The Wii was something of a phenomenon, selling over 100 million units making it the second best selling home gaming console of all time. With it’s unique way to play (motion controls) it appealed to a wide range of consumers beyond core gamers. This mass market appeal saw people of all ages enjoying video games, some for the first time in their lives.
The Wii struggled however, to appeal to core gamers in the same way its rivals did. Offering greater performance, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were the preferred platforms for game creators and publishers. As such the Wii missed out on a number of mainstream AAA multiplats. When the Wii did get versions of key franchises they were often inferior, or simply different.
This discrepancy did nothing to stop or even slow the tide of sales for Nintendo’s seventh gen system. The Wii outsold both of its competitors even though it was under-powered and lacked significant third party titles. Naysayers may have derided Nintendo for their unconventional hardware design, yet I’m sure Nintendo didn’t mind as the sold millions of consoles each year. Not to mention over 800 million software units sold during its lifetime. The Wii is proof a less powerful console lacking major third party titles can succeed, and even beat the competition.
Coming off such remarkable success, Nintendo was ready to duplicate their accomplishment with the successor to the Wii. They felt they could once again rely on less powerful hardware coupled with innovative styles of play, to propel the Wii U to victory. This, unfortunately was not to be the case. The Wii U would go on to sell a paltry 13 million units worldwide (according to recent sales figures). Despite a great catalog of first party titles and some good third party offerings, the Wii U failed to capture the interest of both core and casual gamers alike.
What went wrong. Why did the Wii U fail and could the Nintendo Switch fall victim to the same fate? Many media outlets and gamers have suggested the Switch will be the Wii U all over again. Like the Wii and Wii U before it, the Switch offers less capable technology (from a graphics standpoint) and may similarly struggle to secure major third party support. As we can see by looking at Nintendo’s two previous systems, this formula can yield either fantastic results, or extremely dire ones.
With the Wii U Nintendo failed to explain their new console to consumers. It is reported that many thought it was merely a new controller for the Wii, since Nintendo focused almost entirely on the GamePad at the Wii U reveal. In addition to a less than stellar reveal, the Wii U experienced long gaps between major titles causing players to look to others systems for entertainment during these “droughts”.
Unlike the Wii which offered something truly new, with its greater accessibility due to motion controls, The Wii U wasn’t that different from the PS4 or Xbox One. It provided a unique controller in the GamePad, but nothing as revolutionary as the Wii remote. With the GamePad players would get a second screen experience, similar to gaming on Nintendo’s hand held system, the 3DS. While the second screen did make accessing maps and inventory more convenient, it didn’t change the experience all that much. In fact, I still preferred playing with the Wii U Pro Controller despite its lack of a second screen. Take their distinguishing feature out of the equation and the Wii u could only offer gamers inferior versions of the same games they could get from rival systems. Not counting Nintendo exclusives, of course.
Comparing the Switch to both the Wii and Wii U it should be obvious Nintendo has opted to take a similar approach. Once again they are bringing an unconventional console to market. Like its predecessors, the Switch will be less powerful than its rivals from Sony and Microsoft. With the introduction of the PS4 Pro and the upcoming Project Scorpio, this gap in power will be more evident this time around. Considering this uphill proposition, here are a few reasons I feel the Switch may have more in common with the Wii than it does with the Wii U.
1. The best of both worlds
While Nintendo has had many ups and downs in the home console market, they have had nothing but success in their handheld division. Each of their handheld devices have sold greater than 50 million units, with the DS selling more than 150 million units since its launch. With the introduction of the Switch Nintendo seems positioned to leverage this history of success in portable gaming devices as they hope to sell millions of Switch consoles.
Will this portability help the Switch succeed? Only time will tell, but I think it may. First of all, mobile gaming is very popular – especially in Japan. It is no coincidence the Switch pre-orders sold out in a matter of minutes in that country.
Because the Switch is a hybrid console, offering both gaming on your TV and a handheld experience it will have wider appeal to gamers of various taste. If you do not like handheld gaming, no worries. You can enjoy all of Nintendo’s first party games in the comfort of your living room on your HDTV. If you see no need in another home console, yet would welcome the chance to play Nintendo’s great lineup of games on a portable device you are free to use the Switch only on the go.
This is the first time in gaming history any company has truly provided this level of versatility. While the Wii appealed to core and casual gamers alike, the Switch will similarly appeal to two distinct groups – home console and handheld gamers. This feature alone makes the Switch twice as likely to succeed as the Wii U. Remember, the Wii U really could only hope to capture the interest of home console gamers, and core gamers at that. It lacked anything to truly set it apart from the competition, so it had a more narrow appeal than either the Wii or the Switch.
2. Better Visuals
I realize this will be hotly contested, but I believe the Switch will surprise us with some beautiful games. I can hear the retort now – “the Switch is no where near as powerful as the PS4!” True enough. I don’t expect it to offer visuals completely on the level of something like Uncharted 4. That doesn’t mean it will have terrible looking games.
The Wii U was barely more powerful than the Xbox 360 (GPU wise, at least), yet it still had some great looking games. No one complained about the graphics in Super Mario 3D World, of Mario Cart 8, to say nothing about the great visuals in Xenoblade Chronicles X. So it is impressive to think the Switch is perhaps 2 – 3 times as capable as the Wii U and has twice the amount of Ram, if the rumors are to be believed. Keep in mind this level of performance is squeezed into a console about the size of a PS4 or Xbox One GAME CASE. Not only will the Switch have very good looking games on your TV, it will offer this level of visual fidelity in a portable gaming device for the first time ever!
How does this make the Switch more likely to succeed than the Wii U? If Nintendo can attract third party developers to the Switch gamers can look forward to versions of multiplats that are at least acceptable compared to versions on other consoles. How are inferior ports a selling point? If the Switch were merely a home console it wouldn’t be. The possibility of playing a Call of Duty or Battlefield game with inferior, yet acceptable graphics ANYWHERE however, is. Keep in mind we are not talking about a drop in graphical fidelity as far as the Wii U, but even if we were it would still be amazing to experience AAA games on a portable device.
If you have had the chance to check out Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 you know an inferior version of the same game can still be compelling. Now, what if you could have taken the 360 version on the go. Now add into the mix the fact that the Switch is possibly 4 times as powerful as Xbox 360 and has 8 times the RAM! Not only will this make amazing looking portable games, but even on a HDTV it will look good. How much better could the Xbox 360 version of ROTT look with 4 times the power and 8 times the RAM?
We should also remember that the Switch will have support for modern game engines, like Unreal Engine 4, which was missing on the Wii U. Adoption of newer engines and tools should make for more realistic visuals on the Switch. With more power, more RAM and a more modern development environment, Switch may give us ports closer to its rivals than was possible on Wii U. This may ease the pain of playing an inferior version of a game, especially since you can undock the Switch and keep playing wherever you go.
At this point someone is sure to point out that Sony and Microsoft have even more powerful version of their current consoles to offer. As I mention previously, with PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio the visual gap between Nintendo and their competitors has significantly widened. A saving grace for Nintendo may be the fact that neither Microsoft nor Sony want to alienate their current install base by introducing true nextgen consoles just yet. As such, both PS4 Pro and Scorpio are being marketed as premium versions of their respective current gen systems. That means all games must work on both the standard PS4 and Xbox One consoles, as well as the higher end models. While there may be a huge gap visually between a Scorpio and Switch version of a game, there will be less of a gap between the Switch and the standard Xbox One.
3. Third Party Support
This is the main reason most people feel the Wii U failed, but the success of the Wii calls this logic into question. Though the Wii did get a good amount of third party support in the beginning, this is not the reason Wii was a success. As mentioned earlier the Wii succeeded because of its broader appeal to casuals and core gamers (to some extent). Likewise, I feel the Switch’s unique hybrid nature will be the feature which attracts consumers – both console and handheld gamers- to the system.
This is not to negate the importance of third party support, however. If Nintendo is to enjoy the highest level of success possible with the Switch they will need at least good support from big third party publishers. while it may be possible the Switch will only receive steady support from Japanese developers (as we see on the 3DS), I think we will also see games from western developers. We may not see the biggest third party tiles, but a steady flow of games – especially exclusive titles-will help sell the Switch. Here again it is important to remember the hybrid nature of the Switch. Developers may feel more confident to take a risk on Switch development given they will be able to reach both console and handheld markets at the same time.
There are plenty of reasons for concluding the Switch will be the Wii U all over again, at lease in terms of sales. Several authors have written articles laying out the reasons Switch will fail, and their points are valid. In the end only time will tell if the Switch is another Wii or another Wii U. I for one have faith in the uniqueness of the product, and Nintendo’s desire to not fail again.
Looking at the excitement from gamers (as pre-orders, internet buzz, YouTube views, etc. seem to indicate) and developers I believe the Switch has a bright future ahead. It may never reach the sales of the Wii, but I feel it will capture the hearts of gamers around the globe. What do you think? Let us Know in the comments below.