I promise this is the last one until the Switch event on January 12th!
The anger that followed the cancellation of Yooka-Laylee on the Wii U is not surprising; Wii U owners have been starved of content and of course, were pinning their hopes on one final hurrah for Nintendo’s on-life-support console. There was (and is still) an expectation that this would be the game to silence the critics, that this would be the game to showcase just what the Wii U was capable of, just what people were missing.
To which my response is; really?
Look at it from Nintendo’s perspective. The Wii U, for all its foibles, has had an enviable collection of solid, high-grade game releases over the years. Bayonetta 2, Smash Bros., Mario Maker, Xenoblade Chronicles X, The Wonderful 101, Lego City Undercover, Tokyo Mirage Sessions#FE, Hyrule Warriors, Super Mario 3D World, Pokkén Tournament, Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3, Splatoon… these are astounding games, wonderful brilliant amazing games and in any just and good situation a strong line-up like this that straddles such diverse genre divides and still comes out amazingly well, the console featuring such a line-up should be a no-brainer in terms of sales.
Yet, we know that this isn’t the case. The Wii U failed; it is a dead system, and Nintendo is only carrying it as far as is necessary – up to the point they can get a new console onto the market in March. A strong, diverse, interesting pool of games – which, sadly, never got the expanded audience that they needed or indeed, deserved to get.
Yooka-Laylee is likely going to be a great game. But can we stop pretending that the Wii U is still waiting for it’s “moment in the sun”? Want a game which showcases the Gamepad to its best? That’s Super Mario Maker. Graphically amazing? Look at Bayonetta 2, an absolute marvel. Want quirky and fun? The Wonderful 101 and Lego City Undercover. Solid RPG fare? Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE and Xenoblade Chronicles X will keep you burning that midnight oil. Surprisingly good cross-overs? Hyrule Warriors is a game that is better than it has any earthly right to be. It’s had strong fighting games in Smash Bros. and Pokkén Tournament (even getting Tekken Tag 2 early on, and arguably the better version there). Even new IP in Splatoon, which was an absolute marvel of inventive creation from the young, up-and-coming talent which is driving the Nintendo Switch.
My point is this; the Wii U has had multiple times in the spotlight for its great games. Splatoon, Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 won Game of the Year awards from dozens of sites across the Internet the last few years. It’s impossible to talk about the Wii U’s legacy and not discuss the fact it has had amazing video games. The Wii U has more games justifying its existence than even the PlayStation 4 and XBox One. And yet, those consoles have done much better on the market.
If you want to make a case for the Wii U, can I suggest we have more than enough out there to make a positive case for it? Its quirky, interesting pool of games has been a breath of fresh air in a stale industry. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker took the quirkiest part of Super Mario 3D World and built a whole puzzle game out of it, and it was great! Zombi-U may have been somewhat exposed as a generic horror game when ported to the PS4 and XBox One, but on Wii U? The Gamepad adds a sense of jeopardy that is sorely missing on other platforms. Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate showed me that Monster Hunter is much better on a big screen – bring on the Switch versions, Capcom! – Fast Racing: Neo was brilliant…
But even with such a broad arena of quality content – the Wii U has continued to struggle.
Sadly, the quality of the games in question don’t seem to have helped. Oh sure, some releases jolted a few hundred thousand Wii U sales here and there, but it’s impossible to deny that nothing, not a single high-quality, top-drawer game for the Wii U, has helped it out of its problematic quagmire. I’d argue I’ve played more top-drawer games on the Wii U than the PS4 by a long shot. Still doesn’t change the reality that the Wii U hasn’t been able to sell.
And yes, there are reasons for that. Third party abandonment, difficult times for Nintendo and a dearth of actual decent marketing (Nintendo has done more and better marketing for the Switch since October than they did for the Wii U in four damned years!), alongside other issues like the stupid name – should have been HDS, Nintendo, should have branded it a DS variant… – and the poor aesthetics of the device and the console (come on, they aren’t going to win any beauty contests!) all amalgamated to create a perfect storm that strangled the Wii U. It’s had plenty of games which could have turned the tide – should have turned the tide, even – but not one single release has. Even Zelda: Breath of the Wild, whilst anticipated, isn’t and wasn’t likely to suddenly spike Wii U sales.
And we’ve got a Wii U community now arguing an indie game funded on KickStarter by some ex-Rare staff was going to be the magical release that changes the last four years? Actually, I feel bad for Playtonic having sat through some of these arguments. The pressure to deliver something that would break all known laws of reality and marketing and suddenly drive millions of Wii U sales isn’t exactly a pleasant place to be situated.
So, Nintendo is pushing the Switch.
The new hybrid console which people -are- interested in, are curious about and which gives Nintendo a break from the last four years, allowing a new group to start taking the reins for the company as a whole. The new console that has already been showcased on Prime-time US TV, with Jimmy Fallon getting his grubby paws on a Switch already (yes, I am jealous). The console that had the Internet pretty much on its knees for eighteen months, begging for scraps of information regardless of its authenticity or source. The trailer that spawned hundreds of reaction videos, the vast majority of them positive. And the console that finally sees Nintendo going for more known, less fiddly hardware – putting their faith in nVidia on that front, which is likely a wise move.
There’s already more interest in the Switch, before its release, than Nintendo has had for the Wii U in years. And even the most cynical of analysts cannot deny that with the hybrid nature of the console replacing not one but two distinct markets (Wii U and 3DS), chances are solid that Nintendo will easily sell more units than they have lately.
For this, Nintendo needs to cut the cord on older hardware.
Thing is, we know the market is relying too much on older hardware. The sharp decline in Call of Duty sales comes not merely from lack of interest, but in the form of lacking a PS3/XBox 360 version. This was the year the industry began cutting the cord on Gen-7, and as a result we began to see just how significant a chunk of sales have been coming from these old consoles – almost half the market, according to reports. Supporting older hardware is a nice idea in theory; but you need to get that audience to transition at some point, or you end up realising that you’ve only encouraged an audience to sit in one place indefinitely. One can argue Sony is already facing this problem, and Microsoft will have to face it in the coming year if it really wants to push the Scorpio.
By this time next year, Wii U and 3DS should be well on their way out. Nintendo wants you, me and everyone else to buy a Switch, and with UK Retailers already pitching it at £199.99, odds are solid that this won’t be a difficult pitch. The next step to eradicate the Wii U (and 3DS) is to make sure you have content driving the new system. And herein lies the reason why games like Rime and Yooka-Laylee are making ‘The Switch’ over to the new hardware.
Because Nintendo needs them too.
Not just for Nintendo’s sake – less games on Wii U forces owners to move to the new hardware – but also for the third parties themselves; sure, they could waste their time pushing a Wii U version that would launch after the Switch. But would they make any money from this, knowing as we do that the Wii U isn’t an easy beast to develop for? What would the end benefit be, in terms of financial endeavour or critical acclaim? The Switch will be out and, possibly, slaying the market. Does anyone, will anyone, give the merest hint of a flying rats arse-end that they managed to get a Wii U version out? Will anyone notice? I think we know the answer to that.
The Switch is a better proposition all round. It’s a stronger, nicer piece of hardware according to what we’ve been told. It’s a quirky, solid gimmick that should do well – and should perform admirably in markets like Japan and China, where handhelds and mobile technology reign supreme. We like the look of the Switch. It looks nice. And the markets overall, post Pokémon Go, rate the Switch as something they’d like to own. The Switch even made Google’s most-searched terms of 2016!
I get the fervour of the Wii U fanbase. I understand the injustice of it all – I own one and I’d much rather play on my Wii U than my PS4, by a long, long way. And I understand how much this hurts and how much of a betrayal it must seem to see these games jumping across to the Nintendo Switch. But it’s business, and it’s good business at the end of the day. The Switch offers everyone a much better, much more hopeful future than a console that despite loads of awesome, amazing games, never really got any market interest.
Once the Switch is out, Nintendo is likely to spend the next few months slowly dismantling the Wii U – and that will likely include its online services too. Nintendo will spend time after the Switch release slowly and surely bricking your Wii U. It will, eventually, become pretty unusable. Why? Because Nintendo won’t want to keep these services online – that costs money – and they’ll want to find ways of getting you to make the transition to the Switch. Nintendo has done this before – remember when they shut down the DS online services? How about the Wii ones? You’re going to try telling me Nintendo will, after the disaster that it has been, keep the Wii U alive any longer than it needs to?
No-one said the ultimate death of the Wii U would be a pretty affair. But it’s a death that needs to happen – and sooner rather than later. Why release a digital Wii U game when the eShop there could be gone by the end of 2017, or even sooner if Nintendo wants to expedite the death of the Wii U?
Games are making ‘The Switch’ because they need to, because it makes more sense and because it’s better for everyone involved. Like it or not, the Wii U is dead and I’m predicting that its functionality will be dead by March 2018 (end of the 2017/18 Fiscal Year). No-one will be able to release a game on it unless its a physical release, and likely at their own vast expense with no Nintendo support. Nintendo will make it harder for anyone to make Wii U games – harder than ever before – and easier for them to move to the Switch.
That’s your next eighteen months or so. Mourn the Wii U now. It’s been unjust. I know. I understand.
But don’t get mad that everyone is moving on… they have to, they need to, and we must be prepared to do the same.