I didn’t want to write this. I’m still not ready to shovel the dirt on Nintendo’s poor-selling pseudo-tablet, even as the Switch train gains steam and Nintendo prepares to pull the plug on Miiverse. The Switch’s portable mode and annoying-placed HDMI port gave me an excuse to leave its predecessor it its exalted spot next to the TV, and the still-small Switch library meant that I was still reaching for the Gamepad on a regular basis.
As The Oracle once said, however, “Everything that has a beginning has an end.” My beloved Wii U’s end will arrive this Friday with the release of Splatoon 2, which will supersede its predecessor and remove the Wii U’s biggest argument for its continued relevance. The remaining few Wii U games I see myself playing in the future all support off-TV play, which clears the way for me to move my HDMI cable over to the Switch dock and relocate the Wii U to my shelf of legacy consoles. (My Gamecube will finally have something to keep it company.)
Few tears were shed over the announcement of the Wii U’s demise—it was one of the Nintendo’s worst-selling consoles ever, and gamers grew frustrated with the long waits between first-party titles (and the total lack of third-party ones). When the history of Nintendo is written, however, the Wii U deserves to be remembered as a great console that laid the groundwork for the company’s current success:
- A fair chunk of the Switch’s current/upcoming lineup got its start on the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Pokkén Tournament DX are enhanced ports of Wii U games, Zelda: Breath of the Wild began its life as a Wii U game, and Splatoon 2 owes its existence to the massive success of the Wii U’s Splatoon. With Smash Bros. and Super Mario Maker still waiting in the wings, I expect this statement to be even more true in the future.
- The Switch has been billed as all of Nintendo’s past innovations rolled into a single console, but the Wii U’s contribution seems to be the most obvious. The home/portable hybrid idea is the logical extension of the Wii U’s off-TV play, and the Switch’s portable configuration resembles a more-refined version of the Wii U’s Gamepad.
- In a slightly-out-of-character move, Nintendo actually seemed to learn from the mistakes of the Wii U era. Long first-party game droughts have been replaced by a regular schedule of Nintendo content. Third-party developers have been actively courted for the system, and some of their games (Snipperclips, Sonic Mania, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle) seem to be matching the hype level of Nintendo’s own titles. The hardware has been bumped up just enough to meet modern expectations (60 fps, 1080p, etc.), although the Joy-Cons still seem too overengineered for their own good. The marketing has been much better at explaining exactly what the Switch is and why it’s so awesome, and consumers have responded at levels not seen since the Wii era. There’s an old yarn from the sporting world that says you have to lose a championship before you can win one, and it fits perfectly here: Nintendo turned their Wii U failures into Switch successes.
Console nostalgia is driven by games more than hardware, though, and despite its limited lineup, the Wii U featured some of my all-time favorite games. Specifically:
I wasn’t an early adopter of the Wii U, and even after getting one in 2014, the system didn’t get a lot of activity for the first year or so. Sure, Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 were great, but they were consistently overshadowed by other games (mostly Pokémon titles), and they were all games I’d already played in some shape or form. Splatoon, however, was a game-changer for me, as it was a refreshing, addictive take on a genre I hadn’t messed with in over a decade. At a particularly rough point in my transition from Kyle to “Dr. Kyle,” it was the nightly ink battle marathons, the Splatfest all-nighters, and all the cool Turf Warriors I met that helped me keep what was left of my sanity. Super Mario RPG may always be my favorite game, and Pokémon Pearl‘s seniority may give it the #2 slot, but Splatoon has earned a place on my all-time game podium at #3.
A few months later, Super Mario Maker granted me powers that I’d been dreaming of for multiple decades, and I sunk hundreds of hours into creating the Mario (and various other characters, thanks to the Mystery Mushrooms) levels of my dreams. More importantly, however, I was introduced to the Kaizo Mario community, which challenged me in ways that the Mario franchise never had. Completing this courses increased my confidence in my gaming abilities, and that confidence began seeping over into other aspects of my life. (After you’ve beaten The Koopa Klown Caper of ’84, review comments on your conference paper submissions don’t seem nearly as scary.) It may not have impacted me in quite the same way as Splatoon, but I’d still put it somewhere in my all-time top ten.
For me, the Wii U and its games came at the perfect time, and captured my attention like no system since the DS (and the Wii U gets bonus points for doing it without Pokémon). I don’t really care that the console was a commercial flop, or that good games were few and far between by the end of the system’s life. It was a bright spot at a dark time, and I am eternally grateful for that.
So thank you, Wii U. Your time next to my TV may be done, but your legacy will never be forgotten.