Nintendo Wii U: the exit interview
A concept that not even Nintendo believed in
Welcome back to Multicore for Thursday, March 30th.
Today's issue is a follow-up to Tuesday's, where we discussed 2011's Nintendo 3DS and the decisions that went into its design. While the core 3D feature ultimately became sidelined in relevance, Nintendo was still able to turn the system into a moderate success through the strength of its software.
With the Wii U, its home console released the following year, Nintendo wasn't so fortunate. It quickly became clear that the idea at the core of the system's design was a fundamentally bad one, and the result was the biggest disaster in the company's recent history.
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Although it was met with a lot of scepticism before launching in 2006, the Wii turned out to be Nintendo's best-selling home console ever. By refusing to compete with Sony and Microsoft on traditional frameworks of graphical power and opting for a more accessible controller design, the Wii was a genuine phenomenon that opened up gaming to a whole new audience well before the dawn of the modern smartphone.
But when it came time to release a successor, the direction wasn't necessarily obvious. The hype around the Wii had died down by 2010, with fewer big game releases even from Nintendo itself. Meanwhile, Apple's iPad had just been released, and the common assumption back then was that it would come to dominate casual content consumption — including gaming.
Amid that background, Nintendo designed the Wii's successor around a tablet-style device called the GamePad. It was essentially a bulky game controller with a 6.2-inch 480p resistive touchscreen in the middle. The screen could mirror what was being shown on the TV, or show entirely separate imagery — a different camera angle, for example, or secondary information like your map. One early third-party title, Ubisoft's ZombiU, played out like a typical first-person horror game on the TV screen but had you frantically rummaging through your backpack for items on the GamePad.
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