It’s not unreasonable to say that Nintendo hit a nasty rough patch back in 2011. To start things off, their gangbusters-selling Wii was in the middle of a gaming drought. With most of their focus on their upcoming Wii U console, there wasn’t much that the company released for their home platform.
To make matters worse, their new handheld at the time was selling at a tepid pace. Coming off the heels of the second best-selling gaming device of all time, the 3DS was selling abysmally slow by comparison. It was so bad that a mere 8 months following the launch, Nintendo took a hit to their pride and slashed the price of the 3DS by a whopping $80, from $250 to $170. To mitigate the backlash that would follow, Nintendo implemented the Ambassador program for early adopters. This gave early adopters 10 free NES Virtual Console titles and 10 GBA Virtual Console titles as compensation, though it did little to quell the immediate rage of fans.
However, time heals all wounds, and the 3DS started to pick up steam. Before the Ambassador Program took effect, though, Nintendo had sprung a surprise during E3: the reveal of a new console. The Wii U promised a new level of immersion for players due to its innovative “new controller” (later named the Gamepad).
As time went on, more details arose about the Wii U. Nintendo boasted about third party support, showing an impressive amount of third party launch titles for their first HD console. Companies everywhere were singing praises about the console and despite some worries about the hardware’s power; everything seemed to be in working order. So, on November 18th, 2012, the Wii U released to the public. With a full year-long head start against Sony and Microsoft, it was clear that Nintendo was going to recreate the immense success of the Wii.
Well, hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
Here we are in 2017, and the Wii U is bowing out of the way for its successor, the Nintendo Switch. Time has clearly not been kind to Nintendo’s 8th-gen console, which is in dead last in terms of sales. The PlayStation 4 ran away with the baton within months of its release, while the Xbox One found itself in a cozy second place spot.
There are a number of factors that one could cite for the Wii U’s poor performance. There’s the fact that the Wii U is barely more powerful than the 7th generation PS3 and Xbox 360. This made ports of games from the PS4 and Xbox One difficult, as games would be heavily scaled back for the Wii U. This meant that companies weren’t willing to put the work in for a lesser version of their titles, and thus third party support for the console crumbled after launch.
Wii U Gamepad, A Costly MistakeAnother factor that contributed to the Wii U’s poor sales is arguably the Gamepad. While a neat and innovative idea, not many developers took advantage of it. Instead, for many it simply drove up the console’s price by another hundred dollars. This money could have gone to making the system more powerful, bridging the gap between it and the two other 8th generation consoles. Considering how games like Star Fox Zero turned out, it’s clear that the Gamepad’s controls and second screen do not always bode well.
However, does that mean there’s nothing redeeming about the Wii U? Is this all it is, a black mark on the storied history of Nintendo? Surely there must be something to the console.
I say there is. The Wii U is a deeply flawed console, sure, but it’s not without several merits. For one thing, the Gamepad is absolutely brilliant when used properly. Simple item management is smooth and immediate, with no need to break up the gameplay. Perfect examples of this are both The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD. Two games that focus heavily on switching items and looking at maps, they benefit hugely from having access to these features at all times.
Another title, ZombiU, takes item management and makes it into a tense affair. When searching your inventory, you stop moving and crouch down. You have to manage your inventory while also keeping an eye on the TV for any oncoming threats. For a launch title, ZombiU did a decent job using the Gamepad to enhance the experience.
However, games such as The Wonderful 101 show how you can properly use the Gamepad without just being an inventory screen. To change what weapon you’re using, you draw the shape on the Gamepad in real-time. The size of the drawing affects how big your weapon is and by extension, how much damage it does. With the game built around this mechanic, it works amazingly well to make a great game!
Wii U Games - The Exclusives Were GreatAnother big reason that the Wii U deserves some respect is its library of exclusives. While the console got very few titles in relation to its competition, it certainly isn’t for a lack of trying on Nintendo’s part. The games released on the console are rated as some of the best iterations of their franchises, such as Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, and most recently The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (though one could argue Breath of the Wild's home is more on the Switch).
This Wii U swan song/Switch launch title is already getting rave reviews. In a series that regularly gets reviews around 90, it’s stunning to see a title whose average score is currently the highest-rated game on OpenCritic at 98% and only one point below the legendary Ocarina of Time on Metacritic with a 98%. This is despite Ocarina of Time having only 22 critic reviews on Metacritic. Meanwhile, Breath of the Wild already has 61 published reviews.
This isn’t all about Zelda though. Mario Kart 8 is an excellent entry in the storied racing franchise, garnering a 9.3 from TechRaptor. The Switch version will only make it better with its reworked Battle Mode and portability, but it’s still an excellent title for the troubled console. Bayonetta 2, the game that Nintendo saved from the trash bin after funding for it was rejected by the competition, now has a 91% score on OpenCritic. TechRaptor gave it a 9.4 score, stating that it “sets the new standard for Character-Action games to come." It also took home our Pick of the Year Award in 2014.
The list goes on, but you see my point. The exclusives (and former exclusives like Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8) that the Wii U has are, for the most part, exemplary. Not only that, but Nintendo decided to break into genres they truly aren’t normally known for. Splatoon was Nintendo’s first foray into the competitive multiplayer shooter genre, while Breath of the Wild is their first attempt at a fully open-world experience. Splatoon sold over 4 million copies on an install base of only 12 million and is rated 81% on OpenCritic, putting it in the “Strong” category with a sequel announced for the Switch. As I already stated above, you know how they did with Breath of the Wild.
This extends beyond those, though. Hyrule Warriors showed that Nintendo was willing to put their IP in the hands of another developer for the first-ever Zelda musou title, which was absolutely packed with content.
A Fond Farewell to the Wii USo, at the end of the Wii U’s life, how will the world look back on it? While it did eventually turn a profit, there’s no denying that it’s the worst-selling Nintendo console aside from the Virtual Boy. Nintendo knew they had to switch things up (I am so sorry) and thus the Wii U feels like it got axed rather early for a console. However, with the release of Breath of the Wild, it may surprise you that the Wii U has been getting support for over four years. Considering the general length of Nintendo’s consoles living around 5-6 years each, that’s not too bad.
That being said, the industry is going to look back on the Wii U shaking their heads. So many things went wrong with the console and led to its eventual downfall. However, I feel like there will be a certain fondness for the console later on. It still has several exclusives that you can't play elsewhere and these games range from “pretty good” to “best-in-class." I want to give the Wii U the recognition I feel it deserves. Because of this, I’m giving shoutouts to some of its best exclusive games:
- Bayonetta 2 (TechRaptor score: 9.4)
- Super Mario 3D World (TechRaptor score: 9.0)
- Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (TechRaptor score: 9.5)
- Splatoon ( TechRaptor score: 8)
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (TechRaptor score: 9.2)
- Hyrule Warriors (TechRaptor score: 8.4)
- Xenoblade Chronicles X (TechRaptor score: 8.5)
- The Wonderful 101 (TechRaptor score: 8.3)
- Pikmin 3 (No TR score, Metacritic score: 87%)
- Super Mario Maker (No TR score, Metacritic score: 88%, OpenCritic score: 89%)
- New Super Mario Bros. U (No TR score, Metacritic score: 84%)
Before you say it, Hyrule Warriors Legends and Super Mario Maker for 3DS are still different games. They're missing content from their Wii U ancestors. Other than that, this list is some of the best gaming you can do in the 8th generation. It’s a range of genres. It doesn’t even count games that you can find on other Nintendo consoles. These include Breath of the Wild, Yoshi’s Woolly World, and Mario Kart 8.
Hopefully, Nintendo ports these games to the Switch or another Nintendo platform to bolster their library. If not, then I hope people will look back on the Wii U and realize that while it has severe problems, it’s still got a number of worthwhile titles. Maybe with time these titles will get the love and attention they rightly deserve. Despite all its shortcomings, Nintendo put their all into the console. Time for the curtains to close.
And with that, we say our final goodbyes to the Wii U. Rest in peace, and may the Switch put Nintendo back into the limelight for the future.