The Wii U doesn't have too many big-name games still confirmed to be on the way, especially from third-parties. As a result the cancellation of Yooka-Laylee on the platform has led to quite a reaction, which I suspect is partly reflective of some wider frustrations.
First of all, it's come up a lot and I included the link in our most recent article, but any Yooka-Laylee backers affected by the Wii U cancellation should read this official FAQ; it addresses options and has a link to contact the developer.
This isn't the only prospective project to bite the dust, with The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth seemingly being another, along with Stardew Valley; in both of those cases a move from Wii U to Switch is either confirmed or strongly teased. There are also a number of titles once listed for the Wii U that have quietly dropped off the radar over the past 12-18 months, some of them exciting games long since released on PC and other consoles. Though I plan to follow-up on long-forgotten releases with developers to see what prompted the end of Wii U plans, two key reasons seem rather obvious.
One is the system's limitations, which have been cited by Playtonic Games. The Wii U, in adopting a similar architecture to Wii (which closely followed GameCube) is unlike other current-gen systems in how it works, and naturally that's an extra headache for developers. Even Unity support - so widely used in the Indie space - can be an issue; in the past when speaking to developers they've told me (at that time) how they would build Wii U games in an older version of the Unity software, using updated versions of the engine for other systems. While Nintendo has tried to open the door to make running games on Wii U easier, there have still been issues not found on other hardware.
With each passing year that problem can only get worse. The Wii U may have boasted more RAM and arguably more power than Xbox 360 and PS3 when it launched, but it's always been a good bit behind PS4 and Xbox One. As generations progress, developers also push systems further, so as titles of various budgets and sizes get flashier on PS4 and Xbox One (and often PC, of course), they become increasingly difficult to get running on Wii U. Yooka-Laylee, for example, was evidently quite demanding in the PC demo given to backers, so I can imagine that Nintendo's current system was a tough ask. While I'm not on the ground floor in knowing the current Unity options with Wii U, I'd bet limitations are still a notable concern for ambitious projects.
The other core issue is the Wii U's commercial failure. It's the worst-selling mainstream home console since the Dreamcast, and though it's admirable that Nintendo has persevered and essentially brushed off the failure to plan for a brighter tomorrow, I've argued before that it's persistently done little to save the situation. It seems to me that the rescue effort ended by late 2015, and it's been clear that the company has been playing out time. Limited releases at retail and a projection of shipping less than a million units this financial year have been self-explanatory; little to no effort was made for a last hurrah during the Black Friday period, for example, with manufacturing also drawing to a close.
At retail the Wii U is pretty much an irrelevance. My local GAME store has a small corner for Wii U, probably just to facilitate a handful of potential customers, to shift remaining stock and maintain a cordial relationship with Nintendo. The system's place in current day gaming discourse - ie its place in the 'scene' - is minor too. If it wasn't for the attention around The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild it would have been even worse this year, and many simply wanted to see the Switch version anyway.
This isn't necessarily the case for many reading these pages, Nintendo gamers that still harbour affection for the Wii U. I consider myself in that camp, and often invite gentle teasing when I defend the system and talk up its unique games. Yet the reality, outside of the Nintendo Bubble, is that the Wii U is at best largely ignored, or at worst the butt of jokes. Nintendo has ditched it, and the wider public has done the same. It's worth noting that the big N put its focus on the 3DS this Holiday season, and that's hardly surprising.
It's been a rapid decline, though, and that leads to lingering frustration. The Wii U shouldn't be on life support yet - as I've pointed out it's barely past four years old. Yet here we are, where even download game developers look at the situation and are tempted to shy away.
How does the Switch avoid this fate? There are lots of lessons to be learnt, probably something I'll tackle at length soon. The first challenge is building early sales momentum, validating the system's place in the industry and providing encouragement to retailers and developers. Another task will be to make it flexible and powerful enough to last. Raw power isn't the only issue, but also ease of support - by utilising Tegra technology and with relationships in place with game engine providers, hopefully the Switch will support up-to-date tools in the best possible way for developers.
It'll be difficult, though. We're in a strange period where mid-gen refreshes are a thing - I've been following the PS4 Pro closely, for example, and to say opinion on that is divided is an understatement. Then there'll be the Xbox 'Scorpio', and there's continual growth in phone and tablet capabilities. The 'generation' lines are blurring, to the point that they're barely relevant in the traditional sense, and that causes blowback among consumers. Nobody bought a PS4 thinking they'd be asked to consider upgrading in a few years; just like no-one bought a Wii U and thought it'd be effectively retired (barring one off hits like Breath of the Wild) after four years.
It's all about adjusting consumer expectations, I'd suggest. Plenty (including me) buy at least two versions of Nintendo portables - I'm onto my third in this generation, from original 3DS, to 3DS XL, to New Nintendo 3DS. Some will have more, or some will have just bought one, but the point is that iterations are expected in the handheld space.
How will Switch work in this respect? Will a Switch iteration with more grunt come along in 2-3 years, or perhaps there'll be an accessory that can provide extra processing power as an external unit, as we've seen in some patents? I don't know, but frankly I'd be amazed if the Switch doesn't iterate.
That's the modern industry. Technology isn't waiting, neither is consumer expectation, and devices lagging behind lose in record time. The Wii U had arguably lost after 2-3 years - it couldn't find an audience, support declined, and eventually even the basic technology under the hood became an issue. Multiple factors combined to bring an early death.
I think, for many of us Wii U fans, that's been the saddest thing. Unlike the Wii, which seemed to have 4-5 solid years (dominant in its first 2-3) and a poor sixth year, the Wii U has been struggling for a while. Now it's being left behind, with developers and many gamers more interested in the next generation of Nintendo hardware.
On the plus side it means some potentially enticing early support for Switch; on the downside the Wii U is ignored and forgotten too soon.