We are only weeks away from the launch of the highly anticipated Nintendo Switch. As we bid farewell to the Wii U, let’s take a look at the legacy it leaves behind.
Getting Off on the Wrong Foot
Unfortunately, the Wii U seemed doomed from the get-go. With an underwhelming marketing campaign, Nintendo failed to distinguish the Wii U from its predecessor, the Wii. A large portion of the Wii’s audience comprised of a casual and family audience, but the launch lineup was directed at serious gamers. Abandoning the casual crowd might have worked with the full support of the “hardcore” audience.
However, the Wii U hit the streets with disappointing launch titles. Games were either gimmicks, like ZombiU and Nintendo Land or ports of games already released on the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, like Assassin’s Creed III and Mass Effect III. The target audiences of those ports most likely already owned a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 and would have no reason to drop another $299 (or $349 if you sprang for the Deluxe Set) on the Wii U. At this point, New Super Mario Bros. U was the only flagship title available. Despite the promise of more interesting titles in the pipeline, the Wii U had absolutely no appeal for the 2012 holiday season. To make all this worse, Nintendo made the exact same mistake when the 3DS launched. The 3DS lineup was just as barren, and sales only picked up after more games were released.
The sheer number of peripherals needed to make the Wii U a family console ended up being cost-prohibitive as well. To break it down, the Wii U shipped with only the console and the GamePad, but games like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U required additional Wiimotes for more players. At approximately $24.99 a piece, that could easily add up, and this is without picking up any nunchuck attachments or the Wii U Pro Controller.
GamePad: Hit or Miss?
Nintendo loves to try new things. The Wii made its name not only with motion-based controls, but also by appealing to a wide audience, while the DS introduced dual-screen gaming. The Wii U continued that path with the GamePad. It takes little imagination to see the value in another screen, as fans of the DS will attest. Another screen allows for convenient integration of other interface elements like inventory or maps. Some early titles used it for interacting directly with the game, like the shuriken-throwing mini game in Nintendo Land. If a convenient UI or additional gameplay depth isn’t interesting enough, the ability to swap from the TV to the GamePad sounds like a stellar quality of life improvement.
However, the GamePad itself can be cumbersome to use for long periods of time. For any game that was purely on-screen action like Mario Kart 8 or Bayonetta 2, I opted for the Pro Controller and abandoned the GamePad entirely. Even while playing The Wind Waker HD, I sat my GamePad beside me for the map and actually played with the Pro Controller. Some players might not have found the GamePad unwieldy, but it certainly affected me. Despite that small inconvenience, I found that the GamePad was well implemented in certain games. Xenoblade Chronicles X and Splatoon come to mind in that respect. Any game that required a lot of navigating or had players glancing at a map was perfectly suited to the Wii U.
Overall, most of the Wii U’s library never capitalized on the GamePad as a tool. Even the TV-to-GamePad functionality was limited by a short range and spotty connectivity. For being the focus of Wii U development, I believe it fell short of expectations.
As mentioned above, the Wii U had a pitiful library at launch and the year following. Now, in 2017, the Wii U has one of the best set of console exclusives available. Platinum Games’ The Wonderful 101 expertly showcased how to integrate GamePad and TV gameplay. Action seamlessly flows between the two screens. Platinum maintained its excellent form when Nintendo rescued the Bayonetta series from dying out. Bayonetta 2’s breathtaking environments and monster designs paired with fast-paced action proved the Wii U could keep up with demanding software.
Nintendo’s first new IP in ages made its debut on the Wii U. Splatoon took the gaming world by storm when the 4v4 online ink battler launched in 2015. With almost 5 million copies sold and a sequel on the way, it’s safe to say this game gave consumers a reason to try the console.
The Wii U continued Nintendo’s history of a fantastic local multiplayer experience. While many games are abandoning local multiplayer altogether, the Wii U hosted some of the best. Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart are examples of classic franchises that come to mind when thinking of multiplayer gameplay. Over 50% of Wii U owners bought Mario Kart 8.
Finally, any topic on the Wii U wouldn’t be complete without discussing Super Mario Maker. This game defines the Wii U. It’s the sum total of decades of making Mario games distilled into a user-friendly creation tool. Years from now, there will be game-makers that will cite their first creative experience as playing Super Mario Maker at home. With the ability to download other players’ creations, it has effectively become the Mario game that never ends.
There might not be as many Wii U exclusives as there are for other consoles, but the ones it does have are high quality, unique experiences that should not be missed.
Honorable Mention: Amiibo
While not technically unique to the Wii U (as they are compatible with the 3DS and the Switch), amiibo deserve a mention. The amiibo are Nintendo’s toys-to-life product that started with Super Smash Bros. 4, and have expanded to include multiple franchises and functionalities. The NFC reader in the GamePad allows the amiibo to interact with whatever game they’re compatible with. For some games, this means unlocking costumes, missions, weapons, or even a training partner. The amiibo became widely popular because they are highly detailed figures of characters from franchises where other merchandise does not exist. This, and a reasonable price tag of $12.99, led to fans grabbing them up as soon as they hit the shelves. Nowadays it’s generally easier to get ahold of that one character you’re missing, as Nintendo have stepped up their supply to meet the demand. Despite the success, there’s one more hurdle Nintendo wants to overcome with their creation: actually getting people to use them in their games!
I often tell people the Wii U is my favorite console. It’s the system I play most often, and I’ve enjoyed 90% of the games I’ve played on it. It’s unfortunate that overall, the Wii U is considered a commercial failure, when the potential was phenomenal. To compare, the Playstation 4 has almost 4x the amount of lifetime sales as the Wii U despite being released a year later. Losing third-party developers early on hurt an already ailing system, but successes like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon gave consumers enough reasons to stick with it. So far, Nintendo have been on top of their marketing for the Switch, and the console is looking great. Only time will tell if the same mistakes repeat themselves, but I’ll choose to remain optimistic.