With the Wii U turning ten years old (crikey, we're really starting to feel old now), it's only natural that we're finding ourselves looking back at the console that's graciously gifted so much of its previously-exclusive software to its successor. Where did things really go wrong? What did we like about it? What did we dislike?
For many people, concerns really started with its debut trailer. Never has an official reveal left us so confused as to what Nintendo's new console actually was. Gamers across the world were left a little baffled as to what exactly Nintendo was going for with Wii U. Was it a peripheral for its previous platform, or an entirely new console?
Obviously, looking back now, it didn't take long for dedicated gamers to understand, but the initial sense of confusion among fans was undeniable at the time, and many of the more casual gamers who had a Wii under their TV never properly grasped the Wii U GamePad concept. It's safe to assume that this contributed dramatically to the console's commercial failure, along with the debilitating lack of third-party support, of course.
We would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at Nintendo in the aftermath of the Wii U's reveal, because for many, it was the first nail in the coffin for the console. It's a true demonstration of how powerful first impressions can be; for the Wii U, its debut trailer brought doubt and confusion, whereas its successor, the Switch, debuted to palpable excitement.
But were the two reveals really so different? In many ways, yes, but looking back we were also surprised at some of the similarities. So we thought it might be fun to look at both trailers and really dig into what each of them did to showcase their respective consoles.
So first, let's take a look at both trailers in action:
Wii U Reveal Trailer - *parrot sings the Super Mario Bros. theme*
Switch Reveal Trailer - Haha, haha, yeahhhhhh
How similar are those opening scenes? There's no doubt that the functionality of the Wii U evolved and informed how the Switch would work, but to see both side-by-side makes this an interesting direct comparison. It also highlights, however, just how much Nintendo dropped the ball with its initial trailer for the Wii U.
But explore both in more detail and find out why...
Starting with the Wii U trailer first, we get a first-person view of some bloke entering a room to interrupt his friend / brother / roommate / partner / child, who happens to be playing New Super Mario Bros. U on the new console. "Hey, it's uh, time to watch some baseball", he says in a completely normal voice.
We watch as the Wii U's TV display is turned off in favour of the sport, while over on the desk, the Wii U gamepad is now displaying New Super Mario Bros. U, exactly as it was appearing on the TV. The trailer then states quite plainly, "Switch from TV to the New Controller".
Switch, eh..? What an interesting concept! But hang on... "New Controller"? I see some Miis and Wii Sports... Ah, so this is a new controller for the Wii, then.
Meanwhile, over on the Switch trailer, we see a young gentleman playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the TV, with the Switch's Joy-Con controllers attached to the grip accessory. The gentleman's dog barks at him (translation: "stop playing that darn game and take me for a walk!"), so he proceeds to remove the Joy-Con from the grip, pops them into the Switch console itself, and hey presto, Breath of the Wild has moved instantaneously from the TV to the console.
The main difference here, of course, is that the Wii U GamePad can't be taken on the go — or at least not beyond the relatively short wireless range of the console. With the Switch, on the other hand, the console is a handheld system. The roles have essentially been reversed, and — as we all know — you can take the little miracle with you wherever you want.
Still, it's pretty striking how similar these opening scenes are, right?
Going back to the Wii U, the trailer now informs us that we can draw on the Wii U's GamePad, because who needs paper? We get a good look at a rather talented individual drawing a fancy picture of Link from The Legend of Zelda, with a playback of the illustration being played on the TV. A nifty feature, perhaps, but hardly a huge draw for prospective customers who hoped for a return to a more "gamer-centric" experience after the Wii.
Over on the Switch trailer, it doubles down on the idea that you can play this thing wherever the heck you want. Look, we're in an airport! See someone else playing the Switch? What a great conversation opener! And not a TV in sight. It's like we're playing the 3DS, but better, yeah..?
The trailer is clearly keeping things simple and to the point. No pointless drawing apps here, thank you very much.
Next up, the Wii U trailer goes into the New Controller's unique capabilities, including the touch screen, motion controls, unique viewpoints, and, uh... Wii Fit U functionality. Yay..? There's an awful lot going on and the trailer arguably bombards the viewer with information without actually answering the most important question of all: Just what the heck is this thing?
"Play only on the New Controller", "Use Motion to Control with the New Controller", "Get New Views with the New Controller", "Stay Fit with the New Controller" — it goes on, and all without establishing that this New Controller does come with a new console, by the way. Coupled with all the Miis and Wii-era software shown, it's no wonder people didn't realise that the white system visible next to the TV in a few shots was, in fact, a 'New Console' and not the old Wii.
It's all too much and yet not enough, and it's not what Nintendo fans really want to see. Did Don Mattrick have a hand in this?
Back on Switch, the trailer continues with its theme of "yes, you can really play this thing anywhere," showing a rather handsome chap playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim via tabletop mode on a commercial flight, before returning home and popping the Switch back in its dock to play in TV mode with the Pro Controller. It was confirmation that, yes, not only was bloomin' Skyrim coming to the Switch, but you could also play it out and about, and you certainly couldn't say the same about the PS4 or Xbox One.
Parrots And Karens
The Wii U trailer shows off a couple more unique gameplay ideas for the GamePad, including using a gun attachment and firing shurikens from the touch screen to the TV, before moving onto the next "big" feature: video calls. Good lord.
It's frankly an utterly bizarre way to show off a new video games console, and the way that one of the actors is stroking a video display of a dog makes you think there might be some cool software that understands a dog is onscreen and does...something Nintendogs-y, perhaps? But no, it's just someone pretending to stroke their dog through a screen.
We also get a good look at web browsing, because that's something that everybody wants on their shiny, new console, right? Look, you can turn the gamepad vertically -- isn't that great? For context, the iPhone had existed for five years by this point, so surfing the information superhighway on a touchscreen wasn't some newfangled idea.
It was about this point that this writer completely checked out. Oh, and there's a singing parrot, because of course there is.
The Switch trailer, conversely, gives us a good look at the social aspect of the new console, including the straight-forward ability to play multiplayer with the Joy-Con controllers and the undeniably tempting prospect of interrupting a rooftop party to show everybody just how awesome Super Mario Odyssey is. Dammit, Karen!
Again, it's simple, and it's showing gamers what we actually want to see: new games, intuitive mechanics, and meaningful social implementation. Not bloody internet browsing, for goodness sake.
Ending On A High
The Wii U reveal ends on an admittedly high note, showcasing an absolutely beautiful tech demonstration of The Legend of Zelda, as Link battles a giant spider and demonstrates the Wii U's improved graphical power. Sadly, this concept never materialised as an actual game (though what we eventually did get was arguably even better) but it did at least ease some fears that this "New Controller" was simply an elaborate peripheral for the Wii.
Or was it? Was it somehow adding processing power to the old console as well as this second screen? Everyone was left with questions. What a weird trailer.
As for the Switch reveal, it finishes up by tapping into the harder-core gaming market by showing off a team of professional gamers entering a high-stakes Splatoon 2 tournament complete with a massive crowd. It's a proper demonstration that Nintendo is taking this console seriously as a platform for gamers and not something to phone your gran on; no singing parrots here, folks! Just a bunch of passionate gamers doing what they do best.
It's a solid ending to a trailer that successfully demonstrates what the Switch is all about with no unnecessary fluff. The only real question it prompts is a good one as far as Nintendo is concerned: When can I get my hands on one of these things!?
And also: What is that catchy chooooon?
When the Wii U trailer debuted for the first time, fans were pretty sceptical at the time, but looking at it now — especially side-by-side with the Switch trailer — it's quite frankly astounding how poor of a pitch it was. Despite the surprising similarities between the two trailers, particularly within the opening moments, what Nintendo did with its Wii U reveal was so confusing, it's a wonder how it got through however many stages of approval it must have gone through.
At the very least, a proper glimpse of the console itself was absolutely required, if only at the very end, along with demonstrations of the launch line-up. Where was ZombiU? Where was Nintendo Land? Instead, we got a load of Wii Sports and a video of a parrot tooting the Super Mario Bros. theme. Baffling.
On the other hand, the Switch trailer is simply exquisite. Perhaps more so than any other console trailer in recent memory, Nintendo's messaging here is near-faultless. Its proposition is clear: this is a console you can play at home or on the go. That's it. That's all it needs to be; no internet browsing, no drawing apps, no video calling. Just games that you can play wherever you like.
It really is a shame how much Nintendo dropped the ball with the Wii U reveal, because despite how things went, it still had so much promise — and we'll be publishing a feature recalling our first hands-on impressions soon. There are some truly excellent games available for the system (most of which have since migrated over to the Switch, granted), and its Virtual Console line-up is absolutely stellar.
But first impressions are so incredibly important and, unfortunately, the gaming public's first impression of Wii U was er, wut?
We'd love to hear your thoughts. What do you make of both trailers? Are you surprised at how similar the opening scenes are? Share your thoughts in the comments below.