Ten years ago today, Nintendo released the Wii U, a clunky but endearing console with a tablet-like gamepad. Although it sold poorly compared to its successful predecessor, Nintendo’s original game system still holds a place in our hearts. It’s a one-of-a-kind device that we may never see again.
The Wii U was released in the United States on November 18, 2012. It originally shipped in a “Basic Set” for $299.99 and a “Deluxe Edition” for $349.99 which came with a copy of NintendoLand (more on this later). The console came in black or white color schemes with 8 GB or 32 GB memory versions. It was Nintendo’s first HD console.
Compared to the Nintendo Wii’s 101 million sales, the Wii U only sold 13.56 million units during its more than four-year lifespan (November 2012 to January 2017). And it moved far fewer units than the PlayStation 4 (over 100 million) and Xbox One (50 million). So many people consider it a failure, but the “Big U” has always had an enduring hardcore following.
The Wii U was never an easy elevator pitch: imagine a home game console with a main controller that’s also a touchscreen, similar to a smaller, thicker, lower-res iPad. It’s like a tablet, but it’s not – you still need a basic console. And this tablet controller? You can only use one. But maybe two, eventually (although that never happened). Sometimes you use this controller screen as your main game screen, sometimes you don’t. Beyond that, games can use up to five or more different types of control schemes, including Wii Remotes and a stylus on a touchscreen. Oh, and it’s a Wii in name, but it’s also a brand new console, although it looks a lot like the latest model and can use the same accessories and play Wii games.
The Wii U was an identity crisis in a box. But despite the confusion, the Wii U also allowed for the emergence of unique and enjoyable gaming experiences, even if not enjoyed by a mainstream audience. We’ll cover some of these notable quirks and features below.
The Wii U was the first home game console to feature a touchscreen gamepad, the Wii U GamePad. It included a 6.2-inch touchscreen in the center, flanked by traditional analog sticks, buttons and triggers. It also included a front camera, stereo speakers, microphone, vibration motor, and stylus. There was even an IR emitter on the top that let you change channels and volume on your TV (press the “TV” button) and two IR emitters on the face so you could play Wii games on the go. using a Wii Remote using only the GamePad. Nintendo packed a lot in there.
The GamePad can be used as a conventional controller, primary display, or as a second screen providing additional information such as maps and character status. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the Wii U is that it could offer asymmetrical gameplay on two screens (the GamePad and a TV), where each player had a different view of the same game.
Released into a world of iPads and iPhones, the Wii U felt like Nintendo might have wanted to make a tablet console but wasn’t quite ready to put it all in one device. So the Wii U turned out to be an odd hybrid – a tablet-like console that also needed a base station to function properly. Even if, in reality, the development does not seem to have taken place that way.
Serving its tablet controller, the console has the miraculous ability to wirelessly stream video from the console, up to 30 feet away, with very little lag. It looked like a technological marvel at the time. It enabled one of the most exciting features of the Wii U: Off TV Play, where you can just play a game on the GamePad without needing to use a TV.
The ultimate Zelda console
Of all the Nintendo consoles ever released, the Wii U had the most Zelda games available for this one: 15, including two original titles (breath of the wild and Hyrule Warriors), two HD upgrades (Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD), two backward compatible Wii games (skyward sword and Link’s Crossbow Training), a NintendoLand mini game (Battle Matterst), and eight Virtual Console games (The Legend of Zelda, Zelda 2, A link to the past, Ocarina of time, Majora’s Mask, The Minish beanie, ghost hourglassand Spiritual tracks).
The Nintendo 3DS has also welcomed many Zelda titles, but if you were a home console Zelda fan in the golden age of the Wii U, there was no better place to be.
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