The news of the day is that Nintendo is sending out development kits which supposedly are more powerful than the PS4. If these rumors are true, then the extra power would certainly be appreciated. However, this power alone isn’t going to save Nintendo’s next console. The biggest problem with the Wii U was not its hardware, it was that Nintendo put out the weakest lineup of software they ever had.
When the Wii U was launching, Nintendo proudly proclaimed that for the first time since the N64, there would be a Mario game at launch. Nintendo apparently forgot what made games like Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 a big deal. Those games were industry leading efforts that pushed their genre and the industry forward. New Super Mario Bros U. was a fun but unremarkable Mario game. Super Mario 64 was a game unlike anything you’d played before. New Super Mario Bros U. was a game exactly like what you’d played just two years before. Hardly something that would motivate anybody but the most loyal Nintendo fans to plunk down hundreds of dollars.
It most certainly does not print money.
This became a pattern for Nintendo. The bulk of the Big N’s output on the Wii U was composed of technically competent and well crafted sequels that failed to move their franchises forward in any meaningful way. Super Smash Bros. was a basic fighting game sequel with a few engine tweaks, new characters, and an online mode that’s gone from terrible to mediocre. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze added nothing beyond Cranky Kong and Dixie. Super Mario 3D World took its cues from its 3DS predecessor adding multiplayer at the cost of a step backwards in level design from the brilliant Super Mario Galaxy. Mario Kart 8’s antigravity sequences were a fun but ultimately minor addition.
it’s not that these games weren’t fun. I’ve spent countless hours playing Smash 4, and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is great example of strong level design. These titles have the fun factor, but not the WOW factor. They are quality games, but don’t offer anything truly new that makes you NEED them. By the time Nintendo got around to releasing genuinely novel games like Splatoon and Mario Maker, the market had already passed judgement on the Wii U.
If you looked up “phoned in” in the dictionary…
On the pure casual front, Nintendo was even worse. In the Wii generation, Nintendo created two franchises that launched them into the stratosphere. Surely creating worthy follow ups to these titles would be a top priority for Nintendo… Nah. Nintendo re-released Wii Sports with HD graphics and online play as if those things were really important to the Wii Sports fanbase. Somehow, a free pack-in title became a $40 game. To complete this profoundly imbecilic mishandling of the franchise, Nintendo initially released the game as an ala carte downloadable title to ensure that no casual gamer strolling through Wal-Mart accidently found out there was a new Wii Sports game.
Wii Fit didn’t fair much better. The game’s selling point was a pedometer. In terms of gameplay, Nintendo added about 18 minigames (most of which were similar activities in the dance category). People were willing to buy a Wii for Wii Fit. Asking those same people to drop $400 on a mild upgrade was pretty dumb.
You say the casuals left Nintendo? Of course they did when this was the crap they were putting out.
Unprecedented is one word for it…
Third party support was weak on the Wii U. The Wii U’s hardware definitely deterred third party developers, but even the similarly weak Wii had significantly better support. Developers tried early on to get in on the Wii, and even late in the Wii’s life, games like Epic Mickery, De Blob, Goldeneye, and Just Dance found success on the Wii U. If Nintendo’s Wii U titles were good enough to build a strong install base, third party support would have been far greater.
In the end, the Wii U’s lineup was quite similar to the Gamecube. It was a system that was supported mainly by sequels to popular Nintendo franchises. As these sequels were not as good as the ones found on Gamecube, the Wii U sold even less.
I imagine many of the people reading this article are those who enjoyed both the Wii U and the Gamecube. I did too, with the Gamecube being my favorite console ever. That being said, Nintendo cannot survive in the long term appealing to only their biggest fans. The best way to expand their audience is to provide new, exciting, and legitimately innovative titles. Without these, all the giga flops in the world won’t turn Nintendo around.
Justin Weinblatt is a longtime Nintendo fan, educator, and amateur comedian. He really hopes you found his article to be thoughtful, even if you disagree. He has self esteem issues which would be alleviated if you’re follow him on twitter @gotgameJustin