The Wii U
A Retrospective of a Wonderful Failure
Originally published in 2017, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
In some ways, the Wii U was doomed from the start.
The successor to the wildly popular Wii, hopes were high that Nintendo’s next generation console would rectify some of the issues that plagued the waggle wonder box. Though selling over 100 million units, the red hot interest it garnered cooled very quickly, with support from third parties drying, as well as many gamers feeling shafted by Nintendo’s focus on the ‘casual’ market. Accurate or not (I lean toward the latter opinion), these perceptions were nevertheless addressed by Nintendo, who promised that their much-ballyhooed ‘Project Café’ would bring the goods at E3 2011.
Whilst the 3DS was slowly gaining traction in the handheld market, gamers were anxious to see Nintendo’s evolution in home consoles, and they got it in the form of the Wii U.
What followed was an exciting video of… something. This something would eventually be called the Wii U GamePad – and we saw this tablet-cum-handheld being used for a multitude of things, like sketching pics, being used with the TV in creative ways, and good old fashioned gameplay. However, confusion began to spread – just what is the Wii U? Is it an add-on? A new console? Is the GamePad the new console?
Even myself, all things learned in the ways of Nintendo, was initially a little baffled. The main console was relegated in the background, as the main message seemed to be that the Wii U was going to be all things to all people. Nintendo heavily touted the wonders of the ‘asynchronous’ two-screened gameplay, whilst promising that their new hardware would win back the hardcore crowd, as well as opening the floodgates for third party support.
Over the next 12 months, we slowly learned more, as Nintendo admitted that they jumped the gun a little bit, and poised the Wii U for a re-reveal at E3 2012. Unfortunately, the uncertainty only became exacerbated, with a jumbled delivery that left a mediocre impression on the worldwide audience. None of the games shown were jaw-droppers (with Pikmin 3 being the big highlight), and closing the show with Nintendo Land was a baffling choice. EA made promises of “unprecedented partnerships” with very little to show (a move they would repeat for the Switch presentation), and big talk of third party support was relegated to ports of pre-existing games (again, just like the Switch show). The Wii U lacked the razor-sharp focus of the Wii, nor did it have killer software on show like Metroid Prime 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Zelda: Twilight Princess and Wii Sports.
The GamePad itself was the antithesis of the Wii Remote; a complex, bulky-looking device that seemed like a Jack of all trades, and master of none.
Either way, anticipation was high for its eventual release, and the Wii U was released in Australia on November 30th 2012. In a seeming continuation of the muddled messaging, the console was available in two models (in contrast to the Wii’s single offering); a white 8 GB ‘basic’ model, and a black 32 GB ‘premium’ which contained a copy of Nintendo Land.
The launch titles – whilst solid – lacked a true killer app that really made the system a must-have. Nintendo Land was no Wii Sports (though it was certainly a fun, creative experience), and New Super Mario Bros. U was an incredibly conservative (albeit enjoyable) platformer. Other games like Assassin’s Creed 3, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Batman: Arkham City, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Ninja Gaiden 3 and Darksiders 2 were great, but still didn’t highlight the uniqueness of the hardware. Arguably, Ubisoft’s ZombiU was the only truly essential title.
Also a point of consternation was an unexpected day-one update, which bought pivotal features (most notably Miiverse), whilst bricking a small number of units that were interrupted during the patching process.
Over the next six months, things were slow going. Nintendo openly admitted to having troubles transitioning into HD development, as third parties slowly reneged on their promises for unconditional support. The most infamous example was Ubisoft delaying the Wii U-exclusive Rayman Legends by six months (the game was basically done) in order to release it on other formats. EA too, received flak for its stillborn “unprecedented partnership”, via a simplified, outdated port of FIFA, and a full-priced version of Mass Effect 3 (despite the fact that Nintendo platforms never got the previous two games, and the similarly-priced Mass Effect Trilogy was available for PS3 and Xbox 360).
Nevertheless, things slowly picked up for Nintendo’s machine. Despite the fact that it became clearer and clearer that it wouldn’t achieve the success of its predecessor (or indeed, even its sibling, the 3DS), and the fact that the arrivals of the PS4 and Xbox One stole what little thunder it had – the Wii U still became a quality console in its own right.
Over its short life, the Wii U was host to some truly brilliant games that genuinely made it worth owning. Those who invested in the system found a treasure trove of killer titles that hearkened back to the good old days – when games were games, and creativity was abundant. Though Nintendo could never deliver on its promises of next-level asynchronous gameplay (really, the only games that took advantage were the Star Fox titles, Super Mario Maker and Affordable Space Adventures), the console still amassed a great library over the next four years, including many of the best videogames of its generation.
Of course, Nintendo led the pack. The Kyoto company produced some truly stellar titles, like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, Yoshi Woolly World, Captain Toad, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Hyrule Warriors, Pokken Tournament, Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush, and Paper Mario: Color Splash.
Surprisingly, the Wii U also had a very strong indie presence, with the eShop hosting gems like Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party, Guacamelee!, Axiom Verge, Shovel Knight, Gunman Clive, Shantae, Freedom Planet, Trine, Child of Light, Mutant Mudds, Bit.Trip Runner, CastleStorm, SteamWorld, Severed, Runbow, Fast Racing NEO and Affordable Space Adventures.
Contrary to popular belief, there were even some great third party titles, with Bayonetta 1 & 2, Assassin’s Creed 3 & 4, Call of Duty: BLOPS 2 & Ghosts, Wonderful 101, Skylanders, LEGO, Need for Speed Underground, Monster Hunter 3, Resident Evil Revelations, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Project Zero, Minecraft, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Watch_Dogs, Sonic Lost World and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed.
Though it had its frustrations (like an inane account and save transfer system) the Wii U hardware definitely had its perks. It ran like a dream, with virtually no heat production and very little power consumption. Games did not need to install, and required few updates- and the Miiverse community was an ingenious way to share screenshots, accomplishments, ask questions, and engage in banter (though Nintendo will ditch it with the Switch). Of course, there was also the ever-reliable Virtual Console, with a huge amount of classic titles.
In all, the Wii U was a curious beast. Though a failure commercially, it was host to some of the best games in the last five years. It was a system of inconsistencies, with as many good qualities as bad ones. Either way, it will be remembered as a pivotal point in Nintendo’s history, as it represented the company’s merging of its handheld and home console divisions, as well as the revaluation of its place within the videogame industry. As a send-off, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be its last major game, and I can’t think of a better way to go out!
The 10 Best Games on Wii U
1.) Super Mario 3D World
Initially, gamers expressed some disappointment that the Wii U’s main Mario title would be a sequel to the 3DS’ Super Mario 3D Land. However, appearances were deceiving, as the first 3D multiplayer instalment in the venerated franchise turned out to be a wildly creative, amazingly fun game. It had it all; gorgeous visuals, a catchy big-band soundtrack, and superb challenge that slowly ramped up the intensity. If you think Mario games are easy, then just try Champion’s Road!
2.) Mario Kart 8
Holding the distinction as the Wii U’s best selling game (at over 8 million), Mario Kart 8 is predictably excellent. Introducing anti-gravity mechanics, along with the returning gliding and underwater sections, this is just the latest in the long line of friendship-destroyers… in good way! DLC extended the life of the game, basically introducing 50% more content – including Link as a racer!
3.) Super Smash Bros. For Wii U
Whenever a new Nintendo console is announced, you can bet your bottom dollar that wild. Smash Bros. speculation will follow shortly after. No-one could’ve guessed that this particular instalment would show up simultaneously on Wii U and 3DS, with cross-compatibility and equal content. Much like Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros. For Wii U was bolstered by substantial DLC, resulting in a final tally of 58 fighters (including shock entries like Mega Man, Cloud Strife, Bayonetta, Ryu and Pac Man), 55 stages, 743 trophies and 511 music pieces! All of this in glorious 1080p and 60fps…
Trust Nintendo to take a well-worn genre like competitive third person online shooters – and completely turn it on its head. On their first try, to! For those unaware, Splatoon is Nintendo’s biggest new IP in years, and uses paint warfare as the basis for turf-taking and intense shooting. Playing as the hip Inkling kids, you and your team aim to cover as much ground in your colours as possible, before the timer runs out. This simple mechanic proves to be a rock-solid foundation for truly addictive gameplay, as a wide variety of weapons adds so much depth and strategy – ensuring that Splatoon is one of the most popular online games today!
5.) Super Mario Maker
The ultimate culmination of 30 years of gameplay genius, Super Mario Maker takes everything we’ve ever learned about the portly plumber’s 2D adventures, and gives the power to us. One of the best, most user-friendly DIY games ever made, Super Mario Maker started as an internal developer tool at Nintendo, before being spruced up and delivered in the form of one of the most original, addictive and endlessly replayable packages in a long time. Nintendo have even stated that 2D Mario games will no longer be the same after this! Interesting…
6.) Bayonetta 2
Who could ever forget when this was first announced? The sequel to the cult action game Bayonetta (which came packaged), hackles were raised when it was revealed that Nintendo directly funded Bayonetta 2 – thus making it a Wii U exclusive. Regardless, the game was astounding, with blinding visuals and masterful gameplay combined with insane set-pieces and evocative characters design (critics of Bayonetta’s ‘sexist’ design fail to mention that she was actually designed by a woman). A must-have – especially when included with the definitive version of the original.
7.) Xenoblade Chronicles X
One of the biggest games ever made, Monolith Soft’s Xenobalde Chronicles X is a sci-fi JRPG that literally contains hundreds of hours worth of gameplay. Set on the gigantic open-world of Mira (and it really is open world – there are no barriers, and everything is traversable), with an intimidating amount of content that completely debunks the theory that Nintendo have abandoned the ‘hardcore’ gamer, Xenobalde Chronicles X contains everything from multiple combat classes, B.L.A.D.E perks, flying mechs, material farming, complete natural bestiaries, social relationships, alien cultures, online squads, storylines dealing with racism, existentialism and religion, and much, much more.
8.) The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD & Twilight Princess HD
Okay, so I’m cheating a bit – but I don’t think you’ll mind, eh? Both these games were utterly essential on Gamecube, and they remain utterly essential now. Though Wind Waker’s HD coating turned out better than its more realistic counterpart (which was only done in six months), either game is nevertheless a supreme experience, with gameplay tweaks making them even better than they were before. If you haven’t played them, then do so now!
9.) Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut
One of the few third party games that was the best on Wii U, Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut was a superb game that was made even better thanks to its GamePad integration, which allowed you to read documents and engage in hacking minigames. Also new was the developer commentary nodes, adding even more replayability to an already enormously replayable game, and the inclusion of all DLC. The Director’s Cut was also available on other formats, but required an external device for second screen capabilities – thus making this the easiest version to play.
In my humble opinion, one of the best zombie games ever made – it’s a true testament to Ubisoft’s talents that it’s launch game remained one of the best throughout the Wii U’s life. ZombiU used the GamePad to amazing effect, requiring the player to sort their gear in real-time, in addition to acting as a scanner to find hidden details in a world that existed outside the TV, and leaving messages for other players online. Death was a severe punishment, causing you to awaken as a new character – who is then forced to hunt down the zombified version of your previous protagonist in order to get their stuff back. Truly intense stuff – especially in the no-death mode!