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What Went Wrong With The Wii U?

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the video games industry as we know it today would not exist if it weren’t for Nintendo, who’ve had a hand in some of the most important innovations and ideas that we now take for granted as staples. But in spite of being among the oldest and one of the most high profile names in the industry, Nintendo have had quite a few slip-ups, and major ones at that.

But there is no failure in Nintendo’s that is bigger and more severe than the console known as Wii U. Coming off the back of the Wii, which sold gangbusters and remains to this day as one of the highest selling systems ever made, the Wii U was instead a colossal failure, barely managing to get into the double digits in terms of how many million units it sold, and completely failing to permeate the larger audiences the way Nintendo would have hoped they would.

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There were multiple reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest and gravest sin Nintendo committed was with their muddled and confused messaging. Really, the system’s name itself is emblematic of that- the Wii U was something that, for those not in the know and not ingrained in the industry, sounded like an add-on to the Wii, and considering how big the Wii was with more casual audiences, did Nintendo really expect them to be in the know? It was really the basic things that Nintendo failed at- from the name to the colour scheme of the system to even the logo, to the casual eye, the Wii U looked like like it was to the Wii what, say, the DSi had been to the DS. And why would anyone spend $299 on what they believed was an incremental system upgrade?

Another major factor to consider is hardware power- Nintendo made it pretty clear with the Wii that they would no longer be going for having the most powerful system on the market. Not even close. Their focus was going to be on cheaper hardware that they could sell at lower prices, which wouldn’t try to produce the best looking games on the market. With the Wii U, that is exactly what they did once again, with the PS4 and the Xbox One pushing the envelope for what a home console could do, and the Wii U instead opting to go for a gimmick in the form of a tablet controller.

It’s not like the tablet controller was a bad idea- executed well, it could have been an excellent tool. But its execution was sloppy- the tablet was heavy and ungainly, it had to be within very short range of the system to be able to work, and it also worked to the detriment of other hardware capabilities of the system (while it was also a factor in Nintendo not slashing prices as much or as frequently as they could for the Wii U- which obviously wasn’t ideal either). Nintendo, in all their wisdom, also decided that people couldn’t purchase separate Gamepad controllers, so if you wanted another one besides the one that came with your system, you would have to go to Nintendo directly, rather than being able to purchase one from stores. Stupidly high prices only made it that much worse.

Mario vs Donkey Kong

But what made it even worse was the fact that Nintendo never really leveraged the Gamepad all too well. Sure, there were some games that made pretty good use of it- Super Mario Maker, Splatoon, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, ZombiU were all games that utilized the Gamepad and its unique potential really well. But Nintendo never really bothered to take things a step beyond “decent”, nor did they encourage other developers to do so.

In fact, Nintendo didn’t really encourage other developers to do much of anything. Third party support is something that Nintendo has had a spotty track record with for a while, and with the Wii U, it was at its lowest. There were some ports of last-gen games – like Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City – and sure, they were good. But, well, they were ports of last gen games, and as far as current third party support went the Wii U was severely lacking.

In the absence of third party support or even support from indie developers, the onus was on Nintendo to have a steady output of excellent first party games. In retrospect, if you put down Nintendo’s exclusive titles on the Wii U on paper, there’s no denying that there was a lot of good stuff. Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country Freeze, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros., Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, Xenoblade Chronicles X- that’s a solid lineup of games no matter how you look at it.

Where the issue really lay, though, was with the pacing of these releases. While cumulatively Nintendo did put out a lot of great games on the Wii U, there were far too many long stretches of drought where there were no good or major releases on the system to speak of, stretches that couldn’t even be filled in with notable third party or indie releases, because – as we’ve already discussed – there simply were none of those.

One only needs to take look at how Nintendo has handled the Switch to see just how much of a course correction the company needed after the major stumble that was the Wii U, because really, the Switch is major course correction- one that aggressively counteracts all the major mistakes the Wii U made. From the get go, Nintendo was very clear with its messaging regarding what the Switch was and what it wanted to be, while the system itself had a very solid and distinct sense of identity. Right out the gate, Nintendo also supported it with some excellent games, which continued almost on a monthly basis for a good while, and by the time we entered 2018 and Nintendo’s output slowed down, the Switch had also become a haven for indie games, while also attracting some decent third party support.

The likes of Ubisoft and Bethesda have been supporting the Switch better than anyone could have imagined they would do for a Nintendo system a few years back. Indie titles have found a new home on the Switch, with the likes of Stardew Valley, Hollow Knight, and Dead Cells – to name just a few – having been wildly successful on the system. Its form factor is well thought out, its UI (unlike the Wii U’s) is fast and simple- all of these are things that simply weren’t true for the Wii U.

There’s an argument to be made that were it not for the Wii U and its ideas with its unique tablet controller, the Switch simply wouldn’t exist- and yes, that is true. Nintendo deserves a lot of credit for turning things around as drastically as it has done, following up on what is their biggest high profile failure to date with what might be one of their most successful systems ever, by the time it’s coming to the end of its life cycle. If nothing else, we can at least give credit to the Wii U for helping Nintendo identify and learn from its mistakes.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.

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