It’s fair to say that the Wii U’s birth has been troubled. Upon its unveiling at E3 2011 it was met with mixture of confusion and intrigue. A year later the story remained the same. Was this a console that could compete? Was it one that anyone wanted? The answers where unclear, but the caveat was that we all expected Nintendo to eventually make a good case for its interesting new controller. The problem was, they didn’t.
It started well with a solid launch line-up. New Super Mario Bros U was an excellent game, but it didn’t innovate, getting by on a tide of goodwill at seeing Mario in HD. Nintendo Land was a collection of mostly good mini games, but it lacked that “I get it” factor that justified the system in the way that Wii Sports did 6 years earlier. The game that displayed the most innovation was ZombiU, but according to Ubisoft it failed to record a profit, a crying shame for such an atmospheric and innovative title. Since then the console has floundered, relying on the release of Virtual Console games and quirky apps to keep its users entertained.
It’s now over 2 years since the Wii U was unveiled and it’s crunch time. On Friday, Pikmin 3 wiil be released in the UK and so begins a steady stream of releases between now and the end of the year. We take at look at the pick of the Wii U’s exclusive software line up and consider the potential for the console’s revival.
Pikmin 3 – July
Reviews are mostly positive for this new iteration in the Pikmin series. It was never going to be a triple A blockbuster, as its moderate sales Japan indicate, but as a jumpstart to Wii U’s library it’s a game to be welcomed. By all accounts this title is very much an evolution, but its GamePad map functions seem to be genuinely gameplay enhancing. Regardless, trying to resist the adorable Pikmin has always been a futile pursuit.
The Wonderful 101 – August
Hot on the heels of Pikmin’s cute vegetable controlling RTS comes this nicely termed “Mass Action Hero” game from Platinum Games. As in Pikmin you control of a crowd of characters, in this case superheroes that can morph into various objects to help you defeat the hilariously named Geathjerk. It’s brash, colourful, chaotic and while it will probably only sell a few copies, it is exactly the sort of game the Wii U needs.
Rayman Legends – August
OK, this is obviously not exclusive anymore, but of all the third-party games heading to Wii U this is the one most suited. Its asynchronous play is designed for the GamePad from the ground up and previews suggest that it’s an unreserved success. Graphically and sonically sumptuous, Rayman Legends could easily surpass New Super Mario U as the premier platformer on Wii U.
Sonic: Lost World – October
It’s anyone’s guess how this could turn out. But hope springs eternal for fans of Sega’s blue hedgehog. Maybe this time the influence of Super Mario Galaxy will give Sonic the boost he deserves, so far the mix of cylindrical 3D platforming, old school 2D action and speed running looks interesting. Could this be the one?
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker – October
A remake is hardly the best way the to demonstrate the powers and abilities of your new console, but few die-hard Zelda fans will resist the urge to revisit the oceans of Hyrule. There is also potential for the game to tap into a wider audience than it reached in its original GameCube incarnation.
Donkey King Country: Tropical Freeze – November
Who wanted this? No one really, despite the undisputed quality of Retro’s 2010 revival. But in mainstream terms, and as depressing as it is to admit, this game is likely to have longer legs than a new Metroid. It seems churlish to bemoan a title based on what it’s not, so instead let’s celebrate the arrival of what will likely be another tightly designed romp from Retro Studios.
Super Mario 3D World – December
Response for this game has settled firmly in the “looks good, but we expected more” camp. A fair enough assessment based on the E3 demo, but we mustn’t forget that the same comments were levelled at Super Mario 3D Land, a game that subsequently became widely adored and helped spearhead a resurgence for the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo will hope this game has the same effect on Wii U sales, and I hope the game will surprise and entertain as much as its predecessor did.
To my mind these titles do have mainstream appeal (a quick glance at the Amazon bestsellers list demonstrates the sales longevity of Nintendo’s franchises), but Nintendo needs to up its game in communicating the value of the Wii U. The problem is not just competition from the Xbox One or PS4, but the still strong PS3 and 360. Never before has the market been so crowded. With six home consoles and two dedicated handhelds vying for attention, not to mention the steady encroachment of tablets and mobiles, the stakes are higher than ever. The 3DS proves that Nintendo can turn round the fortunes of a struggling system. They should never be counted out, but its going to be a tough and bloody fight.