Nintendo is not only one of my favorite video game companies, but one of my favorite all time companies. As someone who tends to not be very brand loyal, I will always swear live and die that Nintendo has never made a bad home or portable console (not sure what to classify the Virtual Boy as, but we can say it was terrible so we’ll keep it as that). One console that I feel gets the short end of the stick and is often a perpetual punching bag is the Wii U. But I am here to say that while it may not be the best console Nintendo has ever put out, it is an under appreciated gem that helped in paving the way for the Nintendo Switch and the failure can only be attributed to marketing.
The Wii U was formally introduced during E3 of 2011 as their response to bring Nintendo consoles away from the more casual audience they built from the Wii era and back to the hardcore gamer audience that was being dominated by the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, to eventually be replaced by the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The initial announcement was filled with the promise of a new Mario, Zelda, Smash Brothers, 3rd Party support from companies like EA and Bethesda. And then Nintendo’s stock price fell 10 % two days later. The problem with the console’s message was that it still utilized not only the Wii name, but also the Wii controllers. While this is great from a consumer perspective, most people did not know if this was an add on, a different version of the Wii or the next generation of consoles. And this confusion from the initial announcement caused people to assume that it was an accessory and not a new console. Most industry analysts and gamers caused the Wii U to flounder during its life cycle from late 2012 to early 2017, only selling 13.65 million units compared to the Wii’s 101.63 million and the Switch’s 70 million as of now.
But the actual console itself was not too terrible. It had all the fixings for what makes a great console and things that were questionable. It had HDMI, free online play, expandable memory and as mentioned came with built in Wii backwards compatibility so you could play Super Mario Galaxy in glorious HD. The Wii U also had one of my all time favorite controllers, the Wii U Pro Controller. Everything that a controller should be it was. It fit great in any set of hands, the button layout was perfect, the triggers and control sticks were responsive and didn’t feel cheap. Everything they did for that controller was perfect. But it did not come with the console.
I will say this, the main gimmick of the Wii U was dumb and doomed from the start. This was that the main controller, the Wii U Game pad, was a giant tablet with buttons on the side. It did have some perks with it. It made some games great to play because the game pad had the map on the second screen, some games had features mapped to the game pad that were cleverly done, and it even allowed for remote play so you could play some games on the game pad. But, it wasn’t the most comfortable controller to hold and the battery life on it was garbage (2.5 hours compared to the pro controllers almost 10 hours).
With the gamepad and confusion on what the Wii U actually was did cause a lot of issues not only in terms of sales, but also with securing third party support. The EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda and Capcom deals mostly did nothing after the first year or so with floundering sales for the console. The first year gave ports of games like Mass Effect 3, Batman Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed 3, Madden 13, Just Dance 2013 and Darksiders 2. But within 2 years there was Skylanders, the yearly Just Dance games and…The Peanuts Movie: Snoopy’s Grand Adventure. The lack of 3rd party support definitely hurt the Wii U. The Switch is in a much better spot with a good portion of new games getting a Switch version and some previously released games during the Wii and Wii U’s lifetime like Skyrim, the Bioshock and Borderlands collections, XCOM 2 and The Witcher 3 coming to a Nintendo console. Having 3rd party support can make or break a console. The Wii U sorely lacked in having it and it made a difference in the system’s sales.
On the flip side of of things, the offerings from Nintendo as a publisher during this time ranged from absolutely amazing to Star Fox Zero. So many great games came out on this console: New Super Mario Bros. U, Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3, Bayonetta 2, NES Remix, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario Maker, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Splatoon, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, HD versions of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess and (my personal favorite) Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. There were other greats released outside of Nintendo like Shovel Knight, Rayman Legends, Hyrule Warriors, DuckTales Remastered, the original Bayonetta was ported and came free with the aforementioned sequel, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Resident Evil Revelations and Guacamelee. It also had Xenoblade Chronicles X, but I never played it so I can’t comment on it. But I haven’t heard anything bad about it.
So big question, is the Wii U a failure. I would say no, but I would say it is obsolete. The extra screen gimmick is something that was better done on their handheld systems with the Nintendo DS and 3DS. And most of the Wii U library is available on its successor, the Nintendo Switch. Most of the games that I would consider as must plays on the Switch are either direct ports (Bayonetta 2 & Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze), ports that includes extra content and all DLC (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition and New Super Mario U Deluxe) or sequels that are basically enhanced versions of the predecessors (Splatoon 2, Super Mario Maker 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate). Of the top 10 best selling Switch games as of this article, 4 of them fall under one of these categories with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe being the best selling Switch game. So it’s a game console that while fun to own, it’s not needed with how virtually everything worth playing can be played on either the Switch or somewhere else.
The Wii U was an interesting experiment by Nintendo. They tried to make what could be equated to a home version of the Nintendo DS. And while the tech behind it may not have been spectacular, it delivered in spades amazing must play titles that have since been brought over to the Switch where sales of them have been astronomically better (in Mario Kart 8’s case selling 400% better). The problem though lies solely with the marketing and branding. Relying on the Wii brand for a new console may have worked if the Wii already didn’t have a line of games and accessories using the Wii name as well. The name alone made it seem like another accessory of the Wii rather than the next console. So with poor marketing, it effected sales and 3rd party support. But for its short comings, it sill had some amazing games to play which can be argued keeps the console from being a total disaster. But the Wii U does get more grief than it deserves just on how solid its game library is (Star Fox Zero not included).