Pouring One Out for the Wii U

The Nintendo Switch is currently the hot commodity in the gaming industry. The general population hasn’t been this excited about Nintendo since the Wii came out eleven years ago. There are still massive lineups to buy them in Japan.
I was a little more fortunate and picked up a Switch rather easily this weekend. Once I had unpacked the box and set up the console, I was faced with a conundrum – I was out of HDMI inputs in my home theatre system, and something needed to go.

Ultimately, it was the Wii U that took the fall, and I couldn’t help but feel something like guilt as I uncoiled its wires from the nest behind my TV stand.

I adopted the system rather early in its lifespan and sank far more time into it than the Wii; hell, perhaps more than the Wii and GameCube combined. In recent times it’s fallen into disuse, but there are still games I never checked out for it, and other games I pop in regularly to get the dust off the system.

The gaming industry failed the Wii U, ultimately, not the other way around. Its release was quiet. Perhaps Nintendo shot themselves in the foot right out of the gate by making it sound like a redesigned Wii instead of a new system in its own right. Despite its strong start, the Wii became synonymous with gimmicky motion controls and crappy licensed games for kids by the end of its lifespan. The name was a death sentence; it was awkward, and too closely associated with its disgraced predecessor. Even now I grimace every time I type its name. Why did you have to make it so ugly, Nintendo?

But the games were terrific. Smash Bros 4 alone will keep its ghost somewhat relevant for some time (at least until the inevitable Switch re-release hits). Mario Kart 8 was a breath of fresh air for the franchise. Splatoon was a fresh, original IP for Nintendo – imagine that! The Mario family of games were the most interesting entries in their franchises since at least the N64. Hyrule Warriors was a somewhat niche title but one that warranted a 3DS follow-up, and swallowed about 150 hours of my life.

Most of these gems didn’t manage to make the big impact that the system needed to really take off, somehow. Not even Smash Bros and the Amiibo craze could bring the Wii U out of the shadow it was born under. (In fact, it’s strange that the Wii U has done so poorly, given the success of those two things alone.)

Fortunately, the system has been proven a successful experiment by the Switch. Just as the Wii U was an evolution of the Wii, the Switch is an evolution of the Wii U. The gamepad clearly inspired the portable conversion of the Switch; the new system is less shackled to the TV, and the reconfigurable controller schemes are a smoother version of the Wii U’s expansive peripheral library. In a way, the more successful the Switch is, the better the Wii U is reflected.

And so far, much of the Switch’s library is heavily influenced by the Wii U’s. Breath of the Wild was made for Switch but is feasible on the Wii U; Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essentially a “Gold Edition” of the original; Splatoon 2 is like a glorified port with new features; Pokken Tournament is on the way later this year; and Nintendo has already stated that we’re likely to see more Wii U games appear on the Switch. I’m frankly shocked that a Smash Bros port hasn’t been announced yet.

(And if you’re listening, Nintendo, please port over Tokyo Mirage Sessions.)

The Wii U got a bad rap and was buried before its time. It may live on in the design and library of its replacement, but I was still remiss to unplug and directly replace it (even if I’m not getting rid of it, and it will have a place of honour in my game library from now on). Hopefully the Switch continues to have a good ride and doesn’t smoulder out as well.

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