by Matthew Thompson
The Wii U’s swan song is nearly upon us, but for me – someone who plans to play Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch – its death knell has already tolled. I thought before moving on, I’d look back at the good times I had with the system and the ways it disappointed me.
From a hardware standpoint I was really happy with two elements of the Wii U. Nintendo joined the HD era a little late, but it was still a treat to see some of my favorite characters and series in high-definition for the first time. While the Wii U wouldn’t compete graphically with its generational competition, it was still a big step forward from the Wii. And I loved the Wii U GamePad for Off-TV Play. It was perfect for messing about with when a football or basketball game got boring, but I wanted to hang around for the final result or when someone else was using the big screen. The controller itself is not slick in the least bit. It is actually a bit of an eyesore, but it was always comfortable for me to hold. Another cool idea that this tablet controller gifted gamers was asymmetrical multiplayer which used the second screen as a way to allow one player to see something that others could not. Showing friends and family some of the implementations of this idea found in mini-game collections like Rabbids Land would always garner a positive response. And rightly so, it was clever and unique if unfortunately underutilized.
On the software side of things, there were certainly some gems. Some of Nintendo’s most storied franchises got their best entries to date or at least something close to the top. Mario Kart 8 is easily the best in the series with a plethora of inventive courses both old and new, the classic arcade racing sharper than ever, and the brilliant new anti-gravity mechanic. Value-packed DLC just made the package all the more sweet. It isn’t just my favorite Mario Kart game, it is my favorite racing game period. Tropical Freeze marked the high point for the Donkey Kong family of games as well. Retro takes the foundation they established in Returns, sheds the problematic Wii controls, and throws in some of the most masterfully-designed levels the genre has ever seen and in doing so joined my list of the ten best 2D platformers of all-time. It is that good. Yoshi’s Woolly World isn’t Mario’s dinosaur pal’s best outing, but there is no harm in coming in second to the legendary Yoshi’s Island. With quite possibly the most adorable visual video game aesthetic ever and its commitment to throwing new twists alongside the tried-and-true egg-tossing, flutter-jumping gameplay, Yoshi’s yarn-enveloped adventure is easily the best since the SNES classic. Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Smash Bros. Wii U were all nice additions to their respective franchises as well.
For years I have been wishing for a big new IP from the Big N and we got that from the Wii U too. I didn’t expect it to come in the form of an online shooter, but Splatoon certainly fits the bill. It was super fun with style to burn and felt like a uniquely Nintendo take on the genre. They helped bring us a sequel to Bayonetta which turned out to be one of the best pure action games ever. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is exactly the kind of mid-tier spin-off I’d like to see more of from Nintendo to fill gaps between flagship titles. And Mario Maker allowed people to put the plumber and fellow players alike through their own – often sadistic – levels.
Despite these highlights, I can’t look at the Wii U as anything but a disappointment. Third-party support continued to be an issue for Nintendo, but for me I would have been happy with just first-party games. That is largely what I buy Nintendo systems for. But after three years, Nintendo pretty much completely bailed on the Wii U. It didn’t even receive an exclusive Zelda title. Let that sink in. No. Exclusive. Zelda. Not having one is pretty much unprecedented (I believe it puts it in a group of with just the Virtual Boy among Nintendo systems, not something you want to be paired with). That is the Nintendo series for me which makes it all the more disappointing. It isn’t the only big series missing in action either (Metroid’s absence is notable). And while I’m complaining, Kirby didn’t get a very good outing on the system, awesome claymation artstyle notwithstanding.
Even a couple of the positive things I would remember the Wii U for that I mentioned above seem like they will be made into a footnote by the Switch. Nintendo’s upcoming hybrid looks to take Off-TV Play to the next level making the Wii U seem like an expensive beta. It also looks to be home to the new king of Mario Kart with the upcoming port titled Deluxe which takes all the greatness of MK8 while fixing its one glaring issue by adding a proper battle mode.
I don’t in any way regret buying a Wii U. It was probably worth it for local multiplayer nights of Mario Kart 8 alone and obviously I have outlined more titles than that one from its library that I enjoyed. But it was a letdown. Three years of support for any console is unacceptable and Nintendo’s handling of it is what has me most concerned about my purchase of the Switch. I hope I’m not feeling similarly four years from now about that system.