Nintendo is a name that has become synonymous with gaming over the past 40 years. They single-handedly revived the video game industry in 1983 with the Nintendo Entertainment System, popularised handheld gaming with the Game Boy in 1989, and ever since has pumped out console after console with each generation. While Nintendo still stands strong as one of the major video game companies of today, not every story of theirs was a success. Regardless of whether they were successes or not, Nintendo’s consoles have generally been a step back from their competition in some regard, such as the Nintendo 64 opting to utilise cartridges over optical discs for physical media, and even when they started making use of disc-based formats with the Nintendo GameCube, it used a proprietary miniDVD disc as a means of combating any potential piracy concerns, but at the cost of the amount of data it could store paling in comparison to the DVD discs that the PlayStation 2 and Xbox took advantage of. And that’s not even covering the underpowered Wii which wasn’t capable of outputting HD resolutions or graphics, and instead gave us the unique innovation of motion controls brought upon by the WiiMote, for better and for worse. Every Nintendo console I had described up to now had worked out well enough for Nintendo both critically and financially, albeit with the aforementioned shortcomings that held them back, but their next console following hot off the heels of the Wii, isn’t quite the same story.
Back in 25 April 2011, Nintendo unveiled their next home console to act as a successor to the immensely popular Wii, or at least Nintendo thought the message of it being a home console would get across clearly, dubbed the Wii U. However, details on the Wii U itself were quite scarce at the time, with them only revealing what would be the Gamepad of the console, sporting a 6.2 inch touch screen, an internal camera, and later a built-in NFC scanner. The console itself had yet to be seen, which unfortunately became a huge detriment to the console’s success in the long run, as many people were confused as to whether it was an accessory for the Wii or a new console altogether, and this problem continued for at least a year into the Wii U’s life span, hurting the sales of the console drastically. And the crippling advertising that went into the Wii U that focused on advertising primarily over the Internet with only some of it showing on public broadcast television certainly didn’t help matters either, with them only starting to address the confusing name convention a year after its launch.
With Nintendo having lost most of its core audience from the family-friendly Wii, they tried to win back the crowd with a slew of third-party titles on launch. Yes, many of them did appear on other platforms such as the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, including Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City (The Wii U version being dubbed the Armored Edition), but it was still a sign that Nintendo were desperate to get back the quality third-party support that they’ve severely lacked since the Nintendo 64 back in 1996. As luck would have it, even this plan ended up falling through. Developer kits for the Wii U were incredibly pricey, and to rub even more salt onto the wound, the Wii U’s architecture make it difficult to develop games for the console, and this is largely due to the Gamepad itself. With the confusing namesake and poor advertising being the main reason for the lackluster sales numbers the Wii U faced beyond its initial release in November 2012 where it was met with lukewarm sales, a good chunk of the third-party developers shortly jumped ship off the Wii U. Even Ubisoft, who were strong supporters of the Wii U in its infancy and provided exclusives such as ZombiU and Rayman Legends (Or at least the downloadable demo was exclusive), soon found itself abandoning the console and eventually ported said exclusives to other platforms. And so this left the console to rely largely on Nintendo’s first-party offerings once again to keep itself afloat. That is assuming said first-party offerings were released at a steady pace, which in this case, it didn’t, leading to long droughts in first-party game releases for the console that was already having a tough time maintaining interest with the public.
Note how the Gamepad is shown upfront over the console itself. This is but one of the Wii U's marketing mistakes.
The following years were an upward struggle for the console, facing up against the likes of the far more powerful and mainstream consoles, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, the technologies of Virtual Reality slowly creeping into the mainstream market, all of which immediately made the console’s hardware look dated, and the continuous battle of Nintendo attempting to right the wrongs they had made with the console since its reveal. In the end, it managed to last itself a good four years before inevitably retiring with a meager thirteen million consoles, embedding itself in history as one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles, being only above Nintendo’s last complete flop, the Virtual Boy. And honestly, it’s an utter shame that it left as soon as it did given the promise and potential the console had.
Much like any Nintendo console, there were still certain charms that brought people to the console and helped them stick with it. The releases were indeed rather stagnant, but it still brought many of Nintendo’s trademark IPs to the table, even bringing in a couple surprises that no one could’ve predicted. Some games played it safe by sticking to their roots, and while something like New Super Mario Bros U simply seemed like another New Super Mario Bros game and nothing else, there were still the ones that really rocked the console with the added refinements and the new HD coat of paint they were given like with Super Smash Bros for Wii U which nailed a good balance between accessible for beginners and technical for professionals that Super Smash Bros Brawl couldn't get right. But it was those surprises that really keep the Wii U in the back of people’s minds. Seeing Pikmin return with Pikmin 3 after missing out on the Wii, watching Splatoon become a phenomenon overnight as a completely new IP in the Nintendo family, the Zelda and Warriors franchises coming together to form Hyrule Warriors which is basically the ultimate Zelda fan-service game, hearing the sudden announcement of Bayonetta 2 right out of nowhere much to fans’ delight, Star Fox making its grand return almost a whole decade since its last game on the DS with Star Fox Zero (Albeit to incredibly mixed results). It’s moments like these when Nintendo goes out and fires on all cylinders to remind us of what makes them so damn loveable.
As for the Gamepad itself, it certainly brought some particularly innovative ideas that are remembered quite fondly for the most part with how they incorporated asymmetric gameplay between the TV display and the Gamepad screen. Two of the Wii U’s launch titles, Nintendo Land and ZombiU, were great showcases of what the Gamepad could do, both of which use the Gamepad in a variety of different ways, whether it be sniping Moblins from afar with its Gyroscope that tracks any motion the Gamepad makes in the former, or frantically tapping out the code to unlock a door via the Gamepad's screen while keeping an eye out for any incoming zombies on the TV screen which could make a difference between life and death in the latter. There was even Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (Or Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water as its known as in the U.S.) wherein the Gamepad was used as a camera to take photos of and combat ghosts by showing the lens of the camera through the Gamepad's screen, and the Gyroscrope not only tracking the movements made with the Gamepad allowing for some nice and steady shots, but also allowing it to be rotated to take shots in either landscape or portrait orientation, making it arguably the closest one could get to a potential Pokemon Snap game if there was one developed for the Wii U.
A defining example of the Wii U Gamepad showing off the potential of asymmetric gameplay.
However, with its innovations, also come its problems. Due to how the Gamepad is treated in games with no real way to turn it off aside from letting the battery die out, games such as Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric which utilised the CryEngine game engine caused it to suffer from slowdown and numerous graphical glitches as the CryEngine was not optimised to display more than one screen at a time. And the debacle on whether or not Star Fox Zero’s implementation of the Gamepad as a whole was a good design choice is one that rages on to this very day. Admittedly though, not a lot of games took advantage of the Gamepad’s capabilities, reducing it to nothing more than a controller with its own display for those who can’t hook up their Wii U to a TV or a PC monitor at worst, or an inventory or map screen at best, which makes it all the sadder to see how underused the Gamepad on the whole ended up being.
Nintendo has generally been considered to be behind the times in regards to their hardware and online infrastructure, and while it certainly rings true in regards to what the Wii U was competing against, it otherwise marks a step forward for the company itself in that sense. The Wii U is Nintendo’s first console to be capable of outputting and handling HD resolutions and graphics, bringing it up to par with other consoles at the time of its release if not more powerful. Admittedly, it isn’t capable of putting out the kind of splendorous imagery that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can show off, but it manages to bring in some incredibly vivid and beautiful visuals where it counts regardless. It also saw Nintendo adapt to a more traditional online marketplace, discarding Points from the Wii’s Shop Channel in favor of real-life currencies, and providing not only digital downloads of its games, but also downloadable content for them as well. Then there was the Miiverse which was Nintendo’s attempt at creating a social network of sorts. It was stifled by some piss poor moderation, and looking for a specific post among a sea of other posts was incredibly cumbersome, but it was otherwise neat to boot up the Wii U and see the many intricate drawings that people had posted up on it with the Gamepad’s touch screen, and on the other hand there was an uncanny humor to it in which you could find people taking refuse in the Miiverse communities for their role-playing sessions among other things. Not to mention how the Miiverse was worked into some of the games the Wii U had on offer was a nice touch, ranging from billboards in Splatoon showing off Miiverse posts from its community, to sending messages in a bottle for other players to find in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, to giving and receiving feedback on levels created and uploaded online in Super Mario Maker, and even to having a complete if somewhat basic stage in Super Smash Bros for Wii U wherein Miiverse posts would appear in the background to root for whatever characters are fighting each other during a match.
Makes you wonder why Miiverse was banned in some tournaments, doesn't it?
To bring this story to a close, the Wii U is officially dead. Production on the console has ended worldwide as of the end of last January, Miiverse is going to be getting the plug come 8 November, and with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March of this year, Nintendo are no longer developing any more first-party titles for the system in favor of their new hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch, which shares a similar concept to the Wii U in being playable on both a TV screen and on a portable screen that comes with the system, and so far has enjoyed an incredible amount of success both critically and financially to the point that Nintendo themselves are trying their hardest to keep up with the demand. Despite there still being a few odd indie games and Virtual Console releases on its digital storefront, the Wii U’s eShop, and not to mention the annual Just Dance game that Ubisoft are persistent on releasing on every home console under the sun (Including the original Wii as well if you can believe it), just about everyone has moved on from the gimmicky Gamepad-based home console. Not to mention that many of its exclusive titles have been ported to the Nintendo 3DS or the Nintendo Switch to bring them to people who may have not had the opportunity to play them before on the Wii U, and they’re given enhancements and new additions to encourage people to double dip if they’ve bought said titles already. The Wii U certainly had plenty of ups and downs, but much like any Nintendo console, it had a legacy to call its own. And to quote Reggie Fils-Amié, the Wii U was “a necessary step, in order to get to Nintendo Switch”.
Thank you, Wii U, not just for the games, but also for paving the way for a far more successful console. Your efforts will not be forgotten.