Wii U, Wii Hardly Knew… U

A better Wii, but not much else

It’s 2017 and the Wii U is no longer in production. As we await the release of the Nintendo Switch, I would like to dedicate this post to my final thoughts as we send it out to pasture.
The Wii U was never going to be a hit. It came out a year before the PS4 and XBone. It was Nintendo’s first foray into HD games, and other consoles already had a generation foothold on that front. Nintendo even admitted they didn’t realize how much effort was needed to develop in HD.

In my opinion though, the Wii U was an improvement over the Wii in every way, and some of my favorite games made by Nintendo (and some third parties) were Wii U games.

I am going to outline my favorites, the biggest disappointments, and the biggest surprises set by the Wii U.

My Favorites

Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D World is probably my third or fourth favorite Mario game ever1. I like it more than Super Mario 64, more than Super Mario Sunshine, and even more than Super Mario Galaxy2. Some fans enjoy the exploration Mario games, but to me Mario is well designed levels from the beginning and with an end. No fetch quests. No dumb minigames3, just focused, fun platforming. The amount of polish on this game is amazing. I hope this game is not lost to time. If you consider yourself a fan of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, you need to play this game.

This is not fun for anyone. Remember all those other games Mario only had the Fire Flower power for 10 seconds?
This is not fun for anyone. Remember all those other games Mario only had the Fire Flower power for 10 seconds?

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta (XBOX 360, PS3) was my first introduction to Platinum Games. I liked that game a lot. Bayonetta 2 took everything from the first game and improved on it to near perfection. It can be difficult for any game4 to keep your interest from beginning to end, but Platinum Games knows how to pace a game to a T with over the top action. Not only was Bayonetta 2 a Wii U exclusive, Nintendo published the game5, and the retail release included the original game. Nintendo heavily promoted this game, helping encourage the idea that Nintendo was going to be pursuing more adult rated games for the Wii U. There were several Nintendo themed consumes in the game that were so wonderfully executed down to the littlest details. The cherry on top is a secret level when Bayonetta is wearing the Fox McCloud costume, where she turns into an Arwing from Star Fox. It was almost an audition tape for Platinum Games for a new Star Fox game. I hope this game comes to the Nintendo Switch, because without Nintendo, this game would not exist.

Nintendo endorsed these. They have always been protective of their IP, and then this happened. It was a sign of the new times.
Nintendo endorsed these. They have always been protective of their IP, and then this happened. It was a sign of the new times.

The Wonderful 101

The Wonderful 101 is one of my favorite games of all time. Also developed by Platinum Games, known for their action pedigree, this game combines everything fun about Sentai, Voltron, Sailor Moon, superheroes, clichés, and tongue-in-cheek humor. It made my favorite games of 2013 list and I wrote about it in detail there. 

Mario Kart 8

One of my favorite Mario Kart games ever. Great tracks. It took the land, air, and sea 6 mechanics from Mario Kart 7 and added the insane anti-gravity sections to new and old tracks, which allowed for some fun thrills. Nintendo then announced their plans for DLC, adding 16 ADDITIONAL tracks for only $12.99. Nintendo delivered on their promise of making super high quality DLC which they promised for the Wii U lifecycle. I consider the DLC to be essential for this game. Never forget the Luigi Death Stare™.

Luigi comes back from the dead. I was able to capture this moment thanks to Mario Kart 8's highlight feature.
Luigi comes back from the dead. I was able to capture this moment thanks to Mario Kart 8’s highlight feature.
All Hail Luigi
All Hail Luigi

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Do you remember7 how Super Smash Bros. Brawl had so much hype around it, but ultimately left the fan base pretty sour? Well, it did. I didn’t hate Brawl as much as everyone else, but it’s definitely the worst in the series8. Super Smash Bros. for9 Wii U had me hyped from when Mega Man was announced. It may not live up to the Melee purists, but this version of Smash is my favorite. It has Mega Man, Sonic, Cloud, Bayonetta, and Ryu, and it all makes sense somehow. I hope this gets ported to the Nintendo Switch, because it didn’t live very long otherwise.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze

It’s no secret that I love Nintendo platformer games. The original Donkey Kong Country Trilogy for SNES compiled some of my favorite games. I loved how those games mixed scenic outdoorsy backgrounds to scary factories with an atmospheric soundtrack. Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii was a great game, but it was mostly a reintroduction and modernization of the first game. That may be an over simplification, but some of the game felt like a retread. Tropical Freeze innovated on that framework, but made every single level truly unique, fun, and full of adventure10. In this game, Donkey Kong Island is taken over by the Snowmads, a group of cold weather animal foes that transform the island to a winter wonderland 11.

This makes me laugh and smile every time.
This makes me laugh and smile every time.

Donkey and Diddy, along with Dixie and even Cranky 12, have to find their way back to save the island. The premise was fun and the enemies were full of character. Retro Studios finally captured everything special about the original series and improved on it. They were able to bring back David Wise, who composed the music for the first three games, and he crafted a truly atmospheric and magical score for this game. Top notch.

Biggest Disappointments

Even though the Wii U holds some of my favorite games from Nintendo, it wasn’t without its persistent issues.


The launch of the Wii U was mostly barren. The system was bundled with NintendoLand, a minigame collection full of various Nintendo franchises. Think of this as what Wii Sports was to the Wii. The games did a decent job of showing off some possibilities of the Wii U Gamepad. Luigi’s Ghost Mansion in particular was a favorite among my friends, but the games were mostly hit or miss. It’s a fun tribute to Nintendo, but it didn’t hold the attention of many for long.

The other game at launch was New Super Mario Bros. U. This was the fourth game in the “New” Super Mario Bros. series… and it wasn’t very new. This game is good, I don’t want to discredit it, but the masses weren’t really clamoring for another 2D Mario game. The game also did little to show off the new capabilities of the Wii U. It included the same graphical style as all the other games in the “New” series, only in HD.

Outside of Nintendo’s launch titles, the only original games that weren’t ports that looked enticing were Zombi U and Epic Mickey 2. Both turned out to be pretty average.

The slow trickle of the Wii U drought

Throughout the lifecycle of the Wii U, it seemed like there was always a huge wait between games. This was coupled by very little third party support, leaving the burden of games solely on Nintendo.

Please sir, may we have some more?

In addition to new games, Nintendo also slowed the release of Virtual Console games to a crawl. Not only did the Big N make everyone repurchase Virtual Console games that they may have purchased on the Wii, they were released so… slowly. Some games that were on the Wii Virtual Console weren’t even guaranteed to be released again. The introduction of downloadable Wii titles for those who may have missed them the first time around wasn’t enough to save the Virtual Console.

The Wii U will also be another console without a Metroid title13, and it will not feature a unique Zelda game, as the The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is headed to the Wii U and Nintendo Switch simultaneously. While it will may be a fun final adventure on the Wii U, it’s somewhat depressing that the console will be without its own escapade with Link and Zelda.

The full potential of the Gamepad was never realized

The technology found in the Wii U Gamepad is impressive. It is capable of wirelessly receiving a video signal from the console with almost no latency. The Gamepad itself has no horsepower of its own. I believe this is what led to consumer confusion. Can you take it on the go? No, it has to be in range of the console. It does allow for off-TV-play, which seems like a blessing for some parents wanting to watch TV.

Ultimately, there was no game that truly made the Gamepad a magical experience. It was tacked on for most game experiences. It could show the map or inventory for the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess re-releases, a feature most DS and 3DS owners appreciate. But a TV doesn’t really require extra screen real estate like a portable game console does. There was no true wow factor.

Star Fox Zero

I have to include Star Fox Zero as one of the biggest disappointments for the Wii U. It was Nintendo final charge at pushing the Gamepad as a unique play experience. In this game, you use the left joystick to control the Arwing. Aiming and shooting was deferred to the Gamepad. The Gamepad offered a view from cockpit of the ship while simultaneously flying on the TV. Nintendo touted this mechanic as a new, fun, and unique way to play, transforming controlling the Arwing into an even more powerful experience. But this control scheme, while unique, required a very steep learning curve. Once it was grasped, the game was over. There was no option to play the game without this control scheme.

Furthermore, Star Fox has not had a great game in the franchise since Star Fox 64. When Star Fox Zero was announced the fanbase was excited, and with Platinum Games (creators of Bayonetta as mentioned above) co-developing the game, it attained some high expectations. As more information about the game was released it was discovered this was another retelling of Star Fox 64, which was a retelling of the original Star Fox. Fans did not want to seem the same basic story told again14.

Star Fox Zero was the last big release from Nintendo, and it left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. It wasn’t a horrible game, but it was very flawed. And it will be a penultimate low note before the Wii U exits with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Biggest Surprises

Even with the disappointments of the Wii U, it did have a handful of generally welcome surprises. There are some games in this section that I do consider some of my favorites for the Wii U, but I feel they are better described as surprises because I would never have prophesied their awesomeness.

Hyrule Warriors is the best celebration of The Legend of Zelda

Hyrule Warriors was shown off early in the Wii U lifecycle. It’s a mix up of Zelda and hack and slash games based off of the popular Dynasty Warrior series. Nintendo was overseeing the project with a third party developer, and it appeared at first as an odd combination that wouldn’t work. This game ended up being a ton of fun, and incorporated almost everything from the series’ long history into its gameplay, characters, settings, and story. I enjoyed it much more than any Dynasty Warriors game. It is stuffed full of content and playable characters. It is a true tribute for any Zelda fan. The game was supported for months after release with a mix of free and purchased DLC, and all of it added to a fantastic game.

The answer to Toad’s enormous wealth

The Toad minigames in Super Mario 3D World were so good that Nintendo turned them into their own full game, called Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Nintendo knows cute, and this game is full of charm. It’s a puzzle game where Captain Toad must find his way to a star at the end of each level. Captain Toad isn’t as resourceful or athletic as Mario (he can’t even jump), so he has to find his own way through each puzzle. It also made good use of the Gamepad, unlike many other games. It’s not the biggest game, but it’s dense with secrets and references, and adds depth to Captain Toad as an independent character. We finally know how Toad can afford a factory, a harbor, and a highway15. It was nice to see a game that started off as an experiment blossom into something new and different.

Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is something I would have never imagined from Nintendo. Various hacks and programs available on the Internet have allowed people to make their own Mario levels for years, but Nintendo releasing their own game with a quality editor, and options not possible in the original games, was unfathomable a decade ago. Nintendo has always been protective of their IP, so the idea that people could create super shitty Mario levels and publish them online via a Nintendo supported method seems contrary to their image. This game was not just a simple editor; it had so many secrets, options, packed-in levels, and references to Mario Paint, and all with a Nintendo polish. It turned out being the best experience that only the Wii U could produce, and a common answer to the question, “What’s your favorite Wii U game?”16

Cuteness Overdose: Yoshi’s Wooly World

Yoshi’s Wooly World only ends up here as a surprise because it’s the best Yoshi game since Yoshi’s Island. After numerous releases, I never thought Nintendo would be able to recapture that magic, but they did. Also the graphic style and presentation for the game is the cutest thing ever.

The smooching spiders. So creepy, yet so cute!

Nintendo Listens? The little things

There were many small things that came as a surprise over the course of the Wii U lifespan. It seemed that Nintendo was listening to criticisms of the Wii U and the video game market at large. The changes were minor, but they nonetheless expressed an evolving Nintendo.

The Wii U had a few improvements overall in the way that most Nintendo published games had multiple controller options. Between Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mario Kart 8, and beyond, most games let you use existing Wiimotes, classic controllers, pro controllers, and the Gamepad. Star Fox Zero  was the only game where Nintendo completely restricted the Gamepad to the point where it was a determent.

Nintendo has always been reluctant to add DLC to their games. Nintendo has a high standard when they release games, and try to ensure games don’t need a day one patch and are full of content. But as I stated with Mario Kart 8, the DLC was high value, and it was in addition to the already existing 32 tracks. For Super Mario Maker, they released more content for free on a pretty rapid basis. So although their games can stand alone without it, Nintendo’s track record with DLC is very, very good compared to nearly all other video games.

Nintendo also courted indie developers to the console and repaired their relationship with other developers they had dismissed for conservative views. This paved the way for games like Shovel Knight, which debuted on the Wii U before other consoles. Shovel Knight is one of the best games to come out in the past decade, and I consider it the most “Nintendo” game made by another developer. Another indie game made possible by the Wii U is Runbow, a massively fun NINE player game. What other console has nine player games?

You’re a kid now, you’re a squid now

The biggest surprise for the Wii U by far was Splatoon. Nintendo made one of the best online multiplayer shooters, and they did it while being completely Nintendo. Splatoon focuses on 4 on 4 team gameplay. The objective is simple; cover the map with ink. Shooting other players will not win games. Teamwork is encouraged, and each player can play how they want. One person with a lot of experience can run interference for the other team, while a newcomer can run around a map with a giant ink roller. The game has a fantastic single player campaign as well. It’s optional, but it isn’t just tacked on. The single player game establishes the lore behind the world of the Inklings, and you progress through every game mechanic in a fun manner, culminating in an amazing and hilarious final boss. Nintendo supported this game for over a year with in-game events and free content, effectively expanding the game. It’s no surprise that Splatoon 2 is coming to the Nintendo Switch within the first few months after launch. Splatoon is one of the best new things from Nintendo, and it’s already a classic that everyone should know about.

Wii Will See U Later

The Wii U only lived for four years, and the writing has been on the wall for a while. Although the games trickled out, overall they were of a higher quality and ended up being some of my favorite games in years. It may have not been a console for everyone, and definitely didn’t feature the AAA games everyone was talking about as they were saving up money for a PS4 or XBone, but I think Nintendo carved out a fun niche and offered truly unique games unlike anything else out there. The true potential of the Gamepad was never realized, and it’s sad the Nintendo Switch will abandon the concept completely. Nintendo has said that the Wii U was a stepping stone to get to the Nintendo Switch, and I believe that. I often tell people that Nintendo doesn’t compete directly with other consoles, and that’s true. The don’t compete for graphical parity, triple AAA game exclusives, or cutting edge tech. The Wii U was a unique console, and even though it did not sell well, it’s already becoming a collector’s item based on its uniqueness. So if you picked one up, you’re now a collector!

I like the Wii U more than the Wii. It may have a small library, but it’s a good one. As everyone spreads doom and gloom for Nintendo, as they always do for any new Nintendo console, remember that the Wii U and its slow march into the future led to the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo is once again doing something no one else is attempting to do, and they will be just fine.

  1. Favorite Mario games at the time of writing this:
 1st:Super Mario Bros. 3,2nd :Super Mario World 3rd&4th:Super Mario 3D Land & World 5th:Super Mario Galaxy 2 
  2. 1 AND 2 Combined! 
  3. I know there are mini games present, but the Toad treasure levels were fun, and they warranted their own full game. 
  4. ,movie, book, or blog posts like this one 
  5. Platinum Games could not find a publisher for a sequel, but Nintendo made this game possible. 
  6. The original Mario games were developed with land, air, sea concept.  
  7. “Member Smash Bros.?” 
 “Yeah I member Smash Bros. Member Master Hand?” 
  8. Except for Solid Snake, that was the best. 
  9. Sakurai’s very clever way of calling this Smash 4. 
  10. There’s a level where Donkey Kong races through a tornado on a rhino. What other game allows me to do that? 
  11. The main antagonists of Donkey Kong Country Returns were evil drums. That’s not an over simplification. 
  12. In the original DKC it was Donkey and Diddy. In DKC2 it was Diddy and Dixie to save Donkey. In DKC3 it was Dixie and Kiddy to save Donkey and Diddy. For a series named Donkey Kong Country he was only playable in one of the games. I always thought it would have been cool for Donkey and Dixie to team up to save Diddy. I finally got to see that team up in Tropical Freeze so it was a dream come true. 
  13. The N64 being the first. 
  14. Something I call the “Spider-man Fatigue” 
  15. Nintendo says that Captain Toad isn’t THE Toad but I think he’s at the very least in the employ of Toad. 
  16. Thanks to the people who answered me on Twitter. 

Super Mario Fun Run

The third Nintendo mobile app should have been its first.

Super Mario Run is here! Finally! The one thing that no one wanted was Mario on the mobile phone1. We were wrong. After Miitomo launched and was unapologetically a classic Nintendo move2, we got Pokémon Go, which Nintendo benefitted from but wasn’t directly involved in. People loved it! Nintendo previously announced Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games in 2015. But to our surprise, an announcement of Super Mario Run came at an Apple keynote presentation in September with Miyamoto himself on stage. A surprise indeed3.

Super Mario Run falls in line with a genre of similar games on mobile devices called “endless runners,” but Super Mario Run isn’t endless. There are obstacles and a goal. The only difference is Mario keeps moving. He’s on a mission and he’s not going to stop. Some have said the game doesn’t feel like a Mario game. This game is called Super Mario RUN after all4. Mario always feels different based on his venue. The first time he showed up on the Nintendo 64, it felt nothing like the Mario we were used to – but it wasn’t bad, it was great!

Super Mario Run is the first Mario game you can play with one hand. It makes it super accessible. It is also one of the largest reaching Mario games, as it was released in over 100 countries. It’s a new frontier for Nintendo to make software on non-Nintendo devices5.

This game is one of the most polished gaming experiences on a mobile phone, period. It has great level design6, a simple yet deep control mechanic, and all levels require skill and can be mastered without cheap hits or other lame mobile game mechanics. It’s simply one of the best games to come out on a mobile device since the iPhone debuted.

Super Mario Run does have flaws, however. The Toad Rally mode feels like grinding, and it has inconsistent difficulty with the opponents. The World Tour mode feels like a game though. A real game. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a Mario game and it’s fun.

I couldn’t write about this game without talking about the price. Nintendo is asking $10 for this game. Compared to other mobile games out there this may seem expensive, but mobile pricing for apps and games has been unsustainable for quite some time. I’ve had friends who have told me they were unwilling to pay $3 for an app they use everyday. But the fact is, developing and maintaining software or games is expensive. If you like something, support the developers with your wallet. Several great apps and companies have closed their doors because people were unwilling to sustain them, which hinders competition and allows for shit to flood your app stores. Most app stores have a refund policy now, so if you don’t like something, you can return it – just like real stores. It really disturbs me that everyone expects everything for free but will complain about what they get.

Nintendo is going about their pricing scheme the right way. They are presenting three levels of the game you can play without limits. If you like the game, you can pay $9.99 and unlock the full game forever. Nintendo is not presenting it with any micro-transactions. One and done. Try it out – if you want more you can pay, and if not, don’t. This seems to be hurting the success of the game, but I think it’s better than if you saw a $10 price tag for a game you couldn’t try. I don’t agree it’s a bait and switch even if it does show up in the “Free” category.

All and all it’s a good start for a new world for Nintendo, and I’ve had a ton of fun playing it. I think it’s fun for everyone and my friend explained it best:

I’m not a very strong video game player. This game is great for someone like me though, because the worlds are short and survivable, and the lives are essentially infinite. It takes the pressure off, a LOT.

Sidenote: I’ve also really enjoyed the marketing Nintendo has done for the game. See the two videos below:

  1. People were imagining a port Super Mario Bros. with touch screen buttons. Not a new experience. 
  2. Meaning that it didn’t make sense, and was kind of weird but kind of cool but only for a minute. 
  3. Nintendo and Apple working together! 
  4. I love the parkour moves and acrobatics Mario performs in this game. They are so fluidic. I hope they make their way into another Mario game someday. 
  5. Hard to imagine a few years ago. 
  6. A Nintendo standard. 

Collecting Memories

I’ve been a Nintendo fan as long as I can remember.

My first memories of Nintendo were playing the NES at the barbershop my Dad took my brother and I when we were kids. The earliest games I remember are Duck Hunt, Gyromite, Top Gun, and of course Super Mario Bros.

My memories are inherently tied to video games, specifically Nintendo games. I don’t remember what my first kiss felt like but I can tell you what the first time playing Super Mario 64 in a local game store felt like: dreamy bliss. It’s confounding how my brain is wired.

When I started collecting video games, systems, and accessories a few years ago, it was spurred by finding my original Game Boy in a box of old items. That was the spark but I’m not certain what has kept that flame bright. Was it my sled named Rosebud? Was it to add to my geek cred? My precious antique cans? I think I am finally realizing what it is. It’s my link to the past (see what I did there? no?) Maybe that’s just my way of justifying material possessions. I understand people who want to eschew keeping all but the necessary physical objects. I just have never been able to do it myself. I like having things that other people have created, and things I can use to create.

Now I’ve moved into the realm of “collector” complete with a “collection.” It’s weird for me to think about. I don’t have items just to have them; they all mean something to me. They are part of me. Games differ from movies and books. Movies and books are easily rented or purchased regardless of publication date. Games on the other hand can often fade into the time they were created. Some will be remembered or even rereleased. But some will live on only on the system they were created for. Take Earthbound for example. It was a Nintendo game released for the Super Nintendo. It is actually fairly rare, and until 2013 never rereleased or available again for purchase. It’s a quirky RPG without a real equivalent. Maybe games like these will never fade and some library will exist for them to be played by anyone in the future, or maybe they will eventually die. Video games are a very young medium.

I don’t have anything in particular to achieve with my collection. I hope to share my memories with others, for them to share their memories with me. To share my experiences if I ever have a child. If I do I’ll raise them right.

Honestly I can’t imagine where this will end up. Maybe in ten years I’ll be selling everything for drugs and guns thanks to Armageddon (Thanks Armageddon!). I do know one thing that I keep coming back to: these games, toys, time wasters, playable stories, experiences, or whatever else to call them – they are a part of me. They are part of how my brain works. I’m collecting my own memories.

Happy 25th Anniversary Game Boy

The Game Boy turned 25 years old today. I thought I’d take some time to share some thoughts and memories about the best mobile gaming device.

I loved my Game Boy. I probably didn’t receive mine until maybe 1990 or 1991. When I was a child it seemed like everything took forever so it could have been the same year it came out. I received mine for Christmas, complete with an AC adapter and Tetris and the less than stellar Yoshi. I enjoyed Tetris to a degree, but since I wasn’t nearly as skilled as I am now it wasn’t fun to play. The first great game I remember playing for the Game Boy was Super Mario Land 2: The Golden Coins. It was a great Mario platformer that let you turn into a bunny with flapping ears! It also introduced Wario for the first time, and he wasn’t nearly as comical as he is today.

I remember before owning my Game Boy some boy in fourth grade had one, and I distinctly remember playing a game where you were a spaceship that had to form rectangles. It’s as exciting as it sounds. I would later discover the name of that game after years of search was Quarth.

The Game Boy was around all the way into High School. I remember lending my girlfriend at the time my Game Boy pocket which she promptly broke. But she replaced it. I was distraught until she did. I remember absolutely loving Wario Land, and Wario Land II for their shear oddity, and developing Wario into the weird (very weird) character he is today.

I remember getting Pokémon, and discovering that I wanted, no, I needed to “Catch ’Em All”.

The Game Boy was always there for those long band bus trips. I have a vivid memory of playing two player Tetris on a bus in Northeast Ohio during autumn. I always can remember where I was when playing certain games. It’s a uncannily tied to my memories.

The Game Boy Camera (and Printer) was my first foray into digital photography in all its 1-bit glory which planted the seeds for my other non-gaming hobby.

I have more wonderful memories about Game Boy games than I do for the NES. The thing was wherever I was. It was always a more intimate experience as I didn’t have to share the TV when I played Link’s Awakening discovering Koholint, or spending hours trying to find the legendary Pokémon.

Over the years I’ve heard people say they aren’t interested in handheld games, but today people play all kinds of crappy games on their phones (ripe with microtransactions). Nintendo is still creating great experiences on their handhelds that you can’t find on consoles (Luigi’s Mansion, Pushmo, Fire Emblem Awakening, etc.). There is something for everyone.

So here’s to the one, the only , the original Game Boy. Thanks for all the memories, and thanks for always being there for me.