With the reveal of the Switch and the announcement of ceased Wii U production, we can now reflect on this puzzling Nintendo era.
Coming off the wild mainstream success of the plucky Wii (101 million for 5th all-time), Nintendo attempted to bring the hardcore gamer with the promise of more powerful system. Although the Wii U was “at least as powerful” as a PS3, it was again dwarfed by the XB1/PS4 that came just one year later. This meant core gamers would have to look elsewhere for cutting-edge games.
Nintendo’s biggest issue was losing the mainstream install-base they must have assumed would follow over. Keeping the Wii U backwards compatible for both software and hardware were consumer-friendly functions but the army of Wii-owners were not typical gamers.
A large problem was branding it the Wii U. This was an era of peripheral overload. There was a variety of Wiimote housings like steering wheels and guns, the Wii Fit board, and not to mention the guitars and drums that came along with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The name Wii U simply sounded like another add-on or perhaps an Edutainment game like Brain Age for Nintendo’s handheld DS.
In reality, a large percentage of Wii owners purchased the system for novelty games like Wii Sports (82 million) and Wii Fit (22 million), while staying away from more traditional titles (Mario Galaxy sold just 12 million).
Zelda is an interesting measuring stick for Nintendo consoles. Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword sold seven and four million respectively on the Wii. These aren’t terrible numbers, but when you think that’s just over 10% of the install base, it doesn’t look good.
Ocarina of Time sold the same seven million as Twilight Princess (Wii), but reached a more impressive 21% of the 32 million N64 owners.
This was a round-a-bout way of saying that casual Wii owners were not automatically buying a Wii U.
That’s not to say that it isn’t worth buying one now if you find a nice price. I’m a huge fan of the Wii U’s tablet you can play while a house-mate uses the TV, and am very happy to see Nintendo evolve that feature into the completely mobile Switch.
If you pick up a Wii U make sure to grab Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8, two incredibly fun games that look beautiful regardless of console power. Splatoon and Smash Bros are must-plays for any multiplayer fans. Bayonetta 2 is a stellar action experience, and Super Mario Maker is slam-dunk for the builder. If you’re into lonnnnnnnnnnng RPGs, pick up Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (reviewed here).
A console’s sales is not the be-all indicator of its quality. The Dreamcast sold poorly and is universally loved by those who played it. There’s still hours of fun to be had with a Wii U, and we’ll look back more fondly on it as the years go by.
Nintendo is porting some of the best Wii U titles to the Switch (Splatoon, Smash) so they’ll get a second chance at relevancy. This also means that Nintendo is stopping their long-running tradition of backwards compatibility, which I think is a good step forward.
Do you have any closing thoughts for the Wii U?