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It’s officially been four years since Nintendo launched its 8th-generation home system, the Wii U. After the surprising worldwide success of the Wii, the Big N seemed confident introducing its new system as the successor to the mega console. The Wii U was introduced with the slogan: “How U Will Play Next”, offering a unique experience by means of the high-tech Gamepad controller. The Wii U has provided me with dozens upon dozens of hours of sheer enjoyment, but not even I can deny that its four year lifespan has been nothing short of disappointing.
I was able to purchase a Wii U in December of 2012, so I was there from the very beginning. It was exciting to be one of the first people to own the system, and I expected to eventually a see a number of them in the wild. If you created a product that sold as great as the Wii did, you’d most likely want to try and replicate it. That’s exactly what Nintendo tried to do with the Wii U. Ironically, it’s because ‘Wii’ was in the name that many people overlooked the system.
While the Wii managed to become a worldwide phenomenon, it ultimately wasn’t as successful as most thought it was. True, it sold over 100 million units and just about everyone knew what it was, but the casual crowd that was primarily responsible for allowing it to achieve that status was not wholly invested in it. For most Wii owners, their time with it was just a phase. It was all fun and games at first, but eventually they got bored and either tossed it in the closet or kept it sitting in their entertainment hub collecting dust. As a result, the announcement of the Wii U did not trigger much of a reaction from this crowd because they were already over the ‘Wii’ craze.
In addition to the casual crowd ignoring the system, the hardcore gamers deliberately dismissed the Wii U. Nintendo lost a lot of influence on this part of the market long before the Wii U even came into the picture, so their reaction to the system was not too surprising. At the time of the Wii U’s reveal, both the PS3 and 360 were still very active, which made things even harder for the console. Nintendo tried its best to convince consumers that the Wii U was a great console for both families and core gamers, but ultimately it was really only the company’s loyal fans that paid the most attention and bought the system. Third-party support has not been a big thing on Nintendo’s home platforms since the days of the SNES, but it seemed like things were going to change with the Wii U. In the beginning, many big developers proudly declared that they were ecstatic about the system and were working hard on various projects for it. As a result, the Wii U’s first year wasn’t too bad when it came to third-party support, but the situation quickly deteriorated. Once developers started seeing that neither the console nor their games were selling very well, they began to leave en mass. It ultimately didn’t take very long for the majority of the system’s third-party support to only consist of spotty releases from casual-oriented franchises like LEGO, Skylanders and Just Dance.
The Wii U’s third-party support started off good, but gradually turned into a spectacular wreck.
Indeed, the Wii U had a rough life early on and things never really did get better. The console’s sales dropped like a rock after the initial holiday rush, and its game catalog took forever to be filled. Developers whined and moaned about how hard it was to optimize their games and engines for the system, and retailers were quick to eclipse the console’s existence once the PS4 and Xbox One came into the picture. All of these bad events made for a total field day for many gaming news websites. Doom-and-gloom content was rampant and the community just kept soaking it all up. Being a Wii U owner throughout all of this darkness and depression was certainly not an easy burden to bear, but thankfully, it wasn’t all bad.
Although there were a lot of problems with the system, Nintendo tried hard to enhance the experience. Software updates brought much needed improvements and surprising new functionality to the formerly clunky OS. Miiverse was a joy to use most of the time and created a true social space for gamers that never really existed before. The eShop was pretty basic at first, but gradually got a lot better as time went on. Not to mention the fact that the Internet Browser was one of the best ever seen on a console. But no doubt the biggest positive factor was the games.
While major new Wii U releases were usually few and far between, the majority of them proved to be worth the wait. From first-party offerings like Mario Kart 8, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Super Smash Bros., Dokey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World, to third-party treats like Need for Speed Most Wanted U, Rayman Legends, and Sonic Lost World, the Wii U’s selection of great games took a while to grow but it eventually ended up becoming something to marvel at. There were also quite a number of surprises like The Wonderful 101, LEGO City Undercover, Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors and Pokken Tournament; all of these were third-party exclusives that turned out to be really good compliments to Nintendo’s offerings. We also saw the Big N reach out of their comfort zone a bit with the creation of Splatoon. What started off as a seemingly forgetful experiment turned out to be one of the biggest new arrivals in the industry. The game has done outstandingly well considering its circumstances, not to mention the fact that it marks the first time that Nintendo has ever relied so heavily on online multiplayer. This game alone showed that the company was trying to move forward.
One area where the Wii U excelled was its exclusive library. It took a while for the collection to build up, but the result is a selection of amazing games.
Another remarkable note about the Wii U’s library is that its software attach rate for many games was atmospheric. While hardware sales remained low and slow for most of the system’s life, software sales of most first-party games and some third-party exclusives were relatively big. Take for instance the aforementioned Splatoon, it sold an astounding 4+ million units worldwide. For a new IP on a single platform, that’s really good. An even better example is Mario Kart 8, which sold 8+ million units worldwide on a system that has sold 13 million units. That figure shows that over half of the system’s install base own that game; simply amazing. Considering the fact that past entries like Mario Kart Super Circuit (GBA) didn’t even sell that much despite releasing on platforms with larger install bases shows just how well Mario Kart 8 performed.
Both of those games managed to sell very well, but there’s another common trait that they share: great DLC. Nintendo was a bit late to the party with a lot of things on Wii U (HD, proper online infrastructure, etc.), and DLC was definitely one of them. Even so, the company has done a great job at adopting the ‘new’ practice. DLC has been a bitter pill to swallow for a number of gamers over the past few years due to other developers abusing it, but Nintendo swooped in and completely changed the script. Splatoon was painfully light on content when it was released, but that problem was gradually fixed over the months with periodic free updates providing loads of new content. Mario Kart 8’s DLC required payment, but it packed in more than enough content. Two packs were released that featured new racers, karts, cups and tracks, and the both of them together were a mere $12. The sheer size of both packs equated to roughly half a new Mario Kart game, yet it wasn’t even priced at half the amount as the original game. Good guy, Nintendo!
The Wii U was definitely a troubled system, but it was still a good one. It was unloved by most of the gaming world, put down by developers and ignored by consumers, but it persevered. Although the PS4 and Xbox One completely stole its thunder in less than a year, that didn’t stop the system from providing millions of people from all over the world with fun, engaging and memorable experiences. As an early adopter, I will admit that I do feel a little slighted due to how things are ending. I think Nintendo should have tried its best to keep the momentum rolling instead of just dropping the system in the early half of this year. Wii U owners everywhere should be commended for their loyalty, and this is the opposite of that. Even so, there’s no used pouting over the past.
Despite its problems, the majority of Wii U owners adore the system.
As we look forward to the future, things are looking bright. The Nintendo Switch may just turn out to be the system that the Wii U should have been, and there’s even a chance it could achieve similar levels of success that the Wii did (to an extent) if Nintendo plays its cards right. I’m excited and will definitely be buying the system, despite the mishaps of the Wii U. I hope that Nintendo has learned from its mistakes and will ensure that all the problems that the Wii U encountered, the Switch will totally avoid. I hope that four years from the Switch’s release, I wouldn’t be writing a similar piece as this one; talking about how the system has had major downfalls, and trying to suss out the positive highlights. Only time will tell.
In the end, I love the Wii U. It lived a relatively short and definitely hard life, but it’s been a good run nonetheless. Nothing can erase the games that were released and occupied the lives of millions of people from all over the world. This console won’t be remembered as the greatest system of all time, but maybe one day people will look back and will then appreciate all of the good things that came out of this console.
Farwell, Wii U. It’s been real.