After 10 years I finally got a Wii U, that’s what I thought

Used correctly, Nintendo really intended something with this technology

The fact that so many console exclusives are now making their way onto the Switch is a credit to the quality of the games. What if Breath of the Wild was only released for Wii U? Would it still be an awesome game? Damn yes! Would it have had the impact it did? No way. Sure, there were a few missteps – Twilight Princess remains a boring Zelda game, HD or not (not @me, please) – and most third-party studios only did the bare minimum to support the GamePad, but the overall hit Rate on first-party titles was really something.

And not to mention that Wii-ked (sorry) Virtual Console! I had an absolute field day browsing the eShop and snagging every title I’ve wanted to play for years but never had a chance to snag a physical copy. Yes, this was all the more urgent knowing that the Wii U eShop will be closing in the next few months and my time will therefore be limited, but boy what a rush!

Of course, I can’t talk about Wii U games without at least touching on Nintendo Land. That’s weird. It’s not quite Wii Sports, nor is it quite Wii Party, but it’s a fantastic representation of what the GamePad could be used for and kept me and my willing friends hooked with its super simple mini-games.

Mario Chase remains a highlight and a prime candidate for party nights in the future, and while there are a few games that repeat the process a little too closely, there are enough variations to show that Nintendo really had something in mind with this one when used correctly technology. I’m still not entirely sure what to do with these coins and subsequent prizes, but I still had a good time doing it.

the experience

Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

While the GamePad is great when it works well, when it doesn’t work it’s redundant at best and a weighty distraction at worst. I’ve played through an odd assortment of games over the last month, some made effective use of the GamePad (Rayman Legends, Twilight Princess) but others – many others – found no use for it. Why I played Assassin’s Creed III (a series of games I generally can’t get past) is beyond me, but seeing the GamePad being home to a dull map with no care or detail made one thing very clear – this was a good piece of gear desperate for a purpose.

a piece of gaming history so brilliantly odd that we doubt we’ll ever see anything quite as inventive again

That’s perhaps the thing I’ve come back to more often than anything else in my last few weeks on the Wii U. I’ve played on my TV, at my desk, even in bed, but at no point did I feel like I knew what the console was trying to do. Is it a fun handheld? yes, somehow Is it a fun home console? yes, somehow But why be average at both when you could be really good at one?

Long before Microsoft boasted with the Xbox One that “this console will play your games, stream your TV, massage your feet, and do your taxes!” the Wii U did just that. Much to my surprise, it was a video camera, a TV -Remote control, streaming options, and a (defunct but cool-sounding) social media platform, all built into a console I foolishly assumed was just about the games. I’d be fascinated to spy on a parallel universe where the global pandemic happened five years ago and humanity turned to the Wii U’s video chat to keep the economy running. Many of those features don’t work ten years later, and the lack of direction seems a bit chaotic (is that for games, for TV, for social media?), but the ambition is there. This is a brilliant mess indeed.

After a month of playing the console I’ve rejected for so many years, I don’t think it’s fair to call the Wii U a failure (unless you’re talking financially, in which case it’s difficult to disagree). Yes, back then it might have been a marketing disaster with some pretty big gaps between major game releases and my heart goes out to all the fans who diligently held onto it. However, now we can see it for what it really is, a piece of gaming history so brilliant and bewilderingly odd that I doubt we’ll ever see anything quite as experimental and inventive from one of the ‘Big Three’ console makers again will.

If you’re a gamer like me, then you have a chance to be selective with a console that admittedly has some lows. You can play the best first-party games without having to wait months for the next one, the entire virtual console library is right there, with GBA, DS and Wii games to boot, and the marketing campaign is now so far in the past that i think I can safely say that this is a console in and of itself and not just a Wii accessory.

Both me and the Wii U are 10 years older now and we’re both all the cooler for it.

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