On November 18th, 2012, Nintendo launched the Wii U, and the crowd went mild.
The gaming community at large wasn’t quite sure what to make of the genre giant’s latest foray into the home console market. On the one hand, the tidal wave powered by the original Wii had finally begun petering out, and following that massive success, interest in what Nintendo had up their sleeves next was at an all-time high. On the other, early reports seemed to indicate that the answer might very well be, “not all that much, honestly.” The Wii had changed the landscape of video games — for better or worse — in an inescapable way, but it had also changed public perception of Nintendo almost completely. No longer was the House that Mario Built known mostly for…well, Mario, as well as Link, Samus, and company, but more for being “the gimmicky one.” (For the record, Sony was “the regular one,” Microsoft “the aggro one,” and SEGA “the aw-it-thinks-it’s-people” one.)
The Wii’s gimmick had become a cultural touchstone: motions controls that, after a couple of reboots of the controller, actually worked quite well, assuming you were fine with flailing about to swing a sword, throw a bowling ball, or shoot a gun, instead of just pressing a button. The people who weren’t quickly and quietly sidled back to their PS3s and Xbox 360s, but it was immediately clear that the people who were mostly had very little interest in other consoles. The Wii was everywhere, from YMCAs to waiting rooms, retirement homes to kindergarten classrooms, and pretty much anywhere you wouldn’t find a traditional gaming system. The so-called “casual gamer’s” console had finally arrived, and at a relatively low price point, Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry once again.
So, how would the Wii U help to keep them there?
Unfortunately, the short answer is that it didn’t.
Understand that I personally am a fan of the Wii U as a whole; my wife and I regularly bust out Mario Kart 8 for a round or two, Super Smash Bros is as good as it’s ever been (and you can have several seats, Melee purists, because that was fun, but this is accessible), and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker has never looked prettier. Super Mario Maker is one of the most interesting, innovative, and replayable games ever, and the Virtual Console offerings are still there and still great. Hell, I even like the Game Pad (for the three hours or so it’ll stay charged in a single sitting!)
But it wasn’t enough.
Immediately, the Wii U’s issues were glaring out of the gate: the “casual” gamer Nintendo had courted with its predecessor didn’t know what the hell it was. Many a game store employee could recite the speech in their sleep at this point: “No, it’s not just the Game Pad; it’s a new system. Yes, your Wii games will work on it, but you need the controllers and the sensor bar. No, the Game Pad won’t work on the original Wii…” Try explaining this in-depth, then convincing someone to spend $350 on a new system that looks an awful lot like the old one with a big ol’ controller-screen-thingy. Good luck.
The launch titles didn’t help, Sure, the Wii U technically had a Mario game in the form of New Super Mario Bros. U, but it was coming on the heels of New Super Mario Bros Wii, which again, to the casual user, didn’t look very different. Most of the other games available day-one were gimmicked ports (Assassin’s Creed III, Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3) or practically non-games (Just Dance 4, Sing Party, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013.) All of this added up to precisely nothing that screamed, “Buy Me NOW!” on launch day…or even soon after, we would eventually find out.
And that was a real problem for Nintendo, who had become rather enamored with the idea of day-one sales going through the roof after original Wii shortages had been all over the news just a few years prior. Third-party support began to bottom out, and before long, the Wii U simply had a handful (at most) of bright spots in the following years among months and months of near-silence.
Since earlier this year, we’d been aware that Nintendo was working on something code-named “NX.” As of yesterday, we now know it as the Nintendo Switch, and all signs point to it being what the Wii U always should have been.
To be fair, there’s a gimmick at work here too; Nintendo hasn’t exactly doubled-down on their status in the market, avoiding the virtual reality craze that’s sweeping the nation altogether when it’s right up their alley, but they also haven’t shunned it entirely. The Switch functions both as a home console when it’s placed in its docking station and as a portable device when the Joy-Con (yeah, we know) controllers are attached to each side of the docked screen, all of which is then removed in something reminiscent of a sleeker Wii U Game Pad.
But wait, there’s more!
The Joy-Cons (which will almost definitely be a chiptune band by next summer) can be removed and used as left and right-hand independent controllers while the screen’s built-in stand is engaged, or they can be turned to the side a la the Wii-mote of yore as separate controllers for two players. There’s also a swanky Pro Controller for home use, but we’re almost certain that’ll be sold separately. The Switch’s games are all cartridge-based as opposed to Blu-Rays, so that nixes the idea of backward-compatibility with the Wii U, but that isn’t exactly the end of the world. Besides, carts! Who would’ve predicted carts would be back in a console form in 2016?! The novelty alone is neat enough, frankly.
From the trailer, we’re seeing some more launch ports, more than likely: a revamped Mario Kart 8, an NBA sports title, maybe a prettier/expanded version of Splatoon instead of a new game. But among those ports is an easily-identifiable Elder Scrolls game that is very likely the remastered Skyrim, which hits PS4 and Xbox One within a week’s time, and that was Nintendo’s subtle way of then shouting, “THIRD-PARTY SUPPORT IS BACK, YO!” Bethesda is on-board. From Software (Dark Souls, anyone?) is in the house. It’s going down.
Not to mention that Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still looks incredible, and let’s not forget the first glimpse at what appears to be a brand-new 3D Mario game in the vein of either Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, either of which would be fantastic.
Of course, there are questions: what will the Switch cost at launch being chief among them, naturally. ($299 was rumored, which is pretty great overall, but not confirmed officially by Nintendo.) What will the battery life be like for the mobile setup? What’s the status of the Virtual Console? Will we ever be unshackled from Friend Codes?
All we know at this point for certain is that the Switch is due out March of 2017, and that’s frankly not that far away, my friends. It’s been said for some time that Nintendo could be on the verge of dropping out of the home console market entirely and focusing on handhelds with the 3DS line-up and/or software for other systems in the same vein as SEGA. If any of that holds weight, then the Nintendo Switch must succeed to prevent that particular future. For what it’s worth, they had my curiosity…now, they have my attention.
Until next time…