It's awfully hard to predict, months before launch, how successful a console will be. Still, at this point, we have to at least entertain the possibility that the Wii U will be a complete train wreck. I'm far from certain this will happen, and it will give me no pleasure if it does. But with the controller's production problems in the news, I can't help but notice some writing on the wall.
As I wrote in my hands-on preview of the console, it's pretty clear what Nintendo is trying to do here: They're trying to repeat the success of the Wii by following the exact same formula. Most of the games Nintendo has touted so far are family-friendly, and they make good use of the console's multiplayer features. There's also a new controller that aims to be intuitive for casual gamers, just as there was with the Wii.
But there's a lot that the Wii U doesn't do, and I'm not convinced that what it does do is enough to propel sales.
For example, despite some initial assurances from Nintendo, it seems pretty clear at this point that the Wii U is not meant for hardcore gamers. We don't have full specs yet, but some developers claim it's not even as powerful as the PlayStation 3. The Wii U port of Madden 13 won't be running on the Infinity Engine, and while Epic says Unreal 4 can run on the Wii U, the company has no "intention" of bringing gaming's most prominent engine to Nintendo's next console. That's pretty much a vote of no confidence.
To put it lightly, I wouldn't count on full third-party support just yet, and even the initial promising signs—Mass Effect 3, Arkham City, etc.—might not tell us anything about the long term, given that all of those titles run just fine on current-generation hardware. The other console companies are sure to deliver a real generational leap; there will never be a debate as to whether the PlayStation 4 is more powerful than the PlayStation 3. Even if Wii U can run the games of 2013, will it be able to keep up with Sony's and Microsoft's new machines five years later?
And what about that "tablet-style" controller? Well, that seems to be causing a lot of problems. Some analysts say the controller is the main reason that the console can't deliver as much performance as you might think—after all, powering two different screens is taxing. (Hopefully developers can shut off the tablet screen and use that power for something else if they want.)
Also, when I demoed the console with some other journalists, I noticed that the Nintendo reps always put one player on a tablet while the others used regular Wii controllers. It turns out there's a reason for this: One tablet at a time is the limit. Reportedly, a second tablet kills the framerate.