Whilst Nintendo may be viewing the holiday sales of its latest hardware as a success, a closer look at the numbers seems to indicate that things aren’t quite what they seem to be. According to NPD figures, more than 460,000 Wii U units were sold in the month of December. Compare this against its 6-year-old predecessor, which managed to outsell it at nearly 470,000 units. Of course, this isn’t a completely fair comparison, given that the Wii U is much more expensive than the Wii was back in 2006 and that many retailers are more than happy to sell old hardware at heavily discounted rates. Yet, it still warrants a closer look at what exactly Nintendo wishes to achieve with its latest console outing.
Arguably the biggest failing of the Wii U is that it simply has poor timing. Whilst both Microsoft and Sony have yet to announce the latest iterations of their respective Xbox and PlayStation consoles, it appears to be common knowledge within the industry that new hardware is imminent. Whether it be the leaking of hardware specifications or the fact that current-gen titles have slowed as of late, it seems clear than an announcement regarding the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 (or whatever names their respective marketing departments saddle them with) will take place later this year. By attempting to cut the queue and release its hardware ahead of the competition, Nintendo has seemingly backed itself into the very same corner it found itself late in the life cycle of the Wii. Outpaced by more attractive visuals and/or better performing hardware, third-party support is more than likely to dwindle as both publishers and developers move on to the latest hottest thing.
In fact, that’s part of the irony of the Wii U’s legacy. The biggest nail in the coffin for the Wii was its lack of third-party support. Ask anyone who still happens to even have a dust-layered Wii laying around: They’re more than likely to still be playing Nintendo–developed titles over any third–party shovelware. Both the Wii and the GameCube slowly became devices on which you played only Nintendo games. By designing a console with much more parity to its competitors, it seemed as though this problem that had consistently plagued the company could be avoided. Finally, you would be able to see multi-platform titles like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed on a Nintendo device running at full power. And yes, while the Wii U did manage to hit the holiday season complete with titles from such franchises, it did so with difficulty. Across the board it seems as though almost all big third-party games on the Wii U suffered some variety of technical issues. Of course, much of this can be attributed to simply a lack of experience with the hardware from game developers. Yet, Nintendo simply doesn’t have the time to allow developers to become accustomed to the architecture of the Wii U. Even beyond that, games that traditionally find large online communities, such as your Call of Duties or FIFA games, currently suffer from little to no online participation. All in all, your average consumer is left with little reason as to why they would even want to experience such games on the platform.
It also doesn’t help that the Wii U simply lacks the pick-up-and-play nature of the Wii. Whilst many came to derogatively refer to the Wii as a ‘toy’, the accessibility behind its design was one of its greatest strengths. Whether you wanted to demonstrate it to a group of investors, children or grandparents, the appeal remained the same. Almost anyone could tell how exactly to play a game of tennis using a virtual wand. Attempting to convince any of those groups to pick up a gamepad with two analog sticks, a D pad, a touchscreen, various buttons and triggers, is nigh impossible in comparison. Of course, Nintendo could be seen as attempting to appeal to a more ‘core’ group of gamers through returning to a traditional set of controls, but such a strategy is only viable when the proper software is there. The Wii U not only scares off the more casual crowd through a more complex control scheme, but also scares off the more hardcore crowd through simply not having enough games.
All of this is before you even get to the marketplace confusion caused by Nintendo attempting to reappropriate the Wii brand for a completely different device or the bizarre nature of its online store, which prevents you from purchasing 18+ games during the day. It seems that should things proceed as expected, the Wii U will be relegated to the same spot as both the Wii and the GameCube before it. It’ll become that Nintendo device on which the only worthwhile experiences will be those designed by Nintendo themselves. While that’s certainly not the worst thing that could happen to the console, it’s still a shame that the Wii U may never get to experience its full potential.