Why the Nintendo Wii U is Actually Alright.

Let's not be too rough on the Wii U. Read why we should finally give the thing a chance, because contrary to what many think, it's not bad at all.

But let’s not pretend it is the best console of all time or even of this current generation, because let’s be realistic, it’s not. You know it, I know it and I suspect that although Nintendo would never admit it, they know it too.

At the same time, it’s not the shambles that people would like to think it is. If you tell anyone you own a Wii U, they’re likely to give you a condescending sneer and think you’re an idiot for ever daring to purchase the machine.

The Wii U is indicative of Nintendo’s struggle to maintain a foothold in a market they used to dominate thirty years ago. It is a sign of Nintendo coming to terms with the aftermath of their decision to cater towards the ‘casual gamer’ with the Wii, which led to the alienation of their core audience. When the Wii U was released, Nintendo found themselves abandoned by both the casual audience who discovered that a smart phone could offer a satisfying gaming experience, and the traditional Nintendo fans who felt betrayed by the decision to shift the focus away from key franchises such as Mario and Legend of Zelda, choosing instead to focus on motion-sensor games such as Wii Fit.

The launch of the Wii U was marred by both unfortunate timing and bizarre marketing. In a baffling announcement trailer which focused on the Wii U’s USP, the touch screen game pad, the actual console was hardly featured, leaving many to believe that the Wii U was a peripheral to the Wii console. This, coupled with the fact that both Sony and Microsoft launched their next generation consoles the following year, left the Wii U in a position to potentially become obsolete very quickly.

New Super Mario Bros U
New Super Mario Bros U was a launch game for the Wii U

When people learned the Wii U was actually a console, many saw little to no incentive to actually buy it at launch because there weren’t any enticing launch titles other than New Super Mario Bros U (2012). Every Wii U Deluxe with the 32 GB hard drive came as standard with a copy of Nintendo Land (2012), which was essentially a series of tech demos for the functionality of the game pad controller, functions which have never been fully utilised since. The basic pack, which was the 8 GB version, released with no games to play out of the box.

Nintendo were able to move units based on brand power, but did so at a floundering rate. Whilst the PlayStation 4 has sold around 37 million units and 19 million for the Xbox One, the Wii U has only just passed the 12 million mark in 2015, and that is with a year head start on them both.

There is an argument to be had that Nintendo has been flailing for a while now and if you take the motion sensor craze that surrounded the Wii out of the picture, Nintendo has never performed as well as Sony or Microsoft. Ignoring the Wii, their best-selling console was the Nintendo Entertainment System, and each system since then has sold less over each generation cycle, with the decline accelerating when Sony launched the PlayStation line.

Maybe it is just that gamers are demanding a more mature experience. Where Nintendo has always been positioned as a family orientated company, gamers who grew up on Nintendo graduated and found a new home with the PlayStation or Xbox, and began to play games such as Tomb Raider, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, which were starting to dominate the video game market. Tastes and sensibilities shifted and matured, and Nintendo was unable to keep up. This is blamed largely on their stubborn decision to stick with cartridges for the Nintendo 64, where they lost nearly all of their third-party support as developers opted to develop for the PlayStation, which used optical discs. They attempted to rectify this by moving to miniDVD for the Game Cube, but the damage had been done. Hardly any developers wanted to work with Nintendo.

There have been a lot of negatives points for what is supposed to be an argument for the Wii U being an alright console. Though it is important to discuss the negatives when trying to establish the positives. The Wii U may not have sold all that well but that doesn’t mean that it is bad.

The truth is, if there was ever a time to satisfy your curiosity and buy a Wii U; now is that time. It seems an odd thing to say with the rumoured new Nintendo console, code named NX, supposedly being released either in late 2016, or early 2017, but just ignore that for now, and give the Wii U a go anyway.

The experience that early adopters faced with a lack of software no longer exists, as there are tons of decent first-party games for the Wii U. Titles such as New Super Mario Bros U (2012), Legend of Zelda Windwaker HD (2013), Super Mario 3D World (2013), Yoshi’s Woolly World (2015), and Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze (2014), are just a few of the games you can pick up immediately.

This makes the Wii U distinct in the current console market as due to the lack of third party support, the majority of their games are exclusive.  Further to this, unlike the majority of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games that are released with bugs that have to be rectified by day one patches, Nintendo titles are released in immaculate condition with little to no issues at all. In essence, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are just the same console from a consumer perspective, give or take a slight difference in hardware and a few exclusive titles, as they release exactly the same games.

Some people would argue that the Wii U is under powered, but the Wii U is actually exactly where it needs to be given the software output. Games like Mario are not meant to be photo-realistic. It’s a game about an Italian plumber, who jumps on walking mushrooms and sometimes shoots fireballs when wearing white overalls. Nintendo is about family friendly, simplistic games that prioritise substance over style, although that is not to say Wii U games are unattractive. Far from it. Being Nintendo’s first HD console, seeing Mario in 1080P for the first time is a pretty nice sight.

Mario Cart 8 is Wii U's highest selling game with upwards of 7 million copie sold (as of April 2016)
Mario Cart 8 is Wii U’s highest selling game with upwards of 7 million copies sold (as of April 2016)

I’ll use two popular games as an example, being The Last of Us (2013) and Bloodborne (2015) which are narratively ambitious titles with mature themes. The Last of Us is a story about a broken man and a teenage girl making their way across post-apocalyptic America, so the art style would naturally be more realistic. Bloodborne, a Lovecraftian inspired dark-fantasy action role playing game set in a Victorian plague ridden city has a suitably rich and broody Gothic design. Mario is a game where your Princess is kidnapped and you have to fix that by jumping from one platform to another and sliding down a series of flagpoles. My point is, the art direction of a game needs to match the content, and Nintendo does this with each of their games.

I’m not trying to convince anyone that the Wii U is the better console because that is not the case. What I am trying to say is that the Wii U is not the disaster that everyone thinks it is and does not deserve to be written off. What Nintendo games do well is remind us why we got into video games in the first instance, because before development studios started to employ motion-capture techniques and have actual Screenwriters pen the stories, video games were about challenging puzzles where you worked towards one single, simple goal.

What the Wii line of consoles has shown is Nintendo’s attempt to adapt and survive in a market that they no longer control. If the Nintendo 64 and Game Cube could be seen as Nintendo having the arrogance to think they could not evolve and still maintain their core audience, then the Wii and Wii U was their attempt to innovate and grow a new audience by trying to entice people with little interest in video games, and develop them into serious gamers who would carry on purchasing Nintendo products. Though sadly, that was not the case, and this new audience they tried to court did not show the loyalty that Nintendo have experienced in the past. Where Nintendo expected to open the doors for their Wii audience to return and pick up a Wii U, they were greeted with indifference and were left blinking wildly into the cold, harsh sunlight of the current home console market.

Sure the Wii U is has a weird UI and the functionality of the game pad controller has been under-utilised, but it’s an alright console with some great games. If anything, it serves well as a second console for when you want to have a different experience to the heavy, narrative focused PlayStation 4 or Xbox One games. I mean, let’s face it, if you go out and buy both a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One, then I can’t see how you will be able to distinguish one experience from the other.

Or you might just think I’m a Nintendo fanboy and dismiss my entire argument. But you know what, that’s alright too.

Discussion feed

Up next in games