In this day and age, games consoles are becoming less about playing games on your lonesome, and more massive social devices, whether it's accessing Facebook from your Xbox 360 through the (useless) built-in app, or playing Call Of Duty with some friends. While other companies have all but forgotten about local everyone-on-a-sofa multiplayer, Nintendo have stood strong in the face of change, and kept the four player same-console multiplayer modes we love as a key part of the Wii's games. Unfortunately, though, this has often come at the expense of any online modes, and rather than reaching a blissful middle ground, between the online and local multiplayer fans, Nintendo have been left somewhat behind with the Wii, and its lack of a true, unified online service. While being crammed on a couch laughing as Yellow Toad jumps off a cliff
for the umpteenth time on New Super Mario Bros. Wii is definitely a
laugh, online play is useful when you want to play games with friends
who perhaps live in different towns or even other countries, or when
adverse weather conditions – like the past few years' bad winters – have
made going round to friends' houses for group gaming sessions more
difficult. With the Wii U, however, Nintendo look set to learn from their past mistakes, by providing more online muliplayer games and more ways to interact with friends online. This being Nintendo, however, there's a twist. Enter, the Miiverse.
The Miiverse is basically a Mii Plaza taken to the extreme, and can be accessed at any point during a game with a simple press of the home button. Here you'll see the Miis of your friends and others that inhabit your console congregating around the games they're playing, and you can send messages to them, either typed or hand-written with the stylus, Nintendo Letter Box style – as well as screenshots or any levels and whatnot you've created for a game. But it's not just your friends who'll be there, as other people from your country who've been playing the same games will turn up too – although we're not entirely sure what we think of that one though, as we'd imagine it could get rather crowded, particularly for games like Mario Kart, which sells millions across the world... Hopefully there'll be an option to toggle between friends and random Miis to make it a tad easier to find and chat with your friends, as it's not really going to make that much difference to our life if we see that Joe from Rotheram's playing Call of Duty. As it stands at launch, the Miiverse will only be on the Wii U, but Nintendo has plans to expand it across to the 3DS as well, along with a special website you can access from any internet-enabled phone or computer.
Nintendo also showed a demonstration of how the Miiverse will work, as a bloke playing a zombie game came across a proverbial brick wall when it came to defeating a boss. Stuck and frustrated, rather than reaching for Google to try and find someone with a similar problem, our intrepid adventurer instead went to the game's virtual bulletin board within the Miiverse, where you can share hints and tips with people and hopefully get information about the bit you're stuck on. It was on this message board he found his friend OctoG123 had beaten the aforementioned boss, and had attempted to explain how – but Mr. Checked Shirt still can't figure it out, so decides to have a little chat with OctoG123 to find out where he's going wrong. This gave them the opportunity to showcase another of the Wii U's online functions – the ability to have video chats with people, using the built in camera in the Wii U GamePad.
The final aspect of the Wii U's online system Nintendo showed was taken from New Super Mario Bros. Mii, and showed someone about as competent as I am walking into a Koopa just before the flag at the end of the level. Having died, it showed the map screen again, littered with friends' comments about the levels in the game, to find out what they think of the levels you've played. Nintendo promise that they'll try their best to avoid giving out spoilers though, omitting any messages that may give away important parts of the game so they don't spoil your surprises.
From what we've seen so far, the Miiverse looks a tad confusing, but we're hopeful that, as is always the way with Nintendo things, it'll make a lot more sense when the time comes for playing around with it ourselves. Hopefully Nintendo will expand a bit on what they've shown of the Miiverse in the coming days – the single thing we want most from the Wii U's online is the ability to talk to the friends you're playing online with; something akin to the Xbox 360's party system would be brilliant. And seeing as the Wii U GamePad has a microphone built in, you'd think it would be an obvious addition.