Wii Hardly Knew U – Reflections On the Wii U

February 27, 2017

There’s something a little magical about the Wii U. When I turn it on it feels like a happy place. Upon start up I’m greeted by dozens of other players’ Miis, all just hanging out and chatting about gaming. It’s an illusion of course, as these conversations aren’t necessary happening in real time, but it shows that Wii U has an active and enthusiastic community. On my birthday, confetti falls and all the little Miis run in cheering with their arms in the air, which is charming and makes me feel a little special. Wii U has some truly great games and if you look at everything that’s been released it’s a solid line up, but when it’s stretched out over four years it’s a bit slim. I love my Wii U and it’s provided a great deal of joy and entertainment with both single and multiplayer games.

The flagship launch game was Nintendo Land, which was included as a pack-in game because it shows the potential of asymmetrical multiplayer and makes excellent use of the Gamepad. While the single player options failed to gain my interest, the multiplayer is fantastic. Nintendo Land was our go to game for months after the launch of the Wii U and still finds its way into occasional rotation. There are a few fun co-op modes, but the versus modes define the game. The player with the Gamepad always plays off its screen, while the other four players use the TV. Mario chase has the player with the Gamepad desperately trying to avoid being caught by four Toads, Luigi’s Mansion has four players take on the role of Ghostbusters trying to catch an invisible ghost, which can only be seen by the player with the gamepad who plays as the ghost. Animal Crossing: Sweet Days has the gamepad player control two characters simultaneously while trying to catch the other players, before they can fill up on fruit. All of the games are variations on the same theme, but they offer enough variety to make them feel completely different and are all a frantic blast to play.

New Super Mario Bros. U also launched alongside the Wii U. The game’s hook, the ability to play with up to four people simultaneously, results in both a great time and utter chaos. As a launch game, I was disappointed it didn’t offer any inspired Gamepad support. Instead, Gamepad incorporation felt forced as the player with the Gamepad doesn’t get to play as a character and instead can create platforms for the other players to interact with. Given how tight the level design is extra platforms are unnecessary and add nothing to enhance the joy of the game. New Super Mario Bros. U is a great game, but it’s mediocre Gamepad support was an early sign that the Gamepad wasn’t going to change the gaming world.

Nintendo rereleased two Zelda games during the life of the Wii U and both were welcome. The Wind Waker was originally greeted with scorn when it was first shown for the GameCube. Fortunately, in the years following its release its beauty and charm have rightly earned it a place among the most beloved entries in the Zelda series. The flaw that has always held Wind Waker back was how tedious the sailing becomes. Nintendo addressed this problem by adding a new sail that doubles the speed of Link’s boat and allows it to sail to in any direction without having to use the wand to redirect the wind. This greatly reduces the tedium and greatly improves the pacing of the game. I thoroughly enjoyed replaying Wind Waker and it reaffirmed its position as one of my favorite Zelda games.

Super Mario 3D world was not the Mario game we wanted, but it was superb nevertheless. I expected Wii U to get a Mario game akin to Mario 64 or Mario Galaxy, but it instead it received a game based on the smaller, but phenomenal 3DS game Mario 3D Land. The hook of 3D Land was its use of the 3DS’ 3D screen, so it did seem odd to create a pseudo sequel on system designed for 2D screens. Fortunately, the 3D visuals were not what made 3D Land special. 3D World took 3D Land’s concept of small, blockish levels and ran with it. The result was a delightful Mario game that offered both a great single player experience as well a hilarious multiplayer game for up to 4 players. The number of players greatly influences how one plays the game and while having four players often results in the game descending into chaos, it remains incredibly fun to play.

I’d proclaim Mario Kart 8 the best Mario Kart if it weren’t lacking dedicated battle mode courses. That being said, it’s still fantastic and offers the best racing in the series. The Wii version was excruciating because it would constantly destroy whomever was in first place. Mario Kart 8 offers better balancing without totally abandoning those occasional last-minute victories brought about by Mario Kart’s signature crazy weapons. Nintendo has already confirmed an updated version will be released for the Switch complete with a full battle mode and it’s a certainty that I’ll be picking that up on day one.

Wii U is the exclusive home of Bayonetta 2, a game no one expected to be made, least of all as a Nintendo exclusive. It offers the same over the top gameplay as the original and confirms that Bayonetta is worthy of being a franchise. While the game itself is a thrill, the cut scenes are often static and take me out of the (admittedly nonsensical) narrative. It seems probable that Bayonetta 2 had a limited budget and this seems to have negatively impacted the story telling, but the gameplay remains fast and responsive.

The surprise game that gave Wii U new life just when it seemed like it was about to die was Super Mario Maker. I never thought Nintendo would give players this much control over one of their core franchises, but I’m thrilled they did. Mario Maker is arguably the best Wii U game and certainly one of my most played games. I wrote an article about it shortly after it launched so I won’t get in to too much detail here, but I will reiterate what a phenomenal game it is. It’s already been released on the 3DS and it’s a safe bet a Switch version is in the works. I can say without a doubt that I’ll gladly buy a Switch version even if it’s barely different from the Wii U game.

Nintendo also offered a rerelease of Twilight Princess, a game I have fond memories of, but haven’t revisited since its release with the launch of the Wii. On the Wii, it required the player to use the Wii Remote as a sword. This meant that to attack enemies one had to wiggle the controller. It was novel at the time, but not an ideal way to interact with the game. The Wii U version offers a standard interface in place of the now dated motion controls. Twilight Princess always felt like an underrated game in the series, so I’m thrilled it’s been given new life on the Wii U, even if it comes near the end of the Wii U’s life.

Star Fox Zero came out late in the Wii U life cycle and was a fun, albeit somewhat frustrating game. It attempted to use the Gamepad in a new way, but given the fate of the Wii U was already clear by the game’s release it felt forced. I would have preferred a straight up shooter without the control gimmick. I think it would have been cool if the screen on the Gamepad had been used for communication with Fox’s squad mates. Instead of forcing players to look down at the controller to aim, Falco and Slippy could have occasionally appeared on the gamepad screen to offer their insights. Given the controller also has a built-in speaker I think this could have given the game a bit more personality without damaging the established control scheme. Regardless of its flaws I’ll gladly take Star Fox Zero over no Star Fox at all.

Beyond the major first party releases the Wii U had a robust collection of download only games as well as a solid offering of Virtual Console games. Nintendo mercifully offered a discount on classic games that were purchased on the same user account for the Wii. While this isn’t as good as simply owning them on a linked account, it was a step in the right direction. My collection of classic games ballooned over the lifespan of the Wii U and I spent a lot of my time with the system playing NES, Super NES and a few N64 games. It’s provided me with access to some great Virtual Console games, such as Super Mario RPG, a classic Super NES game I’ve never had a chance to play before.

There were also a lot of original games offered through the Wii U’s digital store. A few of these were truly inspired and helped define the Wii U. Most notably Nintendo created NES Remix and NES Remix 2 which consisted of playing snippets of classic (and not so classic) NES games as well as crazy remixed challenges. I spent a ton of time with these two games as they offered a tremendous variety of challenges and showcased several NES games, many of which I was not previously familiar with.

The Wii U is Nintendo’s poorest selling system of all time, but doesn’t deserve to be. This reflection upon my time with it is not meant to be an exhaustive list, as there are numerous top notch games I haven’t included here, but rather showcase the value of the system. The Wii U is a unique console with a robust game line up that just never clicked with the public. I spent a lot of time with the Wii U and it will forever remain a valued part of my collection.


Ryan Cave

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