Welcome to Part Four of a Five part series on the Wii U. Part Three can be found here, any comments and critiques would be greatly appreciated also! Enjoy!
The problem with writing a series about a failed console is, unfortunately, you kind of run out of things to talk about. What transpired on the Wii U between 2014 and 2016 is a tale of wonderful creativity met with incredible apathy. While Nintendo worked away at some of the finest games ever committed to a console of theirs, public interest had dwindled to a point of no return.
Despite having a year’s head start, Nintendo had failed to steal a march on their rivals. And by the time Christmas 2013 rolled around, attention from video game fans across the globe had turned to the launch of Sony and Microsoft’s latest offerings.
The position that left Nintendo in, however was one of relative uncertainty. The Wii U didn’t fail because of the power under the hood, but it certainly didn’t help. In a post-financial crisis world, many gaming folk couldn’t afford to fund two consoles. There simply wasn’t as much money in 2013 as there was in 2016, so many were forced to settle on one system, and people are more likely to settle a machine that can play it all rather than the system that can play only some of it.
I did a run-down type piece in the last part of this series, so I kind of want to avoid that here. So I’ve settled on a year by year, from 2014 to present. Hopefully it works. Let me know if it doesn’t.
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
- Mario Kart 8
- Hyrule Warriors
- Bayonetta 2
- Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
2014 was the year people realised that saving the Wii U was an impossible, thankless task. Heading into 2014, Nintendo had notched up just shy of 6 million units. Comparatively, the original Wii managed over 20 million. So…yeah. 2014 represented a shift in focus for Nintendo, in which they stopped aggressively courting gamers who weren’t planning on buying a Wii U, and attempted to speed up the decision of those still on the fence. Sales of the console weren’t particularly strong through 2014, however they seemed to stay the course from year one.
Selling at a slow, steady pace, the Wii U managed to strike a chord with its existing audience. Despite its poor console sales, software sales were far healthier. Mario Kart 8, in particular, is owned by 63% of Wii U owners, as of today. While the support for the console was in short supply, the software being released for it was selling well in relation to the units in the wild.
Nintendo entered the “toys to life” market with their line of Amiibo toys: statues that had a computer chip in the bottom that could be used to create a character and save their progress. Originally released as a Super Smash Bros tie in, Amiibo’s have found their way into just about every major title on the Wii U since. To date, 39 million Amiibo statues, and 30 million Amiibo cards, have been sold. So that’s one way to replenish your bank balance.
- Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
- Yoshi’s Woolly World
- Super Mario Maker
- Xenoblade Chronicles X
- Minecraft: Wii U Edition
Yeah I really had to stretch the definition of a “major title” with this year. 2015 was the year Nintendo moved focus away from the Wii U and towards their then rumoured “NX” console. 2015 was also the year my interest dropped completely. I didn’t pick up a single Wii U title that year, and the only time I switched the console on was to play through Epic Mickey, a Wii title.
The only real lasting big hitter for the Wii U this year was Splatoon; Nintendo’s attempt at an online shooter. Replacing semi automatic rifles for water guns filled with paint, with an emphasis on painting the environment rather than your opponents, Splatoon was a surprise hit. Nintendo appear to recognise there’s a chance at a last IP with this one, and already have a Switch-exclusive sequel in the works, slated for Q2/Q3 2017.
By 2015 we all kind of knew the end was calling for the Wii U. We didn’t have anything other than a hunch, but it was clearly when, rather than if. This mindset resonated with consumers as well, as the Wii U sold just under 3 and a half million units in 2015, down on the year before, and the race was essentially run for the poor thing at that point. All that was left was one last lap, for old times sake.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
- Pokken Tournament
- Star Fox Zero
- Paper Mario: Colour Splash
Slim pickings in 2016, mainly because Nintendo had shifted its resources into developing for a weird new console where the controller was the screen, and you could take your game anywhere, and still hook it up to your TV? Nah me neither. Even the Zelda title made with the Wii U in mind was being ported onto the NX, and would miss its 2016 launch date, in similar fashion to Twilight Princess in 2006.
Speaking of Twilight Princess, one of the darkest entries in the Zelda timeline had been remade ala The Wind Waker HD. Twilight Princess was a strange one for me; I’d always liked it but I’d never held much affection for it. Certainly no more than than Wind Waker, or Ocarina of Time, or even Skyward Sword, but it was a fine Zelda title. Getting a HD update, with amiibo support, certainly made the game worth replaying through once more.
The other three titles on the list were games released almost as fan service, yet managed to divide their respective fanbases? Pokken was a joint attempt between Nintendo and Bandai Namco, the people behind Tekken, to make a fighting game with Pokemon characters. By all accounts it was well good, but, again, I’d really not played my Wii U much at that stage. Star Fox Zero was an attempt to reboot the franchise, but control issues appears to mar the experience. Paper Mario: Colour Splash (yes, colour is spelled with a “u”) was another step away from the RPG style that made it a favourite among Nintendo fans. Possibly very funny, however, again, I’ve not played it, so I can’t comment.
With just under a million units sold in 2016, the Wii U went out with little more than a wimper. The Nintendo Switch officially announced in October, the Wii U had been shelved without ever truly realising its potential.
An emotional overview
And it’s a shame. The Wii U, when it was clicking, was a fantastic piece of kit. In many ways, the Wii U reminds me of the Gamecube: poor sales on the hardware front didn’t mar the quality of the software, with Nintendo operating at a wonderfully creative level.
Nintendo never gave the Wii U a proper chance to succeed. Struggling to gain any momentum after a horrific stumble out of the gate, they proceeded to stumble over every comically placed rake surrounding them, before falling into a bale of hay.
The Wii U will be remembered as a failure, but, among its supporters, will be held with great fondness. I’ve packed my Wii U up already, and it has to be said I was kinda sad as I did. It’s a shame it didn’t catch on, as I did really like it. And I hope the Switch doesn’t suffer the same fate.
If you’ve got a Wii U, and are looking to get a few more months of play from it, or are thinking of picking one up on the cheap, I hope I’ve given you a few options over the past few pieces. If you do choose to look into it, please consider following my Amazon Associates link here. It doesn’t add any money to your final cost, but Amazon give me a small cut, which will be used to help grow the site.
In the final part, I’m gonna be looking at what the Switch, and Nintendo, can learn from the Wii U. I hope you’ve enjoyed it up until this point!