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How did the Wii U do in 2015?

Wii U 2015 Report Card

Nintendo's Wii U has some fight left, but the bells are tolling.

As part of GameSpot’s Game of the Year 2015 series, throughout this week we will publish annual performance reviews of all home game platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and PC.

With Nintendo's new NX console on the horizon, you can't blame anyone for thinking Wii U is on its way out. It's not selling particularly well compared to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and new games have been few and far between. In truth, the story of Wii U in 2015 is more complicated than sales numbers. Below you’ll find a collection of headline observations that defined the console’s performance and evolution in 2015, followed by a final verdict for the year.

Super Mario Maker Gives Players the Keys to the Castle

Gaming as we know it was almost singlehandedly revived by Nintendo in the 1980s, and the company quickly achieved Disney-like status thanks to its memorable games and mascots. As it has done for years, Nintendo continued to dip into its well of icons in 2015 to satisfy the desires of its biggest supporters with new sequels and spinoffs. But more than any Wii U game in recent memory, Super Mario Maker sent a meaningful message to fans: this is for you.

Super Mario Maker isn't the first great Wii U game, but with near-universal appeal and easy-to-use tools, it's one of the best reasons to own a Wii U.

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Like kids in a candy store, Wii U owners pounced on Super Mario Maker and quickly started crafting the 2D Mario levels of their dreams. In the weeks following Super Mario Maker's release, social media networks were flooded with posts from people sharing their favorite creations, and in a rare turn of events, people without a Wii U expressed genuine envy. Super Mario Maker isn't the first great Wii U game, but with near-universal appeal and easy-to-use tools, it's one of the best reasons to own a Wii U.

Nintendo Launches Splatoon and Reinvents Shooters

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Nintendo has flirted with new characters and franchises over the past few years, but with Splatoon, it pulled no punches. Inklings, the game's human-squid hybrid characters, were plastered across all forms of media, and Nintendo confidently released a Splatoon Wii U console bundle on launch week: a bold move for an untested product.

Apparently Nintendo knew what it was doing all along. Splatoon was one of the best reviewed games of the year, and Wii U owners purchased 2.5 million copies in six months, making it the fifth best-selling game on the system (Nintendo Land excluded). It's a competitive shooter, but by trading bullets for ink, Nintendo opened the genre up to people who couldn't warm up to the violent and intimidating nature of games like Call of Duty or Titanfall. Splatoon overflowed with charm, redefined a genre, and cornered the hearts of a younger generation by tapping into youthful tastes and trends. All of a sudden, Splatoon made Wii U fresh.

A Steady Stream of DLC Keeps Old Wii U Hits Relevant

2014 was a big year for Wii U owners, with major releases such as Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Brothers, and Hyrule Warriors arriving on the scene. In 2015, Nintendo continued to support these games--and Splatoon, notably--with a flood of downloadable content, diving headlong into a practice it's historically ignored. While not all of Nintendo's DLC has been free, or a must-buy, it has been significant enough to keep people interested in games long past their release dates.

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Nintendo nailed DLC on Wii U in 2015, extending the life of its most popular games without charging consumers an arm and a leg.

DLC is a divisive topic, but Nintendo's approach is far from nickle-and-diming its fan base. In the case of Splatoon, everything released post-launch is free. By everything, I mean: over 30 weapons, 8 stages, and 6 multiplayer modes. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U shipped with a huge cast of characters, but Nintendo continues to dish out more, at a very reasonable price of $4. For Mario Kart 8, it released 16 new tracks, 6 new characters, and 8 new vehicles. The grand total? $12. Nintendo nailed DLC on Wii U in 2015, extending the life of its most popular games without charging consumers an arm and a leg.

Amiibo Are Still Popular, Still Disappointingly Hard to Find

Many Nintendo fans had to import hard-to-find amiibo from Japan, where supply doesn't seem to be an issue.
Many Nintendo fans had to import hard-to-find amiibo from Japan, where supply doesn't seem to be an issue.

Nintendo is the undisputed king of fan service, and nothing represents its efforts better than amiibos. These well-made statuettes of characters from Nintendo's pantheon of personalities have proven to be a big draw for fans: over seven million amiibo have been sold in the US alone.

Unfortunately, due to exclusivity deals with retailers and incredible demand from fans, a large number of amiibo are becoming increasingly hard to come by. It's far too common for amiibo to sell out before they're released, and most fans have to resort to paying well-above retail prices in order to secure their toy of choice on second hand markets--which are typically fueled by resellers looking to make a profit.

Whatever the cause, fans are audibly frustrated that Nintendo is pushing amiibo so hard while at the same time failing to make them easy to acquire. Most new Wii U games made or published by Nintendo feature some kind of amiibo functionality, and while very few of these games have made amiibo an essential purchase, they are characterized as an important part of the Wii U experience. Nintendo clearly loves amiibo and how well they are selling, but in 2015, it failed to make amiibo fun for Wii U owners.

Two of the Year's Biggest Wii U Games Slip to 2016

At E3 2014, Nintendo stole fans' hearts by announcing new Star Fox and Zelda games coming to Wii U in 2015. Star Fox is a beloved series that Nintendo infrequently revisits, so the announcement of a new game was a pleasant surprise. And then there's the new Zelda: a cel-shaded, open-world epic, and the follow-up to the divisive Wii game, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Star Fox may only have niche appeal among Nintendo's fanbase, but when a new Zelda game comes out, everyone pays attention. It's one of Nintendo's golden-children, and the first trailer for the new Wii U game didn't disappoint. With sweeping landscapes that stretched to the horizon, and an exciting battle between a fresh-faced Link and a big, energetic monster, fans were hypnotized once again.

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Unfortunately for Wii U owners, hopes of playing either game in 2015 were eventually dashed. In March, Nintendo announced that Zelda was pushed back to 2016 in order to realize "several new possibilities" for the game. Star Fox, initially intended to release this past November, was pushed to Q1 2016 so that Nintendo could refine the game's use of the GamePad and improve things like cutscenes and level design. Nintendo has said in the past that it would rather delay a game to improve it than rush one out the door before it's ready. It's hard to argue with that logic, but Wii U owners expected a new Zelda and a new Star Fox in 2015 and were ultimately let down.

It was fun while it lasted.
It was fun while it lasted.

Club Nintendo Shuts Down

For years, Nintendo offered incentives to fans in the form of Club Nintendo points. Every game or system sold included a code that could be registered to a profile, and when enough points were accumulated, they could be traded in for free games, accessories, and other Nintendo goodies. By hitting certain thresholds, some people attained gold or platinum status, and access to exclusive offers in turn.

In a move to streamline its online, cross-platform ecosystem, Nintendo decided that Club Nintendo had to go. Between June and September, Nintendo shutdown its rewards program across the globe, promising that it would be replaced with something similar down the road.

Nintendo is undoubtedly in a state of flux, but in 2015, Club Nintendo is an example of how this transition had a negative impact on Wii U owners, who lost a unique opportunity to have their loyalty rewarded with exclusive games and gear. It's not surprising that Nintendo needs to update its dated account system, but it's disappointing that it couldn't have made the transition without disrupting a beloved service like Club Nintendo in the process.

Verdict

Nintendo is unique among console manufacturers in that it lives and dies by its ability to produce its own games and keep fans, young and old, enraptured with series the like of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. To its credit, Nintendo did an amazing job of giving fans what they wanted in the form of DLC, breathing new life into months old games at little-to-no cost.

For a console to stay afloat, however, it needs a steady flow of new games, and while there were some amazing games for Wii U released in 2015, three or four hits over a twelve-month period isn't enough. Similarly, Nintendo's inability to supply enough amiibo to meet fan demand, and the shuttering of Club Nintendo, left Nintendo fans and Wii U owners deprived in small but meaningful ways. It should have been an amazing year for Wii U, but 2015 proved, once again, that the system could only be loved by someone with the passion and patience to cope with Nintendo's unpredictable whims during a period of transition.

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Nintendo managed to keep Wii U afloat in 2015, but it couldn't elevate it to greatness, despite releasing a handful of incredible games.

The GoodThe Bad
  • Great DLC made 2014's best Wii U games relevant again.

  • Nintendo created an innovate shooter in Splatoon, redefining the genre and itself in the process.

  • Super Mario Maker captured the minds and hearts of the gaming community at large.

  • Amiibo shortages put a dent in Nintendo's relationship with its fans.

  • Delayed games thinned an already anemic release calendar.

  • Club Nintendo closed without a viable replacement.

Come back tomorrow, December 4, for our PC 2015 Report Card, and let us know what you think in the comments below!