There's no way to sugarcoat it: The new ad for Wii U, Nintendo's floundering console, is a sad thing to watch. The badly-selling system, which came out more than a year ago, has suffered from profound consumer apathy, if not outright ignorance, reflecting awful branding and promotional decisions by the Kyoto company. The ad is an obvious attempt to address these issues—as the gaming site Kotaku wrote, Nintendo, in a real sense had to make it—but it renders some of the problems with the Wii U ever more glaring:
1. The name. Again and again in the ad, the narrator reminds us simply that the Wii U exists, and is a different product than the eight-year-old Wii. At the end of the video the narrator actually tells consumers to "look for the U", suggesting that Nintendo has realized that people literally don't know the difference between the Wii and the Wii U. As the camera pans over the gleaming console, the obvious question is: Why did Nintendo wait until now to properly introduce their flagship product? In 2013, the Nintendo brand is not nearly prominent enough to assume consumers will seek out news about it; in many ways it is a niche electronics company. Did Nintendo leadership think differently?
2. The GamePad. A variety of issues plague the packed-in, touchscreen peripheral: a chintzy feel, a lack of compelling support (some have written that the system's best game, Super Mario 3D World, is best played without the GamePad), and a production cost which certainly drives up the price of the now $299 system. In the ad, the first closeup of a person using the GamePad shows us someone blowing into it. If the most compelling functionality of an expensive peripheral is the ability to blow into it, you're probably in trouble.
3. Things to do on it. Now, more than a year after its release, the Wii U may have enough compelling software to make it worth considering; certainly Mario is a great game. But the ways in which the non-gaming software for the system are at all specific to Nintendo's whole-family ethos are not at clear. In the ad, we see a grandmother using the GamePad to watch instructional cooking videos while she chops carrots. If you handed my grandmother a GamePad while she was cooking, she would use it, maybe, to prop up the cookbook.
All that said, Nintendo actually has an advantage on its competitors now, one which won't last long: There are actual games on the Wii U that are worth playing, unlike the Xbox One and Playstation 4. They need to hope this ad and publicity like it—while a little pathetic—get gamers onto their console now, before the big boys grow up.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
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