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How Nintendo’s Greatest Failure Led To The Switch

Remember When takes a look back at the Wii U and explores why and how it all went wrong, before reflecting on how Nintendo leveraged its learnings for the Switch.


In the last couple of episodes of Remember When we've been taking a look back at the biggest missteps that Sony and Microsoft have made, and examining how these paved the way for future successes. It only makes sense to do the same for Nintendo, especially as it missed by a considerable margin and, in correcting course, delivered one of the most compelling video game consoles of all time.

Of course we are talking about the Wii U, the console that squandered the obscene success of the Wii U, but then resulted in the Switch. At the time, it almost felt like the Wii set Nintendo's follow-up for certain success, and yet, the Wii U reveal was met with questions and criticism. The mixed messaging and conflicting objectives resulted in a platform that failed to strike a chord with any audience in a meaningful way. On this episode of Remember When we look back at the Wii U and Nintendo's thinking and motivations, explore how it all went wrong and why, and then look at what the company did to make sure that it didn't repeat its mistakes.

As always, we asked Remember When host and writer Kurt Indovina to recount his history with the story and the process of making the episode. f you haven't already, make sure to check out the previous episodes of Remember When on YouTube.

Kurt: I love the Wii U. I don’t care what anyone says. For some reason, it just clicked with me. The moment it was revealed, I was immediately inspired at the thoughts of what games could do or explore by having a second screen. Whether it’s inventory management, asymmetrical multiplayer, or taking the game off the TV entirely, the possibilities got me excited.

Sure, there was a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t really make sense to me, like the built in camera, or its weird TV functionality, but none of that detracted from the very pronounced feeling of needing to have it at all costs. I knew, first and foremost, the thing to define this console would be its games. And that certainly ended up being the case, even if it was the only thing it had going for it.

Now, personal excitement and expectations aside, not everyone had the same reaction I did. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that most Wii owners probably had no idea that the Wii U even existed. The Wii was Nintendo’s most successful home console, and smashed the barriers of who could be considered a gamer. So the Wii U’s reveal was not only confusing, but it completely squandered the Wii’s success. It was a colossal failure, selling only 13.5 million units--saying that’s a stark contrast to the Wii’s 101 million units feels like an understatement. But from its ashes came one of Nintendo’s greatest achievements: the Switch.

In hindsight, the Wii U almost feels like a public prototype for the Switch. And I commend Nintendo for its commitment to trying different things. But while I saw potential in the Wii U, even I have trouble wrapping my head around why exactly Nintendo went the route they did with that system, and it’s those questions I sought to answer in this episode of Remember When.

This particular episode also concludes what we’re calling the “Console Trilogy” of Remember When episodes. Previously we did one on the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 3. Of them all, the Wii U was the one I was most eager to make. Not only because I’m a fan of the Wii U, but I also acknowledge that it’s one of the weirdest consoles ever made, and getting to hear my colleagues thoughts on the whole ordeal is one of my favorite parts of making this show.

Hope you enjoy it, and if you get the chance, consider checking out previous episodes of Remember When while you’re it.

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