The Nintendo Wii U has seen its star dim somewhat since its launch in November 2012. Worldwide sales numbers for the console have been disappointing and some gamers have complained that the number of desirable games for the system hasn’t grown quickly enough.
However, the man who brought to life Nintendo legends like Mario, Link and Donkey Kong is preaching patience with the console, saying the Wii U, with its touchscreen controller that augments big-screen play, is so different that it will take time for people to understand its real value.
Shigeru Miyamoto is Nintendo’s most successful video game designer, creating some of the world’s most popular franchises with “Donkey Kong,” “Super Mario Bros.,” “The Legend of Zelda” and “Pikmin” before eventually turning his attention to the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.
Through a translator, Miyamoto told CNN.com that having a second screen for gaming in the living room is a new experience for gamers.
He said the touchscreen interface with the Wii U Gamepad controller, combined with the main-screen action on a television, opens up options that have never been possible.
“The challenge that we had was if someone wanted to view television, then you couldn’t play games. We wanted to have a second screen for Wii U that would make it possible for people to essentially play games even if something else was on the TV,” Miyamoto said.
Skepticism about the Wii U sounds familiar, Miyamoto said. When Nintendo released its now-popular handheld DS portable gaming system in 2004, lots of early reviews predicted it would fail.
“There was a period when we first released the Nintendo DS that people would say there’s no way people can look at two screens at once,” he said. “I almost feel like, as people get more familiar with Wii U and these touchscreen interfaces, that there is going to come a point where they feel like ‘I can’t do everything I want to do if I don’t have a second screen’.”
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With the inclusion of nongaming apps for the Wii U, the gaming console appears to be positioning itself as a hub for more than just games. Netflix, Skype and Nintendo TV apps all point to offering more variety in entertainment without having to change devices. Miyamoto said that while the Wii U does offer more choices for families, it doesn’t necessarily need to be the center of entertainment.
“I feel a device like Wii U, with its ability to continue to offer new features and that network connection and the connection to the TV and the interface, really makes it feel that it’s more than just a game machine, but something that offers a lot of practical use and practical purpose in the living room,” he said. “I look at it as being a very useful device that can do many different things and therefore really seems to be the device that’s ideal to have in the living room.”
Problems with updates and console crashes plagued the Wii U early on. Miyamoto agrees there is room for improvement in some facets of the Wii U, but points out that Nintendo is working on solutions sooner rather than later.
“Our immediate objective over the next few months is to improve the Wii U system and make it a little more stable, a little bit more convenient to use from a system standpoint,” Miyamoto said. “Miiverse (a sort of social network that lets players interact) is an example of an ongoing project. We really wanted to be able to leverage Miiverse in something like ‘New Super Mario Bros. U.’ We’re obviously still early on in it and just trying things out, but so far, it does feel like the community itself is doing a very good job of being a warm and welcoming place for people.”
“The other thing I think about is how do we begin getting people to understand that and convey the usefulness of Wii U to them. For me as a game developer, obviously I look at Wii U from the perspective of what games I can bring to Wii U.”
In the short term, Miyamoto said “Pikmin 3” and “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” will be released for the Wii U and other games that bring a Nintendo-esque style of play will also be released later this year.
Nintendo announced 2013 as the Year of Luigi and plans to release several games featuring Mario’s little brother prominently. It also happens to be the 30th year since Luigi first appeared in the original “Mario Bros.” arcade game.
“Luigi Mansion: Dark Moon” for the Nintendo 3DS is the first of these titles to highlight the timid plumber. Miyamoto said he wanted to display how different Luigi is from Mario while at the same time upgrading the first GameCube game with a second screen.
“The original GameCube game was sort of a mix — these ghost events and exploration of the mansion,” Miyamoto said. “But with the map there now (on the second screen) and to always see the map as you are exploring, the exploration feature and really exploring the mansion itself takes on a much bigger role in this game.”
He also let slip that another historic character will be making an appearance in the game.
“Toad (a recurring Mario franchise character) does make some appearances. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. (laughs) It’s going to be very fun when Toad appears.”
When looking to the future of the video games industry, Miyamoto sees the promise of continued success. He points out that video games are now something everyone expects to exist instead of just a phase or fad of entertainment.
“The fact that we’ve reached an age where video games are being received the way they are just makes me very grateful,” Miyamoto said. “There was a time when people always asked, when is the video game boom going to end? We’ve reached a stage where there’s no longer a question of when the boom’s going to end.
“It is simply: there are video games.”