Back in 2006, Nintendo shocked the gaming world with the Wii. The system was a complete departure from the ‘normal’ console strategy; instead of focusing on more advanced hardware, Nintendo decided to focus on making a system that was simplistic and affordable to invite any-and-everyone to play. This move paid off, resulting in the Wii selling over 100 million units worldwide and becoming one of the most successful consoles of all time. However, its legacy was brought down by its successor, the Wii U, which has become Nintendo’s least-selling home system ever. But, what if the Wii never existed? What would a gaming world without the Wii be like?
As stated already, the Wii sold well thanks to it being simple and affordable. Its hardware really wasn’t that much more powerful than its predecessor, the Gamecube. You could say that Nintendo basically reworked the Gamecube’s internals to fit into a smaller chassis, and called it a day. This allowed for the system to be significantly less expensive than its rivals, the PS3 and Xbox 360. On top of that, the motion-control focused Wii Remote and Nunchuk were quite intriguing compared to a standard controller and got non-gamers interested in trying the system out. All of these factors led to the Wii being the dominant home console of the 7th-generation with its success mirroring that of the PS2 which is still the best-selling system of all time.
But, for all of the milestones that Nintendo achieved with the Wii, it also led the company down a very strange path. I’ve discussed before that the Wii’s success isn’t actually as great as it seems. Rather, you can almost call it a ‘false’ success. I say that because the system attracted a massive crowd, but this crowd mainly consisted of casual consumers who had no intention of sticking around for the long haul. After the six years that the system was active, the majority of its user base had grown tired of it and moved on to other things. This is a big reason why the Wii U wasn’t able to take off.
I keep seeing this statement made again-and-again: “the Wii U would have sold better if it was called the Wii 2.” I don’t really agree with this. As soon as it became evident that the Wii was a very big deal, Nintendo fully embraced the brand. Thus, the flood of ‘Wii Somethings’ started rushing out. All the ‘Wii’ series of games and peripherals kept the brand name very fresh in the minds of consumers, but they eventually got tired of it. So, even if the Wii U was the Wii 2, it probably wouldn’t have sold any better than it already has. Which brings us back to the main question: what if there was no original Wii in the first place; what if there was only the Wii U?
The Wii’s success was impressive, but the majority of its userbase only stuck around for the short-term. Could things have turned out any differently?
Another statement I’ve seen repeatedly is that “the Wii U should have been the Wii.” Now this, I can get behind. The Wii U was an HD-capable system, with a decent online infrastructure, fully-functional OS, and multimedia capabilities. What does this sound like? Well, that’s exactly what Sony and Microsoft had established with the PS3 and 360. The Wii wasn’t just a simple system, it was also quite primitive when compared to that of the PS3/360. As these three systems aged together, Sony and Microsoft kept making improvements and adding new features, while Nintendo more or less stayed in their own little lane doing their own thing. When the Wii U came around, Nintendo was all of a sudden scrambling around to get introduced to what Sony and Microsoft had already gotten accustomed to over the course of the 7th-generation. Had the Wii been what the Wii U is, this wouldn’t have happened.
But, there’s still the matter of sales. Would the Wii U have sold as well as the Wii did in this situation? This is where things get complicated. Unlike the Wii, the Wii U was not simple nor was it very affordable. It was a complex machine, mostly due to it always pulling double-duty because of infamous Gamepad. In fact, that adds another factor into this situation: the unique controller. The Wii Remote invited anyone to pick it up and start playing, but the Gamepad was more intimidating. Some folks still consider it to be clunky. Of course, there’s also the matter of it being underutilized. Personally, I think of it as one of the best controllers I’ve ever used. I find its large size comfortable, and its touchscreen to be really useful in certain situations. It made things like menu navigation and typing a breeze. Of course, there’s also the matter of Off-TV Play; a very beneficial feature, even if it was limited.
The problem with the Gamepad is that the benefits when it came to the actual games were inconsistent. In some titles, it was absolutely amazing, primarily in open-world games. But in other types of games, like racers, it really didn’t offer anything of value most of the time due to its display being untethered from the TV. In a way, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk also had an inconsistency issue; the motion controls worked well in some games, but not all. Also, they lacked a lot of traditional buttons, which the Gamepad thankfully did have. So, should Nintendo have still kept the Gamepad and Wii Remote if the Wii U was the only Wii? It’s hard to say, because that brings us to Nintendo’s position in the gaming world as a whole.
What makes this situation so complicated is because Nintendo basically relies on innovation.
Nintendo was the top dog back in the 80s into the early 90s. It always had its way of doing things, which came as an annoyance time-and-again to third-party developers. When Sony swooped in and offered a more fair set of policies, those developers jumped over to their side in droves. Still, Nintendo increasingly became more stubborn and set in its own ways as time went on. This gradually alienated the company more and more from the rest of the industry. By the time the Wii came around, Nintendo had basically forged a path all of its own, seemingly unbothered by not being a part of the industry in a traditional sense. This worked in the 7th generation, but as the Wii U’s low performance proved, this strategy wasn’t perfect. The issue is that Sony and Microsoft are playing by the traditional set of rules, but the power balance between the two is very hard to maintain due to them being competitors who are so close to each other. Nintendo seeks to offer something totally different, which has been their business strategy for years now. So, the company essentially needs unique ideas like the Wii Remote, Gamepad, dual screens, and even the Switch’s hybrid functionality to remain truly relevant. Nintendo probably wouldn’t be doing so hot if it were following in the exact footsteps as Sony and Microsoft (which is something that many gamers still want).
Ultimately, it’s hard to say how things would have turned out if the Wii U were the only Wii. Nintendo made a lot of strides with the system, but it was brought down by the fact that Nintendo was playing catch-up after holding back with the original Wii. But, if the Wii were as complex as the Wii U, there’s a chance it wouldn’t have been as successful because it wouldn’t be as cheap. Not only that, but if it didn’t have the Wii Remote, then the casual crowd probably wouldn’t have flocked over like they did. But, if it did have the Wii Remote, then that same crowd still would have only been invested for a short period of time. Good grief, this really is complicated.
That’s why the Switch’s success has been truly impressive. With this system, Nintendo has found a much more balanced situation. The Switch is modern and traditional enough so that developers can work with it easily, but it’s also still able to be unique so that it can stand out from Sony and Microsoft’s offerings. The Wii lineage was quite a wild ride for Nintendo, but now the company seems to have a much clearer path ahead. Maybe the whole Wii lineage should have never happened, and the Switch should have been here since ten years ago…Yes, no? Who knows?