Ah, the poor Wii U.
Despite its apparent shortcomings against the graphical juggernauts of the PS3 and Xbox 360, the Wii had managed to carve out its own niche, becoming the console of choice in family homes across the world, using motion control and simplicity to introduce gaming to a whole new generation.
A community waited with baited breath to see what Nintendo would do next. What revolutionary new concept would it introduce? How would the company take the medium forward and slap both Sony and Microsoft into place? Well…
Sadly the Wii U was something of a damp squib, at least in terms of sales. Whilst offering a graphical and processing upgrade on its humble forebearer, it still only met the minimum standards of the PS3 and 360, which were in turn each coming to the end of their own life cycle. Motion control would feature once again whilst the Wii U would be compatible with all the Wii’s controllers and peripherals whilst also providing backwards compatibility for the Wii’s huge games library. You can even transfer your Wii game saves, a fun little animation playing out as your files move from one machine to the other. It’s main gimmick was the introduction of a new controller, a combination of touchscreen tablet, traditional joypad and motion control, all in one nifty little gamepad. Blimey, eh.
In a sense, the Wii U was always destined to fail, Nintendo very much victims of their own success. The Wii had proven so popular that Nintendo must have been keen to retain this huge, and somewhat unexpected, new customer base. That meant retaining simplicity and accessibility, backwards compatibility theoretically making the transition from old to new smoother. But the downside to this approach is that the Wii U presented no material shift. It felt like a Wii Plus, its very ties to the previous era lending a sense of familiarity, which, in a genre driven by change, is stench not easily washed out. The controller, whilst novel and clever, was in a perverse sense also limited, lacking the tactile immediacy of a traditional controller, games inevitably becoming a slave to the new system with touch and motion control crowbarred in to make the most of the latest gadget.
Inevitably then the Wii U would be consigned into gaming history, eclipsed by the PS4 and soon to become a mere footnote between Nintendo’s own Wii and Switch. But here’s the thing; the Wii U is ruddy brilliant.
I got the Wii for my 30th birthday in 2008. Like most people, I was sold by Wii Sports, Mario Kart and the promise of getting fit and healthy on Wii Fit. To be honest it gathered dust for a long time, getting a new lease of life following the release of the various Lego games and then again when my kids became interested in gaming.
Mario Kart was the order of the day here. All 3 kids could play together and between us, we unlocked virtually all the content but I started to get bored of the same tracks and the same music. I completed Mario Galaxy and got reasonably far in Super Mario Bros. We dabbled in Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics and the kids packed their backpacks to go on adventures with Dora. They loved it, and there were tears and tantrums when the machine stoped working after the littlest decided to stick a coin in the disc slot. Still, you can pick up a pre-owned machine for £40 and so we were soon back up and running. But I wanted more.
Given that the kids all have their birthday on May, we decided to treat them to a combined present – the Wii U. I did think about getting the Switch but a couple of thoughts held me back. Firstly the price, being that I am a legendary tight wad. Secondly the controllers, the Switch an interesting concept but limited to 2 players, unless I invest in extra controllers (£££). Thirdly, that backwards compatibility we mentioned earlier. Across the two Wii consoles, we had collected a decent set of games and a family’s worth of controllers and so it seemed foolish to ditch all that investment.
Out of the box, the console is a sleek looking beast. Dressed all in black, it sits nicely alongside the Sky Q box and TV. Rocking HD output, it finally feels like a grown up console too, without feeling overwhelming for newcomers like the Playstation and XBox might.
But undoubtedly the most exciting thing was the controller. For all you retro gamers out there, it’s basically the JXD console, but reimagined as a device that isn’t held together by blue tack and sellotape. For everyone else, it is a touchscreen tablet with traditional control sticks, d-pad and buttons tagged on. It is multi-functional, acting as a normal controller, a motion controller, a touchscreen controller and a second screen. My boy calls it the ‘special controller’ that the brood fight over in multiplayer.
Which is all very well and nice but a machine, however funky and innovative, needs games. Given it’s shorter lifespan versus its rival machines, the number of games available is considerably fewer but let’s be honest, the Wii had hundreds of games, most of which were shovelware garbage. The selection may be limited but I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week.
We only have a handful of games but each has been a hit. So let’s take a look at them in more detail.