A Promising Start
Last November, Nintendo gallantly strode into the high definition arena. The Wii U had arrived, signalling the start of the next-generation, with the company quietly hoping to replicate some of the success that they saw with the Wii.
Everyone was excited at launch, the Bayonetta 2 reveal, steady Nintendo Direct presentations, and Satoru Iwata’s rather glorious unboxing video fuelled that. Yet the media was already showing early criticism of Nintendo’s chosen direction with The Sun vilifying the console, whereas PC Gamer labelled it a “toy computer.”
That negativity grew as launch approached, bemoaning the day one update that was necessary to access Wii U’s online services, such aggravated spark notably not spurring similar anger this month when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrived with their own.
More warranted worry was placed on the Nintendo Network ID where purchased downloadable content remained tied to your console rather than an account, something that the company still needs to address, with Wii U’s slow loading times also being acknowledged as well as the rather bizarre situation with the Nintendo eShop age restriction early on.
Off-TV Play was met with much enthusiasm, Nintendo TVii changed how you could interact with your favourite shows across North America (although still remains worryingly absent in Europe), whilst it was Miiverse that presented the earliest flash of Wii U brilliance that continues to this day.
Iwata shared that the console was “selling steadily,” whilst analysts lamented its lack of appeal and disastrous marketing, as reports came in of struggling software sales alongside retailers expressing disappointment.
Release Schedule Dries Up
Launch software, in hindsight, was far stronger than what Microsoft and Sony have been able to drum up for their new consoles. New Super Mario Bros. U gave an early glimpse at the Mushroom Kingdom’s newfound HD vibrancy, Nintendo Land offered a fun fair filled with joyous local multiplayer games, whilst the Nintendo eShop was off to a good start through the likes of Nano Assault Neo and Little Inferno.
Yet as 2013 began, the regularity of software releases began to diminish. That wasn’t aided by Scribblenauts Unlimited mysterious last minute delay in Europe, nor that for Rayman Legends. There was still much to play, even if Wii U owners weren’t rushing out to purchase it: the hilarious LEGO City Undercover which hasn’t seen the success it deserved, with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, SiNG Party, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge also failing to gather any momentum behind the console.
This was Nintendo’s period of missed opportunity. Iwata previously commented that they had learned a “bitter lesson” after the 3DS launch, yet they had found themselves faced with exactly the same situation once again.
Pikmin 3 leads Wii U software resurgence
Come summer, and things began to pick up again. Game & Wario and New Super Luigi U started us off, but it was Pikmin 3 that soon stole the show through the intricacies and wonder of its design. Platinum Games made their Wii U debut with The Wonderful 101, which has again failed to captivate the attention that it deserves, whilst The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Sonic Lost World, Wii Party U, Wii Karaoke U by JOYSOUND, and Mario & Sonic at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games have carried us up until this point.
That none of these caused any significant sales increase for Wii U is somewhat worrisome, although could perhaps be attributed to arriving so closely to the building excitement surrounding the console war soon to be ignited by Microsoft and Sony.
New Challenger Approaching!
With Christmas around the corner it is Super Mario 3D World that leads Nintendo’s efforts to once again captivate consumers, even with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 threatening to steal all the attention. With so much critical acclaim behind the Wii U exclusive, we’re certainly hoping that it can begin to turn the console’s fortunes around.
There will be much from the past year that I will have missed – the Nintendo Web Framework, Miyamoto’s work on a new IP, and Near-Field Communication (NFC) support for the Wii U GamePad, for instance – but across the board 2013 has seen Nintendo listen, adapt, and continually evolve the Wii U to the point where they are now poised to capitalise on their efforts in the new year.
Many will argue that there is still be a way to go, but with software slated already encompassing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros., and Monolith Soft’s X, the momentum that Nintendo seek is just waiting to be seized. And that’s not to mention the surprises they have in store.
There will be inevitable comparisons between the enormity of the success that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have been met with, yet Nintendo are a company that chart their own path. I’m just as keen to see the Wii U succeed as any other but 2013 was the year of the 3DS, not Luigi. Let’s hope that Nintendo will see 2014 position Wii U to receive the same.