Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In today's article, editor Dom explores the very opening 12 months of Nintendo Switch and its predecessor, Wii U. We all know Switch's success story, but why did Wii U start off so well and disappear into the background?
You could be mistaken for thinking we don’t like Wii U here at Nintendo Life. Whenever its mentioned it’s usually as part of a story showing how well its successor, Nintendo Switch, is performing. Words such as ‘botched’ and ‘failure’ usually aren’t far behind, either. It seems like there’s a lot of love for Switch and not much for its predecessor.
Fact is, I (and many of the other staff on the team) love Wii U, regardless of its faults. Its GamePad evolved 3DS’ dual-screen setup beyond the remit of a less powerful handheld and gave us a truly unique second screen experience. It brought The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Pikmin 3 and Super Mario 3D World to life, and supported features, in ways no other console could even dream of. It even managed to bring a new dimension to the likes of Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8 and more. Even the Batman: Arkham ports benefited in one form or another by having Wii U’s functionality on hand.
Without it, there wouldn’t be a Nintendo Switch. Wii U was the stop gap that had to exist between the motion control innovation (and mainstream uber-success) of Wii and the semi-rebirth that is Switch. So no I (and we) don’t hate Wii U, we’re simply transparent enough to admit Nintendo produced a console that failed to live up to its potential.
So, with its successor now approaching the end of its first year, it seemed high time to look back on Wii U’s own initial 12 months to see whether the console that eventually faded away ever truly burned bright. We all know it had a handful of killer games to its name as the years wore in - in fact, its first-party titles and exclusives were pretty stellar, all told - but did it stumble out of the gate or hit the ground running?
In reality, Wii U didn’t start out as a disaster for Nintendo, but it did have its fair share of problems that held it back. It entered the market relatively strong when it launched in November 2012. Wii U even sold out its entire stock in the United States by Christmas 2012 - that’s a whole 400,000 units - but this was mainly down to the fact that stock wasn't as high as it should have been, and that Nintendo had only started manufacturing units in the summer of that year. These shortages drove demand up, leading to countless models being sold on eBay and other bidding sites for extortionate prices.
When Nintendo Switch launched, Nintendo was already inundated with pre-orders so Nintendo was already more prepared with hardware, but it too began to sell out. So why did Wii U start to get such bad press when Switch came up smelling of roses? News of a sizeable firmware update for new adopters didn't help (one that could ‘brick’ your console if interrupted), issues with Wi-Fi and HDMI connections and general issues setting up an internet connection mixed with cutthroat eBay prices curdled to create a bad vibe in the mainstream press.
The streamlined UI and online connectivity that came with Nintendo Switch made investing in a brand new platform a far more attractive, and a stream of glowing reviews across the gaming, tech and mainstream press only made consumers - myself included - want a Switch for themselves even more. Mere months into its life cycle and Switch was consistently selling out, but by this point Wii U was no longer enjoying the same problem/benefit. Wii U's launch wasn't a bad one - it sold 890,000 in the first six weeks in the US and 636,000 in its first month in Japan. These aren't bad figures, but they're not great either.
It just shows you how a positive reaction and a greater sense of goodwill has helped Nintendo avoid too much backlash regarding the sorry state the eShop has been in since launch and the sheer lack of a proper online infrastructure. Nintendo Switch Online will launch almost 18 months after the arrival of the console itself, yet somehow the hardware has managed to dodge most of the flack for this. The buildup for either console was also vastly different. That goodwill afforded to Switch owes some of its presence to the strength and savvy of Switch's advertising, but there was barely any marketing for Wii U in 2012.
Then there’s the issue of games. Wii U may have had a core selection of great games by the time it was discontinued, but that wasn’t the case between 2012 and 2013. Wii U launched without a proper killer app. Yes, it had New Super Mario Bros U, but was anyone falling over themselves to own a copy? Does anyone even remember Nintendo Land? Pikmin 3 was the closest offering Wii U had to such a big release, but it’s always felt like a niche title that’s nearly impossible to market.
Switch launched with The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, offering the very definition of a killer, system-shifting app. And yeah, I know it came out on Wii U, but it didn’t matter because everyone’s eyes were on Switch as the hot new thing and Wii U’s install base was so small the Wii U version was more of a courtesy than anything else. Switch had a pretty weak launch lineup outside of BOTW, and still it managed to sell 2.74 million consoles worldwide in March alone.
The more you look at Wii U’s own first 12 months, the more you start to realise how much Nintendo learned from the Wii U era. Much like Sony’s overhauled approach to the design, launch and support of PlayStation 4 compared to the issues that dogged PlayStation 3, Nintendo did what Nintendo does best with Switch. It took all the things Wii U did right, avoided most of the things Wii U did wrong and gave it the support that old console simply didn’t have enough of.
By around the 10-11 month mark in its first year, Wii U had sold approximately 3.91 million units. In less than nine months, Nintendo Switch had hit 10 million. It's hard to argue with figures like this, but that doesn't mean Wii U was a failure by its own making. Timing was also key to both Wii U's downfall and Switch's success. Wii U launched a mere year before the arrival of PS4 and Xbox One, so no one was talking about a soon-to-be underpowered console. Switch arrived less than three and a half years into a console generation where consumers like myself were desperate for something new and fresh. Switch filled that role - and still does - to a tee.
So we as enter Switch’s second year, let’s hope Nintendo’s new hardware fares far better than its predecessor did. Bar a handful of great games, Wii U slipped further and further into obscurity as all eyes turned to PS4 and Xbox One. With the next generation of consoles still a few years away at least, Switch has plenty of time to maintain its upward trajectory. Here’s to Nintendo Switch Year Two…
So that's Dom's take on Wii U and Nintendo Switch, but what do you think? Did Nintendo make a fair few mistakes with Wii U? Was it ahead of its time, or just the victim of bad timing? Let us know in the usual way below...