When it comes to Nintendo's upcoming home console, the Wii U, we at Everybody Plays have barely been able to contain our enthusiasm. With a new tablet controller, which simultaneously promises to make games easier to pick up and play, and opens the door to a whole host of new genres; a better online system; fancier graphics, and, of course, a whole host of amazing games, we've been counting down the days to its eventual release (which, according to our psychic cat, Bessie, ought to be in November). But while we've mostly been stupidly excited, we have had one or two concerns. While we knew that Nintendo were going to be putting their weight behind their console, with a whole host of universally appealing games (and you only have to look as far as New Super Mario Bros U to see how Nintendo are going about getting the whole family involved), we were a tad worried about what may become of our favourite football series, FIFA, as it attempted to make the transition from the Wii to the Wii U.
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Always looking to appeal to an entirely different market to the 360 and PS3's more "realistic" versions, FIFA on the Wii has tended to change pretty drastically from year to year, as it tries to strike the balance between accessibility and authenticity. The high point was arguably FIFA 11, which threw caution to the wind to create a football game that literally anybody could enjoy, no matter what their experience. With power-ups you could deploy before a particularly tricky match, like unlimited sliding tackles, which let you simply slide around the pitch like an odd footballer-shaped snake, and 100% shot accuracy, which meant you'd always manage to at least challenge the keeper, no matter where you were shooting from, FIFA 11 also came with a whole host of control schemes that let you play exactly how you wanted to. Letting you scale your input to a level that suited you, if you wanted complete control of your player, you could have it - but if you were just picking up a football game for the first time, you could choose the "All Play" mode, which let the computer control your player's movement for you, so all you had to worry about was pressing A to pass, and B to shoot. FIFA on the Wii was so accessible, we actually lost our first game against someone who'd never played a FIFA game before. And more importantly, people who weren't the world's most ardent football fans could enjoy it, too.
At a recent event, EA finally lifted the lid on their vision for FIFA 13 on the Wii U, revealing a game that... well... looked quite a lot like the 360 and PS3 versions. Gone were the Wii friendly menus, replaced by the serious, business-like presentation that's always previously been exclusive to the other platforms. Conspicuous by its absence was a mention of the All Play mode - although that's by no means confirmation that it won't feature in the game, while the power-ups would also appear to have been confined to the great gaming graveyard in the sky. Instead, the folks over at EA have put a lot of effort into using the Wii U's tablet-like GamePad, in an attempt to make FIFA 13 that little bit simpler.
First things first, rather than being a separately developed game, designed to take advantage of Nintendo's different, more casual market (as has always been the case with FIFA on the Wii), FIFA 13 on the Wii U is actually based on something of a halfway house between the 360/PS3's FIFA 12 and FIFA 13, with a few extra Wii U features bolted on - which would at least explain why it seems to be missing so many of the features that made the Wii versions so good. While that does mean we'll be able to enjoy newer, more realistic features like the "player impact engine", which adds a fancy physics engine to players, in an attempt to make tackles work a bit more like they would in real life, it also most likely means that what we'll be getting is essentially the same game as the other formats - which is quite a blow for us.
The main addition for the Wii U version of the game comes from the Wii U GamePad, which it's hoped can help make actually playing the game a lot simpler, thank to the ease of use brought by the tablet-like touch screen. The first thing we saw during the demo of the game was a free kick, which has long been a bane of everyone but the most hardcore of FIFA players. When it comes to taking a free kick, as Matt Prior, the game's producer pointed out, it can often feel like you have very little control over where the ball actually goes - without a targeting reticule or anything similar on the screen, you're left to simply hope and pray that the ball goes somewhere near the net. Not any more. Now, all you have to do is lift the Wii U GamePad up in front of you, and, on the screen on the GamePad, you'll be presented with exactly the same view as on the TV - only this time, there's a crosshair to help you aim. By tilting, and moving the GamePad around, thanks to the magic of the built in gyro sensors, you'll be able to choose exactly where you want your shot to go - which is bound to take a lot of the guess work out of aiming.
In previous games, the same problems have also applied to taking shots on goal. When you're approaching the net, unless you play an awful lot, it's often been hard to try and guess exactly where your shot's going to go. In FIFA 13 on the Wii U, the GamePad again goes a long way to taking a lot of the ambiguity out of things, by letting you aim using the Touch Screen. As you're approaching the goal, all you have to do is either click the left analogue stick, or shake the tablet, and you'll get an image of the goal appear on your controller - poke where you want the ball to go, and your player will shoot accordingly. Taking a lot of the hit and miss out of scoring, we're hoping this will go some way to levelling the playing field even further - although it remains to be seen how easy it'll be to take your eyes off the screen, look at the tablet, and decide where you want the shot to go without getting tackled in the mean time.
But the Wii U's GamePad is a multifaceted tool, and along with giving you another way to pass the ball, it's also a budding manager's best friend. Down the side of the screen are a number of tabs, that let you delve into all the key information you could ever need during the game, letting you see how many shots have been made, where the shots have been made from, and even make substitutions, change tactics, and set up player marking on the fly. When playing in co-op, up to four people will be able to play together, using either a classic controller, or a nunchuck and Wii remote combo (again, there's been no mention of the Wii Remote only All Play mode so far), while a fifth takes on the role of the manager using the Wii U GamePad. Somewhat oddly, though, it's this managerial side of things that EA seem to have decided offers their best chance of encouraging new players to get involved with FIFA. Apparently, the idea of being able to micromanage a team while someone else plays the game will be incredibly appealing to 'dads, and more casual gamers', which seems a little bit odd to us - especially considering the changes that seem to have been made in other parts of the game.
Making the jump from the Wii to the Wii U was always going to be a difficult thing for FIFA to do, as the temptation would always be there to simply release what's effectively the 360/PS3 game on the Wii U, and hope for the best. And, as things stand at the moment, it seems like that's what we're going to be getting. While we certainly appreciate the Wii U GamePad features, and can see how they'll make things a little bit easier (at least, for one player, as the Wii U can only support a max of two GamePads at the same time), it doesn't help us shake the feeling that EA seem to be doing exactly what we were worried they'd do - abandoning everything that we liked about FIFA on the Wii, in favour of taking things in a more "serious" direction for the Wii U. And it's this that we can't understand. While the presentation at EA's event kept talking about Nintendo's different demographic, and how they wanted to make a football game the whole family can play, the direction FIFA 13's taken seems to suggest exactly the opposite. With its much more serious presentation and career mode, emphasis on realism, and apparent lack of any power-ups, it's hard to see how this is a game that's meant to appeal to families more than what's gone before. Being able to make a substitution with the GamePad won't make up for the removal of many of the features that we loved about FIFA on the Wii, and certainly won't be enough to get people playing if they've never picked up a FIFA game before.
When it came to accessibility, FIFA 11 on the Wii had everything right. The season mode was streamlined, you bought players using "stars" rather than money, and you didn't have to worry about your team's "reputation" - Accrington Stanley could happily buy David Beckham if they had enough stars available, which went down a treat with kids, who could put their own "dream team" together in a couple of minutes. It was a game that encouraged you to play with your friends and family, too - before each match, you had to choose an objective you thought you could accomplish, whether it was scoring two goals, achieving a certain amount of possession, or letting the opposition have no more than a certain amount of shots on target. Achieve your self-set goal, and you'd unlock power-up cards - and the more people you were playing with, the more cards you could choose. It was the single most family friendly football game that's ever been made - and yet all EA mentioned about FIFA 13 was how being able to manage a team using the Wii U GamePad was going to draw families to FIFA 13 like bees to honey.
While we may have our concerns, though, we're not ready to write FIFA 13 on the Wii U off just yet, as there's a lot about the game that's yet to be unveiled. We're yet to have any official confirmation about the uber-accessible All Play control scheme for one, although we're keeping everything crossed that it's survived the transition (as without it, FIFA 13 will be anything but family friendly) - it's just that everything we've seen so far seems to be trying as hard as it possibly can to move away from the previous Wii FIFA games, in the more serious direction of the other console versions. And that could really be a mistake. FIFA on the Wii used to be a refuge for those who wanted an accessible football game that everyone could play - girlfriends, boyfriends, moms, dads, children and grandparents - for anyone who didn't care as much about the realism as the fun, FIFA was their game, because it was so different to FIFA on the other formats. And that's the problem here. If you want the 360 version of FIFA, you'll likely buy the 360 version of FIFA. That market is already more than catered for on their consoles of choice, and a few more accessible GamePad options probably won't encourage them to take a chance on the Wii U version. Had FIFA 13 openly embraced its daft Wii heritage, and gone all out to promote itself as a fun football game the entire family could get in on, it'd at the very least stand more of a chance of carrying fans of the Wii version across - and, as a Wii U launch title, could potentially pick up a whole new market in the process. Instead, FIFA 13 appears to looks ready to turn its back on the more casual players, in favour of giving us the same FIFA we've been used to on every other console - only this time with GamePad controls. Luckily, FIFA 13 is still coming out on the Wii later this year, so we'll be keeping our fingers crossed that at least one will stay true to its roots - but even less is known about that than the Wii U version. Either way, we'll be keeping our fingers crossed that EA have just been saying what they think FIFA fans want to hear, and that FIFA 13 will retain at least some of the Wii FIFA magic - as it's one of the only games that's been confirmed to be a Wii U launch title, we'll know for sure how it's turned out by Christmas.