From Wii U to Switch 2
Posted by Kris Randazzo on Feb 1st 2023
How We Might Play Next
The Switch doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down, but a successor is inevitable. The hardware’s been more or less outdated since the console launched, and while they’ve been more than capable of making some truly amazing games on the platform, everything has its limits. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is launching in just a few months, and while nothing has been said publicly, it sure seems like the kind of game that would properly cap off a console generation. No matter how you slice it though, the Switch has been a monumental success for Nintendo.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Wii U. Arguably the company’s biggest failure aside from the Virtual Boy, the Wii U has been experiencing something of a renaissance, at least in terms of public perception. I love my Wii U and I always have, but that was a rough system to own during its lifetime. I wrote a whole thing about that about 2 years ago. Looking back on it now it’s easy to see the good stuff, but when you’re waiting for months between good game releases while the competition is crossing new milestones left and right didn’t make it the easiest time to be a fan. Now though, there are a number of people out there who are more than happy to loudly proclaim that the Wii U was an amazing system actually! It’s even better than the Switch and you just don’t realize it! Those points are VERY debatable, but they also aren’t completely baseless. The Wii U was home to a number of ideas that its hardware wasn’t able to properly deliver on, but were still really inventive. The last thing Nintendo should want to do is move backwards, but if there's one thing the 3DS taught us is that Nintendo also never gives up on good ideas. They had been trying to make 3D gaming a thing since the Famicom days, and when they finally realized their ambitions with the 3DS, it was a monumental success. So let’s see what the Switch’s eventual successor could learn from one of Nintendo’s biggest missteps.
One thing the Wii U had in spades that the Switch doesn’t is personality. Background music in the eShop, the Mii Plaza, that crazy Pikmin animation when you migrated data from your Wii to your Wii U. Even the Nintendo Directs of the time had a different feel. Nintendo’s unique personality was all over the Wii U, and it’s largely missing from the Switch. Of course, a lot of this stuff was removed for a very specific reason: speed. All those awesome personality-fueled bits of greatness came at a cost for the Wii U. It was one of the slowest, most cumbersome systems to use. Switch, on the other hand, is zippy as heck, and that ability to get in and out of games with lightning speed is the kind of thing that most people greatly appreciate.
However, technology gets better over time, and those things that made Wii U special wouldn’t be nearly as difficult to integrate without the loss of speed and efficiency as they were a decade ago. I miss those catchy tunes in the eShop, darn it!
Miis in general have so much more potential left in them. Just look at the crazy customization stuff they added to the Switch version of Miitopia. People were having a blast with that! But more importantly, the connectivity that Miis represent was so far ahead of its time, and it needs to make a comeback. Miiverse on Wii U was sort of like Nintendo’s own social media program that was built into the fabric of the system itself. Games all got their own unique message boards where people could jump in during gameplay and ask for hints, share screenshots, share artwork, etc. It was amazing. MiiVerse message could be used in-game too to show where secrets are, or to help promote upcoming events and DLC.
Then there was the Mii Plaza. Whenever you turned on your Wii U, an army of Miis would walk onto your screen and show what people around the world were playing, and what they were saying about those games. There was an instant sense of community when you turned on your Wii U, and one that was completely removed from the Switch. Again, this came down to speed. Anyone who regularly used Miiverse will tell you that getting in and out of those message boards was a SLOG, but even with the horrendous wait times, it was worth it. It was pure magic.
But again, a Switch successor could theoretically handle that way better thanks to the march of technology. Not only that, but as long as the Switch continues to be a hybrid console, stuff like StreetPass could return too! The 3DS’s StreetPass functionality was incredibly fun. In case you missed out on what that was, your 3DS would constantly be looking for other 3DS consoles nearby, and when it detected one it would share a bunch of information. Your Mii, name, and what you’ve been playing. You could then meet all those Miis and use them to unlock things, and even use them in StreetPass-specific games. You never knew who you were going to meet, and what kinds of weird games you’d be able to play once you did, and it was really quite an amazingly fun experience.
The Switch’s successor could take that concept even further, maybe even combining some original Wii social features in the process. Remember the Everybody Votes channel? The Weather channel? The News Channel? Imagine wrapping that stuff into a handheld console that’s capable of so much more than the 3DS and Wii ever were. Now that’s some potential.
Dual Screen Entertainment
The Wii U’s primary conceit was its dual screen nature, and while very few games used it to its full potential, the ones that did were incredible. Nintendo Land is still one of the most fun local multiplayer gaming experiences out there, and Super Mario Maker’s ability to work handheld and play on the TV at the same time was masterful. The second screen experience was all the rage just before the Wii U came out. Tablets had just become popular and companies couldn’t wait to take advantage of this new technology to promote more and more products. In theory some of it was cool, but it got played out incredibly quickly with endless TV shows offering pointless “second screen experiences.” Unfortunately, a similar fate happened with the Wii U’s library, and precious few games really took advantage of the Gamepad in meaningful ways.
Now though, with some time behind us, a more reserved approach to second screen experiences has the potential to be truly incredible. Even something as simple as having maps readily available on a second screen at all times is so very useful. Imagine playing the recently released TMNT Cowabunga Collection with the built in strategy guides open on your controller whenever you needed them! Or imagine the ease of choosing where to launch yourself with a touch screen in Splatoon 3. The possibilities are there to be sure.
Speaking of the touch screen, that’s another part with so much more potential. The touch screen on the Switch is nice, but there was a precision to using a proper stylus on the Wii U that is really missing in Switch gaming. Bring back Mario Paint for crying out loud, and do it with a nice, modern touch screen!
Of course, one of the biggest issues with the whole second screen experience is making sure everyone actually has a second screen. With so many Switch consoles out there in the world already, this could ease that problem significantly. Games like Four Swords Adventures could exist on Switch 2 where you can simply connect your existing Switch and use it as a controller. This would lower the barrier for so many people to finally be able to experience stuff like Pac-Man Vs the way it was intended to be played.
Finally, and I know this one is a bit out there, but hear me out. Bring back Nintendo TVii. This was such a cool idea that the Wii U’s tiny user base and slow technology simply could not deliver on. Basically, during live events you could interact with a live chat room of sorts to communicate with other people watching the same thing at the same time. Of course, live TV isn’t what it used to be, but I can't shake the feeling that this sort of thing could be utilized for stuff like Nintendo Directs incredibly well. Imagine watching a Direct and then having a link to an eShop listing right there on your second screen. You can keep watching the direct and learn more about the games you're seeing in real time. It would be nuts! Oh, and the fact that the Wii U Gamepad doubled as a universal TV remote was absolutely amazing and I want that back in my life.
I don’t know how pie in the sky any of this stuff really is, but I do know that there was a ton of unrealized potential on Wii U that future technologies could help to fully realize. Leadership at Nintendo is different than it once was, and the loss of massive personalities like Iwata and Reggie have changed the way Nintendo presents itself. They still do weird stuff like Labo and Ring Fit Adventure, but even those games are nowhere near the level of experimentation we used to see from the company on Wii U and 3DS. With the Switch laying the groundwork as one of the most successful platforms of all time, a followup system with more power and a lack of terrible Wii U marketing behind it could introduce a whole new generation to the best Nintendo, Weird Nintendo.
I’ve got my fingers crossed.