Big surprise the Wii U is a failure. Nintendo’s little console that couldn’t it stood as a testament to everything Nintendo did wrong. But, while it was not the most successful console in the market the Wii U had some of the greatest scoring titles this generation. Taking a look back it’s easy to see why the console flopped, but did the Wii U truly deserve the unceremonious burial it received? A lot of gamers out there would like to say yes, however some Nintendo fans would beg to differ.
The Wii U launched during the year 2012 and its release was a strange one to say the least. Within six weeks of release Nintendo managed to sell around 800,000 units which is certainly respectable. But, problems arose as Nintendo keep missing it’s estimated sales each quarter while eroding the trust of investors everywhere. Sales for the Wii U slowed down as gamers noticed that that games were slowly releasing and barely any of these titles were noteworthy or exclusives to the system. 39 physical games released between launch and New Years Day for the Wii U. Yet, it took 3 months for another batch of software to release on the console starting with The Amazing Spiderman game that was simply an updated edition of a June 2012 title. Needless to say this didn’t inspire faith in consumers…
The Nintendo drought continued for months as the Wii U would receive a few titles in batches sporadically and without rhyme or reason. The summer/fall months saw some morale boosters in the form of Pikmin 3, The Wind Waker HD, New Super Luigi U and Super Mario 3D World, but other exclusives titles such as Wonderful 101 went largely ignored. At this point 3rd party developers started noticing that the shovelware tactic which was popularized on the Wii would not work and even Nintendo themselves started releasing a sleuth of casual games that did not enjoy the success they did in the aforementioned console. Yet, in-spite of this lackluster year and Nintendo’s own operating at a loss the fans kept their hopes up for a savior in the following year.
2014 would be Nintendo’s strongest year for the Wii U. This was the year that Smash Brothers, Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 1 and 2 all released. Fans everywhere rejoiced as sales for the Wii U increased rather dramatically, but this streak would not continue forever as the period between each of these games would see even more dry-spells and 3rd party product sales dwindling. But, Nintendo had an ace up it’s sleeve and for the first time ever it released it’s own figurine set with the explosively popular Amiibo.
The following year would only see 3 major releases titles all critically acclaimed and they were Splatoon, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Super Mario Maker. The Amiibo had been selling like hotcakes and investors were once again happy the stock doubled and everyone kept thinking that it was only up from here. Except there was one little problem with Nintendo’s hopes. Literally no other Wii U titles were of any importance and even the 3rd party Fatal Frame title that was begged for by fans saw only a digital release. This would also be the year were the critically panned Amiibo Festival an Animal Crossing title nobody asked for was launched and quickly flopped. Minecraft would also see a release on a Nintendo console during 2015, but at this point it had launched on every other console beforehand. Yet, the excitement was dwindling quick and Nintendo had to think fast as sales continually slowed down. Nintendo placed their bets in 2016 and their Amiibo’s.
Sadly 2016 would not be the savior the Wii U was hoping for. Nintendo kept making mistakes as Amiibo shipments continued to be lower than the demand could keep up. Scalpers were making hundreds selling Amiibos at a profit and only a few titles were garnering hype around this year. Pokken Tournament and Twilight Princess HD were successful, but other titles such as Star Fox Zero crashed as the control schemed long with unnecessary changes to the formula made for a game which was panned by the critics. The long awaited Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensei called Tokyo Mirage Session #FE flopped around the world and Paper Mario Color Splash failed to make a large enough splash to do anything for the already dying console. There was only one game left announced that could have made any difference.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had been getting delayed since 2015. A lot was riding on this game’s success, but Nintendo kept delaying it and nobody could figure out the real reason for it until… it was announced that Nintendo was working on the Wii U’s successor under the pretense that it would not replace the Wii U. At this point fans started speculating that Nintendo was saving the next Zelda for the newer console and they were half right. It turned out Nintendo was simultaneously developing the new Zelda on the Switch and for that reason they did not release it on the Wii U. Fans felt betrayed as their trust was completely torn between their favorite game maker and their desire to play a Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo eventually said it had shipped its last Wii U console at the end of 2016 and that their new Nintendo Switch would eventually overtake the Wii U.
It was uncelebrated passing for a console that was rejected by many. The Wii U managed to sell about 13M copies worldwide and while it had 725 titles released only 293 were exclusives and 53 of these were retail releases. It’s hard to believe that Nintendo went through some of the worst years of it’s company with the Wii U and still managed to not learn anything. Admittedly the Wii was a tough act to follow and might have been more of a shooting star than grounds for a follow-up console. Perhaps if you look at your library of Wii U games you’ll also notice that the majority of the titles bought for it are listed in this very article. Which is part of the problem that companies have with Nintendo. 3rd Party games don’t sell very well in Nintendo, but when the choices are: Super Mario 3D World vs The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths the answer is clear. It was thanks to this that eventually the Wii U flopped as badly as it did.
It’s clear that Nintendo could not sustain itself within the ever changing gaming environment with the Wii U. But, thanks to the Wii U Nintendo created one of its greatest IP’s ever with Splatoon. The console saw a consistent release of high scoring titles and even the Amiibo were developed originally for use with the Wii U tablet. Some of Nintendo’s most epic games were released on this console that despite it’s shortcoming had an amazing library. While it was certainly not numerous titles like Mario Kart 8, Smash Brothers, Pikmin 3, Bayonetta 2 along with others were incredible and will be fondly remembered by gamers.
If I had to guess eventually the Wii U will be vindicated by history similar to how the GameCube was. Gamers can be fickle and history tends to be a lot more forgiving than the present. While the Wii U was indeed a failure its easy to pick up a good title by Nintendo and remember what made you purchase it in the first place. Certainly not the success Nintendo was hoping for it showed us that when the company feels cornered it will pull all the stops. Hopefully once the debacle with the Nintendo Switch is cleared up and people determine whether that console succeeds or fails will Nintendo decide what to make of itself. It’s clear that whatever they keep trying lately is not working and unless they choose to learn from the Wii U they will continue to repeat their mistakes.
Nintendo either needs to expand and buy a larger share of 1st and 2nd party developers to make games more readily available or choose to finally go 3rd party themselves. Of course while Nintendo has denied ever going this route, this company has a promise to upkeep with its investors. It will be sad to see the day the Mario Maker closes its doors, but as always a little tough love never hurt anybody.