A Wii U retrospective should probably focus on why the Wii U “failed” and sold less than 14 million units. The confusing name, poor marketing, unclear messaging about what the system was, and lack of third party support all played a role in its early demise. When I told my friends or my students what I was playing on the Wii U back in its era, they just looked confused. No one had even heard of it! With the majority of Wii U titles now ported over to the Switch in (at least seemingly) superior “definitive editions”, it seems even Nintendo is trying to forget the system ever existed!
But those of us who owned a Wii U with its bulky Gamepad will always remember it fondly! I absolutely love the system and I know I’m not alone among Wii U owners. What could possibly make it so special when the Switch has seemingly done everything so much better? This is my Wii U Retrospective on why I’ll always cherish the system despite its flaws.
The happy memory of getting a Wii U
I didn’t even play the Wii U until spring of 2015! (I had largely been on a classic game/3DS kick the past few years). The students at my school hosted a “game day” fundraiser that I attended as a sponsor, and one of my kids brought his Wii U to set up on the projector screen. I was instantly wowed by that “Nintendo charm” when we booted up Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. I had a blast playing those games for the first time and just had to get the system!
But money was a little tight. My wife and I were both teachers and aggressively saving to buy a house, so I needed to wait. Elizabeth had been steadily growing her own cooking website (that is now an amazingly successful business-www.bowlofdelicious.com!) and happened to get a big sponsored opportunity that May. She decided to use the extra money she made to buy me a Wii U as a surprise gift!
I was (and continue to be, every day) blown away by her kindness. I’ll always keep and cherish my Wii U console because of this memory!
The Wii U Gamepad really enhanced certain games
Let’s get this out of the way: the Wii U gamepad definitely seems like a kids’ toy compared to the Nintendo Switch. It feels a little cheap and wonky, but it was amazing when utilized properly! A second screen with touch functionality to use while still playing the “main game” on TV opened up a lot possibilities (that sadly often went underutilized). I want to share a few games I feel really benefited from the use of the gamepad while playing on the TV-these experience can’t quite be replicated on the Switch!
And a quick shout out to the Wii U Virtual Console, which is where I played several hard to find Game Boy Advance games for the first time!
I played embarrassing amounts of Splatoon on my Wii U. The game was so easy to pick up and play but had a deceptive amount of strategy involved when you really dug in. The quick matches were very addictive and cultivated a “just one more” mindset. Plus, it was just soaked (inked?) in Nintendo charm and reminded me of 90s Nickelodeon! The sequel on Switch is arguably much stronger with all of its new features (Salmon Run is awesome!) and ability to play on the go. But gameplay-wise, I still like the original. Why?
The Gamepad! A quick glance at the Gamepad gave you a helpful status update at any time. You could see exactly where ink of each team was as well as your teammates location. And a touch on the Gamepad warped you to a teammate, which I found much more intuitive than the new interface overlaid on the Switch. I’m probably in the minority in my opinion on this, but I’ll always love the first Splatoon for the Gamepad functionality!
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
Wind Waker is easily in my top 10 Zelda games. It’s absolutely beautiful, has an amazing soundtrack, and an epic, touching story that connects wonderfully to Ocarina of Time. It holds up well on the GameCube today, but I much prefer the Wii U upgrade!
The HD polish makes an already pretty game almost comically gorgeous. The late game “triforce” quest is much more streamlined. Sailing has been sped up and you can change wind direction in a flash. But most importantly, the sea chart map is always on the Gamepad screen! This adds so much ease (and fun!) to sailing around the Great Sea and finding the “X” on the treasure charts. You can even use a Pro Controller to control Link while viewing the map on the Gamepad. Brilliant!
I adore Pikmin 3. It was the first entry in the series I played (I did track down and play the first two games with improved motion controls on the Wii, but the third remains my favorite!) The art design in the game is spectacular, the mechanics are fun and challenging without being overwhelming, and it’s a joy to control.
Though there is a multitude of options available for said controls, for me there’s a clear best choice. That’s the Wii remote and nunchuck in hand, with the Wii U gamepad laying on the floor. The Wii remote (with MotionPlus!) gives pinpoint accuracy with where to direct your Pikmin for maximum efficiency. And the gamepad turns into the “KopPad” for a whole slew of useful features! You’ve got a map, a radar, info about your Pikmin, and even an in-game camera! Plus much more! It almost feels like you’ve set up a miniature “command center”, which seems appropriate for a game about space exploration.
As of this writing, Pikmin 3 Deluxe has yet to release on Switch. Maybe the controls and interface will come together perfectly in a way I’m not expecting, but I think the Wii U setup will be hard to top!
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
First, can we acknowledge how awesome this game is? It’s ludicrously adorable and charming, and so much fun to play. I loved the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World (I saved them for last to play in each world as a “treat”). Although the game has been ported to Switch, I still prefer playing it with the Wii U gamepad! The dual screen option streamlines the touch functionality in solving more puzzles, and feels more natural to control the camera with. The Switch edition is a perfectly awesome choice, but give the Wii U version a try if you get the chance!
The Virtual Console!
Now that the original Wii VC has been shut down, the Wii U stands tall with its excellent back catalog of games! The Wii U Virtual Console was where I first played excellent titles like Earthbound and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, now two of my favorite games. It’s a great place to try out games that have become ludicrously expensive, like the phenomenal Metroid GBA titles.
The memories of playing the games
Video game nostalgia really comes down to the story attached to playing! Most of the games I’ve listed below all have arguably superior editions on the Nintendo Switch (like the exquisite DKC Tropical Freeze), but I originally played and loved them on Wii U, and have wonderful memories doing so. These are a few that really stand out.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
The year I got this game, one my students who loved playing Smash Bros. asked if we could play at lunch sometime. So he brought his Wii U one Friday and we set up a few controllers for a small group to play. We had a blast, and decided to do it again the following week. As the school year went on, “Smash Fridays” became a tradition. I brought my GameCube adapter and controllers, and we would play 8 player omega-stage-no-item tournaments as long as we could! Our small group swelled to an epic crowd packing my classroom, and we even had other teachers (and our principal, once!) stop by to play. Naturally, I got destroyed by my kids most of the time. But I held my own in a few matches!
With Smash Ultimate literally being the ultimate, definitive experience now, there’s not much reason to play Smash Wii U anymore. But I’ll always cherish the memory of playing on “Smash Fridays”!
Mario Kart 8
I got this game for my birthday in 2015 and had a delightful time playing it with family and friends for years. It was my “go to” game for anyone who hadn’t played the Wii U or was simply new to video games. Everyone loved it! Mario Kart 8 is the definitive Mario Kart experience. It’s got smooth and intuitive controls, it’s loaded with content, it’s beautiful to look at, and it’s simply a joy to play. We sunk crazy amounts of time into it! Though I did eventually pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch to have it on the go (and enjoy the new and improved battle mode!) I’ll always be nostalgic for playing the original Wii U edition with loved ones.
Paper Mario: Color Splash
This is by no means my favorite Paper Mario game. Like most fans, I wish Nintendo would move the series gameplay back to its RPG roots. Color Splash has a lot of charm, but the battle system is tedious and the game gets pretty repetitive towards the end. Yet I’m very nostalgic for it. Why?
First, it was the last big Wii U exclusive! (I picked up when it came out in the fall of 2016). At this point Nintendo had no further plans for the Wii U and was entirely focused on the “NX” (which we learned was the Switch just a few weeks after this game released). It felt a little like “closing the book” on the Wii U era to me!
Second, and perhaps most importantly, is that this game is HILARIOUS. Like it might be the funniest game I’ve ever played in terms of dialogue-I genuinely laughed out loud all the time. It’s clear the translation team had a field day and just “went for it” in terms of ludicrous jokes.
And third, I absolutely adore the Port Prisma town theme. It’s simply a joy to listen to:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It’s hard to even know where to start when I talk about Breath of the Wild. It currently stands as my personal favorite game of all time. It’s so amazing in so many ways that it certainly deserves it’s own post. But for now I want to explain why the Wii U version is so important to me.
The Legend of Zelda is my favorite series of all time. One of the biggest reasons I always want the next Nintendo system is to play the next Zelda game! And information was ever so slow to come out about “Zelda Wii U” once I got the system. Any Wii U owner will tell you that it was a brutal wait. It wasn’t really until E3 2016 that we really got a good look it! Once I saw in action, I was captivated. And when this insanely epic final trailer released with the Switch showcase, my anticipation reached fever pitch:
I can’t be the only one that tears up at 2:52 when the main theme kicks in, can I?
My daughter Zoey was born just a few days after that trailer released, and she was only a few weeks old when the game came out! Being on a strict budget with new baby expenses, it was a while before I was able to get a Switch. But I still had the Wii U version pre-ordered! And when I finally got to play it, my goodness. It was a revelation. Some of my favorite memories are from the middle of the night, rocking my newborn daughter to sleep while exploring Hyrule and solving shrine puzzles in Breath of the Wild.
I later managed to snag a Special Edition copy of the game on Switch, which is a treasured item in my collection and will probably be the way I play through it moving forward. But the Wii U version will always be uniquely special to me for the memories of playing with my young daughter!
Wii U Retrospective Conclusion
While recently inputting my video game collection into PriceCharting (which I highly recommend, by the way!) I noticed how low the value of Wii U games currently are. It makes total sense. Nintendo has a new console out, and that console has arguably superior ports of games from the old one. I absolutely love my Nintendo Switch too, but the Gamepad functionality and nostalgic stories playing my Wii U make it a priceless part of my collection. I’ll forever cherish it!
How do you feel about the Wii U and my retrospective? Did you own one too? If so, are you keeping it in your collection or did you trade it in? Am I just silly for appreciating the Wii U gamepad? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!