Sometimes Nintendo takes an established idea and makes it very, well, 'Nintendo'. It made a deathmatch-style shooter but decided it shouldn't be all about killing, so we got Splatoon, for example. It's a broader trend through the company's history, too, especially in the hardware space. So it was with Miiverse, a social network - of sorts - that was given a big push with the launch of the Wii U. Like the system on which it originated, however, it struggled both in terms of forging an identity and in winning over a large audience; now Nintendo is preparing to close it down.

As a product it got off to a great start at the heart of what became - for a time - one of the most recognisable Nintendo memes. The Wii U app was revealed in the pre-E3 show of 2012, which famously brought us Non-Specific Action Figure.

The idea was pretty clear even at that early stage, with Miiverse being a social space for Wii U owners to help each other out in games, share screenshots and chat about all things the big N. It largely achieved those goals, too, on a functional level, eventually arriving in web browsers and on the 3DS.

For a while the network was undoubtedly popular, and deservedly so. It tapped into the key selling points - or not, as was unfortunately the case - of the Wii U and its GamePad, with arguably the coolest feature being the ability to draw posts. Over the years I've admired the genuine artistic talent that's been on show through Miiverse, and it's at its best when users are sharing awesome fan-art or even touching remembrances of Satoru Iwata.

For a time Nintendo gave Miiverse a big push as it equally strove to push the Wii U towards success, with developers playing their part in sharing contests, news and little bits of info on games through the platform. For months ahead of the launch of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and its 3DS counterpart we had frequent posts from Masahiro Sakurai to reveal news on the game, highlight key gameplay details or even just to share funny shots of Luigi looking very relaxed.

In some respects Nintendo's ambition for Miiverse began its downfall, however. The initial quest to have forums / pages for every game seemed interesting, but as the Wii U got flooded with download games (and then the 3DS Miiverse arrived) it all got extremely busy, and there was the fundamental issue of splitting up the audience between too many segmented spaces. With the modest userbase on Wii U getting spread thin, some rooms became ghost towns. 

Nintendo not only spread the platform thin, but it then attempted heavy-handed moderation. I'm not against the idea of keeping Miiverse relatively clean, but it was a tough task that was doomed to a prolonged struggle. Nintendo would sometimes be heavy handed with moderation or rule changes and annoy users, yet it was never hard to find pictures of a certain part of the male anatomy; famously it was one of the first things I saw in Nintendo Land on the console's launch day, and I wasn't alone in that. It was a case of Nintendo being a little too optimistic about human nature, unfortunately.

A bigger problem, and something that turned me off eventually after enjoying the service for a while, is that it was a slow and clunky platform on Wii U and 3DS. Activities were limited on the web browser version at first, and it had lengthy load times on the actual consoles. By the time you boot it up and find the game page you're interested in it's easy to lose interest. Nintendo was likely dealing with technological limitations, and posting screens directly from games was pretty smooth, but when compared to actual social networks it just wasn't slick enough.

On top of all of that, it's not hard to understand why Nintendo is ditching it. Falling user numbers (which is mainly Nintendo's fault, to be fair), the costs of maintenance and moderation, and the fact that it just doesn't fit in anymore. In some ways the decline of Miiverse matches a similar loss of relevant for Mii characters. Yes, Miitopia was recently released alongside the New 2DS XL, but the avatars are not prominent on Switch. You have to dive into system settings to create one on the new system, and plenty simply don't bother to do so. The Mii era is slowly drawing to a close, or at the very least is becoming less important.

It's not all bad, though. I think Miiverse did some good things, and it was a fun part of the first couple of Wii U years, at least. It probably taught Nintendo some useful lessons on internet services, logistical and otherwise.

 

And the spirit of Miiverse lives on, too, with its recent inclusion (sort of) in Splatoon 2. The Switch 'News' tab is also reminding me a little of the Miiverse game pages, at least in terms of developers and publishers sharing updates. The implementation of 'gifts' through posts for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is neat, with the posts having the informal tone we used to see on Miiverse, and some download-only games have their own news feeds that we can sign up to. Yes, the user response and social dynamic is gone, but there are similarities nevertheless; notably, the capture button and speed with which you can post screens to Twitter and Facebook means we can still share Nintendo zaniness through those platforms.

Perhaps that is the way forward, especially with the optional handheld mode / touchscreen of the Switch; revive aspects of the Miiverse idea occasionally, when it's a good fit. I loved its presence in the Splatoon 2's first Splatfest, with loads of player messages and drawings displayed around the hub and even in the new stage.

Miiverse may be remembered as a Nintendo oddity in years to come. That said, it served a purpose, gave us all some memories and asked the big questions.

Why can't Metroid crawl? A question for the ages.