The Wii U is on its death bed. One could argue it’s been this way for years, but the full reality of the end of this era has been upon us ever since the announcement of the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo hammering home that it is a home console first and foremost. Nintendo of Japan has now announced that the Wii U is going out of production “soon”, which is the first official signal that the Wii U era is coming to a close.
To me, that means now is the best time to look back on what the Wii U was, why it failed, and how I’ll be remembering this system. Now, in the past I’ve stated quite publicly that the Wii U stands among my favorite consoles. Instead of re-explaining that reasoning, here is a Boss Man episode I did for Zelda Informer on this very topic:
However, the failure of a system like the SEGA Dreamcast and the failure of the Wii U (ironically, two systems that had some sort of screen in the controller) are not actually as relatable as some folks think. The Dreamcast wasn’t selling poorly during it’s lifespan. Released in September 1999, it sold 9.13 million units at retail until it was discontinued on March 31st, 2001. That means it sold roughly 6 million units per year, having been on store shelves for 1.5 years. That is higher than any year the Wii U was on store shelves. Extrapolate that to a typicical 5 year life cycle, and you could have seen sales upwards of 30 million. That’s not all too terrible, especially compared to the Wii U which will be on store shelves for about 4.5 years, but only has sales just north of 13 million, or roughly 3 million units per year. This makes their failure stories very different.
For SEGA, the Dreamcast’s failure wasn’t actually the Dreamcast’s fault. In actuality, it took SEGA so many hardware interations released in rapid succession to finally find a successful platform in the Dreamcast that unless the system lit the world on fire the way PlayStation 4 or Wii did during their first couple of years on the market, it was already earmarked for an early death before it even released. SEGA was already heading in a direction of needed change and a lacked the financial stability to wait out that era.
Nintendo’s Wii U was in a different stratosphere. Nintendo was coming off their most successful generation of hardware ever in terms of sales and profits, and the company has managed money so well over the years that they have enough money in the bank to withstand many sales failures for decades before reaching the same financial struggle SEGA found themselves in during the Dreamcast era. The Wii U’s relative sales failure instead can be attributed entirely to bad decision making and marketing from Nintendo themselves.
While I loved the GamePad, reality is that Nintendo’s own internal developers could rarely find an intuitive use of the GamePad that showed how it is advancing gaming forward. It felt like an idea they brought forth that really had no feedback from the developers at the company – which ultimately may be why the hardware and software divisions now rest under the same building. To tear down those barriers for communication.
It tried to advertise itself first as a console for “gamers”, while not offering the sort of beefy hardware those sort of gamers expected. They then quickly lost third party support before launch and tried hard to pivot their messaging back to the Wii’s blue ocean strategy, failing miserably to do so. The name itself was confusing, but even worse… all the advertising for the system hid the actual system, focusing instead on the GamePad which made people feel like it’s just an accessory to the Wii. It’s a reputation that still follows the system to this very day.
Due to the lack of third party support, the Wii U suffered some of the biggest game droughts in the history of Nintendo’s hardware, often going many months, sometimes half a year, between retail game releases. The Wii U failed in many ways to make itself appealing, with Nintendo’s current president openly admitting that he didn’t think the Wii U would be successful before it ever released.
All of this before touching on the complete fading off of the Wii brand Nintendo allowed to happen towards the end of the previous generation. Thus, for many of you it’s easy to remember the Wii U as a failure. A system with broken promises (No exclusive Zelda title, the end of game droughts, etc). Despite all of that negativity, I still see things in a completely different light.
Why the Wii U Will be Remembered Fondly by Me
At the end of the day, for all the faults the Wii U openly has (did we get into the online account mess yet? It just keeps getting worse), what matters most to me is content. To me, I’ll always remember the Wii U era for bringing Link into Mario Kart 8 (Animal Crossing too), the inventiveness of Splatoon, and the unique gameplay prospects of ZombiU and The Wonderful 101. I’ll remember the Wii U for having the best action game of this generation in Bayonetta 2 and possibly the best sidescrolling platformer in Tropical Freeze. I’ll remember all the amazing indie support and the various success stories associated, as Wii U owners flocked to the eShop craving new games to play.
It’s true that most if not all of the major games on Wii U will be ported and remastered on Nintendo Switch, likely becoming even better games for it, but I won’t forget where these games started. How Hyrule Warriors excited me in ways I didn’t think possible while Super Mario 3D World brought me and my girlfriend closer together, giving us a game we thoroughly enjoyed playing together until the very end.
I’ll always remember the many times I took the GamePad with me to the bathroom to continue gaming, or even the rare time while I took a bath (not a suggested way to use any electronic folks. Do as I say, not as I do!). Of course, that convenience ended once we moved out of the apartment and into a home last year. The complaints on communication distance became even clearer and more understanding. At the apartment I could still get a signal two floors down in the laundry room, but that was mostly attributed to really thin walls. At a proper house, you really couldn’t move outside of the room the system was in.
Still, I was able to game comfortably on my couch as my kids watched the latest Team Umizoomi or Spongebob. It’s a convenience I no longer need with a bigger home and multiple TVs, but one I will always appreciate for having at that given time (and it’s one, technically, the Nintendo Switch will still have).
While the only account system was far from perfect, I had a blast using Miiverse and conversing with fellow fans. I enjoyed the numerous talented individuals on display making the most of the limited artistic tools at their disposal. I loved that I never needed to pay to play online. It’s something I really never knew I wanted after getting use to just simply ponying up for Xbox Live. Yeah, PC gaming has always been free too to game online, but I just never viewed consoles in that light. Wii U made me appreciate that reality and hope for a better tomorrow.
Most importantly, the two primary controller methods just felt good. The GamePad was light enough to not cause fatigue and brilliantly designed for someone like me, who has rather big hands compared to my stature. The pro controller itself is arguably the best of the best. While it could have used analog triggers for greater accuracy and control, it’s hard to argue with a battery life that goes just over 80 hours on a single charge – literally no other wireless controller has ever given me that before. It’s also extremely comfortable and allowed me to have a seamless transition from GamePad to Pro Controller, and back again.
The Wii U isn’t perfect. Its flaws are perfectly stated by many in the industry and completely correct and agreeable. I can’t deny the system’s many pitfalls. But for me, for this singular gamer, it provided exactly what I wanted and needed for a short period of time in my life when I needed that little something different. I am firmly ready to make the “switch”, all puns intended. Still, I’ll always fondly look back on the era of the Wii U as one of my favorite in all of gaming, because it gave me lasting memories of pure joy I’ll never forget.