This month marks the closure of the official Wii U Facebook page. While the low-selling Nintendo home console was officially discontinued in the beginning of 2017, games are still being produced with 16 games released in 2018 and two more on the horizon by the end of 2019, at least in the North America region. In fact, over 760 Wii U games have been released to date worldwide.
So what went wrong with the Wii U? Being that it came out in 2012, there’s certainly a lot of articles that attempt to explain why the Wii U was not the hit success the Wii before it was or why the Nintendo Switch has already done better from a sales perspective. First, I do want to sum-up what people mean by the Wii U being a failure, a black sheep, or not a success. Normally, video game console success is measured by number of units sold in addition to how long the console or an iteration of it, is on the market.
We know that the Wii U sold just over 13.5 million consoles worldwide. This makes the Wii U Nintendo’s lowest selling home console, not counting the NES Classic, SNES Classic, and VirtualBOY. That’s right, the GameCube not only outsold the Wii U but actually sold over 21 million units by comparison. The Nintendo Switch has already passed the GameCube’s sales numbers (sold from 2001-2007) in less than two years on the market, with around 23 million Switch units sold.
Successful consoles like the PlayStation 2 (2000-2013) and Wii (2006-2017) have both sold over 100 million units with the PS2 selling over 150 million if you include every version released over that console’s incredible production run. The Wii U had two versions, both at launch, the white 8GB model and the Deluxe 32GB model in black. The Wii would have several versions over the years, just like the PS2. They’d release in different sizes, colors, and with different features from their original counterparts.
Alright, so it didn’t sell well. But why didn’t people buy the Wii U after the Wii’s success? Was it the game library? Boasting over 760 games might not sound impressive when the Nintendo Switch already has over 1,200 games in 1/3 the time but the Wii U’s game library actually isn’t as small as you think. The Nintendo 64 (1996-2002), which outsold the original Xbox (2001-2009) by over 37%, had a library about half the size of the Wii U at just 388 games but sold almost 33 million units.
It must have been the launch window then. Nothing to play at launch? That’s a fair criticism. I don’t shy away from saying I’m a Nintendo fanboy, because I most certainly am. If you ever listened to my time on the Gamer Heroes podcast’s first 60 episodes, you’d get that pretty quick. But to be clear, I own a lot of Nintendo consoles leaving out the VirtualBOY and a few of the GameBoy and DS iterations. I camped out for the Wii in 2006… for 39.5 hours. But when the Wii U came along, I didn’t camp out. I didn’t pre-order. I didn’t even go to the store to pick one up. This was due to the games available at launch, for me. There wasn’t much to choose from that I cared about, personally, at least not on a Nintendo console.
Sure, New Super Mario Bros. U was there but Super Mario 3D World wouldn’t release for just over a year. There wasn’t even a Zelda game at launch. The Wind Waker HD wouldn’t come out for 11 months and it wasn’t even a new game! It was a remaster of the 2002 GameCube game. The only actually new Zelda game released on the Wii U was Breath of the Wild which was also released on the brand new Switch console. Mario Kart 8 took until May of 2014, about 18 months after release of the Wii U and 6 years since the previous Wii incarnation. Super Smash Bros. was two full years after the console came out. It never got a Metroid game. No Castlevania. And Splatoon, the game that so many people love now, didn’t release until May 2015, about 30 months AFTER the console launched.
I eventually bought a Wii U in the summer of 2013, about 9 or so months after it came out. I played New Super Mario Bros and ZombiU, along with Nintendo Land. But I mainly played my Wii which was now living as a legit, official emulator inside my Wii U thanks to their transfer process. So, I upgraded because I could use a single console and play the newer games. Of course I ended up with some great games like Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, ZombiU, and the surprisingly fun Luigi U. All-in-all, I only have 9 physical Wii U games at this point. I had a few others like Pokken Tournament, but traded them in long ago for something else. The only Nintendo console I own fewer games for is the GameCube and that’s because I didn’t actually own one until last year, aside from the built-in Wii functionality that led to a couple games like Super Smash Bros. Melee. So when it’s all said and done, the Wii U might have had a larger library than the N64 but I have countless more games for the older console that one could argue hasn’t even aged as well.
People were confused too. I still have to explain to people that the Wii and Wii U were completely different things. No, the Wii U is not a Wii with a tablet. No, the Wii U isn’t just the tablet as an add-on to the Wii. The Wii U was Nintendo’s next generation console, a mid-gen console to many in the industry due to its more Nintendo-esque limited hardware. So here’s a little explanation. The Wii U was the next step in Wii development. It had better hardware, a larger form factor, no GameCube controller or memory card support, no mini-disc support, and its primary controller was a handheld tablet with physical buttons.
Okay, so you know what it is but was it a good thing? Well, the tablet was a neat concept. Some games leveraged it really well, like ZombiU. In that game, a zombie game, you watch the TV for what you, as a character, can see and then the tablet acted as your inventory, map, details, etc. Other games, like New Super Mario Bros., just mirrored the TV screen, which did mean you could play on the tablet while someone else used the TV for another console or something. Some games like Nintendo Land allowed one player to use the tablet to perform a task like hiding, while the other players saw everything else on the TV and tried to find the hiding player. Some took advantage of the motion controls like StarFox Zero, with the tablet being inside the cockpit and the TV being a third-person view. The final group didn’t use the tablet screen at all, like Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Wii U. It was blank, basically.
At the end of the day, the Wii U was essentially a Nintendo Switch prototype. It had the tablet; you could play away from the TV. But it still required a full console box and the range of the tablet was only a few feet and certainly not through walls… I tried. Even though the Wii U was no powerhouse, it did have some cool features. It kept the Wii alive along with the Virtual Console we all miss on the Switch. It was compatible with essentially all of the Wii controllers, accessories, and such, save a few. It kept the GameCube controller alive with its USB adapter for Smash Bros., which we will see again this December. And it ended up with a substantial library of games, some of which I wish more people had tried out.
To that end, as the Facebook pages for the Wii U close on the day I’m writing this, I’d like to just say goodbye to the Wii U. For a Nintendo fanboy, the Wii U is a prime example of Nintendo’s guts, quirkiness, and style. For a general consumer, the Wii U was an odd, confusing, and seemingly unnecessary upgrade to the Wii.
If you owned a Wii U, I’d love to hear your stories. What were your favorite games? What about features? I’d love to hear about all of it because I do love the Wii U, as strange as that might be.
13.5 million sold
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