I knew I’d been neglecting my Wii U, but it wasn’t until I went to set it all up again that I realised quite how much. See, the last time I turned it on was at least November of last year, and I know this because I couldn’t find my fucking transformers – which were always in the same place back when I needed them for my PlayStation 4 (prior to getting a Pro in the US). Hunting all over the house for the bastards wasn’t the most auspicious of starts to my WUFT-ing for sure, and at one point – when an avalanche of shit fell on my head from an overhead cupboard, if you’re interested – I very nearly fucked it all off before I’d even got started. As it would with anyone I suspect, having to dig myself out from under a mountain of Christmas paraphernalia and old sneakers (seriously, why do we even still have them!?) served only to dampen my enthusiasm, and I figured this was some bollocks I could very much do without, actually.
I persevered though, and honestly, I’m really, really glad I did. Having found the transformers – and Christmas tree related injuries notwithstanding, obviously – it took me only a few minutes to remember what it was that I’d loved about the Wii U in the first place – and in no time at all I had a goofy grin plastered all over my big, stupid face again. It takes little while to get used to the size and shape of the Gamepad definitely, but once I had, I was back to wondering why this wasn’t a feature on my PS4 and Xbox One – and not least because re-configuring everything was a shit-ton easier and quicker with a touchscreen. Rather impressively, the Wii U didn’t need a software update even after 5 months, either. I had planned on leaving updates to install whilst I got on with some boring real-world stuff, but I happily set about reacquainting myself with a few of my on-the-go games immediately – and I was quickly tapping into that rich vein of Gaming goodness that is uniquely, gloriously Nintendo. I’ma cover the games in more detail in reviews etc. later, but for now I’ll focus on them in a “showcasing Nintendo and the Wii U” kinda way. In that respect, I loaded up Mario Kart 8 first – and promptly lost three hours of my day (I say lost but, actually, it was a fuckload more enjoyable than what I was supposed to be doing, but that’s not a valid excuse that adults can use, apparently).
See, those three hours are, I think, testament to what Nintendo can do exceptionally well, and I rapidly got sucked into the fun/challenging/addictive bit of the Venn diagram that the company have made their own for three decades. Mario Kart 8 was undoubtedly one of the bigger successes of the Wii U lifecycle – perhaps even a console shifter – and it’s easy to see why, I think. It’s a franchise that’s been hugely successful precisely because it gets the fundamentals spot-on, and that’s meant that the basic concept has worked across numerous platforms and generations. In the Wii U’s case, the added power of the console has allowed Nintendo to augment the Mario Kart Experience whilst retaining those exact same fundamentals. It’s bright, fast, responsive, and many of the tracks are genuine works of Gaming Art, and taken together, it’s exactly the right combination of fun, challenging and addictive. I’m currently juggling a few big open-world games on my other consoles, and to be honest, whilst they’re addictive in their own way, they’re also quite daunting at times – but in contrast, playing MK8 never feels like a chore, and it’ll stuck you into that “just one more race….” zone quicker than a 200 cc Kart zipping off a speed boost-ey whatsit.
Adding to that is its relative simplicity. It always seems like a bit of a backhanded compliment to say that a Game’s simple, but I don’t think it necessarily is. Nowadays, with all the added oomph of Next-Gen consoles, Developers seem to be cramming ever more complicated, convoluted elements into their games, and as an ageing Gamer, it can a) be quite hard to remember a bajillion different button combinations and b) even if I can, knowing what I want my fingers to do and actually getting them to do it quick enough are two very different things. That’s not a problem with Mario Kart, and whilst you’ll still benefit from decent reaction times, you need only memorise a couple of commands, and then concentrate on shaving off valuable seconds with tight turns or ingenious short-cuts etc. In this sense, Nintendo is still providing a masterclass in the “seconds to learn, hours to master” school of Gaming, and having gone directly from playing The Witcher 3 to Mario Kart, that element couldn’t have been more apparent.
Those same things could equally be said of the other two Games which featured in my early sessions of the Wii U Farewell Tour; Super Mario Bros. U, and Super Mario 3D Worlds. They’re both quintessentially Nintendo, obviously, and they’re both excellent examples of exactly what it is that Nintendo can do exceptionally well. Like MK8, they suck you in, and with a perfect balance of challenge and reward, I found myself striving to master a particularly challenging section – and not because I wanted to move a “story” on (or pop a trophy/achievement), but because I wanted to nail that fucker for a sense of personal achievement. Both pride and ‘achieving stuff’ are concepts I gave up on a long time ago, but Nintendo somehow manage to tap directly into that shit time and time again, and in spite of myself I buy into it wholesale and without reservation. Obviously, successfully getting a mustachioed plumber from A to B isn’t the kind of thing you stick in your Christmas letter (apparently), but still….it’s definitely a thing anyway, right!?
Anyhoo – in terms of uniquely Wii U stuff, there’s nothing particularly Wii U-ey about any of the games. In MK8 your second screen has a few doodahs (player positions, a horn, etc) and in both the Mario games it exactly mirrors what’s on your TV screen. That’s great in that I can continue playing whilst my girlfriend insists on watching Reality TV programmes that highlight the worst of humanity – and actually, it’s also 50% of the Switch’s selling point. I do wonder why the Gamepad isn’t utilised more in some Wii U games though, especially the Nintendo ones, and not least because if it was done well, it may just’ve provided a bit more inspiration to 3rd party developers, who might’ve decided the console’s limitations could be offset by cool features unique to playing with a Gamepad. I have a niggling suspicion that the Wii U’s perceived failure is a confusing mix of “I didn’t like the unique Gamepad aspects” and “I wish the unique Gamepad aspects were utilised more”, so I suppose that’s a textbook ‘dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t‘ position, right there. That said though, given Nintendo’s pedigree of innovation, and frequently mixing-up how we play games, having the Wii U’s “flagship” type games really go to town with the second screen potential just might have been the difference for the Wii U. Still, it’s too late now, but that’s my two pence worth anyway!
So yeah, that just about covers me reconnecting with my Wii U hardware-ily speaking and the first few hours of the Wii U Farewell Tour. The experience was – all told – fun, refreshing and addictive, and whilst other consoles feature bright, colourful platform games too, I still think that Nintendo have a kind of unique edge in that particular genre, and regardless of how we view the Wii U in hindsight, all the Exclusive Nintendo-y Goodness was worth the price of admission anyway.
My Wii U is still something of a pain in the arse to use given the transformer/Gamepad battery life stuff, but so far I’ve found my Wii U time to be well worth the effort. Looking back, I think it’s possible that whole kerfuffle became quite exaggerated and embiggened in my head, and whilst it’s not ideal, it’s certainly not prohibitively ballache-y either. Indeed, I’m quite glad I committed to doing the WUFT now, because it gave me the impetus to set everything up, and as a consequence I’ve realised it’s not quite the bete noir I’d convinced myself it was.
Of course, that’ll all change should I set my house on fire, but as things stand the Horrific Electrical Blaze count currently remains at zero. Which, all things considered, I’ma call a win…..
[If you missed the Introduction to The WUFT, by the way, you can read it here]