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.
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?