and demand for motion controls. As of late, it seems the Wii U is also heading for rough seas.

Could Nintendo halt its console presence?

A recent comment made by one of gaming’s most iconic developers sparked a conflict. There’s no doubt that Cliff Bleszinski’s name is almost as recognizable as the series of games he has spearheaded. He’s mostly known for such titles as the Gears of War and Unreal franchises.

Bleszinski has been noted as stating that Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s cheery frontman and icon in his own, has been a role model of his for some time. So, what would drive him to make a comment like this to GameIndustryInternational?

“This business has not been in a state of transition like it is right now since the video game crash of the ’80s,” Bleszinski said. “I really think we’re in a massive state of turmoil. I think Nintendo could possibly be faced with the situation of becoming a company that only makes software moving forward. I think Sony and Microsoft are about to come to major blows. But at the same time, people love playing games on their iPad. The PC is going through a wonderful renaissance right now. I think we’re ready to do digital download games all the time…I just want to see what happens. In regards to the industry, it’s like the Super Smash Bros. of business right now, and I want to see if Peach or Mario wins.”

While he, much like any Nintendo fan, may be cheering for the “good guy” to win, it does seem like he is challenging Nintendo to do better. In fact, it seems like he wants them to.

There is an obvious love and respect for the company that made the phrase “video games” synonymous with its own brand name. So, what is Nintendo going to do to compete with the current plane of video games? Has Nintendo fallen offtrack with what gamer’s want?

What’s Nintendo love got to do with it?

My love for Nintendo products has spanned the course of my childhood, and has now infiltrated my adult life. Regardless of my enjoyment of iconic characters such as Link, Princess Peach or Kirby, it appears that old Clifford may have a point.

With the most recent launch of the Nintendo Wii U, low sales numbers have also been a part of its debut. To put things into perspective, in January the console sold approximately 50,000 units, while the Xbox 360, a console that launched late 2005, hit the 281,000 mark. While Nintendo was presumably looking to repeat success and strike gold for the second time, numbers have been dismal — almost scary.

Turmoil on the High Seas

The games industry in its current state is facing multiple issues. The ever-changing market of digital vs. physical copy, online-only releases and general bankruptcy (see our report on ‘THQ Officially Dissolved‘) plague the market. This is one area where SEGA seemed to stay afloat, ditching the console game and moving on to a publisher/developer status. Although recently, even that route has been troublesome.

In order to save an estimated $86 million in losses, SEGA closed five publishing offices in Australia and Europe.

Nintendo and SEGA have two things going for them. One of which sports a red shirt, cap and mustache, the other a blue set of spiked fur, red shoes and blazing-fast speeds. Whether these iconic characters can contest the fickle crowd known as gamers, or resort to crowd funding as a savior, one thing is for sure and that is both might have to survive on software alone.

The Wii U is “Dreamcasting” an Image

The Wii U is struggling to keep its image. On one hand the console has made leaps and bounds beyond the hardware of the original Wii. The ‘upgraded’ Wii is now in high definition, supports more “hardcore” titles and has a tap-happy interface seemingly from outer space.

On the other hand, however you mix it, Nintendo doesn’t quite seem to know where the Wii U image lies. There’s no doubt that Nintendo worked its way back into living rooms across America with the original Wii. Families were happy to play $249.99 games of bowling, and stream Netflix in standard definition. You might think that gaming consoles are still the number one gaming platform in most households.

But think about this: How many families do you know own an iPad? iPhone? Games like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds and even Skylanders have infiltrated both iOS and console platforms. So, where does the Wii U come in? Cliff’s comment is starting to sound a bit haunting at this point.

The SEGA Dreamcast’s Virtual Memory Unit (VMU).

The SEGA Dreamcast’s Virtual Memory Unit (VMU).

The Sega Dreamcast too had a screened controller. Some might argue that both systems are more dissimilar, but the truth couldn’t be more noticeable. Both introduced screened gaming of some kind, and both were met with high amounts of skepticism as they entered a changing market.

The Dreamcast introduced a small memory card that enabled interaction during games that were played. Much like the Wii U, the concept looked to add something different and non-traditional. However, gamers don’t always take to disruptions to their habits. Games like Resident Evil 2 detailed current health status. Others, like Grand Theft Auto 2, showed ammunition for the current weaponry. Players could take their pet-like Chao creature from Sonic Adventure on the go. One could feed it, let it grow and then reinsert it back into the game. Other forms of interaction included “beeps” and “boops” indicating nearby hidden items or areas. The screen was a small dot matrix module that fit into the controller and not a built-in screen, although, the concept was still the same.

Many would contest the Wii U as a true “next-gen” console. The GamePad introduces a tablet interface, offering the duality that was initially ridiculed in the Nintendo DS design.

The PlayStation 4 announcement showed off impressive games like Watch_Dogs, which is also releasing on all current-gen consoles, including the Wii U. But for some reason it never really seemed to deliver that next-gen feeling. It still doesn’t feel like they are adding something new, or that generation gap has been grasped 100 percent. Beg to differ? The console is just now changing its controller design after 16 years when it first introduced the DualShock controller.

Wii Might Not be there When Wii Need U – Where did all of the third party support go?

Recent news has been buzzing about Crysis 3 running on the Nintendo Wii U. In an interview with VentureBeat, Cevat Yerli, founder of Crytek, the studio behind Crysis 3, explained why it never came to fruition.

“We did have Crysis 3 running on the Wii U. We were very close to launching it. But there was a lack of business support between Nintendo and EA on that. Since we as a company couldn’t launch on the Wii U ourselves — we don’t have a publishing license — Crysis 3 on Wii U had to die.” –Cevat Yerli

Other games, such as Konami’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, skipped the console completely. What about Capcom’s DmC: Devil May Cry? Square Enix’s Hitman? EA’s DeadSpace 3? Some of the biggest titles of the year and they are nowhere to be found on the Nintendo console.

While it may be easy to criticize other companies for backing out, or ridicule their games, it seems like a growing trend that publishers are jumping ship due to poor sales. If you are skeptic about the Wii U’s processing power, it recently received a nice teardown and unmasked its mysterious guts. Electronic Arts in particular doesn’t seem to be showing support (or interest for that matter) for the console that has posted rough numbers. Sound familiar?

For those who are too young to remember, during the launch of the Sega Dreamcast, SEGA wasn’t invited to the EA Sports and Madden party. This lack of partnership is what spawned the run of titles bearing the “2K Sports” logo.

Early discussions between SEGA and EA left with the companies simply walking away from each other. SEGA didn’t want to shell out the additional funds for the Madden name, and EA didn’t trust SEGA’s decisions in its new console’s hardware. In short, the flip-flopping in hardware choices and poor numbers posted from the Sega Saturn didn’t sit well with EA or then CEO Larry Probst. Although it resulted in a still continuous baseball series and years of professional football titles on the Dreamcast, it still wasn’t Madden and fans were put in a position to make a choice. 

Final Truth:

When it comes to the Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo Wii U, there are similarities that can be drawn from the two. Both featured dual-screen technology and released into an industry filled with change turmoil. The two companies were once entangled in console wars, Nintendo indirectly crowned triumphant as SEGA backed out of the development to only focus on software.

In the current age of gaming, will the same now happen to Nintendo? Rough numbers and lack of third-party support might pressure Super Mario to find a new home. Are future consoles in the company’s near future? Or, has it too succumbed to same turnover as seemingly untouchable companies like THQ and ATARI?

We could very well see an officially licensed Super Mario PC title. It may seem odd, but it might be the only hope Nintendo has at surviving.

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About the Author

I am Greg, aka LaWiiG. Thanks for coming to take a look around! Retro is the way to go! Do yourself a favor and show love by playing retro games.

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