Since the Wii U’s release in late 2012, doom and gloom articles about the console’s library and the system itself have become the norm in the gaming media. This article may be considered as one of them, but the point I will try to make here is that Wii U’s main problem isn’t its quantity or quality of software, or the hardware itself, but the nature of its game selection.
Wii U has great games, that’s a given. It would be difficult for me to say that I haven’t enjoyed the titles released by Nintendo and its third-party partners. I thoroughly enjoyed ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros U in the months following the system’s launch. Lego City Undercover and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate were great additions to the Wii U’s library in early 2013. The latter half of 2013 brought us Game & Wario and Rayman Legends for tons of multiplayer fun, along with other exceptional games such as Pikmin 3, New Super Luigi U, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and The Wonderful 101, not to mention other good exclusives like Sonic Lost World. Super Mario 3D World, lauded by many as Nintendo’s latest home console’s first system-seller, finally saw the light of day in November 2013. All of these titles, in addition to definitive versions of third-party games such as Need for Speed: Most Wanted U lead me to believe that Wii U’s library is quite stellar.
In spite of this, the system isn’t selling, and it’s easy to see why. To me, it has nothing to do with branding or hardware, little to do with marketing, and lots to do with Nintendo’s approach to exclusive software. Of course, few people have heard of the Wii U, but marketing it alongside its flagship first-party titles is easy to pull off and Nintendo did so with Super Mario 3D World. The problem here isn’t that the games aren’t good, but that they aren’t original enough to sway people to purchase a Wii U instead of a 3DS.
Let’s take a look at what Nintendo did to ensure that their stereoscopic handheld would sell and compare it to what they’ve done with Wii U. First off, they dropped 3DS’ price and released a 3D remake of a classic game on the same day (Star Fox 64 3D). Next, they released a new 3D Mario game and a new entry in the Mario Kart series. At this point, the 3DS took off. Following those releases, a ton of great third-party and first-party exclusives helped sell the system, and Pokémon X/Y played no small part in the 3DS’ rise to handheld dominance.
With Wii U, Nintendo is attempting to use the same strategy. The system released without much fanfare to later receive a price cut and a remake of classic game on the same day (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD). Next, they released Super Mario 3D World before Christmas and have Mario Kart 8 coming in May. Following these releases, Super Smash Bros, basically Nintendo’s home console equivalent to Pokémon, will be on store shelves. Good plan, right?
Wrong. None of these games will convince anyone that owns a 3DS (basically everyone who is into video games at this point) or that isn’t a hardcore Nintendo fan to buy the Wii U. I believe that Nintendo doesn’t need third-parties to sell the Wii U. The Wii thrived because of its mass appeal and compelling, original games. Wii U doesn’t have as much mass appeal, but it could be a moderate success if Nintendo’s titles were original. Super Mario 3D World is amazing, but it’s more of the same. 3DS owners who take a look at Super Mario 3D World won’t be convinced to buy a Wii U. 3D World plays much like 3D Land and has the same general aesthetic. It’s way better, sure, but it doesn’t give casual or hardcore gamers incentive to drop $300 on the Wii U because they can have nearly the same experience on 3DS. Super Mario Galaxy on Wii was way totally different than anything seen on DS and offered an experience that could only be enjoyed on Wii. It was a system-seller.
Mario Kart 7 was also a system-seller for 3DS. It had smooth online play and sound mechanics. From what we’ve seen so far of Mario Kart 8, the mechanics remain quite similar, or, at least, not to different when compared to Mario Kart 7’s as opposed to Mario Kart DS’ differences with Mario Kart Wii. Mario Kart 8 will offer some new features, like anti-gravity, but it’s as much of an addition to the Mario Kart franchise as the new suits in 3D World are an addition to the Mario franchise. Of course, Mario Kart 8 and 3D World feature local multiplayer, but, once again, is that really enough to convince people to spend $300 on the Wii U? I don’t think so.
This has been a problem for Wii U since its launch. New Super Mario Bros U released mere months after New Super Mario Bros 2 came out on 3DS. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is arguably one of the best 2D platformers of all time, but a game that looks and plays the same is also available on 3DS: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. Super Smash Bros will be released this year on both systems, too. Sure, Smash is a game that will benefit the Wii U more than Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World will due to the fact that it’s the ultimate party (and, to some extent, competitive) game, but a ton of people who own 3DS consoles will simply shy away from the Wii U version due to the fact that Smash will also see a 3DS release. Both versions of Super Smash Bros will feature the same roster and, most likely, similar gameplay. What differentiates them are the games’ graphics and stages. Still, since mostly everyone who wants to play Nintendo games owns a 3DS, they can still enjoy Smash Bros’ multiplayer aspect via local multiplayer.
In short, Nintendo’s put themselves in a rut because of Wii U’s software selection. It does have great, original games that can’t compare to what’s seen elsewhere, such as ZombiU, The Wonderful 101 and Pikmin 3. These games aren’t the killer apps that will get GamePads in non-gamers’ hands, though, as they are relatively niche. Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 and New Super Mario Bros. U aren’t the games that will make 3DS owners flock to Nintendo’s newest home console either, for reasons mentioned earlier. What Wii U needs are original games with a ton of mass appeal that take advantage of the hardware. It isn’t by playing Super Mario 3D World with my friends that they were sold on Wii U. It was by playing Nintendoland and Game & Wario. Wii U needs more games like those, and fast, along with new single-player experiences that don’t look and play like anything consumers can purchase anywhere else.
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