Was the Wii U criminally underrated?

Wii U underrated with first-party exclusives and Virtual Console, Nintendo Switch still mining it

A lot of fair criticism is levied at the Wii U. Confusion around its marketing combined with an unintuitive control system were possible factors why so many people didn’t buy the system. However, amid all the critique that the Wii U receives to this day, there is still one area where it excelled, and that’s its first-party library. The recently released Super Mario World 3D + Bowser’s Fury is the latest in a long list of Wii U games that have been ported to Switch (with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD next to come), and there’s a simple reason for these releases. Nintendo believes its Wii U exclusives were strong enough to deserve a second chance at success on the Switch. Judging by the sales, critical reception, and fan requests for Wii U ports, Nintendo was right on the money. It leads one to question yet again if Wii U was totally underrated.

Wii U had new ideas…

Many Wii U exclusives involved fresh ideas for Nintendo. Easily the biggest of these was Splatoon, a brand new multiplayer shooter that found its footing on the Wii U, regardless of the low install base. Although the first game wasn’t ported, the success of Splatoon 2 earned the franchise’s place in the Nintendo pantheon and reiterated that the original was worth owning a Wii U for.

Likewise, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’s fresh take on 3D puzzle-solving (borne from Super Mario 3D World) and Super Mario Maker’s fan-pleasing creation tools were also brand new concepts that were resoundingly well-received by fans and critics alike. With the abundant popularity of Captain Toad’s port and Super Mario Maker 2’s sales on Switch, it’s clear that the original titles didn’t get the love they deserved on the Wii U. Also, although it didn’t take the world by storm like Wii Sports, Nintendo Land offered unique GamePad-based multiplayer experiences as a pack-in title.

Splatoon Wii U underrated with first-party exclusives and Virtual Console, Nintendo Switch still mining it

Outside of Nintendo’s in-house development, other experimental exclusives eventually made the jump to the Switch too. Hyrule Warriors was a crossover dream for fans of The Legend of Zelda series, receiving both an upgraded port to Switch and a quasi-sequel in the form of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Likewise, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore and Pokkén Tournament DX were more enriched Switch ports of their Wii U counterparts, albeit a little more niche in their appeal, but they nevertheless deserved a second chance. Whether they were ported or given sequels, these Wii U titles were bursting with creative new ideas, and their subsequent success stories on Switch only accentuate the idea that they made the Wii U a console worth owning in the first place.

… and refined sequels

A new Nintendo console means new sequels in its massive franchises, and the Wii U actually had some of the most acclaimed entries in these series. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is not only among the best of the Donkey Kong Country series, but possibly one of the best platformers of the last decade. Its Switch port only further demonstrated this, emphasizing how woefully underplayed it was on Wii U. In much the same way, Pikmin 3 Deluxe and Bayonetta 2 on Switch let new audiences experience two of the best sequels most people had missed out on the first time. Pikmin 3 Deluxe emphasizes that the wait for a new Pikmin entry is long overdue, while Bayonetta 2 is one of the strongest character action games in recent memory. With Bayonetta specifically, the simultaneous announcement of its port alongside Bayonetta 3 indicates that Nintendo already had a lot of faith in both the franchise and PlatinumGames.

The positive reception to these various sequel Switch ports, despite how little was changed, reflects how great these games were in the first place. The ultimate example of that is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the game that won’t stop selling. Despite originally being a Wii U game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is consistently outselling its Switch peers, and I speculate that’s partly due to the popularity of the series but also because Mario Kart 8 is arguably the most feature-rich and mechanically fun game in the series.

Wii U underrated with first-party exclusives and Virtual Console, Nintendo Switch still mining it

Meanwhile, the recently released Super Mario World 3D + Bowser’s Fury is cooperative Mario gameplay at its finest, and despite an arguable lack of innovation, New Super Mario Bros. U has also seen a tremendous response to its Switch port. All told, the Wii U had some of the strongest entries in franchises such as Super MarioDonkey Kong Country, and Pikmin, and many longtime fans of those series unfortunately missed out on them until their Switch ports were released.

Switch still has more to mine from its predecessor

At this point, most of the exclusive Wii U library has been ported to Switch, but if the demand is apparent, then perhaps there could be more to come. Last year’s Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition sold admirably compared to the original. Whether that’s enough to greenlight a port of Xenoblade Chronicles X is hard to say, but it doesn’t hurt to hope.

Moving on to another series that Monolith Soft has worked on, this year marks the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. There is no better time to release the Wii U-exclusive remasters, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, and there is apparently good reason to believe that will occur.

Xenoblade Chronicles X Wii U underrated with first-party exclusives and Virtual Console, Nintendo Switch still mining it

Finally, while not exactly exclusive to Wii U, the console had impressive legacy support in a way distinct and often utterly superior to that of Switch. Virtual Console gave Wii U owners access to large libraries of Nintendo games from consoles past, and Nintendo Switch Online still pales by comparison in only providing NES and SNES games. Backward compatibility isn’t as exciting as brand new exclusives, but being able to hop between Nintendo 64 games like 1080 Snowboarding and Game Boy Advance games like Advance Wars is a novelty that the Wii U has over Switch. The lacking legacy support on Switch compared to that of Virtual Console, combined with the success of various Wii U ports on Switch, makes it easier to respect that the Wii U was criminally underrated.

Again, the console had clear problems, such as often weak third-party support spurred by low console sales spurred by poor marketing (a vicious cycle), and Nintendo must owe up to that. But the first-party lineup was truly a sight to behold, and the Wii U deserves to be held in higher regard for it.

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.