Rumors started popping up earlier this week that Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console is not as powerful as the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. Never mind Sony and Microsoft's next-gen consoles, according to unspecified sources quoted by Games Industry, the Wii U (in the department of graphics, at least) can't even keep up with the current generation.
This has, of course, led to an abundance of doomsayers flooding the message boards, prophesying an end to Nintendo on the back of an underpowered piece of hardware.
While I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Nintendo learn a hard lesson or two, I can't help but laugh at all of this speculation.
There's no guarantee that Nintendo will capture lightning in a bottle with the Wii U, but I'm not one to bet against a winning horse on a hot streak so quickly.
As far as these claims of the Wii U being "underpowered" are concerned, I'd like to cite the console's predecessor as a solid example of why that doesn't exactly matter to Joe Average Gamer. The Wii changed the landscape of gaming, as well as who actually plays those games. The console outsold the 360 and PS3 without breaking a sweat and, furthermore, it now has name recognition in seemingly every household on the planet.
The moms, dads, grandparents, casual and core gamers that rushed out to buy a Wii (and who are still buying the thing like mad to this day) could care less how powerful the console is. It's got the words "Nintendo" and "Wii" in its title, and that's all that's needed for some people to make a purchasing decision.
Secondly, the Wii U has yet another great gimmick to draw folks in. While Nintendo investors seemed to feel that the tablet controller would be bad news for the console's future, I tend to think it's going to be a major draw. I've heard the argument that consumers will see the controller and think "I already own an iPad and a Nook, so why do I need another tablet device?" What those people seem to have forgotten is how cool the Wii made formerly non-gamers feel. They were able to relate to their kids and their gamer friends because, dang it, they owned a gaming console of their very own! Right now, tablets are also cool. What's cooler than a new gaming device that also uses a tablet? It's hip. It's now. And I think it's going to sell consoles.
Also, with so many developers complaining about how tricky it can be to work on some of the current consoles, I would expect a next-gen console that doesn't take too giant a technological leap forward to be something of a relief for many of the folks who make the games we'll be playing. If nothing else, it might at least be more accessible and less costly for some of those smaller developers to get behind, rather than trying to keep up with the bleeding edge of technology.
I imagine cost is another factor here. That tablet controller is more complex than the average joystick, so rather than put every cool gizmo imaginable under the console's hood, Nintendo is likely going to cut corners wherever possible, making up for the cost of that controller tech with a console that doesn't push out as much horsepower as the competition.
And really, why would they? If this current generation has taught us anything, it is that you don't have to be the most powerful horse in the race to win by a dozen miles. (And yes, that was two horse race references in a single post.) Again, the folks who are interested in the Wii U could care less about what type of processor it uses, whether or not it can do true HD, etc. This current generation has seen more than a few big, expensive AAA titles with graphics that make your eyes bleed fall flat on their face while smaller, more simplistic games have soared above the competition. Similarly, the Nintendo Wii still manages to sell truckloads while the beefier, more sophisticated pieces of hardware struggle to keep up.
The fact that the Wii U might not churn out graphics as glorious as everyone had hoped does not surprise me. What surprises me is the fact that anyone thinks that it will make a difference.
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that makes them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.