used properly, Nintendo was really onto something with this tech
The fact that so many console exclusives now find themselves on the Switch is a credit to the quality of the games. What if Breath of the Wild had only come out on Wii U? Would it still be a fantastic game? Heck yeah! Would it have had the impact that it did? No way. Sure, there were a couple of missteps – Twilight Princess remains a boring Zelda game, HD or not (don’t @ me, please) – and most third-party studios did only the bare minimum to support the GamePad, but the overall hit rate on first-party titles really was something.
And this isn’t even to mention the Wii sorry (sorry) Virtual Console! I have had an absolute field day going through the eShop and snatching up every title that I have been wanting to play for years but never got the chance to grab a physical copy. Yes, this was made all the more pressing by the knowledge that the Wii U eShop will be closing in the next few months and my time is therefore limited, but boy what a rush!
Of course, I can’t talk about Wii U games without at least touching on Nintendo Land. This is a weird one. It’s not quite Wii Sports, nor is it quite Wii Party, but it is a fantastic display of what the GamePad could be used for and had me and my willing friends in stitches with its uber-simple minigames.
Mario Chase remains a highlight and a prime candidate for party nights going forward, and while there are some games which feel like they are repeating the process a little too closely, there is enough variation to show that, used properly, Nintendo was really onto something with this tech. I’m still not quite sure what I was supposed to be doing with those coins and subsequent prizes, but I had a good time doing it all the same.
True, the GamePad is great when it works well, but when it doesn’t it is at best redundant, and at worst a weighty distraction. I played through a strange selection of games over the past month, some used the GamePad effectively (Rayman Legends, Twilight Princess) but others — many others — found no use for it. Quite why I was playing Assassins Creed III (a game series I generally cannot get behind) is beyond me, but seeing the GamePad subjected to being the home of a dull map with no care or detail paid to it made one thing very clear – this was a good bit of kit desperate for a purpose.
a piece of gaming history that is so brilliantly weird, I doubt we will ever see something as inventive again
That is perhaps the thing that I came back to more times than anything else in my last few weeks with the Wii U. I played up on my TV, at my desk, even in bed, but at no point did I feel like I knew what the console was trying to do. Is it a fun handheld? Yeah, kinda. Is it a fun home console? Yeah, kinda. But why be average at both when you could be really good at one?
Long before the Microsoft was boasting of Xbox One that ‘this console will play your games, it will stream your TV, it will massage your feet and it will do your taxes!’ the Wii U was kind of doing just that. It was much to my surprise to find a video camera, TV remote, streaming options, and a (defunct but cool-sounding) social media platform all built into a console which I had foolishly assumed was all about the games. I’d be intrigued to spy on a parallel universe in which the global pandemic happened five years earlier and mankind turned to the Wii U’s video chat to keep the economy running. Many of these features are not functional anymore ten years down the line, and the lack of direction seems like a bit of a mess (is this for games, for TV, for social media?) but the ambition is there. This is a brilliant mess indeed.
After a month of playing the console that I rejected for so many years, I don’t think it is fair to call the Wii U a failure (unless you are talking financially, in which case it is difficult to disagree). Yes, at the time it may have been a marketing disaster with some pretty big gaps between major game releases, and my heart goes out to all of the fans who stood diligently by it. However, now we can see it for what it truly is, a piece of gaming history that is so brilliantly, confusingly weird, I doubt we will ever see something as experimental and inventive again from one of the ‘big three’ console manufacturers.
If you play as I did, then you get a chance to be selective with a console for which there are, admittedly, a fair few lows. You get to play the best first-party games without needing to wait for months for the next, the entire virtual console library is right there with GBA, DS, and Wii games to boot, and the marketing campaign is so far in the past now that I think I can safely say that this is a console in and of itself and not just a Wii accessory.
Both I and the Wii U are 10 years older now and we are both all the cooler for it.