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The Next Nintendo Console Should be the Wii U Again

The Next Nintendo Console Should be the Wii U Again Featured

In 2012, the world was not ready for the Wii U. At that time, we barely understood what the iPad was. There was no space in gaming for a hybrid console with simultaneous TV/touch-pad functionality. People were unaccustomed to a multi-display setup. Heck, college students were just starting to figure out they could watch SportsCenter and play Smash Bros. between two parallel flatscreens.

In 2023, we are ardent multi-screen multitaskers. We live for two screens or more, whether it’s our phones and The Office in the background, YouTube on the monitor next to Minecraft, or stream chat next to our latest Kaizo Emerald speedrun. We need to multitask. We need the Nintendo Wii U… again.

Picture this: you’re on the couch playing the new Zelda game. As Link runs across pastoral vistas unburdened by ugly HUD elements, you control all of the inventory and HUD management on a tablet akin to the Switch Lite. Sure, this has been done before, but inventory management has never been more commonplace than in Breath of the Wild and its sequel. In this way, you can seamlessly access your weapons, abilities, and food without pausing the action on-screen.

Or maybe you are playing the newest Fire Emblem game. While your partner watches a cinematic battlefield display on the screen, you configure your troops on a grid-based display on your device. Your partner has to leave for work, so you decide to plop the game pad back into the dock, and it makes the single screen a hybrid cinematic/grid display. Now, with the extra computing power afforded by the combination of dock and game pad it displays in 4K at 60fps.

It’s no coincidence that the resurgence of interest in RPGs, especially strategy, turn-based, and dungeon-crawling RPGs, coincided with the rise of the Nintendo DS. The power of a cinematic screen paired with a touch display enables simultaneous clear cinema with complex menu activities on a touch screen, and the offloading of dynamic map displays for dungeon crawlers, inventory screens for action RPGs, and dialogue blocks for visual novels makes things faster and simpler. I might even argue that the advent of the second touch screen single-handedly reinvigorated the turn-based subgenre by relegating combat options to a fun tap-and-do schema.

The combat screen of Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver is displayed here, with options on the touch screen portion to fight, run, switch pokemon, or use an item.
Pokémon’s touch screen combat quickens the familiar format.

I have missed all of this on the Switch. Playing through a few Wii U games after the shop recently closed, I realize just how much that system can do. Recently, I’ve been playing Xenoblade Chronicles X, which uses the game pad as a detailed map called a “segment map.” This map fills out as you explore the world, and it’s a really cool hexagonal diagram akin to those found in grand strategy games. You can fast travel with this map, locate items and missions, and so much more — in fact, it has been so useful on my playthrough that I am starting to see why it is one of very few titles remaining on the Wii U-exclusivity island — without these features, I don’t think XCX would be the same.

Xenoblade Chronicles X Wii U Mockup
An example of how Xenoblade Chronicles X used the Wii U GamePad.

Other remaining Wii U-exclusive games include the GameCube Zelda remasters, and I can understand why for those as well — while menu traversal breaks the pacing a little bit on the Switch Zeldies, it is admittedly a faster, more modern upgrade to the menu traversal of those earlier 3D Zelda titles (at least without the touch screen). Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another game which feels amazing with a game pad. Its “Neural Hub” feature lets players hack, map edit, snipe, and perform other augmented combat features such as lobbing grenades back at enemies. These kinds of features could be a welcome method for modern action RPGs to introduce cinematic setpiece interactions, such as quick time events or QTEs, in a more engaging way. I think this more active engagement is something we are all looking for in our games, and even former Nintendo of America head Reggie Fils-Aimé has gone on record stating that Nintendo could benefit from “aggressively” pursuing more dual-screen RPGs, given their successes on the Nintendo DS and 3DS systems.

If Nintendo plans to succeed in this, there are certainly some hurdles to overcome. Firstly, more clear marketing surrounding the product would be a major component of this console’s success. The wishy-washy and spotty marketing surrounding the Wii U was a major piece of its market struggle, and considering other piecemeal console components that failed, like the SEGA CD, Nintendo would likely need to make clarity a primary focus when pushing this product to market. Secondly, I think a focus on tangible quality-of-life changes might be a more sound strategy than a focus on gimmicks in this iteration. If the Wii U 2 is going to succeed, I don’t think it will do so on the back of a motion-controlled Star Fox game, but instead on amazing map functions, HUD interactivity, or multiplayer possibilities. Of course, RPG is going to be the genre most affected by this, and I have to imagine the hype train would fill up quickly if the Big N gave RPGs some love on this hypothetical machine. Perhaps Nintendo could launch the Wii U 2 with a few RPG remasters, like a Paper Mario collection, the GameCube Zelda titles, or maybe Skies of Arcadia Remastered?

This new Wii U could also perhaps be backwards compatible with the Switch and Switch Lite, in terms of software and hardware. You could dock or pair your current-gen Switch with the new docking technology to enable it as the second screen. Or you could even buy the dock on its own, making the price of entry far cheaper. This might confuse the average grandmotherly holiday shopper, but a clear marketing strategy and robust console transition path (something akin to the New 3DS transition) would alleviate this confusion.

We all know the Wii U was simply misunderstood. However, we now live in a dual-screen society primed for its mythical reincarnation. It could be a way for many to get some much-needed performance boost on their Switch, but it could also be a cost-effective way to upgrade a household’s aging console, even enabling a new way to play couch-based multiplayer. Regardless of how you pay or play, this new Wii U/Switch hybrid would be an excellent way for Nintendo to keep things fresh but familiar.

Noah Leiter

Noah Leiter

Noah is a PhD student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) studying Critical Game Design. When he's not studying or writing features for RPGFan, he likes taking care of his house plants and playing SEGA Saturn games.