Nintendo’s Dilemma: Calling Time On Wii U

When Nintendo’s Wii U launched in 2012, it exemplified Nintendo’s penchant for pushing the boundaries of console design over pure technological advancement. Whilst this was the Kyoto giant’s first HD console, it was the Wii U Gamepad that set it apart from its rivals, opting as it did with the Wii for a modestly powered machine with a unique interface.

If you look at the technological trends of the last decade, with smartphones and tablets becoming essential household items, and indeed at the popularity of Nintendo’s own DS console, it made a huge amount of sense to create a home console with a touchscreen interface. Sadly, whilst we’ve seen some titles such as ZombiU and Affordable Space Adventures turn in experiences that couldn’t be recreated on other machines, the Gamepad has largely remained an untapped resource, being relegated to displaying maps or simply offering off-screen play when the main television is in use.

Now, with the looming presence of Nintendo’s NX home console on the horizon, it would seem that Nintendo are quietly putting the still youthful Wii U out to pasture, in response to the disappointing sales and now practically non-existent third party support. The delay of the next Zelda could points in that direction, as an ambitious looking open world game that may simply be beyond the Wii U’s abilities.

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We’ve seen the Zelda series straddle generations before, with Nintendo choosing to hold back Twilight Princess in order to be both an outstanding game of the Gamecube’s – ahem – twighlight, as well as a major Wii launch title from one of their most popular franchises. Given the importance of the Zelda games, there’s a possibility that they could do this again, and while you can be certain that Nintendo will use the extra time to turn in an incredibly polished final product, they may be mindful that there are fewer and fewer reasons to try and drive sales of the Wii U at this stage. Launching an enhanced version of the title alongside the NX would ensure a very attractive starting point for early adopters, while a version for Wii U owners might provide a fitting send off for the console.

Nintendo’s third-party woes are hardly a new problem for the company, but with the Wii U it feels as though they’ve truly been hung out to dry. Early support from the likes of Ubisoft and EA soon withered when sales didn’t take off as they’d hoped, and Nintendo have taken to publishing external exclusives themselves, in order to shore up the release schedule. We know nothing of the NX, but it’s certain that architectural differences and lower processing power have been a factor in losing third party support, and while one could argue that you buy a Nintendo console purely for the exclusives, there’s a lot of strength to be found in providing parity with your rivals.

The recent leak involving a version of ZombiU apparently crossing over to PS4 and Xbox One appears to be a further nail in the coffin, and whilst the Wii U will still likely have the definitive version of the game – just as it does with Rayman Legends – most players will see little reason to pick up the console on that basis. Watching Ubisoft picking away at the carcass of their own releases speaks volumes to just how little they achieved with the unique console, and while it is again largely the Nintendo exclusives that have shone the brightest, the schedule has simply been too sparse to support an avid userbase, particularly after the multiplatform franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Call Of Duty stopped arriving.

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Forgetting the third parties, a glance at the Wii U’s release schedule again seems to point towards a winding down of proceedings, with the majority of the forthcoming releases such as Xenoblade Chronicles X , Starfox Zero and Devil’s Third set for the second half of this year, and with little left for 2016. Nintendo’s disappointing showing at E3 also spoke volumes, and certainly won’t help in reversing the Wii U’s fortunes at this stage. It’s possible that those franchises fans are clamouring for, such as Metroid, will be in development for NX.

Yet there’s an argument to say that it’s far too early to give up on the Wii U. New IP’s such as Splatoon show that not only is it an incredibly capable machine, but it’s unique abilities marry perfectly with Nintendo’s attempts to push the boundaries of game design. While competitors repeatedly release unfinished games, Nintendo’s products are almost always stable, functional and polished, and the HD presentation of their worlds has been fantastic, despite the diminutive processing power at the Wii U’s core. It feels as though there must be more to be discovered with the Gamepad, but whether it can be uncovered in time is becoming increasingly less likely.

Of course, the alternative argument is that you have to know when to give up and start anew. The loss of the core gamer following the Wii’s success with the casual market was unlikely to be turned around by a console that sported the same name; especially one that had become synonymous with shovel-ware and mini games in its later years. The lack of processing power, and a control scheme that requires genuine thought in order to make the best use of it made it less attractive to developers whose relationship with Nintendo had soured many years before.

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The Nintendo Network also remains a missed opportunity, and despite the wonderful scribblings of Miiverse and a few titles with solid online infrastructures, it’s still leagues behind Playstation Network and Xbox Live. The NX must meet the expectations of modern gamers, from party chat to trophies, without the hand holding of decisions being made for us. As far as the Wii U is concerned, it will remain an aspect that Nintendo toyed with, rather than answered. The shuttering of Nintendo Club to make way for a new membership scheme points towards progress, and indeed to what may be the underpinnings of Nintendo’s future in this arena.

While the Wii U’s library houses some incredible pieces of software, from Super Mario 3D World and Splatoon to Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8, there’s now the very real risk that these games will effectively be marooned on this console. Nintendo’s penchant for re-releasing classic games via the Virtual Console and featuring backward compatibility could be brought to an end in the Wii U’s case, if the NX doesn’t contain the necessary hardware to support the Gamepad’s unique capabilities. It’s certainly not in the same league as the Virtual Boy in terms of the system’s failures or how drastically different it works, but this might be necessary for Nintendo to move forward.

Ultimately, and it’s oft-forgotten given the company’s bright and playful demeanour, Nintendo are in business to make money. They have investors and shareholders who want to see results and whose pressure is most likely behind the deal with deNA to bring Nintendo franchises to smartphones and tablets, not to mention the very lucrative amiibo figures. That same pressure applies to console sales performance and unfortunately, with sales yet to reach ten million, the Wii U just hasn’t achieved anything like what they’d have been hoping for.

Those shareholders will be looking for the next opportunity, and it’s likely that the premature retirement of the Wii U will be a necessary evil so that the company can move onto their next project. The question is, will players and developers forgive them their apparent mis-steps with the console, or is their status now too firmly ingrained? One would hope that Nintendo will once again find a way to marry innovation, technological prowess and meaningful exclusives into another success, but if not, what we’ve learnt from the Wii U is that there will at least be some amazing games along the way.

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20 Comments

  1. I guess the most disappointing thing for me is that compared to the Wii and its enforced motion control bullshit, the WiiU is a much better system with vastly superior games. Wii games either left me with a sense of what could have been with real pad controls, or they bored me as they would be so easy they would beat themselves.

    The Mario games on WiiU have been the best I’ve played since the SNES, Mario Kart is up there with the DS version and Smash Bros is way better than Brawl was.

    It’s just a shame that they finally make a great system but have pissed so many gamers off with the Wii, people have not gone back.

  2. I think Nintendo’s problem is they haven’t moved with the changes in the industry. They act like it’s the 90’s still.

    • I don’t think that’s a bad thing as such. If Nintendo were like Sony and MS, it would be boring, generic and crap. There’s always some crazy new stuff with Nintendo, and it isn’t always whimsically abandoned like PS move or Kinect.

    • Could you expand on that?

      • Their reluctance to embrace online gaming, which is such a huge part of it for many nowadays.

        For all their praise for innovation, they have relied on Mario, Zelda & Mario Kart and not courted 3rd party support enough. A console without Cod, Battlefield, FIFA & GTA is a non starter for most gamers.

      • Perhaps the biggest problem that Nintendo have faced over the last three generations has been their power deficit. While more powerful than the PS2, the Gamecube wasn’t as powerful as the Xbox, which meant it ended up with a lot of PS2 ports, which were never going to attract more users. The Wii then had a radically different and hugely popular control scheme, but this time the power deficit meant that it couldn’t have the same games as on PS3 and 360.

        The Wii U, unfortunately, continued that trend, and though it matched the power of the PS3 and 360, the fact it didn’t have the same install base as them when the PS4 and XBO struck meant there was much less incentive to include the Wii U in their plans for cross generational support. That’s not to say that they didn’t try, and there were a few AC, COD and NFS ports, but when they didn’t sell because of the small market share, it just didn’t make financial sense.

        And that’s really the problem. Now that Nintendo are out of the same cycle that Microsoft and Sony are in, they risk always finding themselves on the outside looking in with third parties.

      • With tef on this one but there’s more to add to this. Not only does it get left out when looking at the AAA titles that grace multiple platforms but Nintendo made two other blunders:

        1) I guess they thought that the millions of casual/first-time home-console gamers they’d won over with the original Wii would come across en masse.

        2) Second screen gaming is a gimmick to many. The same can be said for motion controls like the Wii and Sony’s Move controller. However, note the difference between Nintendo building motion control in from the beginning and them putting their full weight behind such a thing. Now contrast that with Sony’s Move controller. It was a lovely idea, we know that. Hell, it was more accurate too. However, it wasn’t there as standard and support was shite in comparison. Nintendo had great success with it (and the Wii) but second screen gaming looks like a far harder “sell”.

        So many of us couldn’t give a flying fu** about it. Even the boss of Bethesda said that they thought second screen stuff (up until now) has been pretty stupid. An oversimplification but it also highlights why it’s not hit the ground running with great ideas.

    • I agree, i think they could do with getting into sync with the other big players and release comparable hardware within the same release time-frame. It wouldn’t mean that they couldn’t still bring their own novel approach to the mix.

      • Succinctly put, fella. The two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive.

  3. Ninty are old fashioned at heart trying to innovate and create the next cool thing in gaming. The Wii gave them a big ego and thus the Wii U was created to try and mirror all that cash most fools gave them for the Wii. But times moved on, the Wii (though a nifty console) was recognised as a fad and thus the Wii U didn’t stand a chance, especially with PS4/XB1 on the horizon. That caters for the hardcore. The casuals probably didn’t and still don’t get that the Wii U is a new console and not just an expensive expansion for that dusty brick they bought because it was fun to play whilst drunk at a party one night.

    Nintendo need to create a powerful console that competes/beats XB1 and PS4 in specs. But it needs to be easy to develop for so 3rd parties can make easy ports between the big three. Ninty have a massive 1st party library of titles that many love to play, coupled with all the games you can play on both Xbox and Playstation (CoD, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, FIFA etc) it would cater for all.

    More than anything though – they need to get online sorted! A service like Xbox Live and PSN complete with achievements/trophies. In short – they need to get with the times! A decent way of downloading content again without actually having to transfer from one device to another (3DS/2DS) would be nice too.

    So much potential being wasted! They need a “Phil Spencer” to sort their sh*t out, make it all modern and relevant but keep the “cute and cuddly” theme intact that Ninty are loved for.

    All that at around £250-300.

  4. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Nintendo, it’s that they’ll never do exactly what we expect. So I’m just going to keep an open mind and await their reveal next year.

    Hopefully the NX won’t be designed to please the mothers in the house with its small form-factor and quiet design. Give us spectacle, let us play with power and surprise us.

  5. Unfortunately, Now I’m older, Nintendo doesn’t really appeal to me as a lot of the games seem too be aimed at a younger crowd. I’ve always got a different vibe from Nintendo when compared to Sony & Microsoft, a slightly less serious and fun feel to the games. (which isn’t a bad thing… at all)

    We had an N64 in our office (about 20ish years ago?) and it was a great laugh. Days were wasted having a bash at Wave Race & Pilot Wings etc, and I think a lot of the fun was the atmosphere the games created with it’s arcadey music and cheesy sound effects and voice overs what gave off a different gaming experience to the other consoles.

    I’d love to play a re-make of Wave Race on a ‘this’ gen console but I fear it would be to serious, whereas if Nintendo bought a out a powerful beast and released games like that keeping the old fun atmosphere without being too kiddie-like, I’d consider purchasing one.

  6. Was it really only released in 2012? Feels much older than that.

    I think the wii U’s days were numbered from the moment it was released to be honest. Their biggest mistake was trying to milk the wii name when they should have abandoned it like 90% of their mostly casual user base.

    They were very lucky with the way things panned out with the original wii but it was nothing more than a fad. I’m sure that if you were to compile a survey of wii owners you’d find that most of them were boxed up within a year and I bet many were collecting at least an inch worth of dust by the time wii U came out. The wii was dead. So by calling their follow-up console the wii U, they pretty much shot themselves in the foot from the go. Add to that a focus on the wii U pad, which no one really wanted, and a lot of people probably thought it was just a wii accessory.

    It will be interesting to see where they go from here but I think we can pretty much guarantee it won’t have any association whatsoever with the wii.

  7. This all feels like when Sega had the Dreamcast die, they were out of the hardware game for good then. NX cannot afford to be a mistake, I don’t know the financials but unless it can really compete as a late entry against Sony and MS how could it succeed? Last chance!?

  8. Of only they would stop making the gamepad mandatory and give us and devs a way to ignore it. There should be some extra power there. Next up, interface overhaul, most gamers are not 6 or under so they would smart to make the interface more “grown up.”
    I recently got some very good replica pro controllers and I must say, it makes it all seem a bit more like a gaming console.

  9. Love Bayonetta so couldn’t miss the Wii U, being rather cheap compared to next-gen made it a viable option for a budget gamer who has no interest in Call of Duty/GTA/FIFA, got to say PIKMIN 3 is a fantastic game which despite the looks is rather tough (try the challenges), as a stratrgy game it fits perfectly with the touch controls and off-screen play; however aside from these two games i have not played much… Can’t say i dislike the console or anything (Miiverse is fantastic but i have mostly used it for the Pokemon giveaways for the 3DS, also wouldn’t mind trophy support) but there’s just no options left. Got a PS4 and switched to that now.

  10. I think it will be very difficult for the Big N to bring back the glory days, mainly because they are so out of step with the competition. The length of the last console cycle didn’t help, as they ended up releasing an under powered machine into a gaming no mans land. Unless they are willing to make the NX the next home of cod or Fifa and pay for that right, then I feel they’ll become just a handheld company. Though with pimping Mario et al to other mobile platforms maybe that will end badly too??

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