Of all the complaints levelled against the Wii U over the years, the most common one is usually “there aren’t any games”. With Nintendo putting out some lifetime release figures overnight, let’s see how that claim actually holds up. Before we begin: In case you need this spelled out, nobody literally means there are no games. Everyone knows there are some games. Some of them are even very good games! But with third parties all but ignoring the system, and Nintendo’s attentions split between the Wii U and 3DS, it doesn’t take a retail manager to note that big releases (or, well, any releases) for the console have been few and far between.
But that’s a gut feeling, and gut feelings can be out. Numbers, on the other hand…
Here are the figures Nintendo released last night, covering almost every single console and handheld the company has ever manufactured (sorry, Virtual Boy, you were left off the list). They tally every single game released on cartridge/disc on these systems in Japan, the US and “Other” (mainly Europe), and divide the number between those published by Nintendo and those released by OEMs (third parties).
Taking a look at these numbers, the NES saw 72 games released in the United States by Nintendo, with a further 590 games coming from third parties. The SNES breakdown was 52/667, the N64 was 53/244, the GameCube had 48/504 and the Wii a staggering 55/1206. In “Other”, which presumably includes Australia and New Zealand, the NES breakdown was 88/263, the SNES was 73/471, the N64 was 55/193, the GameCube was 47/406 and the Wii 64/1203.
Two things jump out at you from those numbers. Firstly, the number of first-party releases was fairly consistent. Second, holy shit, look at those Wii figures.
Now to the Wii U. To date Nintendo has released 39 games in the US, while third parties have released just 118. Under “Other”, Nintendo has released 38 games, and third parties have released 108. While the system isn’t quite done just yet, the few games left in the pipeline (and the NX’s imminent reveal) won’t move those numbers much.
It’s important to note that the Wii U figure doesn’t include games (like indie titles) that were only released digitally. And that some of those earlier third-party figures, especially on the Wii, are inflated due to a mountain of shovelware. So the discrepancy between the company’s last two consoles isn’t quite as immense as it first seems.
In terms of big releases, though, that’s still a big drop-off in support from earlier consoles, especially when you look at the Nintendo numbers (which are normally the biggest/best games on a Nintendo system). And while you can argue that the Wii U has had a pretty short life cycle, you can also argue in chicken-and-egg fashion that the lack of games has played a part in that (and also point out that the GameCube’s lifespan was just as brief).
Aside from that? Feel free to make even more guesses as to what it all means. You could ponder that the Wii U has been a case of quality over quantity, as despite the overall scarcity it still saw classics like Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8 and Pikmin 3. You could also argue that the lack of big, original games in the Zelda and Metroid series left a gaping hole in the system’s catalogue, and that the complete abandonment of major third party titles after the release of the PS4 and Xbox One killed one of the console’s original selling points (remember, the Wii U was originally marketed as being a Nintendo console you could also play games like Assassins’s Creed III and Deus Ex on).
Me, I think I’m going to stick to this: That the Wii U’s dry spells would make me forget I even owned one for months at a time. But when the rains did fall, like re-visiting a sunken Hyrule in HD or enjoying Yoshi’s Wooly World with my kids (and literally playing with their Amiibo, like adorable, immovable action figures), they were still some very good times.