When Nintendo unveiled the Wii U at E3 2011, I was baffled. Sitting in the back row at the Nokia Center in Los Angeles, I distinctly remember that I started laughing out loud, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As in, I literally didn’t know what it was that Nintendo was trying to announce.
Was it a new console? A hardware upgrade for the Wii? Some kind of supersized portable device? I, along with countless other gamers, couldn’t wrap my head around the Wii U, but as a Nintendo fan, I was more concerned about the games than the hardware anyway, so I decided to reserve judgment.
Five years later, I think we can safely say that judgment has been rendered: The Wii U will go down as one of Nintendo’s most significant missteps in its mostly spotless history. It would take too long to list each and every way that the Wii U failed to keep, or even develop, an audience, so let’s stick with the main issues:
- Third-party support — No one made games for the Wii U, relatively speaking. Seeing that Nintendo had no intention of keeping up with Sony and Microsoft from a technical standpoint, most third-party developers gave up on the Wii U before it even shipped, realizing that their time would be better spent serving the Xbox and PlayStation brands than porting games to the Wii U.
- First-party support — Even Nintendo didn’t consistently release games for its own console. There were several worthwhile entries into some of the company’s most important franchises (i.e. Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Maker and Pikmin 3), but they were few and far, far between.
- Underpowered, underutilized hardware — Not only was the Wii U significantly less powerful than the PS3 and Xbox 360 (not to mention the PS4 and Xbox One), but Nintendo and its partners failed to make use of the Wii U GamePad in any meaningful way from the day the console launched.
With all of that in mind, how could Nintendo turn things around with the Switch? Well, let’s look at the three issues above and see what Nintendo is doing to address them (based on the admittedly limited information we have so far).
When it comes to third-party support, Nintendo has been far more aggressive about courting the biggest AAA developers in the industry for the Switch. Nintendo shared a list of partners that are working on games for the console to drive this point home, and it’s way more encouraging than the list for the Wii U was in 2011:
As for first-party games, the Nintendo Switch preview trailer suggests that both a new Mario game and the previously announced Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be available on day one. Considering how depressing the Wii U’s launch lineup was, these two games alone could breath some life into the Switch:
Finally, the hardware. Now, there are plenty of skeptics who have already written off the Switch’s ambitions of being both a home console and portable gaming machine, but at least this time we know that Nintendo has a vision.
Whether or not that vision becomes a reality remains to be seen, but if the hardware works like it’s supposed to, and if the Switch is competitively priced, and if Nintendo is the only console maker who can offer gamers the ability to play Zelda, Skyrim, Call of Duty and Mario Kart on the go, it just might work. Maybe.
On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of gamers have already invested in the PS4 or Xbox One (or both), and many will likely spend the next several months deciding whether or not they’re going to upgrade to a PS4 Pro/Xbox One Scorpio. Where exactly does the underpowered Switch fit into that decision?
For many gamers, it simply won’t. Nintendo just has to hope it hasn’t used up all the good will that carried it this far, because the Switch can’t be another Wii U.
The Nintendo Switch launches in March 2017.