Wii U: Figuring out the dying console’s legacy

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The Wii U’s pulse is getting slower and slower.

With Nintendo ending production of its sixth major home console as it ramps up the hype for its next system, the Switch, it’s now time to ponder where the Wii U will belong in the pages of gaming history. Will we only remember it as a failure? Or, like other systems that performed poorly (like Sega’s Dreamcast), will gamers keep the device in their hearts?

We have a lot of mixed feelings about the Wii U, a console confused everyone from its first reveal. Some weren’t even sure if it was a new system when Nintendo unveiled it, thinking it was just a peripheral for the Wii. But despite its relatively short life of fours years (in an industry where five used to be the normal lifespan of a console, and these days usually lasts longer), it wasn’t all bad in Wii U world.

So, the GamesBeat staff decided to talk it out. Between the four of us, we ought to be able to find some sort of meaning or significance in Nintendo’s least successful home console.

Above: Run, Mario, Run!

Image Credit: Nintendo

Lead writer Dean Takahashi

The Wii U floated the idea that became the Switch. But Nintendo executed on that idea so poorly, it shouldn’t have tried. By that, I mean the idea of a tablet that could be used with a game console. The Wii U’s tablet had to be within a short range of the actual console to work, so you couldn’t take it with you to the coffee shop. This was in the day of the iPad and scores of Android tablets that you could take with you anywhere.

The Switch will now let you do that, but it could be too late. The Wii U’s legacy is that it probably convinced Nintendo that the idea of marrying its software to proprietary hardware was limiting its reach.

Nintendo Switch.

Above: Nintendo Switch.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Managing editor Jason Wilson

The Nintendo Wii U is a console I want to love. I have a soft spot for the dang thing. Its flaws remind me of some people I adore: Sure, they’ve got problems, but they’re fun, and they have a great personality. The Wii U’s fun and personality come from its exclusive games, such as Mario Kart, Mario 3D World, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE. Its issues come with a sometimes unwieldy tablet controller (and considering Nintendo courts the family audience, this is sad, since my youngest son hates how it’s too big for his hands) and an online system that’s puzzling at best.

The Switch intrigues me, and I like how it at least appears to be friendlier to smaller hands. But I hope Nintendo, at long last, understands the importance of a simple online system and a store that’s not a pain in the plunger to use — and gives me a way to keep my past Virtual Console purchases.

The Smash Bros. characters celebrate a successful 2014.

Above: Smash Bros.was a rare hit for the Wii U.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Community manager Mike Minotti

As a console, the Wii U stunk. It’s main hook, the tablet controller, was a decent idea that Nintendo itself seemed uninterested in supporting. Remember when Mario Kart 8 just uses the tablet screen as a giant horn button? Or how Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze turns the second display completely black?

Still, games are the Wii U’s only saving grace. The usual franchises came out strong. We got another great 3D Mario game in Super Mario 3D World (even if it wasn’t as good as Jeff thinks it is), the best Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. games since the GameCube era, and even though an original Zelda entry isn’t coming to the system until next year (a release that is now an afterthought compared to the Switch version), that franchise has some great HD updates to The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.

Oh, we also have that weird-yet-surprisingly-fun Zelda/Dynasty Warriors crossover via Hyrule Warriors.

Splatoon was a big surprise for 2015 -- especially for being a Nintendo game with good online.

Above: Splatoon was a big surprise for 2015 — especially for being a Nintendo game with good online.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Reporter Jeffrey Grubb

Gamers are going to remember the Wii U like the Dreamcast. I know you have doubts about that, Mike, but I think Nintendo’s worst home console still has some of the best games ever made. Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and Pikmin are all in top form on the system. Then Splatoon comes along and shows that Nintendo can still do something new.

At the same time, the Wii U is clearly Nintendo’s worst home console. And that’s due to the reasons you mentioned, Mike. The tablet is a terrible gimmick. The system looks and feels old and cheap compared to products from Apple and Microsoft. And that Wii U name — oof, what a terrible idea.

But I think the true legacy of the Wii U is that it forced Nintendo to learn some lessons it thought it could ignore. The house of Mario has always claimed that it isn’t really competing against Microsoft or Sony because it’s doing its own thing. But the Wii U failed because consumers were comparing it to the iPad or the Xbox 360. I think Nintendo will come out of the Wii U with renewed sense of perspective about what it takes to compete.

Mario Maker will eventually grow so advanced that it will become self-aware.

Above: Mario Maker will eventually grow so advanced that it will become self-aware.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Conclusion

So, while the Wii U’s whole tablet thing never really worked out, it does leave behind two legacies. The first is its excellent library of first-party Nintendo games, including Super Mario Maker and Splatoon. The other legacy is Nintendo’s next system, Switch. While the Wii U didn’t make an impact in the gaming market, Nintendo could use the lessons it learned from the failed console to create a hit.

And if it doesn’t, the Switch may have an even worse legacy than the Wii U: That of Nintendo’s last console.

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