This Week in Games - Rest In Peace, Wii U

by Dustin Bailey,
First, a note: please be excellent to each other, people. Now let's forget our problems for a few moments with the most beautiful of distractions—video games.

Farewell, Wii Hardly Knew U

We heard that the Wii U would be ending production last week, and while we don't really know for sure if that's true, it is true that the system's life is basically over. Let's remember what was and what might have been for one of Nintendo's biggest missteps.

The company was at an all-time high after the international phenomenon of the Wii. This was a system which expanded the company's reach to millions upon millions of players who had never otherwise touched a game console, and alongside the DS it redefined Nintendo from a flagging third-place console maker to an innovator which created an entirely new market.

The problem was the software. Wii Sports was the game that sold the system, and despite an install base over 100 million, nobody outside of Nintendo was able to sell to that audience. Even first-party development suffered, as Wii owners only seemed to be interested in minigame collections and Wii Fit derivatives. New entries in standby franchises, like Mario Kart 8, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl did well enough, but it seemed Nintendo's innovations were only truly succeeding on the hardware side.

When the Wii U was unveiled at E3 2011, Nintendo was clearly focused on attracting back the core game-playing audience they'd lost with the Wii. They explained the name as meaning that the system was for “you,” meaning the people who'd be watching an E3 press conference. The kinds of people who loved games, and might actually buy some software for a game console.

Unfortunately, the problems that would come to plague the Wii U were clear from the start. Nintendo only showed the touch screen-sporting controller when unveiling the console, confusing folks as to whether this was a standalone platform or just an accessory for the Wii. The name ultimately offered up the same confusion, with the continued use of the Wii branding only further muddying what this system actually was.

Fans were skeptical, investors were skeptical, and third-party developers were skeptical. The Wii U launched in November of 2012 with dozens of games, but those were mostly quick ports and bad minigame collections. Rumors swirled that the developers who made games for the launch sent back their development kits as soon as their work was finished. While the initial shipment of consoles sold through, the numbers dried up to desperate lows in the months to follow. A price cut and the release of the Wind Waker HD turned sales from “desperate” to merely “bad,” but the console's brief, four-year lifespan tells the tale. Financially, the Wii U was a total failure.

But as a fan of games, I have a rough time calling the Wii U a “failure.” It's home to some of the best software Nintendo has put together—ever. It's got a handful of wild, creative third-party games that can't be found on other platforms. It facilitated the development of some of the most creative retro-inspired indie titles out there. If you compare the total number of high-quality games released across all three platforms this generation, then yes—the Wii U's library is small. But that small library is packed with unique gems that cannot be found on any other console.

No game captures what I love about the Wii U more than Splatoon. Here we have Nintendo get into a genre that not only do they have no experience in, but it's a type of game that exposes every single one of their historical weaknesses, from online play to dual-analog shooting. Yet Splatoon is a finely-crafted game that not only does the online shooter well, but solves many of the problems inherent with the genre, giving every player something to do in tight, back-and-forth matches. Plus, it was wrapped up in a fresh aesthetic whose tumblr-y outpouring of fan work was only knocked down by Overwatch.

Also, hey, remember how Nintendo brought Bayonetta 2 into existence? The Platinum action game is one of the finest character-action titles ever created, and the historically family-friendly Nintendo brought all that sex and violence to fruition exclusively on that platform. Plus, it came alongside the original game on disc in the same package.

Then, of course, there are the new entries in old franchises. There are days on which I might call Super Mario 3D World the best 3D platformer in the series, and I think we can all agree it's a terrific game. The opinion that Mario Kart 8 is the greatest kart racer ever created is much more widespread, and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has grabbed the competitive audience with a way that Brawl very much did not. Also, Pikmin is great and Pikmin 3, while certainly not the game that 2 was, is also great.

Then there are the weird little things, like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which despite its brief length is an utterly captivating and endlessly charming puzzler. The Wonderful 101 once again shows Platinum at the top of their game with an inventive, challenging, and wholly unique action game. Ubisoft shocked everyone with ZombiU, turning a tired setting into one of the best cases out there for what the gamepad was capable of.

You've got massive RPGs in the form of Tokyo Mirage Sessions and Xenoblade Chronicles. You've got visually outstanding games like Yoshi's Woolly World and Kirby and the Rainbow Course. You've got weird, cool downloadable games like NES Remix and perhaps the best edition of the excellent puzzler series in Pushmo World. Then there are the excellent indies, ranging from Shovel Knight and Mutant Mudds to Affordable Space Adventures and the impossibly endearing Little Inferno.

Topping it all off is Super Mario Maker which realizes not only the beautiful dream of infinite Mario levels, but builds creation tools so excellent that making those levels is as much fun as playing them. It's a game Nintendo should have made years ago, yet also one that makes perfect use of the gamepad and the Wii U's online connection. It will be the game that defines the system, but given its immense popularity in Youtube and streaming, Nintendo would be foolish not to bring it forward onto the Switch—though hopefully a bit more fully-featured than the 3DS version.

The criticism of the Wii U is well-justified. It sold poorly. The gamepad was rarely utilized. It's got a sluggish front-end and only the most basic of updates to Nintendo's shaky online account features. Its library isn't as wide as that of its competitors. But that library is filled with some of the greatest games the company has ever put out.

But then the Wii U also provided the genesis for amiibo, so maybe we're all doomed.

NEWS

THERE'S A NEW BLASTER MASTER ON THE WAY

Listed under “news I was not expecting this week,” a new Blaster Master might not be top of the list, but it's certainly up there. Inti Creates—the studio behind latter-day Mega Man titles from Zero to 9 and 10, as well as the Gunvolt games—has picked up the license from Sunsoft and is planning to release Blaster Master Zero for the 3DS eShop in 2017.

You might have forgotten that there are actually a half-dozen Blaster Master games, including a WiiWare release as recently as 2010, but Zero is a very direct throwback to the original NES game. It features a tank you can battle in or outside of, a big world full of dungeons and powerups to explore, and yes—even pixel art! The whole “retro” thing is still chic, right?

Nostalgia-baiting aside, Blaster Master is a terrific target for a modern update, and Inti Creates has a tremendous history when it comes to throwback action games. Look forward to it next spring.

AKUMA IS THE FIRST IN STREET FIGHTER V'S SECOND WAVE OF DLC

The first round of Street Fighter V characters wrapped up in September with Urien, but that doesn't mean Capcom is done with their latest fighter. Akuma will be the next addition to the roster, as revealed at the Red Bull Battlegrounds tournament. The teaser video shows that the usual kanji for heaven on Akuma's back has been replaced by something that translates—roughly—to “godlike.” Oh, Capcom, you scoundrels.

The question is whether Capcom can move the needle at all for the game among casual fans, who haven't latched on the way they did with Street Fighter IV. The decision to release the game in a largely unfinished state was questionable at best, and it's continued to hurt the game everywhere outside of the most hardcore of the FGC. There's a terrific game at the core of SF5, but the response isn't nearly what Capcom wanted or needed it to be.

SOMBRA FINALLY ARRIVES IN OVERWATCH, ALONG WITH A MASSIVE MODE OVERHAUL

Hey. Overwatch. Maybe you've heard of it. When it's not spawning fanart (or pornography), it's off being one of the most popular games in the world. Sombra has been on the docket as the game's latest character for what feels like forever, and despite fans' apparent boredom with the ARG teasing her arrival, the Mexican hacker is still stirring up a bunch of excitement. She's got, like, abilities and stuff, but if you're into that you can just hop onto the PTR and try her out for yourself.

More interesting for the game's long-term existence is a complete restructuring of the non-competitive modes. The weekly Brawls have been wrapped into an Arcade menu along with a host of new options. There are 1-on-1 duels, 3-on-3 elimination matches, matches that randomly select heroes on every death, and a playlist of weirder brawl matches. These will rotate regularly, and you'll get bonus loot boxes for certain numbers of wins. There are also new maps to accommodate the modes with smaller player counts, starting with the frozen Ecopoint: Antarctica.

Fun stuff! And it should help to give casual players a place to go as competitive continues to be competitive and quick play slowly turns into competitive practice. Look, man, I'm just looking to have a good time.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DISHONORED 2
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: November 11
MSRP: $59.99

It's time to return to the world of whalepunk with the sequel to 2012's cult hit. Dishonored 2 once again follows in the footsteps of all-time greats like Deus Ex and Thief, offering massive sandbox levels with dozens of ways to reach your goals. The chaos system returns from the first game, where murder destabilizes the state of the world, and progressing non-lethally will help keep things in order.

The sequel sees the addition of a new playable character in Emily Kaldwin, who has a variety of new powers and abilities, largely built around telekinesis. There's also a dope shadow walk thing where she turns into a cloud of smoke that rips dudes limb from limb. You'll have the choice whether to play as Emily or the returning Corvo—now fully voiced—with the latter largely retaining his original set of abilities.

TYRANNY
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform: PC
Release Date: November 10
MSRP: $44.99

The timing of this release might seem like a cruel joke, but hey, Pillars of Eternity was so good I'll let Obsidian have this one. Like that game, Tyranny is an RPG throwing back to the likes of Baldur's Gate, building an original fantasy world for a new role-playing adventure.

The world here is a dark one where evil already rules, and you play as an agent devoted to enforcing the dark lord's rule—though naturally you can choose how nefarious your own actions are. You build your character through a classless system where the skills you use become stronger as you use them, and you can eventually come to master powerful abilities that combine each of your party member's skills for flashy special attacks.

WATCH DOGS 2
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
Release Date: November 15
MSRP: $59.99

The original Watch Dogs was a disappointing game that got more disappointing as it went along. Aiden Pierce is possibly the worst protagonist in a modern video game, the entirely plot was breathlessly serious and lifeless, the hacking mechanics were neat but never went anywhere, the—Oh, right, Watch Dogs 2. That's the game that's actually out this week.

The sequel looks to address most of the first game's problems, with a significantly lighter, more playful tone and a greatly-expanded list of hacking abilities. The attempts at capturing the hot memes all the kids are into might be a little groan-worthy, but it largely seems that Ubisoft is making the right choices to capitalize on the first game's potential. (There's also a PC version due out on the 29th.)

ALSO AVAILABLE:
This week also sees the release of Assassin's Creed: The Ezio Chronicles, Ubisoft's reminder that you used to like those games and hey, maybe you should be excited when they inevitably announce another one? Speaking of games I used to love, Telltale's third season of Walking Dead also launches this week.

That's all for this go round. I'll see you next time!


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