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Wii U: Two Years Later

"The most awkward first two years of a console's lifespan. But it's beating the Dreamcast!"

So as I was starting up my copy of the criminally delayed Watch_Dogs for my Wii U, it really marks how the system is treated even after two years on the market.

I don’t get it either because the system can do some nifty things. From the GamePad’s unique functions to Miiverse integration, the console can be home to some innovative stuff. Or even at the very least, since it has a normal controller and competitive online support as well as a good chunk of power in it, it could properly handle multiplatform games.

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But that’s not to say the system’s a goner or a waste, it just means those who own it has to know the value to it, and that’s exclusive content.

The Lineup

So far, the system has a pretty decent list of games, but a far stretch of having a robust lineup. We saw at launch a great and packed version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, whose Wii U version tilted the scale of being the best version available (DLC support post-launch obviously not withstanding); alongside the introduction to Scribblenauts on a console and the best versions of Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing, Darksiders 2, Trine 2, Skylanders Giants and Ninja Gaiden 3. If the best versions of games weren’t enough, Nintendo fans could finally own a Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed or a Batman Arkham for their console. After launch, we saw a Nintendo console host a strong version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the reintroduction of Splinter Cell and Resident Evil on Nintendo consoles, the best version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Monster Hunter 3, the exclusivity of Sonic the Hedgehog, and an incredible Rayman platformer. Here’s the thing, these great Wii U games were all created by third-parties.

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So what happened? A ton of bad press mixed with tepid sales, a lack of strong software and a lack of proper product knowledge for the casual-heavy Wii owners (It’s a new console?! Is it a handheld?) caused the system to slow down to a crawl momentum-wise real quick. Another side of it was because the ones actually buying the system, Nintendo fans, just aren’t buying their stuff. This caused cancellations, delays to make formally-exclusive games multiplatform of a lack of giving a damn. Even now I’m playing Watch_Dogs with no Bad Blood DLC six months after the other versions launched. While I like the game, I know I’m a vast minority of Wii U owners playing it, especially with Super Smash Bros. coming out in the same week…

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Lineup 2: Nintendo’s Stuff

About that, I didn’t list Nintendo games until after to highlight the cool third-party stuff, to teach that there’s more to a Nintendo console than their games. In fact, they had a pretty weak launch compared to those publishers with just New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land and Sing Party (they also published Ninja Gaiden 3, but it wasn’t exclusive). While Nintendo Land was a good tutorial of the GamePad and fun for a spell, they really had nothing until March with the great LEGO City Undercover.

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It wasn’t until Pikmin 3 in August when they started a more steady rhythm with Wonderful 101, Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World launching month after month in 2013. However, 2014 again saw a slower pace with only one game all Q1 (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze) followed by Mario Kart 8 in Spring along a few low-key multiplatform third-party titles. After Mario Kart, no retail game came out until Koei’s addicting-as-hell Zelda spinoff, Hyrule Warriors, released in September. This holiday again mimicked last year with the single-big-release-a-month schedule with the nearly perfect (among a masterful 10 rating from this site) Bayonetta 2, the biggest game for the system so far Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in November and the Mario 3D World-spinoff Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker in December. Sadly, the start of 2015 is AGAIN (for the third time) not looking too hot with another slow Q1 with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse as it’s sole release.

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Of course it’s hard to just finish it off without mentioning Nintendo’s new weapon for the console: amiibo (With the lower-case a because it’s trendy). Going after the “toys to life” category that Skylanders started, Nintendo’s version of these figures has the ease of use and cost effective strategy of having the NFC hardware built in to its controller to not warrant extra parts and the IP to back it up. These amiibo figures have the heroes from Mario, Zelda, Fire Emblem, Pokémon, Kirby and others compatible with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to add that fighter mid-brawl that can learn and get stronger. What’s really cool with amiibo is that all the figures can be used in both past and future games like Hyrule Warriors, Mario Kart 8, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Mario Party 10 among others (probably every future Nintendo-published game outside Devil’s Third in some fashion). Sadly so far these figures are 100% optional and not needed to enjoy these games, and in some titles like Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8, have some half-baked function to act as a paywall for DLC. Hopefully Nintendo makes a heavily implemented amiibo game soon to really take advantage of what these figures can do.

After This Year

Good news to those who think that Nintendo does nothing but rehash the same game, the company kinda blew through their “checklist” already, with the system already donning a 2D Mario, a 3D Mario, a Mario Kart, and soon will have a Smash Bros. and Mario Party 10. Other than Animal Crossing, we can already call it a day with Nintendo’s traditional evergreen games and they can start focusing on some games that normally break the trend of what to expect from the company.

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Next year will see Devil’s Third, the next game from Ninja Gaiden’s creator Tomonobu Itagaki; a more ambitious and futuristic successor to Xenoblade Chronicles (arguably Nintendo’s best modern franchise) with Xenoblade Chronicles X; and new takes of Yoshi and Kirby with Yoshi’s Wooly World and the aforementioned Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Sadly we won’t know about other future Wii U games, including Star Fox or the unnamed open-world Zelda teased last summer, until E3 in June or with their Nintendo Directs.

Nindies

While third-party publishers dried up over the last two years with no Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto V, or any 2015 sports game hitting the system, Nintendo fans have started to embrace independent developers which have been flourishing on the console. Since their goals are not nearly as expected than a big publisher’s game mixed with the fact Nintendo made it easier than ever to develop a game on the system, indies have made the Wii U a prosperous venture.

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From exclusive games like Swords and Soldiers 2 to multiplatform ones like Oddworld New ‘n Tasty, or new studios like Yacht Club’s Shovel Knight to experienced ones like Double Fine’s Costume Quest 2; it seems indie development can quench a wide and vast array of tastes that we haven’t seen as well on rival consoles.

Out of all the new gen consoles, I will recommend the Wii U over the other two just because the content is there, it’s exclusive, it’s cheaper, it’s backwards-compatible and most importantly: it’s fun as hell. While it doesn’t really have the stuff you see on TV all over the place, it makes an amazing secondary console if the PlayStation, Xbox or PC in your life is feeling a bit stale with lackluster launches of Destiny, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Driveclub.

And if you do get the system, pick up a copy of Bayonetta 2. It has the first one and its freaking AMAZING.

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