As the life-cycle of the Wii U winds to an abrupt end, I thought it’d be nice to kick off the start of this sites life-cycle by morbidly looking back on one of the most polarizing mis-steps in the history of Nintendo. With their latest console, the Nintendo Switch, mere days away, interest in Nintendo’s endeavors is at an all time (half decade) high. And it would be remiss of me to not try and capitalise on some of those wayward clicks. That’s just smart business.
The Summer of ’11
Imagine: E3 2011. A young, fresh faced, long(er) haired version of me, 19 years old with the world at his feet, working part time during the summer of an ultimately failed University stint. And only a few days away: announcement of a new home console, one to replace the juggernaut that was the Nintendo Wii. The Wii, despite selling nearly 48 billion units, was something of an afterthought in the minds of the general population.
Nan and Grandad, who’d picked up the “Wii Sports” box had been tempted away by the Kinect for Xbox 360, and little Jimmy, who once played Mario Galaxy from Saturday morning to Sunday night, now wanted to playing Call of Duty with his friends at Scouts.
With consoles sat gathering dust under the television, long unplugged, waiting for Skyward Sword to come out that Christmas, Nintendo took the opportunity to whet the appetites of their people, and unveil the heavily anticipated successor to the Nintendo Wii.
Prior to E3 2011, rumours swirled of “Project Cafe”, the reported codename for, what would become, the Nintendo Wii U. News of a screen on the controller, a focus on buttons over motion, things were very exciting. Nintendo have always held a place in the hearts of gamers, so to see the old man getting back in the game was something overdue. (Roughly) 6pm on the second day of the expo, and the world watched as the Nintendo Wii U was formally unveiled…
I say watched. I worked a miserly 5pm-8pm midweek, so I picked up twitter updates on my phone and took ENTIRELY FAIR water breaks every half an hour or so, before watching the conference in full once I got in. But I will never forget the sheer confusion surrounding the initial sales pitch.
A Lack of Understanding
After showing off a bit of Skyward Sword, as well as a release schedule for its, then flagging, 3ds handheld, focus was entirely on the Nintendo Wii U. The rumours were true! The controller has a screen in the middle, and you can play games directly on it! You can play games on the TV and on the controller in tandem! You can still use the Wii peripherals you bought! Excellent! Wait…where’s the console? Is this just a controller that hooks up to the Wii? I saw they were playing New Super Mario Bros, does that mean the controller is another Wii…thing? Then they walked off stage.
You see, with the Wii, they showed off a video of a bunch of people swinging their arms around playing tennis, and you understood what it was. With Kinect, they showed a bunch of people dancing, and their actions being replicated on Dance Central, and you understood what it was. With the Wii U…you didn’t even know if it was a new console.
The questions didn’t stop there, however. Hours after the show, eagle eyed journos managed to spot the Wii U console in the back of the initial video, and it was confirmed that, yes, the Wii U was a separate console to the Wii. But how does the controller work with the console? Can you take it anywhere? Can I play Wii games on the controller? You get the point.
Brains over Brawn
You see, Nintendo have always gone for concepts and ideas over sheer power. Every time they’ve tried to compete with their rivals for power, it always leaves them behind in the sales department. People have long argued that if Nintendo put out a console as powerful as that generations Playstation or Xbox, it’d win because it’s get all the multi-platforms PLUS the Nintendo exclusives. Except that’s not the case, as shown with the N64 and the Gamecube.
New and different concepts tend to sell Nintendo consoles, which is why the DS sold as many units as it did, which is why the 3DS ended up selling a bunch. Look at these consoles, and the Wii itself, you can see a clear, easy to understand message being conveyed. With the Wii U, the message was muddled. It was unclear. Nintendo tried to sell a console based on the controller, and people didn’t even realise it had a console element.
What’s in a name?
The name certainly didn’t help. Sony and Microsoft have stuck with the same prefix for their consoles from the beginning. Sony have yet to put out a system, either for the home or handheld, that isn’t a branch of the Playstation tree, and the same with Microsoft to Xbox. Nintendo rarely follow up their home consoles with a direct successor. It’d been almost 10 years since the Super Nintendo Entertainment System followed up the Nintendo Entertainment System. We’d become conditioned to expect a new system at every turn.
The Wii brand was about as relevant to gamers then as OUYA is today (that might be stretching it). With only a smattering of worthwhile games (for seasoned gamers, at least), to play every year since its launch, the Wii had a stigma surrounding it. To tie their new system to this mast was vast overestimation of how much power the Wii brand held. In hindsight, it may have been smarter to cut ties with the Wii can call it the Nintendo Double or something, but “Wii U” did nothing to un-blur the message set out to us.
In the end…
It would be another year before we got another look at the Wii U, however the messy unveiling of its brand new toy did enough to hurt the chances of the poor thing. Before a tablet was even picked up, the seeds of doubt had been sown. E3 2012 needed to be a knockout to redeem the chances of this plucky new console…
In part two, we’ll look at E3 2012, as well as the first months leading up to the Wii U’s launch. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to raise them below!