News broke last week that StarFox Zero, Nintendo’s big holiday title for the Wii U, had been pushed back for an early 2016 release. While Super Mario Maker just recently launched as a massive title that found Nintendo some mainstream appeal and had great reception, a strong September release simply cannot carry a console through a holiday season with Fallout 4, Halo 5 and Star Wars Battlefront still coming. The Wii U never really stood a chance against those AAA titles, but it fits a recent trend that is worth questioning: where the hell is Nintendo going?
I can still recall the exact moment I learned about the Wii U, and can still feel my apprehension regarding things like the tablet controller and confusing naming scheme. Still, the high-quality tech demo from Legend of Zelda got me pumped to see some next-gen content from Nintendo. Of course, that was over four years ago and we are all still waiting to see that new HD Zelda game.
I was a late adopter of the system, picking it up around the time Mario Kart 8 released. Just like the 3DS, the initial launch of the Wii U had a few intriguing titles, but nothing that drove me to pick up the console immediately. I loved Mario Kart 8 for what it was worth, and dove into the back catalog of Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World and The Wonderful 101 (which I still believe is the console’s finest title). While the Wii U has had some great games, it is hard to argue against the fact that it has still failed to succeed overall as a console.
The Wii U’s sales have been decidedly lackluster in its life cycle, and there are a number of factors that may contribute. A name that seems to tie the console as a peripheral to the Wii is just one of those vices, but the missing library of compelling games is the overall blemish that will define the Wii U’s history. Bayonetta 2 is a stellar action title, Splatoon is a fresh idea for a shooter and Super Smash Bros will always bring attention to Nintendo, but the Wii U has still struggled to connect with a mainstream audience.
The Wii was lightning in a bottle for Nintendo, as it introduced the concept of motion controls to the living room and flew off the shelves. Wii Sports and Wii Fit both drew in massive numbers, and Nintendo tried to replicate them again on the Wii U to no avail. The Wii U’s tablet controller simply was not as groundbreaking as motion controls in the eyes of the casual consumer to bring in as many people to pick it up.
For Nintendo fans, the Wii U has offered a good amount of content that I think warrants a purchase of the system. I don’t regret picking up the Wii U in any capacity, but I still wish it had offered more exceptional titles. For mainstream consumers, the Wii U has offered no third-party support and an unappealing brick of a controller as its exclusive selling point.
Frankly, the gamepad has been sorely underused across nearly every title available on the Wii U. The Wonderful 101 used it creatively, Pikmin 3 benefited from touch controls, and some indie titles took advantage of the second screen, but no big Nintendo game has used the controller to its full potential. Maybe Starfox Zero or the still untitled Legend of Zelda will be that title, but we have to wait another year to find that out.
Recently, Nintendo has been in a tough spot. Poor sales continued, and the tragic passing of President Satoru Iwata no doubt had a profoundly dampening effect on the entire company. This year’s E3 presentation was a cute look ahead at some of this year’s big titles (Super Mario Maker, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and the now-delayed Starfox Zero). However, the announcement of upcoming titles were insanely disappointing. We got a new Metroid Prime – in the form of a first person shooter on the 3DS. We got an Animal Crossing on the Wii U – in the form of a free-to-play amiibo party game.
The biggest titles coming out from Nintendo are both games that fans have already waited too long for. Starfox has been teased since 2014, and was booked to be this year’s big seller. Zelda is a whole other story; still unnamed and with only a glimpse of gameplay offered in several years of development.
If either of those titles are delayed or saved for the NX (the working name for Nintendo’s next system), it would be a major blow to the Wii U and somewhat of a slap in the face to the loyal fans who have stuck by the system. Conversations about Nintendo’s next machine have been circulating for a while, and though we all may be ready to move on to bigger and better things, the Wii U still deserves to finish its lifecycle with dignity. Similar to how Skyward Sword was the Wii’s swan song, let’s send the Wii U out with a bang and a fantastic new Zelda title.
When the NX becomes a reality at E3 2016, I hope it will boldly set itself apart from both Nintendo’s previous systems and the other systems available on the market. For Nintendo, the games and experiences have always mattered more than hardware and specs. The Wii U can’t compete with the PS4 and Xbox One, but it shouldn’t need to. Nintendo needs to take advantage of the strong IPs in its possession and actually make some worthwhile games.
Metroid, StarFox, Zelda and Mario all have the potential for another classic entry. The Animal Crossing, Yoshi, and Kirby series have been rather stagnant in their most recent releases, and it is well beyond time to introduce some new ideas. If Nintendo did one thing well in the Wii U era, it was introducing brand new series and IPs, a trend that will hopefully continue. Amiibo have been one of the only recent success stories for Nintendo, so they are most likely here to stay. Their implementation in-game still needs a more prominent purpose, and slowly but surely those steps are being taken.
Nintendo is in the process of change at the moment. The company’s new president was just announced and he will appear before investors within the next month. Progress is already being made on the mobile front with Pokemon Go, and the potential for Nintendo’s presence on smartphone platforms should not be underestimated. Wherever the company goes from here will be interesting to see, but it is time for a reinvention of Nintendo and a return the originality and subversive innovation that earned the Big N its place at the top.
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