The Wii U is often touted by critics as a failure. It’s one of the worst-selling consoles in Nintendo history, totaling at about 13.5 million in sales, and it was quietly discontinued around the same time that the Switch debuted. Nintendo routinely struggled to differentiate it from its direct predecessor, with its ads and games library not feeling distinct enough to avoid feeling like a Wii v2.0. It’s a shame because, honestly, I think the Wii U deserved better.
The Wii U was first unveiled at E3 2011, with a launch date of late 2012. The selling point was, obviously, its controller, which allowed for touchscreen-style gameplay. It enabled gamers to play games on the controller directly, provided that they were within a certain radius of their TV. Speaking as someone who got the console late and secondhand, it’s disappointing that this idea never amounted to much. It was basically a console that doubled as a handheld around the house! What wasn’t to like?
Think about it: Here was a console that basically operated as a tablet controller. If you wanted to play a game, but your sibling wanted to watch TV, guess what? You could now do both (usually)! No more worrying about stopping a Mario or Zelda game for someone else; simply transfer your screen to the tablet and plug in headphones. Easy peasy!
I think that’s what gravitated me to the Wii U most. I remember the days of the Wii, constantly sacrificing my game time because my brother wanted to watch hockey or use the treadmill. It was annoying. So to have a controller that was also the screen meant he could watch TV without me having to shut off my Wii U.
It helped that the console had some solid titles to boot. The Wii U’s library was small, and many of its titles ended up being ported to the 3DS and Switch, but I still hold that the definitive way to play Sm4sh or Yoshi’s Wooly World was on the Wii U. There was a certain level of interactivity to the Wii U’s library that, honestly, wasn’t replicable on Nintendo’s handheld. Especially with a bigger game like Pikmin 3, which was practically built for it!
It plays Wii games, too!
Then there was the console’s backwards-compatibility feature. The Wii U, like its direct predecessor, was capable of playing every game in the last generation’s library, no hiccups to be had. Considering that I had close to 40 Wii titles, a record high for all the consoles that I’ve ever had, the options were wide-reaching. You basically had two consoles for the price of one, which meant that you could always go back to Wii titles whenever there was a Wii U drought. Having the option to play my favorite Wii games in full HD was always a blast, and even now I still take full advantage of that.
But perhaps the real legacy of the Wii U was its little innovations, many of which can now be seen with the Switch: around-the-house gaming? Check. A separate screen that minimally sacrifices the quality of the resolution? Check. Interactivity with previous-generation controllers? Check. We take much of this for granted now, especially with the Switch’s on-the-fly gaming features, but back in 2012 this was a big deal!
But what about the marketing?
It’s merely a shame that Nintendo, and third-party developers, didn’t fully capitalize on this. Tent pole releases kept getting spaced out more and more, with several of them eventually getting ported over to Switch for better sales after the fact. It also didn’t help that advertising for the Wii U wasn’t that much different than for the Wii, either. It wanted to maintain its huge, mostly casual gaming audience that the Wii enjoyed while enticing back some hardcore gamers it may have lost, but Nintendo did so with advertising that didn’t make it clear enough that Wii U was a new console. (“Is it just a new controller?”)
This lack of differentiation is what really killed the Wii U in sales. It’s not like Nintendo hasn’t released consoles in the past that weren’t upgrades of previous ones (see the Super Nintendo and the Game Boy Advance), but they also made sure to market them as radically different consoles. I could instantly tell you what made the SNES unique from the NES based on commercials alone. I could never have done that with the Wii U.
In the end, the Wii U ended up becoming another blip in Nintendo’s history. But for the diehards who stubbornly held onto it, like me, there really wasn’t anything like it out there. So while the Wii U might’ve been a “failure” in Nintendo’s eyes, I have a soft spot for it. And nothing can change that.