After 10 years I finally have a Wii U, this is what I thought

used correctly, Nintendo was really on to something with this technology

The fact that so many console exclusives are now on the Switch is a credit to the quality of the games. What if Breath of the Wild had only come out for Wii U? Would it still be a fantastic game? Damn yes! Would it have had the impact it did? Not really. Sure, there were a few missteps – Twilight Princess remains a boring Zelda game, HD or not (don’t @ me, please) – and most third-party studios only did the bare minimum to support the GamePad, but the overall hit rate on first-party titles was a real thing.

And we’re not even talking about the Wii-ked (sorry) Virtual console! I’ve had an absolute field day going through the eShop and getting my hands on every title I’ve wanted to play for years but never got a chance to get my hands on a physical copy. Yes, this was made all the more urgent by the knowledge that the Wii U eShop will close in the next few months and my time is therefore limited, but boy, what a rush!

Of course, I can’t talk about Wii U games without at least touching on Nintendo Land. This is a weird one. It’s not quite Wii Sports, and it’s not quite Wii Party, but it’s a fantastic representation of what the GamePad can be used for, and it confused me and my willing friends with its super simple mini-games.

Mario Chase remains a standout and a prime candidate for party nights in the future, and while there are some games that feel like they repeat the process a little too much, there’s enough variety to show that, when used correctly, Nintendo can was really onto something with this technique. I’m still not quite sure what to do with those coins and subsequent prizes, but I had fun doing it anyway.

The experience

Image: Damien McFerran/Nintendo Life

Admittedly, the GamePad is great when it works properly, but when it doesn’t it’s superfluous at best and a heavy distraction at worst. I’ve played a strange selection of games over the past month, some using the GamePad effectively (Rayman Legends, Twilight Princess) but others – many others – finding no use for it. Why I played Assassin’s Creed III (a game series I generally can’t get behind) is beyond me, but seeing the GamePad house a boring map with no care or detail put into it made one thing very clear: this was a good kit desperate for a target.

a piece of gaming history so brilliantly weird I doubt we’ll ever see anything so inventive again

That’s perhaps what I’ve come back to more often than anything in recent weeks with the Wii U. I played on my TV, at my desk, even in bed, but at no point did I feel like I knew what the console was trying to do. Is it a fun handheld? Yeah, sort of. Is it a nice home console? Yeah, sort of. But why be average at both when you could be very good at one?

Long before the Microsft boasted about Xbox One that “this console will play your games, stream your TV, massage your feet and pay your taxes!” the Wii U did just that. Much to my surprise, I found a video camera, TV remote, streaming options, and a (defunct but cool-sounding) social media platform all built into a console that I’d foolishly assumed was all about the games . I’d be intrigued to spy on a parallel universe where the global pandemic happened five years earlier and humanity turned to the Wii U’s video chat to keep the economy going. Many of these features no longer work a decade later, and the lack of direction seems a bit of a mess (is this for games, for TV, for social media?), but the ambition is there. This is indeed a brilliant mess.

After a month of playing the console I’ve rejected for so many years, I don’t think it’s fair to call the Wii U a failure (unless you’re on it financially, in which case it’s hard to disagree ). Yes, at the time it may have been a marketing disaster with pretty big gaps between major game releases, and my heart goes out to all the fans who stood by it diligently. Now, though, we can see it for what it really is, a piece of gaming history so brilliantly, confusingly weird, I doubt we’ll ever see anything so experimental and inventive from any of the ‘big three’ console makers again.

When you play like I did, you get a chance to be selective with a console that has, admittedly, had its fair share of lows. You can play the best first-party games without having to wait months for the next one, the entire virtual console library is there with GBA, DS, and Wii games to boot, and the marketing campaign is now so far in the past that I think I can safely say that this is a console in its own right and not just a Wii accessory.

Both me and the Wii U are now 10 years older and we’re both all the cooler for it.

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