The first blog I wrote 2 years ago (almost to the day!) was on how I had high hopes for the Wii U. And while my faith wasn't exactly rewarded in kind, I can't say that I feel betrayed either. It's just that things didn't quite turn out as well as I had hoped.
The third party support was in bad shape 2 years ago, now it's basically non existent, the big first party games came and bumped up sales, but made no real meaningful impact on the system as a whole. Much like the avid fanbase of the Playstation Vita, it's difficult watching it die slow undeserving death.
So what went wrong? Well that's not an easy question to answer because there's not just one issue surrounding the platform. Failures like the OUYA and Virtual Boy are pretty cut and dry, but the Wii U isn't so straightforward. But I'd like to discuss that for a bit.
I think the biggest issue that people call out with the Wii U is the gamepad. Much like the Wii remote, the interface will forever be associated with their respective system, being not only its defining feature but also their greatest strength and weakness. Without a doubt Nintendo banked big on the notion that people wanted to play a console with a touch interface. They predicted that tablets would be a part of the gaming landscape, and in essence they were right. What they didn't factor in was how quickly dedicated tablets would evolve leaving the Wii U gamepad in obsolescence.
As much as I respect Nintendo's decision to pack in the gamepad with every Wii U, I feel like it was the wrong choice because of all the compromises that had to be made to allow that to happen. I see the distinction it offers, and the potential as an interface, it was just far too expensive to make if they wanted comparable specs, thus resulting in yet another under-powered system to keep costs reasonable.
All the people saying they should have just took the gamepad out the same way Microsoft took Kinect out of the Xbox One. People don't understand what that would actually mean. The Kinect was always an auxiliary device that most games never needed, but the Wii U gamepad was far more integral to the Wii U itself. In addition to the navigation of the GUI and the games that require it, the Wii U gamepad is also a huge part of Miiverse. Beyond that, we're looking at uprooting all the work that was done to enforce the idea that these two devices belong together, and angering fans who purchased the system with the expectation of support. The end result would be a last gen system (from a power standpoint) with almost no distinctions, simply a more affordable system that no one wants. Long story short, it would have done more harm than good.
In hindsight, the solution is obvious, it should have been an optional accessory. Imagine if you will, if it was touted as a "3DS player"of sorts. Just put the guts of the 3DS in the Wii U gamepad and sell it for $200, the only extra it would have needed would be an SD card slot and a game card slot. Not only would this have been appealing as a stand alone system, but also a way to play your handheld games on your TV, adding off screen play for all Wii U games, and the two screen functionality would be an as per needed basis. As a separate 3DS model/accessory people would have been banging down doors to buy the gamepad.
The second thing people like to say is that the name held it back. Now I'll be the first to admit when I read the final name was going to be Wii U my jaw literally dropped, and not for a good reason. But over the years I've come to understand it a little better. We all knew that Nintendo was going to reuse the Wii name, it was their most successful console ever, why would they not want to carry those existing customers over? It worked quite well with their handheld lines. You have to think about what other names would have been better while keeping the Wii name? Wii 2 is about the only name I can think of that makes sense, and perhaps they should have gone with that, but that's hardly the problem.
You see, derivative names happen all of the time in electronics. That's the nature of the beast. People were apparently confused by the name HD-DVD for whatever reason, but these same people weren't confused by Xbox One? I fail to see where the name is that confusing when in the day and age where new (very similar) smartphones come out annually, bear in mind Nintendo changed the boxes, the controllers, and the color schemes in addition to the name. Shortly after they found out people were confused they went out of their way to show the differences. I honestly don't know what else they could have done. Don't even bother bringing up the fact that they didn't show the console at the reveal, neither did Sony with the PS4 and no one batted an eye. The fact of the matter is Nintendo clearly announced that they were going to reveal their new system at E3 that year, and somehow even journalists were confused. So if anything the gaming journalists failed to convey Nintendo's clear message. I was never confused at any point of the reveal.
I suppose what I'm most frustrated about though is the third party support. Now Nintendo went WAY out of their way to ensure that third parties would make games for their platform, and one by one they dropped the ball. Yes, that's right the developers. I can literally go down the list of the third party ports that were ceremoniously worse on Nintendo's platform. Madden 13 didn't run on the Infinity Engine present in the 360/PS3 versions, Fifa 13 was described by EA as Fifa 12.5, Mass Effect 3 was ported for the same price as Mass Effect Trilogy on 360/PS3, Arkham City looked worse than the last gen versions, Sniper Elite V2, Assassins Creed 3, Black Ops 2, Ghosts, and Splinter Cell Blacklist were all missing features or DLC present in their "last gen" counterparts. Assassins Creed IV ran like a slideshow and Watch Dogs was delayed for months. This is in addition to Ubisoft pushing Zombi U which played poorly and the best part of the game being a 2 player (local only) mode with only 4 maps. Zombi U was then used as the reason for delaying a completed Rayman Legends to port it over to every other console. Yet somehow, this is Nintendo's fault. Would any of this have been acceptable for the PS4 or Xbox One? Why would anyone pick up a Wii U when those versions of the games played and ran worse than they did on then 6 and 7 year old hardware they already owned?
In terms of hardware I understand things don't always translate easily. It's not always easy to think of a good use of the gamepad for every application. But there are games that could have easily been ported over, games like Monster Hunter 4, Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil Revelations 2. Yet Capcom saw fit to bring over a bastardized port of Street FIghter Alpha 2, and all 3 versions of Street Fighter II on the SNES. Minecraft is another shining example of a missed opportunity, how ironic is it that it took Microsoft buying the game for it to come over to Wii U, and despite the poor port it still sold well. All those games that came to last gen systems could have easily been ported to Wii U but they weren't, yes the install base is lower but it's not like the Xbox One's is that much better. But no, they dropped Nintendo at the first sign of trouble. I get that it's not a charity, but if developers had any hope of Nintendo being a viable platform for third party games shoddy ports and pulled support is a terrible way to change the status quo.
I'm not going to deny that things could have been done differently on Nintendo's part. Their marketing for one was terrible, rarely do I see Wii U commercials, I liked the ones I did see, but if there's no awareness of the platform it's hard to get people to buy in. But they had some real strengths they could have brought to the table. They should have touted the free online and miiverse more, they could have dropped the price a bit more aggressively both of the hardware and software. Finally they could have went out of their way to make games easier to get on their system.
The Wii U's future is still not certain. The looming NX certainly looks like it will take precedence, but Nintendo has promised support for Wii U beyond it's launch. And certainly there are some promising titles coming up, so not all is bleak. Regardless, it's a system I don't regret purchasing.