With the launch date getting excitingly close, the Wii U is in the gaming media's spotlight across the globe. It's Nintendo's most powerful console to date, with enough oomph to rival its current competitors, the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It combines the touch screen gaming synonymous with the DS handhelds with the motion control capabilities of the Wii and mixes the result with High Definition goodness. Add it to your Christmas wish list if it isn't already there, because this is only a fraction of what the console has to offer.
However, if you've been keeping up with the gaming news recently it has become clear that the Wii U lacks a certain feature - a universal/console-wide achievement system.
It's a little surprising because, whether you like it or not, achievements have really come to be one of the defining features of the latest generation of gaming.
Achievements - the lowdown
Achievements (known as Trophies on Sony consoles) are essentially small rewards for completing certain tasks in a game in the form of points or a trophy. The most common types of achievements are rather menial and the sort of stuff you'd complete during the natural progression of a game, like "Finish level 1", while others, at the behest of a particularly imaginative development team, can be a lot more creative, requiring significant effort or thinking outside the box.
Achievements differ from traditional unlockables in that they don't tend affect the game directly, rather, the points or trophies you earn are linked to your profile or account and build up across all the games you play.
Achievements are seen by most as a gift to gaming for a variety of reasons. One of their main plus points is that they have the potential to extend a game's longevity significantly.
Back in the day, once you completed the main story of a traditional single-player game you had little reason to go back to it other than perhaps your own personal enjoyment. Now, developers can use achievements as added incentives for you to play their game again and again.
Complete the game! Complete the game without dying! Complete the game on hard! Complete the game on hard without dying! Complete the game... IN SPANISH! Complete the game on hard without dying while moving backwards...IN SPANISH! Note: I may have used some artistic license on a couple of them, but you get the idea.
Achievements - The Good
Admittedly, I've made it appear that achievements used to lengthen the game are rather superficial, but you have to remember that this is by no means always the case. Some developers are genuinely clever in the way they use achievements to keep you playing and for the most part, it's something to be thankful for.
You see, every once in a while something wonderful happens: a creative achievement descends from the heavens majestically to restore all that is good in the world.
To use one particularly famous example, an achievement in Half Life 2: Episode 2 requires you to pick up a small garden gnome ornament found in the first chapter of the game, and carry it with you for pretty much the next five or six hours of gameplay, before sticking it in a space rocket in the very last chapter. Never in a million years would it have naturally occurred to me to do such a thing. It's wonderfully bizarre and fun to attempt. It would be truly wonderful to be given these types of opportunities in our favourite Nintendo titles.