As I write this, Wii U owners and critics are preparing for a dramatic switch. I don’t mean the console, I mean a switch in how the system is viewed. Wii U did not sell very well, it was the underdog for almost all of its life. This led to excessive and vicious trolling at every opportunity: people bashing it for lacking games while the “real” eighth gen systems subsisted on very slightly polished PS3 games, redefinition of what 3D meant to bash Nintendo, and of course predictions of its imminent death. And what happens when it actually dies? Worship. When’s the last time you saw Dreamcast or GameCube or Neo Geo Pocket Color bashed for their poor sales? Wii U is destined to be a revered cult favorite, and will surely be Nintendo’s last “real” console according to trolls at some point. So, as we look back at its life, let’s do it both ways. Every system has good and bad parts, so let’s look at Wii U from both perspectives. I always get the bad out of the way first, and it came first chronologically anyway, so let’s begin with:
The “Wii U is Still Alive” Perspective
Wii U was a spectacular failure. The very first we ever saw of it was a horrible trailer that made it look like it was just a controller accessory for the original Wii. The tablet like controller never caught on with the mass market, and even Nintendo was quick to pretend it didn’t exist. Retail games dried up almost instantly. Nintendo went right from their best-selling console to their worst, everything about the Wii U was a disaster.
After launch day, the system suffered a terrible drought that lasted nine entire months. Nintendo delayed their “launch window” games and the most we got from third parties were multi-plat games that were often missing features. Despite bragging about all the third parties supporting them at the system’s reveal and re-reveal (where it was just possible to tell it was a new console), third parties were quick to abandon the Wii U. Late or inferior PS360 ports were the extent of the support from major western publishers, and even those dried up to almost nothing within a year. Major publishers and developers openly mocked the system and no efforts were made by anyone to give it games that were only on eighth generation systems. Third party support became worse than it had ever been.
Nintendo’s games should have been the saving grace, but they refused to give gamers what they wanted. We got a 2D Mario at launch, a linear 3D Mario, a freaking Donkey Kong game instead of Metroid, and some squid game. Paper Mario Color Splash was a slap in the face to every former fan of the Paper Mario series, and Nintendo constantly let 3DS steal Wii U’s exclusives. Nintendo had clearly given up on the system by 2015 and forced it to do a death march until they finally released a new console. Everything about the system was a mistake and it would be in the best interest of Nintendo and gamers everywhere to just forget that this failure ever happened.
The “Wii U is Dead” Perspective
The Wii U was a fantastic system subjected to some of the greatest injustices in gaming history. The system had some of Nintendo’s best games and incredible potential that could have easily made it a bigger success than the original Wii if anyone had given it a chance. The Wii U Pad can do everything you could possibly want out of a controller and simple quality of life improvements provided by the touchscreen could have given it the edge over other systems in nearly any multi-plat. Wii U didn’t fail, we failed the Wii U.
The supposedly terrible drought was the result of the system having a launch that was too good, over 30 games were available at launch and if you were depending on Wii U for your console needs there was enough to last you until Pikmin 3 in August 2013. That’s right, the “great drought” lasted nine months, as opposed to around two years for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, which had terrible launches to boot. And remember PS4 getting praised for playing used games, and Xbox One for adding limited backwards compatibility long after release? Guess what system fully supported used games and had full backwards compatibility from the start? Wii U was the victim of a hypocritical and vicious media, plain and simple.
The lazy, entitled, and viciously unprofessional actions by third parties were in no way the system’s fault. Did Nintendo tell Ubisoft to traumatize everyone with the original Red Steel, leading to Zombi U’s disappointing sales? No, and they didn’t tell them to sabotage poor Rayman Legends in response to that just to make sure Wii U didn’t even have it as a timed exclusive. Did they tell companies to leave DLC out of the Wii U versions of multi-plats, setting up a vicious cycle where they couldn’t sell? Did they personally summon whatever demon was running EA and provoke it into every act of blatant sabotage or immature public shot at the Wii U? Third parties never gave the system a chance, Nintendo’s big mistake was giving THEM a chance.
Now as for Nintendo’s own games, they made some of their best games ever. We got two fantastic Mario games lacking nothing but nostalgia rebranded as “soul.” Mario Kart and Smash Bros. were leagues better than their Wii counterparts. Star Fox, Pikmin, and an absolutely phenomenal Yoshi platformer made their returns. Splatoon showed Nintendo can still make a great and popular new IP whenever the mood strikes them. Nintendo made alliances with third parties to get great exclusives like Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101, Pokken Tournament, and Hyrule Warriors. Super Mario Maker made the longstanding dream of gamers come true, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is one of the best platformers of all time. Even the mini-game compilation at launch was bursting with content and far deeper gameplay than you would expect. Nintendo not catering to the exact whims of jaded gamers (who would doubtlessly have changed their demands as soon as they got them) doesn’t mean they didn’t bring their A game.
My Actual Thoughts
So, to conclude, what do I think of the Wii U and its life when I’m not purposefully being blindly positive or negative? Well, I’m not going to deny that some mistakes were made, there’s no way to deny that the console sales were indeed pretty much a disaster. I’m not going to absolve Nintendo of all responsibility for what went wrong, but double standards on the part of third parties and the gaming community definitely share some blame for what went wrong. Nintendo misjudging how long it would take to get the hang of HD development was a big factor in the initial drought, and they should have made Wii U being a new system clearer. Third parties abandoning it after their late, often inferior ports didn’t sell a huge amount, though, is something that really happened and it is not at all fair to blame Nintendo for that. The things PS4/X1 got praised for that Wii U had ignored probably weren’t the result of malicious intent, but it was unfortunate timing that Nintendo wasn’t responsible for.
Nintendo really did make some of their best games on the system, even if they had clearly changed their focus to the Switch late in the Wii U’s life, the things I said about games in the positivity section are pretty much how I really feel. New Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Yoshi’s Wooly World are exceptional games that people unfairly dismissed because they were 2D. The collaborations with third parties for exclusives were a great idea and were usually successful (assuming anyone remembers Devil’s Third, that was the obvious exception). Wii U’s amazing attach rate for first party games shows that Nintendo was still making great games and that people still like them. However, third party was clearly lacking (and not just in big budget games like the hidden gem filled Wii) and Nintendo’s learning period for HD game design limited the quantity a bit. While there were some great indie games, Wii U really could have used the mid-ware style retail releases that gave Wii so many overlooked but great games. Thankfully, the portable/console dual nature of the Switch shows signs of bringing those back.
Appropriately enough, I’d rank the Wii U solidly in the middle as far as Nintendo systems go. It didn’t match its predecessor or the legendary SNES, but it could easily compete with Nintendo’s other systems. Definitely a quality over quantity system, a couple of dozen great exclusives that definitely justify its purchase, but aren’t going to push it to the top of the Nintendo heap. I’m not sad to see the negativity that dominated the Wii U’s lifespan go, I’m more than ready for a Switch. The system itself, though, has a solid lineup of great games that I would strongly recommend collecting before their inevitable price inflation. In the future, when the negativity of the era has been washed away by time and the nostalgia filter, I think Wii’ll have many fond memories of U.