clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nintendo didn't create the next Wii — Apple did

It might not be for you, and that might not matter at all

The Nintendo Wii was an unqualified success, so popular that even the console's creator was unable to duplicate it with its successor, the Wii U.

Barely three years after Nintendo's latest console went on sale, the company is already hard at work on the NX. What form it will take is less important that Nintendo's tacit acknowledgement that it's time to move past the Wii U.

It's difficult to pin the Wii U's troubled life on any one feature, but contrasting it with the Wii is instructive. The success of Nintendo's former console was largely dependent on price and ease of use. It didn't require dexterity or years of gaming experience. All you had to do to play its killer app, Wii Sports, was move your arm. And that meant that pretty much everybody could play.

The Wii was easy to explain and understand. Show someone playing tennis by swinging their arm. Easy. But Nintendo struggled to define exactly what the Wii U was from its earliest days.

After the Wii became a superstar, other companies tried to entice the Wii's casual audience. Microsoft had success with the Kinect, and Sony tried with the Move,. But no company has replicated Nintendo's success since the Wii was released in 2006.

Until, maybe, now.

Late last week, Apple released the new Apple TV. It's not a dedicated video game console, but it's the closest thing that the gaming world has seen to the Wii since 2006. And that could be the only thing it really needs to break through to a certain segment of the video game population.

That might not be you. And that's just fine. I don't think Apple minds a bit.

It doesn't have to be hardcore

For the hardcore — those with hundreds of hours invested in Destiny and Call of Duty, those with PC gaming rigs and strategy guides — the Wii was a blip on the radar. There were a handful of interesting games, but when the sheen wore off (and when Nintendo wasn't releasing Mario Galaxy games), the hardcore spent most of their time PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

For Nintendo and the non-hardcore — largely children and those who wouldn't self-identify as hardcore gamers — the Wii was a 100 million-selling, supply constraining, line-creating behemoth.

This was by design. Nintendo's famous blue ocean strategy convinced the company to concentrate on broadening the scope of who might be considered gamers. Let Microsoft and Sony turn the water blood red fighting over the hardcore, Nintendo figured. We'll make gamers out of everyone else.

It worked.

The Wii was lightning in a little, inexpensive, easy to understand and play bottle. Those two things — relative inexpensiveness and ease of use — combined to become the Wii's defining characteristics, and they showed Nintendo at its best.

Now consider the new Apple TV. It starts at $149 for the 32 GB version and is also available in a $199, 64 GB version. That's the same kind of price advantage relative to Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony's consoles that the Wii once had.

Even more important to gaming, interacting with the device feels more like the Wii than the Wii U ever did.

Simplified controls are good for users — and developers are clever

Apple requires all developers to make their games controllable with the included Siri remote, a decision that confused some hardcore gamers. Fracturing the install base with optional, third-party controllers demotes their importance and proved less incentive for developers to build in support, the thinking goes.

This is what happens when you fracture your install base. Call it essential and ship every Xbox One with Kinect 2.0, and there's incentive for developers to program with the device in mind. Start shipping without it, and you can kiss your peripheral goodbye.

But that might be a boon to the console, too. With its gyroscopic controls and its limited control scheme, the Siri remote bears more than a passing resemblance to the Wiimote. Playing Apple TV games, I was reminded time and again how much is possible gaming one-handed, just like I did on the Wii.

Even more surprising was that I often decided against using the SteelSeries Nimbus controller, which looks like a hybrid between a PlayStation, Xbox and a Wii U Pro Controller because I didn't feel like I needed it.

Sure, there are games like Xenowerk, a twin-stick shooter that is better with a controller and its dual analog sticks. And I think the Apple TV will be a better platform if developers embrace that option. But the most surprising thing about my first several days of gaming on the machine is just how credible the Siri remote is for games. And I can't help but think it's because because Apple is forcing developers to think of clever solutions to get their games working. And they have, as I detailed in my overview of the Apple TV's best games.

If there's one lesson I've learned since I got an Apple TV last Friday it's this: Do not underestimate developers' ability to create viable control schemes within Apple's constraints.

Maybe it's not for you, and that's OK

Unlike Nintendo, a reliably excellent video game developer, Apple relies exclusively on third-party games makers to populate its tvOS App Store with games. That gives Apple an advantage that Nintendo lost with the Wii. There's less fear of the hardware becoming a device that exists primarily to sell the hardware maker's software.

Of course, Apple can't force developers to create games for its ecosystem, and it's unclear whether developers will find the tvOS App Store a viable platform for earning income.

But as it exists now, so soon after its release, the Apple TV is full of games for casual and hardcore fans alike. There's little chance that it'll ever replace a PS4 or Xbox One, but it was never designed to do so.

Though, to be fair, Activision sees the possibility that it might be good for console games, as it's posed to release the full version of Skylanders Superchargers on the device. Disney's doing the same with Disney Infinity 3.0. They may never convince Activision to bring Call of Duty to the Apple TV, but if they do well, they could convince the publisher to keep bringing less hardcore games. After all, the appeal of bringing Skylanders to a device hundreds of dollars cheaper than a console is obvious. Activision doesn't care where you play Skylanders. It just wants you to play it.

That's where I suspect that the new Apple TV will find its greatest success. It's not taking on consoles head on. Instead, it exists in a tier not so far beneath powerful, cutting edge consoles. That means it has the power to make pretty, viable games. And it's got the power of Apple's app stores behind it, where many developers have found success in the last several years.

What it lacks in power, the fourth generation Apple TV makes up for in accessibility. It's relatively cheap. It has a bunch of alternate uses from video streaming to shopping apps. That appeals to a broad base of potential users.

And as the Wii taught Nintendo, cheap and accessible can be a lucrative combination.

StoryStream: The new Apple TV

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon