Eulogy: Wii U
Long live the Wii U. With only one game revealed for the system by Nintendo at E3 2016, the end is nigh for their failed tablet/console hybrid experiment. The system only sold a measly 13 million units to date, making it the biggest failure in the company's history; Significantly worse than their last failure, the GameCube, at just over 21 million units.
So the system didn't sell, does that mean it was a bad console? This should be the part where I change gears and say it was an overlooked masterpiece, but based on the hardware alone, this retrospective doesn't take a positive turn yet. The Wii U had an awful launch, with people unable to download the required day 1 system firmware, some even reporting their console bricked once they had. To this day, the system is plagued with slow navigation through the operating system, slow download and install times and missing features which were promised, but never delivered (remember Nintendo TVii?). There are frustrating design choices such as the fact that the tablet-styled GamePad must be powered on whenever the console is in use, even if you are not using it as your controller. This is doubly frustrating, as said device has less than 3 hours battery in some use cases. The games available at launch were underwhelming, with Nintendo fans lacking any games in major franchises such as Zelda, Mario Kart or Metroid. It wasn't a great start.
OK, now we switch gears.
THINGS THE WII U DID RIGHT
THE WEB BROWSER
This may not seem so important, but being able to browse the web is a function that exists on both the PS4 and Xbox One, with both doing a terrible job of it. Nintendo's offering is fast, stable and easy to navigate. Scrolling and text input are a breeze, using the stylus on the GamePad. My personal favourite feature is how Nintendo's browser handles media casting to your TV. Select a video on the GamePad and it will immediately play in full-screen on your television. Doesn't sound like a big ask, but the rival systems fail to handle video content at all on the vast majority of websites. The Wii U gives me a more stable experience in this respect than my Apple TV, which often bugs out and decides to throw the video back down to my iPad, rather than my TV. In short, in my opinion, the Wii U offers the best television browsing experience available.
Nintendo has often been criticised for using "underpowered" hardware in comparison to their rivals Sony and Microsoft, mostly due to their bullish insistence on using the same architecture generation after generation. The advantage of this, however, is that the games of the previous generation can run natively, without the need for emulation. This means that the entire Wii catalogue is playable on Wii U. That's Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, Zelda: Skyward Sword, Xenoblade Chronicles, Metroid Prime Trilogy and so many more. Say what you will about the gimmicky nature of the Wii, it still has one of the best games collections of all time.
Although the GamePad was off-putting for many prospective Wii U owners, it really is what makes the system stand out in the market. Not all games utilise the GamePad to its full capability, but those that do make for a uniquely enjoyable experience; Similar to that enjoyed on the Nintendo DS systems, but with high definition graphics. Thankfully, some third party developers embraced this concept early on. Games like Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are thought by some to have their best versions on Nintendo's system. The bottom screen can be used to display maps, inventories or alternate views of the action without having to pause gameplay. The touchscreen makes interacting with these elements faster and more intuitive than using directional buttons to navigate around. Sony and Microsoft flirted with the concept using the Vita and tablets respectively, but neither came close to the quality seen on Wii U.
As a PC gamer primarily, my PS4 and (recently sold) Xbox One feel a little redundant. The majority of games on those systems have superior versions on PC, so I rarely feel the need to switch them on. There are occasional releases that require me to pick up my Dualshock such as Until Dawn (because of its PS4 exclusivity) or Pro Evolution Soccer (which has an awful PC version), but for the most part, my trusty desktop serves me well.
This is where the Wii U truly holds its value in my household. Nintendo relies heavily on their own studios to create exclusive, must-have titles, created for their unique hardware. Creating this list was tough, but in case anyone was reading this article in contemplation of picking up a Wii U late in the life-cycle, think of these six games as a "buyer's guide" to Wii U, an entry point to experiencing what the console has to offer. I say tough because I don't necessarily feel these are the six best games, but I wanted to provide a variety that shows off what the system is capable of, then you can be free to discover the rest on your own.
XENOBLADE CHRONICLES X
Why: Huge, open world that defies the "underpowered" hardware
Fellow GPT crew member Stu Oswald asked me to include this one. He himself is a latecomer to playing on Wii U, after originally turning his nose up at the system like many others. He even owned one at launch day, but that disappointing lineup eventually grew tiresome. One of the games that drew him back in was Xenoblade Chronicles X. Some critics have said that the game is the best JRPG of this generation and Tetsuya Takahashi's best work yet. High praise. The amount of missions to complete, secrets to discover and the vast world to explore are more reminiscent of something like The Witcher 3 than what we are used to seeing in the genre. A must play.
Why: Great online multiplayer shooter... on a Nintendo platform?
One of the Wii U's hottest selling games and a rare, new AAA IP for Nintendo. Splatoon is a third-person online multiplayer shooter, where the objective is not only to splat the enemy team to death with your paint gun, but to end the round with the map covered with more of your paint colour than the other team's. The Wii U lacks features such as grouping as a Party, or voice chat, but those that accuse the system of lacking the ability to have a great online experience haven't played Splatoon.
SUPER MARIO MAKER
Why: Infinite Classic Mario!
Think LittleBigPlanet, but with far greater and more accessible creation tools (using the stylus and GamePad, of course!). Not the creative type? Think of your favourite 2D Mario game, whether it be in NES, SNES or Wii flavours and multiply it by infinity, as the community create the levels for you. Still not on board? You can't be helped.
TOKYO MIRAGE SESSIONS #FE
Why: Great JRPG with GamePad support
From the studio that brought you the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games, so if you are familiar with Atlus' work, you should know what to expect here. If not, prepare for a JRPG with a fantastic, bright visual style and some of the most enjoyable turn-based combat mechanics I can remember in years. The story involves a group of teens on the verge of super stardom as singers, models and actors, who are able to use their talents to battle monsters that are invading Tokyo. Of course! The game makes great use of the GamePad, with area and dungeon maps displayed on the smaller screen, as well as it being used as a mobile phone, where your team will occasionally text you with extra missions and story hooks. Possible game of 2016 for me.
MARIO KART 8
Why: Arguably the best game in this iconic kart racing series
My "why" statement is going to be controversial, isn't it? I'll quietly move on. See here for another excellent implementation of online multiplayer. I've spent countless hours moving through playlist to playlist taking on all-comers. It's one of the few racing games where I find genuine satisfaction in a race, even if I don't come first. Races become stories to tell your friends, it's magical stuff. One thing worthy of note here was how well the DLC for the game was handled. Characters and tracks were slowly teased over time, but by the time the content was released, it was clear what you were getting, with videos and images detailing what you are paying for. The new tracks were fantastic and totally worth the money if you haven't jumped on them already.
SUPER SMASH BROS. FOR WII U
Why: Discover the original eSport
If you haven't already, you absolutely have to watch EastPointPicture's fantastic documentary series on the people who made Super Smash Bros. into a competitive gaming phenomenon. In my workplace, there are only two games that have a permanent setup and are regularly played; FIFA 16 on PS4 and Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. A return to form after the slightly disappointing Wii version, those that are looking to get into the series should look no further. The game still has a strong online community, but I personally recommend you grab 4 GameCube controllers and the adaptor, then have at it with some friends. Accessible for anyone to pick up a controller and get into, but fiercely competitive in the hands of experts.
HONOURABLE MENTION: NINTENDO LAND
Why: Showcase for what could have been
A fairly average collection of local multiplayer party games, but most of them take full advantage of all of the system's capabilities. The games that feature one player holding the GamePad, with their own secret view of the action on their screen, pitted against the rest of the room, are a highlight. The game serves more as a demo reel of what you could potentially do with the system, as an example for other developers to follow suit and take it further. Unfortunately, very few developers did. As a result, Nintendo Land serves as a graveyard of ideas, but worth a look for the curious who can find it for a cheap price.
I genuinely hope that much like the Sega Dreamcast, gamers will look back, pick up a cheap system and discover what they missed out on. At the Wii U's funeral, I will be smiling, celebrating the life of a dear friend that was misunderstood by many and completely unknown to others. I look forward to hearing more about Nintendo's NX, but for now I'll pour one out for my fallen comrade. Rest in peace, buddy.