Nintendo Completely Bailed On Console Generations, And Nobody Gave A Shit

Nintendo Completely Bailed On Console Generations, And Nobody Gave A Shit
Image: Nintendo

The last time we said goodbye to a whole generation of video game consoles, it was 2013, and we said our farewells to three machines. This time around, we’re only saying goodbye to two, because Nintendo walked away from this game a long time ago.

Remember the Wii U? Nintendo would rather not, but it’s easy to forget that their successor to the Wii, one of the best-selling consoles of all time and a true mainstream breakthrough, was neither of those things. Released in 2012 it was a disaster, from the name to the mushy touchscreen to the cheap build quality to the lack of standout games.

“Oh, come on man, it wasn’t a disaster” some of you may already be typing in a tweet, albeit with less punctuation. “That Mario game was good!”

It was! It was great! I reviewed it! But consider this: the Wii sold over 100 million units. Do you know how many the Wii U sold? 13 million. That’s not a drop-off. For a company that makes its money selling video games and video game consoles that’s a trap-door to hell.

Nintendo couldn’t get rid of it fast enough, and so despite releasing in November 2012 — giving it a year’s head start on Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles, which wouldn’t release until November 2013 — the Wii U was replaced only 4.5 years later, in March 2017, by the Nintendo Switch.

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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...

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What happened next is of course history. Nintendo’s newest console is a big hit, having sold around 70 million already, and when you look back on the company’s 21st century history, it’s easy to forget the Wii U existed at all, so long are the shadows cast by systems like the Wii, DS and Switch.

But the Wii U’s sacrifice was not in vain. If the Wii was Nintendo beginning the process of decoupling itself from an arms race it couldn’t afford to keep up with (by deciding that hey, specs aren’t everything), then the Wii U finished the job by bailing on the idea that every new console on the planet had to come out at roughly the same time as other new consoles.

When the Wii U came out in 2012, it was already caught in the gravitational pull of the PS4 and Xbox One’s 2013 release. When the Switch was released in 2017, it didn’t have to worry about a thing! It wasn’t trying to compete with Sony and Microsoft’s hardware, and it wasn’t anywhere near their release timeframes either. It was free.

It could just exist in its own space, Nintendoland, which at the moment is one of the best places they — or we! — can be. It’s just somewhere Nintendo can release their own amazing games, and sometimes we can play indie games too, and you can play them on a TV but also on the go and god no wonder the thing keeps selling because everything about it is just so fucking good.

So yeah, it’s weird to be saying goodbye to a whole generation and spending nearly all of our time speaking about just two consoles. But that’s the world we’re in thanks to Nintendo’s breakaway, and perhaps the most amazing thing about the whole process has been how little anybody, from any side, has really given a shit about it.

Sony and Microsoft are doing their thing — Microsoft even helping Nintendo out from time to time — while Nintendo is very comfortable in Nintendoland, doing its own successful Nintendo things. Everybody wins. Everybody’s happy. And how often in this business do you get to say that?


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  • This was a “You can guess the author from the headline” article.

    But he’s not wrong. I thought Nintendo were dooming themselves when they released the Wii U a year before the competition released their new beasts, given that the Wii U was about to be trounced in technical specs, and I was similarly worried when the Switch came out halfway through this (last) generation.
    I’m glad I was wrong.

  • Nintendo are kinda irrelevant to the ‘generation’ pitch, though. If someone’s having a discussion about which side you favour in the battle of the consoles, anyone who says, “Nintendo!” gets rewarded with an eyeroll and excluded from the conversation. They’re an ‘also ran’ that isn’t really competing so much as serving different needs.

    They’re always behind on the tech, their main draw is the exclusives. As a bonus, people go Ninty to pay full price for a handheld version of games from three years ago that struggle to run.

    • Anyone trying to have a conversation about which side they prefer in the battle of the consoles will be the ones getting an eye roll and excluded from me, tbh.

    • Exactly. They stopped playing the same game long ago. They’re so irrelevant the main console competition. I honestly forget the switch exists sometimes because the only thing they have is exclusives and absolutely none of them are interesting to me.

      • I absolutely love Nintendo games, I don’t think anyone makes games better than they do. In saying that, I understand how you might not like them because I dont rate many of Sonys exclusives and most people would kill to play them. I’ve played games like spiderman, god of war and uncharted and they just don’t do it for. Dont get me wrong they are decent games but if anyone hasn’t played them id say you’re not missing much.

    • “They’re always behind on the tech”

      Only since the Wii.

      NES, SNES, N64 and GameCube were all powerful machines that outperformed their competition in many key areas.

      • Heh. Fair enough. Though I’d suggest it’s fair game to limit frames of reference for anything ‘present tense’ to their efforts of the last couple decades, for which that is true.

        Not that it matters to me any more than it seems to Nintendo: BotW, Animal Crossing, and Picross are all running on there, so as I mentioned – they don’t really NEED to keep up with the tech, based on the fact that they’re focusing on underpowered but compelling software. Generations remain irrelevant to them, outside of what might be able to get a port. Even then most of what we see is low-intensity indie ports.

    • I see Nintendo as the console everyone should own. Most console gamers will choose between Sony and Microsoft for their main console of choice but everyone needs a switch on the side. Nintendo games are just too darn good a fun to miss out on and you can be sure they will never end up on pc.

      • The Switch is just too expensive for a side console in my opinion. You can get the lite, but that’s not much cheaper and can’t play on a TV.

        I was looking at getting one but just getting Mario Kart, BOTW and an extra joycon pair for 4 players, it’s about $660!

        Microsoft released xCloud and home console streaming just in time, my phone is 4x the Switch resolution and about the same size screen so I just use that for couch gaming!

      • I tend to agree, but I have the cash for it.

        The fact of consoles’ expense is a big part of why that tribalism article exists in the first place. People can’t have everything, and they want to feel good about their limited decision.

  • As one of the few Wii U owners this behaviour is exactly why I am wait and see on Nintendo hardware from now on. If you are one of the 13 million people not only were you abandoned in record time but the Switch is also less valuable to you as half of all releases games are rereleased versions of the only games that were worth buying on the Wii U.

    I own a Switch now, it just would have been a nice move to reward the fans that stuck with them through the Wii U years somehow instead of being left out in the cold.

  • Yeah well who give a shit?!
    Nintendo have already said farewell to the Wii U which didn’t sell very well due to falling sales there’s also Miiverse which recently got shut down for no fucking reason.
    Miitomo which has also disappeared and even the Wii Shop Channel that got shut down late last year after 12 years.
    Nintendo has also farewelled production on the 3DS so what’s up with that if Nintendo doesn’t give a shit?

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