Today is November 18th, 2017. On this day, five years ago, Nintendo launched the Wii U in North America. You may have forgotten that; after all, the system has been ‘old news’ since the Switch swooped onto the scene back in March. But, I didn’t forget, as I still consider the system to be one of my favorites. After all, it’s the second home system I’ve ever owned.
But while I may be fond of the system, I’ll also be the first to admit that it did not have a very good life. As the follow-up to the original Wii, the Wii U had very high expectations that it needed to meet. But, unlike its predecessor, the Wii U was unable to set sales charts on fire. Nintendo ended up going from its best-selling home system ever with over 100 million Wii units sold worldwide, to its lowest-selling home system ever with the Wii U only being able to mass a little over 13 million units over a four-year period. Production of new Wii U systems came to an end in January of 2017, just two months after its successor, the Switch, was first revealed.
As someone who had the Wii U since the beginning of its life, I saw it through its worst and best moments. Overall, the system wasn’t bad. It just had flaws. It’s arguable that the reason Nintendo ended up making so many missteps with the system is due to the runaway success of the original Wii. With that system, Nintendo had its best run ever with a home console despite it being an incredibly simple machine that was basically a slightly tweaked version of its predecessor (the Gamecube). Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft had built powerhouses in the form of the PS3 and Xbox 360, respectively, which grew more advanced through the 7th-generation. As a result, when Nintendo was suddenly trying to make some real hardware advancement of its own with the Wii U, it was basically trying to play catch-up with the other platforms.
The Wii U wasn’t a bad system, just a flawed one.
Sony and Microsoft’s engineers and third-party developers got years of experience from working with the PS3 and 360 (HD game development, sophisticated OS, major online infrastructures, etc.) Nintendo, on the other hand, was busy trying to learn these things. This is why the Wii U ended up getting off to such a slow start, and why its OS was so archaic early on. If the original Wii were a more complex machine, closer to that of the PS3 and 360, then Nintendo would have definitely been more prepared to handle a more advanced system like the Wii U.
Despite its flaws, Nintendo was able to learn a lot of valuable lessons from the Wii U. The company now has a solid, effective marketing strategy, and a unique design that’s easy for consumers to understand (not to mention beneficial) while also not getting in the way of developers. In fact, the Switch has been designed to appeal to developers more than any other Nintendo home system before it, something that Nintendo has been praised for repeatedly. Its studios are now accustomed to how HD game development works, and they learned how to create modern, snappy OS. Now, Nintendo’s engineers are hard at work building the infrastructure of Switch Online, which should finally give Nintendo’s online ecosystem a push into a league that’s a lot closer to the standard that Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have.
The Wii U may go down in history as Nintendo’s most infamous home system, but it’s not a totally bad apple. It had some highlights and was able to pave the way for the Switch, which has been a smash-hit since day one. It gave Nintendo a much-needed push in the right direction. So, let’s thank the Wii U. It was a good system while it lasted, and was the catalyst for Nintendo’s current solid performance.
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