It brings me no pleasure to say this, but I was wrong. In fact, most of us were wrong. We have committed a grave oversight; we all slept on the Wii U. We didn’t give the console the chance that it deserved when actually we owe a lot to that gimmicky little console. The Wii U deserved better, and we let it down.
With the Switch surpassing the Wii in sales and reaching the 100 million units sold mark, a lot of people are making some outlandish claims about the Wii U and its place in video game history. While the Wii U wasn’t the runaway success that the Wii was, it certainly wasn’t the abject failure that fans remember it as.
Why we were wrong about the Wii U
First things first, the Wii U was a heavily flawed console in many respects. The controllers were both too similar and too different from the original Wii, which, combined with the similarity of the names, meant that many gamers weren’t aware that it was a whole new console. It also suffered from being even more reliant on its core gimmick than the Wii, which was in itself an accomplishment. These facts didn’t do the console any favours as it tried to carve out a fanbase in the highly competitive eighth console generation.
Nintendo didn’t do a great job of marketing the console and third-party developers didn’t know how to make games for the Wii U, so sales stayed low throughout its lifecycle. However, it was far from Nintendo’s least successful console and we should all remember that many of the console’s failings had nothing to do with the actual games on offer.
While the Wii U’s third-party support was never there, it still had the awesome power of the Nintendo intellectual properties behind it. Three of the best entries in The Legend of Zelda series — yes, don’t forget Breath of the Wild came out on it, too — the highly entertaining New Super Mario Bros. U, and the original iteration of Mario Kart 8, which has become the best-selling game on the Switch in its Deluxe incarnation. For all the failings that Nintendo has had over the course of their history, they are still one of the best video game developers on the planet.
But that is only a small part of what made the Wii U a worthwhile investment during its time. On top of having some great games for the console, it was also completely backwards compatible with the Wii, meaning that it launched with a huge back catalogue of games to choose from. Of course, this is only a selling point for those who didn’t have a Wii, which I think every gamer on the planet had gathering dust somewhere, and it didn’t exactly make up for the fact that the Wii U had a poor line-up of games at launch.
The Wii U also represented a huge step forward for Nintendo in terms of their online services, something that they still haven’t been able to get quite right. Its GamePad controller was a clear predecessor to the Switch, allowing the Wii U to nearly become the combination handheld and home console that Nintendo was dreaming of, even if it was still bound to the house.
There were so many ways that the Wii U represented a huge step forward for Nintendo. If it had been marketed in a sensible way and been a bit less insistent on third-party developers using the gimmicky GamePad in their game design, the console could have been a big success. Without it, I don’t think we have the highly successful Switch. Taking risks is how Nintendo got to be one of the biggest game companies on the planet, after all.
So, there it is. I will admit. I was wrong about the Wii U and, chances are, so were you.
Hello, Editor Pete here. I’m butting in because I have the power. Bwahahahaha and all that.
Anyway, I was not wrong about the Wii U. Because I bought one on launch, still own it and absolutely love it.
Of course, as time has gone on and many of its former exclusives have found themselves ported to Switch, there’s perhaps less of an argument to be made in favour of it. But it still has value.
For one thing, what Trent mentioned above about the ability to play any Wii game as well as any Wii U game is an absolutely killer feature. People often mock the Wii for its “shovelware”, but the fact is, there are a lot of astonishingly good games available for that platform which are not shovelware at all.
Xenoblade Chronicles originated on the Wii, though obviously this has since been ported to both 3DS and Switch. The Last Story is an incredibly creative take on the RPG formula. Pandora’s Tower is a fantastic example of how motion controls can be added to a game to provide a sense of physicality without being gimmicky. Boom Blox is one of the best physics puzzles of all time. Atlus’ Trauma games show that surgery can be fun (and terrifying). Eledees/Elebits reminds us of Konami at its most creative — a far cry from the NFT-peddling monster they are today. And many more besides.
And those remaining Wii U exclusives are no slouch, either. Nintendo Land is still one of the best local multiplayer games ever created, and still gets busted out on a regular basis any time friends are over. Game and Wario is a really enjoyable take on the series’ classic “microgames” formula. NES Remix and its sequel are absolutely delightful takes on retro classics. Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush is a delightfully cute and creative take on the classic series. Namco’s Tank! Tank! Tank! is delightfully silly multiplayer fun. And Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of the absolute finest — and most underrated, wilfully misunderstood — open-world RPGs ever created.
And the thing about those remaining exclusives is that while they probably could be ported to Switch in some form, the reason they work so well on the Wii U is because they make good use of the Wii U’s specific features. Nintendo Land would require two or more Switches to make some of its games work, for example, while Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush would have to be a handheld-only game.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is probably one of the best examples of the GamePad being used in a non-obtrusive way: by placing the overall hex-based map of the planet on the screen in your hands, the game takes on an absolutely unique feel where it combines real-time RPG action and exploration with elements of large-scale strategy games. Sure, you could implement this on a single screen, but part of what made it so interesting and effective on Wii U was that dual-screen functionality.
In the years to come, the Wii U will almost certainly end up being considered in a similar capacity to platforms like the Dreamcast, Neo Geo and PC Engine: consoles that were genuinely great, but which for one reason or another didn’t quite “make it”. That’s the recipe for a cult favourite right there — and if you don’t already own one, this period when people still mistakenly think it was a bit shit is a great time to nab one for your own collection.
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