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History of the Wii U – A Console Gone Wrong

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BY April 30, 2020
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A lot of our history posts on gaming have been about a series like Gears of War or Halo. As a huge Nintendo fan, however, I think we need to take a look at a recent console. It’s tough to say exactly what sort of impact the Wii U had on gaming at the time of its release. Many would likely argue it flopped with no redeeming takeaways. If you consider the rollout of the console, it’s not a terrible deduction. Considering the History of the Wii U, it’s also fair to say we never get the successful Switch without this misunderstood console. 

History of the Wii U – Development and Release

Consider the state Nintendo was in when the Wii was nearing its dawn. For all intents and purposes, the console wasn’t just a gaming success. Pop culture grabbed onto the Wii and its casual approachability like a kite catches wind. A ton of people had a Wii in their home, despite never owning a gaming console before. Older people even enjoyed playing Wii Sports, whether it meant bowling with the grandkids or a fun new addition to a retirement home. Even young adults who missed out on the fun of a Nintendo 64 growing up suddenly saw themselves looking forward to playing video games. Nevertheless, Nintendo knew the console had limitations.

The console did not cater to core gamers, meaning those who always play and buy video games. Other than some popular Nintendo titles, there were many more casual, light games on the Wii than anything else. The console also lacked HD capabilities, meaning it looked almost a generation behind the PS3 and Xbox 360. Graphics are not Nintendo’s main focus, but it wasn’t even close in terms of visual quality. The changes to the next Nintendo console would need to make it stand out somehow. Brainstorming led to the concept of a touchscreen on the controller, maybe no bigger than a standard business card. The screen would alert players of messages and updates. Instead, it developed into a full second screen experience.

Confusion Regarding the New Touch Screen Controller

When news leaked about the controller, the immediate reaction was to assume the controller could be used on the Wii. Predictions consisted of a new Wii update, rather than an entirely new console. This led to Nintendo struggling to explain the console’s concept; strike one. Nintendo execs began explaining the new controller was part of a next generation console, with HD graphics and more modern gaming features. Motion controls would still be involved, and rumblings of 3D TV capability rippled through the news as well. Then, E3 2010 happened.

After their E3 showcase in 2010, President Iwata said Nintendo fully supported the Wii, and would continue to do so. Fast forward one year, and Nintendo fans still speculate what is to come. Then at E3 2011, the Wii U GamePad prototype is introduced as a “new controller.” As if that wasn’t confusing enough, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé unveiled the new name: Wii U; strike two. Despite the confusion, the company promised exciting things to come. The Wii U announcement crashed Nintendo stocks, and amidst all the chaos, the console launched on September 13, 2012 in Japan and on December 8, 2012 in the United States. 

History of the Wii U – Reactions and Letdowns

wii u history of nintendo consoles Image Credit: Nintendo

Almost immediately, the Wii U felt like it might not flop. The console sold 400,000 units in its first month out in Japan, and a decent 890,000 over a month after release in the States. By January, however, US sales were down to 57,000, and continued tapering off from there. The company faced a 51% decrease in sales just 6 months after launch. 

Developers Start to Bail Out

By May 2013, EA announced they would reduce games being made for the console. Ubisoft also announced they would not make any more exclusives for the Wii U until sales improved. Spoiler alert: they wouldn’t improve. Bethesda Softworks flat out believed the console to be incompatible with the games they make. Of course, the Wii U did not have the output the Microsoft and Sony consoles had. Activision also announced plans for the Wii U, contrarily stating they’d support the console through its life. They did a great job, porting things like Call of Duty and Skylanders titles. 

Price Cut Boost into Holiday 2013 and Discontinuation

Nintendo didn’t give up on its console. The Wii U received a price cut of $50 along with the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, boosting the console’s sales in North America by 200%. Sales continued into the end of the year, including software sales. During the holiday season, the Wii U competed with the PS4 and Xbox One quite well. WIth children, the console was popular, and the Wii U even was the top performing console in Japan that year.

Despite this, Nintendo lowered 2014 sales projections from 9 million to 2.8 million units. Despite staying in production until 2017, the console slowly dragged in sales, despite some amazing games. 

History of the Wii U – A Games Lineup Worth Mentioning

wii u history of nintendo consoles Image Credit: Nintendo

So, it’s clear the console didn’t perform as well as it could have. In fact, the console is largely considered to be a major disappointment. That being said, some incredible games came from this era. We’ve seen a lot of Wii U ports to the Nintendo Switch for this very reason. Let’s talk about the games worth mentioning during this era of Nintendo consoles.

Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong is a popular character in the Nintendo universe. Tropical Freeze is the best Donkey Kong game to ever be made, with obvious competition coming from the Donkey Kong Country days of the SNES. The difficulty of this game caught many by surprise. While it leads you into the game quite gently, the learning curve and precision of late game levels is masterful. Platformers are often thought of as simple and childish. I’d encourage anyone who thinks lightly of the genre to try this one out.

Splatoon

A huge game for the Wii U, and now Nintendo as a whole, was Splatoon. The multiplayer shooter genre is very popular, but this turned things on its head. With a simple 3 minute game time, matches involved splatting other players with ink, while also covering the map in your team’s color. The emphasis on letting players focus on something other than killing the other team made it multidimensional. Plus, the game’s colors and funky music made it hard to put down. Splatoon 2 ended up being a huge hit for the Switch, and the game should continue to be huge for Nintendo moving forward.

Super Mario Maker

Another Wii U game turned Switch sequel, Super Mario Maker really wowed players from the get go. The game let you create Mario levels, something people had only dreamed of doing before the title’s release. Lovers of classic mainline Mario games had a lot of tools at their hand. In Super Mario Maker 2, the game got even better, but it’s beginnings have the Wii U’s touch screen to thank. Mario games are a huge hit, but this one stands out in a special way. 

History of the Wii U – Lasting Impact on Nintendo

wii u history of nintendo consoles Image Credit: Nintendo

When you consider the games that came from this era, the Wii U isn’t as much of a failure as it might seem. Sure, the console didn’t sell as well as others, and Nintendo doomed its marketing efforts from the start. When you consider what the Switch became, however, there had to be a Wii U. On one hand, the screen controller hybrid that so many love about the Switch essentially got tested and played with during the Wii U days. The ability to play handheld and then pop the game onto a TV was a hit with the Wii U. 

From a business standpoint, the Wii U was also a wonderful reminder that nothing about Nintendo’s popularity can be taken for granted. It seems hard to imagine how badly they messed up marketing the Wii U. Right now, the Switch is an international hit. Just 3 years ago, however, the Switch had yet to be announced. Fans had little faith that Nintendo could get things right again. Games always make Nintendo a force to be reckoned with, but talks of ending console releases were very real. 

Was the Wii U a Bad Console?

At its core, the Wii U needed to happen for Nintendo to get its focus back. Plus, the console led to the Switch and all its successes. Needless to say, the Wii U is a weird time for Nintendo. The history of the Wii U may look rough on paper, but in actuality, it helped Nintendo progress in a way that helped them find their next niche. 

Have a console or series you’d like to see get a History Of piece? Let us know in the comments, and keep reading Comic Years for all things gaming, comic books, pop culture and more!

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Taylor loves to play video games in his spare time. He has two degrees in Political Communication and wrote his thesis on Marxism and the exploitation of college athletes. In his spare time, he loves spending time with his wife and two Toy Australian Shepherds. He’s always got headphones in, and he’s a diehard Cubs fan.

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