The Wii U Was Great, Just Not For Me


By most people’s reckoning — and ways a reckoning in this business can be determined — the Wii U has been a failure. Whether you look at its sales, the number of “classic” Nintendo titles it was home to or even just general brand awareness, it’s been a bust. But what do we know? We’re just stupid adults.

As the Switch’s release draws nearer and the curtain comes down on the Wii U’s short and troubled time in the market, I’ve been thinking of ways to send the machine off in a story like this. But I’ve been having trouble finding anything positive to say.

My experience with the Wii U has been, after all, almost non-existent. I played a couple of games for review and played a few more for fun, and really enjoyed those brief times, but for the most part the console has sat under my second TV gathering dust. I hated its squishy touchsceeen, the poor build quality of the controller and, most of all, the inexcusably long load times, especially on the menus.

That wasn’t going to make for a particularly enjoyable send-off for a Nintendo console. “Oh hey, goodbye, you thing I didn’t like that much and barely played”.

Just because the Wii U was an afterthought for me, though, doesn’t mean it went ignored by the rest of my household.

I have two kids. The youngest is my son, who is now almost four. Not long after his second birthday, he was growing aware enough to see that everyone else in the house was playing video games, and he wanted in on that action. My PC was strictly out of bounds, the PS4 and Xbox One were too complicated for his little hands, Android’s tablet interface wasn’t compatible with stubby fingers and my daughter’s 2DS was very much hers and nobody else’s.

Wanting to play games and unable to do so on most of the house’s main platforms, he started wandering out to the TV in the family room to play what he still to this day calls “The Big Nintendo” (the honour of “The Little Nintendo” going to what’s now a shared 2DS).

I was more than happy to let him play on it because a) I am cool with my kids playing video games, and b) it’s not like I was ever using the Wii U. And if anyone else wanted to use the TV it was plugged into, he could just use the controller’s screen. From my perspective, it was a pairing made of convenience, a blip on my parental radar.

From his perspective, it has been life-changing.

It’s not until I sat down with him for the first time to show him how to use the console that I realised how intuitive everything was compared to, well, pretty much anything else in the house that played games. The power button for the entire console was right there on the controller and it was red. Once the menu popped up on the screen he could touch it, just like a tablet, and it was pretty easy to show him how to “tap the moustache man” to start playing a game. It was all stuff he could easily remember then do on his own without help in the future.

I said “a game”, but I mean “the game”. Super Mario 3D World. It was one of the two Wii U titles I reviewed for this site. I’d loved it, but I never been back to it.

It was the first game he tapped on, and it’s been haunting him ever since. Seen again through my son’s eyes, Super Mario 3D World isn’t just a good video game, it’s the pinnacle of Nintendo’s constant drive for accessible and intuitive design.

It’s a relatively complex game for a kid that young! There’s a hub world, and collectibles, and you can swap between 5 characters, and there’s a story, and ghosts and high scores, and basically there’s a lot going on if you imagine the tiny little mind of a toddler. But, crucially, almost all of it is explained visually.

Where most games — and ironically, Japanese games are usually the worst culprits here — would over-explain with buttons and menus, SM3DW just gives you big bright buttons, faces and some simple icons then lets it all bleed together. It just makes sense. He learned how to play as easily as we all figured out that in the original Mario you just go right.

My daughter is six years old, and if she and my son ever want to play Disney Infinity on my PS4 it’s an ordeal of user profiles and text menus. Despite over a year of them constantly playing the game, I still need to set it up for them every time they play, then go back and help them navigate menus any time they want to change levels.

The Wii U? I just tell them to go get it and they’re off.

As I sat and watched my son play SM3DW the first few times, I could see him learning with each step, first how to walk, then jump, then some special moves. Then he explored other characters, learned about boss battles and how they were harder and different to every other bad guy. He could get through menus because they had big pictures on them, or were colour-coded in a way that even his formative lil’ brain could understand.

He started playing the game when he was around 2.5 years old, and he was quickly finding secret areas I’d never discovered in my own playthroughs. He finished it just after his third birthday. As he approaches his fourth birthday he is now a Nintendo fanboy, with a suite of nightmarish Mario Maker levels (another masterclass in intuitive interfaces) under his hat.

He has loads of new games in his collection and a ton of Amiibo on his shelf (not to mention an obsession with other Nintendo merch).

There was only one request for a theme for his birthday party last year. Cake by my wife.

There was only one request for a theme for his birthday party last year. Cake by my wife.

The more games he gets, though, and the more he branches out — he plays everything from Yoshi’s Wooly World to Minion Rush these days — he keeps coming back to Super Mario 3D World. He keeps digging around for new secrets, keeps trying out new characters in new places he’s never experienced before.

The weirdest thing about this state of affairs is that, despite my day job, I didn’t push him into it. I’ve never forced the company or its games on him, never made him play or buy anything. He grew into Nintendo organically, from simply picking up the household’s least-used console,and stumbling onto a game that was so good even a two year-old could play it.

When I see him wearing a Paper Mario shirt while playing Super Mario 3D Land on the 2DS I’m struck by the fact this is his first cultural crush, the first thing he’s ever really been into the same way I was into Transformers or Batman at his age. And how much that’s potentially going to mean to him going forwards with his life.

Our gaming genesis is one of the most important things that defines our entire experience with this medium. Whatever you first got into and grew up playing, whether it was Mega Man or Pokemon or Minecraft, it shapes your idea of what video games are and what you can expect them to be. It tends to remain a cultural touchstone in your life long after you’ve stopped playing it.

The Wii U, as irrelevant as it has been to me, is going to be that important to my son. He’s going to look back on it in 10, 20, 30 years and beyond and remember Super Mario 3D World the same way you or I may revere Super Mario Bros., or Metroid, or Civilisation.

It will be his game, the experience he cut his teeth on, which he’ll talk about as his first real gaming memory, and which maybe shaped an obsession and helped define his tastes for a lifetime going forward. And the Wii U, with its convenience and weird design, which let him play games on it where otherwise he may have been left out, played a big part in that.

So as we all gather to mourn the Wii U’s imminent passing, I’ll join you as a grizzled, mean games writer in cataloguing Nintendo’s myriad missteps and miscalculations, because for me, in my grown-up professional opinion, the console has been an abject failure.

Yet despite all that, while others trade theirs in or retire them to closets, I’ll be keeping my Wii U around. Because my trash has become someone else’s treasure.


  • Not sure I would call it great. I enjoyed a few games on it but probably the least amount of games on a console since I started playing the Nes back in 87.

    • Agreed, not great – merely “adequate”. My kids played 6 player Mario Kart and my son and his mate played Smash Bros, but that’s about it. And we had more games to choose from, it just never appealed as more than a novelty.

  • Brilliant read Luke! Thanks. Made me think back to the fun and obsession of playing Sonic 2 on the Megadrive with my older brother (I was 5, he was 6). You are absolutely right about your son and the Wii U. No matter how terrible Sonic games are in the future, the pure joy of those early days with Sonic 2 (then later Sonic 3, Sonic and Knuckles, then Sonic R on the Saturn and Sonic Adventures 1 and 2 on the Dreamcast) won’t be forgotten.

  • Must confess, it’s the only Nintendo console I haven’t purchased to date. Played it at a mates place and the whole system just felt…odd. After the disappointment of the Wii (it totally came down to the Wiimote and nunchuck configuration – sorry Nintendo, I tried to embrace it.) I just wasn’t hyped for the next gen model.
    Very much looking forward to the Switch though, can *not* wait!

  • Nintendo is all cutesy animals and clownish humans. It is relentlessly pushing the same characters that are on a level of sophistication with Mickey and Pluto, and Ronald McDonald. Nobody needs that shit anymore.

    • What’s wrong with “cutesy animals and clownish humans”?

      They’re certainly great for the 2 year old, and I don’t think it hurts games in any way.
      When you say “Nobody needs that shit anymore”, what are you referring to exactly? The characters? Would you prefer the new Super Mario Bros to not be cartoony? Or would you like new characters that are equally cartoony?

    • And Nintendo characters have far more depth than Master Chief, who went from having some good games to the worst current gen GPS experiences. ODST was the last good Halo game and MC wasn’t in it.
      Splatoon is 100s of times better.
      Wii U’s Xenoblade Chronicles X was superior to Fallout 4. It had the best Lego game in Lego City Undercover that only now is getting ports.
      The best racing game ever made in Mario Kart 8. The best platform game ever made in 3D World. The best fighting game ever made in Smash Bros Wii U.
      But people associate Nintendo with cutesy animals and keep playing garbage like CoD.

    • Yeah! Me grown up too! Me not have time for dumb baby stuff like colours and animation. Me not want art for everyone, just for me as man adult!

  • Luke’s on the money so much, but I can’t agree with him with everything here.

    Very endearing yarn, yet he fails to see the broad church that gaming is. Nintendo and the impressions it has left on the medium seem to always be pegged back, or mollified, time and time again.

    This article is endemic of how many perceive Nintendo as somehow cheating on them, they act as jilted lovers when banging on about how we are all really better off without the Wii U (or whichever console we’re currently discussing) anyway.

    He’s so right in that a person’s discovery of gaming is a deeply enriching and personal experience, but so very much one’s own. You can’t quantify it, and you certainly shouldn’t poo-poo it.

    Hard to believe, but there are people out there whose only console is a Wii U. That’s their gaming diet. That’s it. For them, that’s their world of games. I don’t pity them, rather, I envy them.

    Good read.

  • My kids had a similar experience to Luke’s kids. They (ages 5, 7, & 9) are obsessed with Super Mario 3D World, trying to get all the stars.

    However, the console was great for me too. Monster Hunter, Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, Pikmin 3, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Pokken Tournament, Paper Mario (yes Paper Mario, massively underrated game IMO) and Splatoon were all experiences I’m not able to easily get on the PS4.

    And all those kids games are great for me to play with them. Yoshi’s Woolly World is a riot in 2P. Star Fox Zero’s best mode is co-op. Rayman Legends with Murphy is a fantastic unique experience. All the weird mini games in NintendoLand and Game & Wario.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have a PS4 aswell. But as a family console, the Wii U can’t be beat.

  • My daughter enjoys playing Scribblenauts Unlimited on the Wii-U, and we very occasionally break out Mario Kart.

    Overall, though this console has gotten tragically little action over the last few years.

  • For me, the Wii is probably still their worst console. I just couldn’t get invested in the Wiimote, nunchuck setup so there are quite a few games I really wanted to play (like Mario Galaxy) but just didn’t because of this reason. I’d say the game I played most on the system would have been Mario Kart because of the classic controller support.

    So overall, I’ve played through more games on the WiiU because the tablet controller didn’t really bother me like the wiimote/nunchuck did. I’m holding out hope that some of these Wii games like Mario Galaxy will eventually get a rerelease on a newer console like the Switch the way Twilight Princess did on the WiiU.

  • My son is about the same age – we’ve had almost exactly the same experience. He actually started on Mario Kart very early, but has graduated to most of the abovementioned games.

    He’s currently playing Mario Galaxy 2, via the Wii emulation. He’s quite good at it. He’s getting better at Smash Brothers too, so hopefully he’ll provide some competition soon.

    His two year old brother is just starting to have a crack too.

    I enjoyed the console personally, though, as with most Nintendo consoles, my play was pretty sporadic. The Wind Waker remake was particularly good.

    I’ll always remember my son playing it though, so I certainly thought it wasn’t a waste of space.

  • After the system updates that improved its load times, the Wii U was a totally fine console.
    The big problem was the lack of third party support. As always, most of the Nintendo titles were great, but between the terrible name, the underpowered-ness and ‘hardcore’ gamers being burnt from the Wii, there wasn’t enough people getting on board to keep any third party interest leading to a quick death spiral.

    I’m hoping the Switch does better.

  • It’s my favourite console to date. So many great exclusives, the gamepad and the pro controllers are what keeps this as he most used console in my house.
    The games may not be the prettiest, but they are the best.

  • My son has clocked up many hours on the Wii U. Not as much as his 2DS, but still a heck of a lot. It will be the first non handheld console he will remember in his gaming life and despite its poor sales, it was still a good console for kids. Super Mario 3D world, Yoshis Wooly World, Mario Maker, Mario Party 10, Mario Kart 8 (you see the theme here) are all great titles and perfect for kids.
    There is just not a lot to attract adults to the system and as such I never touched it unless playing with my kids.
    Hopefully Nintendo learn from their mistakes with the Switch and get the essential 3rd party support a console needs to become successful, just like the 3DS has been.

  • The Party games on the Wii U were absolutely fantastic. Every time I had mates over drinking, we always had the most fun on the Wii. Mario Kart, Smash Bros, even the game that came with it had some fantastic party games. Ironically, Mario Party sucked lol.

  • I actually had more Wii U games and any other system. It had a great set of exclusives and it’s a real shame the console wasn’t more popular so more people could enjoy them.

  • Its the most used console in my household.
    (As terrible as the name was, a bad decision to keep the *Wii* brand…)
    I wish the fairy tale never ends, only to be bettered by the Switch.

    We still play Splatoon, SM3DW, Mario Kart 8, DKC Freeze.
    As cutesy as the games are, they are great and fun.
    Its a Netflix box and it can be used when others are watching tv.

    Long live the WiiU

  • Wii U is also a great option for playing Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Both games have had a massive impact on my son (WW @ 6 years old and TP @ 7 years old). He is anxiously awaiting Breath of the Wild.

  • The Wii U, as irrelevant as it has been to me, is going to be that important to my son. He’s going to look back on it in 10, 20, 30 years and beyond and remember Super Mario 3D World the same way you or I may revere Super Mario Bros., or Metroid, or Civilisation.

    It makes me feel so old that all of those games came out many, many years after I started gaming.

    My 3 yr old loves the Wii-U as well, especially “Mario Card” as she insists on calling it.

  • the poor build quality of the controlleru wot

    But yeah, Wii U really felt like a second coming of the GameCube to me. Awesome library, undersupported and underrated. It’ll only be looked back on fondly in the future, I’m sure.

  • Reading through the comments of this story (and obviously what the story is about) that’s the best thing – how great it is for kids. PS4’s, Xbox One’s and gaming PC’s just aren’t accessible enough to provide that world changing feeing of gaming you get when you’re young. If it wasn’t for Nintendo, the only games kids would gravitate to would be iOS/Android games, which while containing some greats, are also terrible in that there are 100,000s of exploitative experiences for every great one.

    I’m 25 with no kids, so it’s not like I can relate at all, but I still think it’s brilliant.

    Personally, the Wii U is definitely my second console, but has already seen so many hours of playtime. Xenoblade X, Bayonetta 2, Toad’a Treasure Tracker… all fantastic. I still have a bunch of games to play on it. I’m looking forward to the Switch for sure, but the old Wii U isn’t getting put away just yet.

      • Secret best RPG of 2015 personally ;D it’s a fascinating game for sure. It’s truly awe inspiring, both the game world and the fact that it’s on Wii U hardware. It’s also almost like 2 different games: the main story, then the post game. It’s definitely a game you just take your time with, like really. It’s thrown around that you don’t get a mech for 30 hours, and even at hour 100 you can not be finished the main story… but it is insanely worth the time. Every time I jumped in I came away ha I g explored something new, done something interesting. It’s also so anime in the best ways.

        Ahem, after all that… basically yes, you definitely should ;D I really, really like Xenoblade X.

        • I’ve been hot and cold on the xeno series. Loved gears, hated saga. Loved blade. Played a few hours of X before getting distracted. Now that FFXV is here and done, I’ll make more time for it. Cheers!

          • Awesome 🙂 you’ll have to let me know how you go somehow, I’d love to hear your thoughts! I’m sill not “finished” with it yet, I keep jumping back in, on my 202nd hour now or something, so I’m always keen for discussion on it lol

  • He started playing the game when he was around 2.5 years old

    I can’t even process this. To me toddlers are basically babies. I don’t even have memories before 3 and my most complicated toys were Transformers, of which I did not operate well at all. The very idea of a child that can barely speak using a console (a computer really) is just… I can’t.

  • Looks like I am the odd one out here then? I loved the Wii U and it’s great library. So many games that were such a joy to play (except Star Fox Zero, what was that?). Finally got another Pikmin entry to fall in love with, Mario 3D World was horribly challenging post game and Splatoon still draws me back for another session every now and then. I’ll still be playing mine until the Switch hits.

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