Nintendos Wii and revolutionary remote. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/PA
So the Wii U had a lot to contend with: a poorly conceived debut, a unique selling point that was difficult to describe, and a hesitant development community unwilling to commit
resources to a quirky machine. But it did provide moments of genuine brilliance. The defining first-party titles Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, Splatoon and Pikmin 3 may not have been top tier Nintendo originals (theres no Miyamoto Mario, no new Zelda), but they were excellent games, filled with interesting ideas and classic moments of design genius.
Pikmin 3 is one of the greatest games I have ever played on any system, says Broadbent. Its mission mode is so tightly balanced, with so many tricks and techniques to optimise battles, find new routes and shave seconds off your time that I can and often did replay the same mission for entire days without noticing that the my weekend had disappeared. Im a big fan of the oft-overlooked, but to my mind never bettered, New Super Mario Bros U, especially the challenge modes. And keeping with Mario, Super Mario Makers musical, whimsical user interface is a masterclass in hiding complexity and infusing character into menus the way the sound effects harmonise with the background music as you place objects on the screen is endlessly charming to me.
There were beautiful third-party games too, sparsely spread out though the machines lifespan perhaps, but certainly there.
Cult Japanese studio PlatinumGames, best known for its demanding brawlers, was an unexpected hero producing two masterpieces for the machine: the extravagant Bayonetta 2, and the kookie super hero puzzler, Wonderful 101. Warner Bros brought us the excellent Armored edition of Batman Arkham City, but also the ludicrously overlooked Lego City Undercover, a hilarious Grand Theft Auto pastiche, which is now rightfully being remade for current consoles.
More importantly however, there were indie developers who truly embraced the idiosyncracies of the system and its development environment. We enjoy letting the quirks of specific hardware inspire new ideas and features here, so from a design point of view, Wii U was a lot of fun, says Broadbent. Gyros, a camera, a touch screen there was a lot there to use. For Scram Kitty, I had the idea of making the titular cat appear as a sort of sports commentator on the
TV while the player focused on the GamePad action, and although in the end that element didnt turn out to be an essential feature of the game, it was a great source of personality for the game, and one which kept throwing up new ideas throughout development.
Highlights included DrinkBox Studios crazed platformer Guacamelee!: Super Turbo Championship Edition, the lovely retro platformer Shantae and the Pirates Curse, and the intriguing puzzler Art of Balance. Most were multiplatform, but lots used the Wii U capabilities in interesting ways. A key example was the engrossing Affordable Space Adventures from Danish developer KnapNok Games. In this interstellar puzzle game, the GamePad was used to monitor and interact with your crafts primary systems, including engines, anti-gravity controls and scanner, providing a great Star Trek bridge experience.
There were also thoughtful conversions of iOS titles, including Dakko Dakkos translation of the spooky narrative adventure Year Walk. We took a much more all-in approach to the machines feature set, combining the gyros, touch screen, separate displays, and even subtly altering the audio between the gamepad and the TV, to create very satisfying controls and puzzles, says Broadbent. The end result feels uniquely suited to Wii U.
Its also worth remembering Nintendos unique attempts to create friendly online communities around the Wii U. The Miiverse is a family-friendly social network in which players can chat about what theyre playing, draw and share pictures, and seek gaming advice, all within a safe, charming environment populated with customised Mii characters. It was a much more warm, human approach to networked play than Xbox Live or PlayStation Network and, as Jennifer Schneidereit, co-creator of luscious historical adventure Tengami discovered, it allowed unique relationships between developers and players:
It was possible to post to
Tengamis Miiverse from within the game, to show level progress or ask other players for help, she says. As a developer I was able to interact with people in Tengamis Miiverse and help with puzzles, answer their questions and listen to their feedback. Because Miiverse posts are not only textual, players can also hand draw and incorporate stamps, it was a real delight to watch players using our stamps to create artwork of their own.
Wii U had a difficult start, with a difficult idea in a difficult era. The E3 presentation blurred what the machine actually was, and the GamePad was never an easy proposition to market unlike the Wii Remote that people could
see was fun, just from the adverts. Meanwhile, with Xbox and PlayStation continuing their graphics arms race, and competition coming in from smartphones and tablets, the gaming audience seemed to be stratifying into two groups: the sorts of players who bought consoles and high-end PCs, and the sorts whod quite as happily play Candy Crush Saga for free on their phones. The idea of a console as the central focus of a party or family event, which had peaked between 2005 and 2010 with both the Wii and the rise of music games like Guitar Hero, had drifted out of favour.
Nintendos Shigeru Miyamoto. Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Now here comes the
Nintendo Switch, a regeneration of the Wii U concept where the GamePad effectively becomes the console, with its own built-in controllers. If anything, it is a more flagrant attempt to seduce casual players away from their phones, while tapping into the family living-room appeal of the original Wii. Broadbent sees Switch as a reconnection with that machine: Im very happy that the joy-cons have so many little tricks in them, and encouraged to see games like ARMS push forward higher-fidelity motion controls right out the gate. But Im mostly happy that Switchs identity as a home console thats not tied to your TV is being communicated so clearly.
Communication, it seems, is key. The Wii did its own communicating: you just watched people playing Tennis or Bowling and you knew it was fun. Nothing Nintendo has done with its hardware since then has been quite so alluring. But to write off Wii U as a creative failure would be a gross disservice. The GamePad actualised a lot of vague entertainment industry hype about the second screen, and lots of games truly illustrated the magic of the concept. And lets not forget that Wii U also saw Nintendos entry into the toys to life market with its Amiibo characters little figurines that could be placed on the screen to interact with games. They sold over 40m of those.
In years to come, people will pick up the console second-hand, with a few games Super Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2,
Mario Kart 8 and theyll realise what it was that Nintendo had in mind, theyll understand the appeal of the hardware. Much too late, of course.