Kris Godwin / Tue 7th Feb 2017
105 views / 1 bite
The Wii U.
Depending on who you ask, Nintendo's beleaguered console was either a superb failure that was too far ahead of its time in some ways, or a confused product that was technologically outdated.
For me personally, I'm inclined to think it was both.
Ever since its odd unveiling at E3 2011, the Wii U was a machine plagued with uncertainty. An attempt to continue the immense success of the Wii, Nintendo never seemed sure of just what exactly their next-generation product was supposed to offer.
Initially, the Kyoto-based corporation wanted to woo back the 'hardcore' gamers that felt burned by the Wii (justifiable or not), whilst espousing the wonders of its two-screened 'asynchronous' gameplay.
At the same time, this odd message was further muddied by the Frankenstein-esque desire to be all things to all people - not only would this new gameplay be dependent on certain software, the asynchronism would be disabled for 'off TV play', and the GamePad itself looked like a bulky monstrosity, with a million buttons and every kind of whiz-bang tech crammed in its 500g frame.
Truly, the Wii U lacked the razor-sharp focus, and simplicity of the Wii - and a seeming lack of killer games certainly didn't help matters.
After its release, these concerns continued. Whilst it had a strong financial start (as consoles usually do), the user experience was decidedly low-key. Two versions with differing HDD space caused needless indecision. A day-one update was required to implement all of the promised features, with many reports of bricked consoles (thanks to Nintendo's lacklustre digital unpacking method).
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 genuine must-have.
This was a recurring theme for the next four years. Outside of a handful of titles, the asynchronous potential of the GamePad was never unlocked, with most devs preferring to use it as a map or inventory screen.
It's main selling point really became the ability to play games, watch movies and browse the net without the TV - but tablets soon made inroads into people's lives, rendering much of its capabilities obsolete.
Third parties, too, were another sad story. Perhaps the weakest line-up in Nintendo history, initial promises of "unprecedented partnerships" (thanks, EA) resulted in half-hearted ports and delayed software (the Rayman Legends fiasco) that finally gave way to non-existent support.
Through a combination of weaker hardware and lack of viable audiences, it was mostly up to Nintendo, a few Japanese third parties and independents to prop-up the poor console.
However, it wasn't all doom and gloom. 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.
Of course, Nintendo led the pack. A cursory look at the best Wii U games of all time shows that the industry stalwart hasn't lost its touch. Though software was initially slow out of the gate (HD development difficulty cited as the reason), soon we were blessed with amazing experiences like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Pikmin 3, DK: Tropical Freeze, Wind Waker HD, Twilight Princess HD, Yoshi Woolly World, Captain Toad, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Hyrule Warriors, Pokken Tournament 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.
There were even some great third party titles, with Bayonetta 1 & 2, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Wonderful 101, Skylanders, LEGO, Need for Speed Underground, Monster Hunter 3, Resident Evil Revelations, Injustice, Darksiders Warmastered Edition, Deus Ex, Project Zero, Minecraft, Sonic Lost World and Sonic & All-Stars Racing.
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.