Wii U We Hardly Knew You – A Retrospective on Nintendo’s Underappreciated Console

Distant memories?

wii u we hardly knew you

Despite being one of Nintendo’s harshest critics in recent years, I can also say without flinching that I’m also one of Nintendo’s biggest fans. When I turned four years old, my very first videogame console was given to me by my grandmother and helped set me on the path of the man I am today. I remember my eyes lighting up the first time I played Super Mario Bros. on the NES all those years ago, and through a child’s eyes I had no idea it was going to help define who I would become here in the present. Wii U we hardly knew you.

For years I stuck with Nintendo exclusively through the NES and SNES era. A year or so into the Nintendo 64 life-cycle, I started branching out with Sony’s Playstation and became less exclusive but my favorite system still kept falling back on Nintendo’s products. So it remained with the Nintendo Gamecube, as Animal Crossing, Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi’s Mansion, I could go on and on about how much time I sunk into these games and more. It may not have made the same impact as the Nintendo 64, but I stand steadfast it wasn’t the beginning of Nintendo’s decline. It was sitting comfortably on the plateau the system before it made, making only necessary improvements and of course adapting to the times and wants of the average game consumer.

Then, something happened. Creativity became a detriment, and Nintendo began its steady decline with the release of the Nintendo Wii. I’m going to catch a lot of heat for that, but even despite being the best selling console of the seventh generation with over 100 million  in global sales (dwarfing the second place spot of the Xbox 360 at 31.5 million) the console practically rode on a gimmick that only seemed to be used appropriately on first party titles. The Wiimote and Nun-chuck controller style was an attempt to get people up and be more active, but it was quickly discoverable that if people are going to flail their arms they can just continue to do so from the couch. I cannot argue that the Wii did very well commercially, and for the most part people liked the product. But it set the stage for what would ultimately be the short lifespan of its following console, the Wii U.

wii u we hardly knew you

Releasing about a year into the big boom of the tablet craze, the Wii U tried to combine a console with a tablet and once again, focused far too hard on the gimmick part of the console. While the Wii U itself was technically a decent console, it released shortly ahead of two consoles that would out perform it in nearly every way, sported the bulkiest controller known to mankind by morphing it into an amalgamation of a controller and tablet, and an almost outright lack of third party games. As great as Nintendo’s personal game franchises are, they do not release with enough consistency to carry a title on to greatness.

The Wii U was facing an uphill battle from the start, and with myself not liking the turn Nintendo had been taking with their consoles with both the Wii and Wii U, I sat it out. I watched as the sun rose and fell quickly on the Wii U as it was announced that focus would be taken away from the console and further support, in favor of the new Nintendo Switch.

Flip The Switch

I’ll be the first to admit, the big thing that turned me onto the Nintendo Switch and made me willing to give it a chance was the fact that Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild do not look like games I can miss out on. But, between a weak launch lineup (with the exclusion of Zelda, which was also available on the Wii U) and a severe shortage, I decided on something crazy. Something way out of my character. Let’s make an impulse by on a system that I’ve absolutely loathed nearly everything about since launch, and accurately predicted its early demise. So, I hopped over to Amazon and loaded up on Zelda titles that could be downloaded on the Wii U, the newest Zelda on disc, and then hopped over to Nintendo’s online store and snagged a refurbished console* directly from the manufacturer.

After a brief delay on part of UPS, my ‘overnight’ package arrived a few days later. Slowly unboxing my good-as-new Wii U, I took it in. Visually appealing in it’s white coloring ,my personal choice, as I’ve seen my sister’s Black Wii U and it shows dust far too easily, the console’s basic appearance seemed to shine.  In comparison to the Xbox One’s bulky appearance that reminds me of an early DVD player, or the inconvenient diagonal tilt of a Playstation 4, Nintendo did well keeping the console basic.

It’s a minimalist look that doesn’t backfire; which was almost completely undone as I unboxed the controller. This massive, inconvenient tank. Useful if you want to go game in another room, but otherwise largely unnecessary, this weighty mass is not what I think of when I think of a home console. If I’m at home, I’m aiming to relax. I don’t want to crane my head downward constantly to look at a secondary screen rather than the television, and I don’t want to give myself a case of dead-wrist by bringing it up to stare at it constantly.

wii u we hardly knew you

Image courtesy Ars Technica

If I were giving my thoughts solely on the design itself, I’d say file the Wii U away in the forbidden realm of design flops along with Nintendo’s last major mistake the Virtual Boy (don’t get me started, that’s a nightmare for another day). But luckily, there is more to a book than it’s cover; and there is more to the Wii U than it’s sleek console or handheld tank.

Stepping Back Into My Childhood

You know, not many people buy a product postmortem. But I did mention my motivation as to such. Switch at launch is severely lacking in titles I’d actually play, and while I’m sure Breath of the Wild could keep me hooked for months alone, there was a certain draw to the Wii U. That draw, was my childhood.

Thanks to Nintendo’s rather expansive catalog of classic games available for download right now on the Wii U, I had a chance to relive much of my childhood. Various Mario titles tempted me, but ultimately it was nearly the entire Legend of Zelda library that lured me back. 98% of my time with the Wii U has been spent with various Zelda games over the last few weeks, resurfacing moments of years ago.

I’m working my way through the titles available in order of release, and so far I’ve worked my way up to the Wii era games, so I’m getting ever closer to the newest entry. Each and every game I replayed, some aging better than others, still reignited that fire for adventure that Zelda brought out in my heart as a kid. When you see a grown man of 27 have a wide-eyed, ecstatic smile when the Dark World theme in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, you know that it’s retained its charm. I’ve had many moments like that, and despite hating the unnecessary excess of the controller, more than once I’ve handed it off to my family so they could relive some of the old games as well and recapture a bit of an era when they dabbled in gaming as well.

wii u we hardly knew you

Long live the king…

Rest In Peace, Wii U: An Apology

While my complaints were valid, my nay-saying reigning true, and ultimately the Wii U being an underwhelming chapter for Nintendo, all and all you weren’t a bad console. You were just excellent at the wrong things to make it in this day and age. As a modern console, you weren’t firing on all cylinders and you suffered from a creator’s need to innovate where innovation wasn’t necessary, while ignoring the need in other areas.

You were limited by a library that consisted mostly of first party titles from only a few different franchises, and third party companies continuously turning away or being turned away. But you know what Nintendo did right by you? The first party titles that they made just for you, were by and large pretty entertaining, but didn’t flow quickly enough or with enough variation between them to keep you on life-support. They gave you an expansive library of games buried in time, which is awesome but not enough for most people to buy a console just to relieve the old days.

Last but not least, as I take a break from Breath of the Wild to write this, they gave you an epic send off. The Switch’s first notable title doubles as a brilliant sunset for the Wii U, and while you didn’t rock the world like your younger sibling has so far, you did at least serve as a lesson to Nintendo to turn things around. To the Wii U, I owe an apology. It was in your death, that I did see I could enjoy what you had to offer; you just offered the wrong things for myself, and many, to buy you while you were in circulation.

Time will tell, if they have learned that lesson but so far, the sun seems to be rising on a new day for the company. We can only hope for blue skies, and a longer and more productive life cycle. Until the Switch library starts expanding outward, I’ll appreciate the Wii U for what it is; my link to the past.

Author’s Note: *= On principle, I do not buy refurbished consoles unless I’m left with no choice. Considering how hard new Wii U’s are to find now without paying way more than it’s worth, I decided a refurb from the manufacturer was the only option. Nintendo sent me a product in good-as-new condition, and if they had sent it in original packaging and not a blank box with a warehouse label, I would’ve thought it was brand new.

Profile photo of Johnathan Irwin
A gamer to the bone almost as long as I've been alive, putting my passion for gaming to use through my writing.

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