A little while ago I wrote an editorial called 'Losing It All - When a Wii U's External Hard Drive Dies', in which I recounted the tale of just that very thing happening to me. I bemoaned the weird setup of Nintendo's data management on the home console and in particular its treatment of save data, which rather bizarrely is less advanced than on 3DS. The short version of the story was that my hard drive had died, and that was the end of my save data unless I can find a way to retrieve it, which isn't helped by the peculiar setup of the console itself.
I had plenty of sympathy for my plight - thank you for that dear readers - and a handful of commenters lambasting me for not utilising obscure and unofficial methods to pre-emptively create backups for my data before my hard drive decided to stop working. Some did also try to help with practical suggestions for those that want to try and backup their save data now, albeit they're fiddly and awkward solutions that I can't really try out with the dead drive.
Well, the brief update is that I haven't been able to resolve the problem yet, and have little intention of trying too hard due to the fact (mentioned in the original article) that I don't feel inclined to spend money (right now, anyway) on another hard drive for the system. I'm saving up for NX (of course!) and the inevitable extra storage that'll probably require, and also for boring grown up things like a house. As said before, I hope Nintendo joins the 21st Century and supports instinctive save backups both manual (like on 3DS) and via the cloud (like PS4, Steam and lots of other things) on its next system.
In any case, I've tried to laugh it off, mainly as life's too short to cry over lost save data. The flipside, too, is that I'm quite enthused by the idea of slowly chipping away at my catalogue and replaying some of my favourite Wii U games. I'm aware that sounds strange as I could do that with my old save data anyway, so let me explain a little.
I have a bit of a peculiar psychology when it comes to game completion (or maybe it isn't just me, let me know in the comments) in that I'm not a fan of replaying levels and saves that have already been cleared. So, for example, a Mario stage with collectibles that are greyed out / transparent because I already have them disappoints me on a small, minor level, nibbling away at me as I nevertheless dash for the flagpole. I do replay levels when chasing collectables and extras, I'm not so weird that I won't, but collecting something or hitting an objective for the first time is a feeling that can't be replaced.
I'm aware it's bizarre, and it's also minor, but the loss of save data has me considering the fact that I can spend a little spare time in the next 3-6 months revisiting some of my favourite Wii U games with fresh saves. First up has been Mario Kart 8, which I've jumped into in 30 minute sessions; it's arguably the best Mario Kart game yet, and certainly better than its home console predecessor on Wii. There's a little thrill in unlocking cups, characters and customisations, making it feel new. I'm aware it's all in my head, but it's been a lot of fun doing that all over again.
Next on my list is Super Mario 3D World, a game I will defend until my dying day as a fantastic entry in the series. I think a problem some may have had with it was that it wasn't Super Mario Galaxy 3, and I can appreciate that perspective, but I still love it. I've already beaten it at least twice in different saves (green stars look better than transparent stars, remember?) but plan to give it yet another whirl.
Another one I want to try again is Pikmin 3, a looker of a game that's also lovely to play. To my shame, I haven't actually beaten it all the way before - I simply didn't quite make it. Sometimes life, other games, work and a mixture of the three distract me from a game for a few weeks, and then I find it tough to go back. I feel like this one deserves a clearance.
There are others on my list for a revisit on fresh save data too, though realistically there's no chance I'll clear them all - in some cases I'll maybe play the first few levels for a nostalgia kick. Rayman Legends will get another go, most definitely Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Yoshi's Woolly World. Maybe a bit of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker just for the charm of it; these are just games I plan to play again soon, this isn't a 'best Wii U games' list, remember. A number of these are download copies, so the limited space on the Wii U may even force me to be disciplined and only re-download one or two at a time, rather than falling into the great backlog trap that haunted my Wii U pre-hard drive disaster, and which still lingers on my ridiculously crowded libraries of games on the likes of 3DS, PC and PS4.
What I've come to appreciate, having seen all my downloaded game logos disappear from my console, is how much I've enjoyed the Wii U library (and how much I miss those logos). The eShop, it must be said, has also been a massive part of this. I've loved Wii U-exclusives like NES Remix and Affordable Space Adventures, but in a number of cases had plenty of games that were multi-platform but offered a little extra on the system (through GamePad features or Director's Cut versions). Sometimes I'd buy eShop versions of Indie games just to support the platform, as download-only games are so important to the modern Nintendo gaming system experience.
Thinking about the Wii U line-up, and all of the games I want to re-download and/or play again on disc, I realise that it's up there with my favourite consoles ever, battling near the top of the list. I also realise that, pound-for-pound, I think I've had more pleasure from the Wii U over the past four years (just under, but close) than I arguably did with the Wii in the last generation. I'm not sure the best Wii U games are better than the best Wii games - after all, Wii had the likes of Galaxy 1 and 2 and Metroid Prime Trilogy - but I think I've enjoyed more sustained and varied gaming on Wii U. This Summer, in actual fact, was the first period I can remember where I wasn't playing the system as much or more than 3DS and PS4.
I am a little saddened by the fate that's befallen the Wii U - abysmal sales, mocked by some, drifting towards discontinuation before its 4th Birthday. Yet my own memories of it and my ongoing opinion of its games remain entirely positive. I'll happily go to bat for it until the end times - there's a reasonably-sized batch of top-notch retail games, and an eShop that's been home to some fantastic Indie and 'Nindie' efforts. It does, I think beyond debate, have some wonderful top-tier games, many of which can't be found on any other hardware.
Ultimately, history won't be kind to Wii U, and it'll be termed (on various metrics) a failure by many. I'll bemoan its flaws and the mistakes that crippled its chances of success, but I'll always talk up its games and how a lot of those games make me feel. I'll treasure memories of family sessions in MK8 or Nintendo Land, along with thousands of solo hours playing its best titles, big and small.
Objectively speaking its a failed console. In my eyes, however, it's been a delight that I'll revisit in years to come, right after I've inevitably succumbed to buying a new hard drive to backup all those retail downloads.