This article was originally published at HeroesOfPlay.blog
This may not be true of the comment sections on YouTube most gaming websites but it seems to me that there are a lot fewer console fanboys than there used to be. I have fond memories arguing about why the Sega Mega Drive is better than the Super Nintendo at school. I also still remember artwork getting published in Nintendo Magazine System (NMS) depicting Sonic being violently killed by a psychopathic version of Mario. More recently but increasingly distant is the grown men on YouTube yelling about why their console of choice is superior. You might call these people irrational and their actions pointless but I admire their dedication and spirit.
So with this in mind I am now going to proceed to shamelessly shill for one of the most unfairly marginalised and underrated consoles since the Dreamcast. A console that one day everyone will be pretending they really liked. A console that gamers will one day wonder why, with so many games, it never did as well as it deserved to. I’m speaking of course of the Wii U.
Leaving aside complaints about the Wii U’s online infrastructure and lack of third-party support; the Wii U’s biggest problem was its name. The Wii may have done very well but by 2010 the name was better associated with a lot of white DVD cases and perhepirrals filling up department store garbage bins alongside Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the Kinect. Despite its success, the name had become toxic without anyone really realising it and it’s no surprise that people Christmas shopping in 2012 may have mistaken the Wii U for an add-on to the dusty white box next to their DVD player. It follows (also unsurprisingly), that the mainstream market has taken little notice of the Wii U for the four years it has now been out.
Despite public perception, the Wii U is objectively the best console of this generation and with the Switch due next year, few to no new releases and it having recently ceased production; this is probably the best (and also the worst) time to explain why. So think of this as an extended obituary.
Let’s start with the technical capabilities of the Wii U or what generally gets referred to as the “graphics”. The Wii U may have been little more (if even equal) to the capabilities of the Xbox 360 and PS3 but it never came on to the market claiming to be a graphical powerhouse. Indeed, if graphics are so important one wonders why a decent gaming rig in 2013 could easily outperform both the PS4 and the Xbox One when they released. The consoles that came out when 60fps//1080p games were expected and neither could do either without sacrificing one or through variable resolution trickery. The Wii U hilariously enough ended up with quite a few games meeting those standards and while the games this was achieved on were certainly less demanding; it made a mockery of the supposedly superior competition. And the relative weaknesses of the PS4 and Xbox One are no better illustrated than with more powerful versions being announced (if not released) less than four years into their retail life.
Even with all the above in mind, discussing hardware capability, much like releasing more than one competitive shooter in a single month across three platforms and expecting them to be successful; is a losing game. What really makes the Wii U superior is the games. Let’s start with its amazing ability to actually play them in the first place. What I mean by that is that they can be played immediately after the disc goes in. Unlike its competitors, the Wii U doesn’t find it necessary to dump the entire disc upon insertion, while also trying to download an eight gigabyte update on release day that downloads at less than a quarter of a speed of your home connection. That was a long sentence but you’ll be waiting much longer to play any game you insert into an Xbox One or PS4 so you may as well get some reading done. The advantage that consoles once had was not only the exclusive software but their simplicity. The current iterations of the Xbox and PlayStation make even Uplay and Origin seem user friendly. Steam is certainly much faster and easier to use and has most of the same software available. Not only this, but the games will run better too and generally cost a lot less if you wait for a sale.
The Wii U may be mocked for having unit sales somewhere between the Dreamcast and the GameCube but the other thing it has in common with these two systems is a good library of games that start almost immediately after turning the system on. When the Xbox One was first revealed there was a wild and vocal rejection of Microsoft daring to move consoles in a more digital friendly direction. After three years of mandatory installs and enormous updates, can anyone blame them? I can be confident in five years that when I turn on my Wii U, the vast majority of games will still work because they were actually finished when the discs were manufactured. I can have no such confidence with any of the games released on PS4 and Xbox One and even the ones that are stable without updates will still have to be installed five years down the track before I can play them. Even when I actually get to play them I’ve been kicked out – of single-player games – for updates or because my Internet connection went down. The most recent experience of this was with MGSV: The Phantom Pain (also available on 360 and PS3), resulting in my losing mission progress in the process. This is progress?
I’ve gone on a long time without getting to actual games and I know words can be difficult so rather than go on about the great variety of exclusives on the Wii U, I could just show you how many there are compared to the competition.
There are titles missing from the image above but if it was more complete, it would if anything, be even more in the Wii U’s favour. And I’m sure I won’t get much argument that many of the exclusives on offer above, don’t exactly sell their respective systems. I should know because I’ve played many of them. Having played through The Order: 1886, Uncharted 4 and Halo 5, I can confidently state that you really aren’t missing much with those titles.
Now if you still aren’t on my side, you might be thinking to yourself that you just don’t like playing games with woolly dinosaurs and humanoid squids despite how well made they might be. You might like more “mature” games whatever that means. I’ll accept that but how about paying for games that were already released last generation? Don’t take my word for it though; just have a look at this handy visual aid:
Again this list is not a complete one but by now you’re probably noticing the Wii U has a lot more of what it should and a lot less of what it shouldn’t. Nintendo decided to toss the long suffering Zelda fans a few previously chewed but meaty bones in their long wait for a fresh slice of steak. Microsoft, Sony and many major publishers on the other hand have continued to re-release games, most of which can be bought for a few dollars on PC or for last generation systems. Not only this but until recently (in Microsoft’s case at least), none of the digital games were backwards compatible. And publishers shamelessly began re-releasing digital games on the new platforms with slight upgrades. The Wii U’s backwards compatibility is certainly not user-friendly but at least it existed from the beginning. I don’t think I have ever seen so many games getting re-released in such a short time frame and I can’t recall a time when most newer games were just sequels. Even genuinely new and much hyped games released this generation were also available on the 360 and/0r PS3. Think Destiny, the aforementioned MGSV and Titanfall. And just think that 2016 is the first year that a Call of Duty game wasn’t released on 360 and PS3. That’s three years later. Can you name even one game that came out for the PS2 in 2009 without looking? What about a game on the original Xbox from 2008?
So not only are there very few genuinely new and interesting games, the consoles can’t even do a decent job of running them. Does anyone actually think this is an improvement? If this is progress then I long for regression. Maybe you find the interface faster on new generation consoles and the graphics are certainly better but that’s because there were that many “stability” updates on previous gen that something relatively clean feels fast. It won’t be that way for long. Perhaps you like the new streaming features and targeted advertising. I don’t, and I’m not so much a fanboy that I haven’t actually experienced all this for myself. I own an Xbox One and have spent plenty of time with the PlayStation 4.
Earlier on I mentioned that the Wii U’s problems including a lack of third-party support, poor online infrastructure and the major marketing blunder that is its name. These are problems but they’re also the only significant problems. Splatoon may lack voice chat but at least people actually play it and can do so without a paid subscription. There may not be much third-party support but with constant sequels and re-releases, we’re really not missing out on much. I can not think of one game released for PS4 or Xbox One that really stands out and will make this generation one to remember.
So I have to wonder what people are thinking and if they’re actually even playing the games they buy anymore. Do they even really like to play games? I may have had long waits at time but I’ve found a lot to love in the Wii U releases. In contrast the latest FPS and cover-based shooters are finished in a week with nothing more to show for them unless I want to buy extra pieces through DLC. The Wii U will be remembered more fondly as this generations problems become more obvious. The Switch is out next year and the Wii U is pretty much at it’s end with only The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the horizon. If it still ends up seeing release on the Wii U, it will be a hell of send-off to a totally unappreciated game console.