When Nintendo released their console, the Wii, in 2006, it flew off the shelves. Never before had a gaming company become so accessible to so many people for such an affordable price. While titles like Wii Sports and Mario Kart were able to allow anyone to pick up a controller and jump in to the game, they also managed to sate (for a time, at least) the hardcore gaming crowd that had worshipped at their door for so many years with titles like Super Mario Galaxy, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. As of August of 2016 the Wii has sold over 100 million units.
So naturally, its successor had some big shoes to fill. Nintendo has absolutely always been one for innovation; to a fault even. Remember the Virtual Boy? This was the case with the Wii’s next iteration, the Wii U. Though it was marketed as a whole new console capable of much more than its tiny older brother, the Wii U was little more than a bigger stronger Wii with a touch screen on its unnecessarily bulky controller. Much like the innovation Nintendo had tried (to much success and acclaim) with their DS system, the touch screen was meant to further immersion within gameplay. It was meant to give you a map with which you could interact, a stat sheet that you could check for quick reference in a battle, and a place to play mini games. What the touch screen controller became was simply annoying. Sure it did all of those things mentioned before, but it always felt forced and artificial. To further immerse yourself into gameplay, checking a map or whatever else would’ve been displayed should feel natural, necessary, and immediate. It never felt like that. Looking down at the Wii U’s controller always felt like a chore, felt clumsy and irrational. The second you looked down you lost reference of what was happening on the big screen. Nintendo didn’t do themselves any favors with third-party developers either. Development of any game for any studio other than Nintendo was nightmarishly difficult. Because of this, there was essentially no third-party support for Nintendo’s shiny new platform. Leaving Nintendo with no option but to make their own games, something at which they’ve always excelled. Games like Mario Kart 8, Super Smash bros. Wii U, and The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker Remastered were huge successes critically. But the sales simply weren’t there. As of Sept. 2016, the Wii U has sold 13.36 million units. Literally around a tenth of its smaller quirkier, and simply more fun older brother. And now the end is here for the Wii U. Later this week, Nintendo will cease production of the well-intended but oh-so-flawed console.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. Nintendo’s newest endeavor, the Switch is hoping to correct it’s older brother’s mistakes. Supposedly, third-party development will be much easier, which will allow for more studios to get their crack at making a bang-up Nintendo game like they grew up wanting to. While the Switch is also focusing a lot on the portability aspect of its platform, it is also trying its best to recapture some of the hardcore gaming market that it lost in the winter years of the Wii. The Legend of Zelda: Call of the Wild looks to be the killer app for the system and it looks like the perfect metaphor for Nintendo itself. Zelda has long been mired in the same functional but bland gameplay ever since the Ocarina of Time (when its gameplay was revolutionary); but Call of the Wild looks new and fresh with tons of mechanics that would be considered standard in any other franchise but are just making their way to Zelda now (JUMPING, ANYONE?) Add to that sense of mechanical modernity a sense of aesthetic modernity as well. The game features tons of sci-fi weapons and vistas while simultaneously preserving the fantasy world we’ve come to know and love. Hopefully Nintendo is taking the lessons it is applying to Zelda, and making some of those changes to itself. We’ll see when the Switch is released in March.