I love the Wii U. I have not been shy about this. I have had more fun with my Wii U than I have had with any Nintendo console since the Super NES. That love aside, even I have had to admit that the Wii U has not been anywhere near what you would call a success in terms of how modern video game consoles are judged. Wii U has been mishandled from the get-go. It has a bad name that STILL confuses casual consumers, its key feature, the GamePad, has been poorly utilized aside from in a handful of games (Super Mario Maker, Pikmin, The Wonderful 101) and it has sold a paltry 13 million units. On top of all of this, I recently realized that the Wii U will bear for all of history another unfortunate badge of dishonor.
The Wii U is about to become only the third Nintendo console, along with the Virtual Boy and the Game Boy Color, to come and go without being graced with an original, mainline Legend of Zelda game.
Yes, yes, I know all about Breath of the Wild. We’ll get to that. Let’s go through all the others first, very quickly. The NES had The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link. The SNES had A Link to the Past. N64 had Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, GameCube had Wind Waker and Four Swords Adventures (yes, that game is canon), and the Wii had Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword.
Portables, too. Game Boy had Link’s Awakening, Game Boy Advance had The Minish Cap, the DS had Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, and the 3DS had A Link Between Worlds. The Virtual Boy didn’t exist long enough for many games to come out for it at all, and the Game Boy Color was just a slight upgrade to the Game Boy, really, and it STILL had the remastered Link’s Awakening DX.
The Wii U has had bupkis.
Okay, that’s a misnomer. It’s not as though there hasn’t been ANY Zelda presence on the Wii U (that’s Metroid you’re thinking of.) Wii U has seen two HD remakes of classic Zelda games, the fantastic Wind Waker HD and the also-very-good Twilight Princess HD, and Wii U also saw the highly successful debut of the Zelda/Dynasty Warriors mash-up franchise, Hyrule Warriors. Put these games alongside the Virtual Console, almost every Zelda game ever made is available to play on your Wii U, the exceptions being Four Swords Adventure, a Link Between Worlds, and Link’s Awakening.
Then, of course, there is Breath of the Wild. The game that was clearly MEANT to be the Wii U’s crowning achievement, so much so that Link carries around with him an artifact called the Sheikah Slate that is very clearly a Wii U GamePad, has now been so closely attached to the debut of the upcoming Switch that, even though it is ostensibly a Wii U game that’s being ported to Switch, it is destined to forever be identified as a Nintendo Switch game and not a Wii U game.
This is the same scenario that occurred with Twilight Princess, a game that was clearly designed for the GameCube but ported to the Wii for that system’s launch while still being released for ‘Cube as well. And while Nintendo has since said that the GameCube version is the definitive version of Twilight Princess (going so far as to making it the basis for the Wii U HD remake), Twilight Princess is remembered more or less as a Wii game. The difference between what happened then with Twilight Princess and what’s happening now with Breath of the Wild, of course, is that the GameCube had already seen two original Zelda games to that point. The Wii U has had none. So whether or not you consider Breath of the Wild to be a Wii U game may hinge upon whether or not you consider Twilight Princess to be a GameCube game. At first blush, I often do, but when I reconsider how closely Twilight Princess was tied to the Wii launch, and how few copies of Twilight Princess for the GameCube were actually released into the wild, I change my mind.
None of this was intentional. If Nintendo had their druthers you can bet your bottom dollar that Breath of the Wild would have come out two years ago as planned, playable on a Wii U that had found its sea legs and recovered to reach a respectable number of units sold. Life, however, often gets in the way of the best laid plans of mice and men. Instead of the former happening, the insanely ambitious Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s first true open-world game, has taken much longer to craft than had been initially anticipated, and the Wii U has died an early death. Clearly at some point Nintendo decided that A.) Breath of the Wild was a masterpiece in the making, but B.) nobody was going to play it because nobody wanted to buy a Wii U anymore, and even if Breath of the Wild DID sell some more Wii U consoles, what would be the point of that? Then Nintendo would have sold a bunch of new units of a system that was on its way out the door, they still would have come with the Switch at about the same time they’re launching it now, and then they’d have had no new shiny Zelda title to dangle in front of the consumers trying to decide whether or not to invest several hundred dollars in yet ANOTHER gaming platform.
Now we hear rumors that Breath of the Wild is SO ambitious that it’s going to run noticeably better on Switch than on Wii U. We’re going to have to wait and see until the game has released to know for sure, obviously, but at this point, if I ran Nintendo? I’d probably just flat-out cancel the Wii U version of the game. Wii U has gone this long without a Zelda to call its own. Frankly, there’s no point in throwing what is likely to be the best game ever released for the Wii U down into the system’s grave after it.
Breath of the Wild is, now and forever, like it or not, and for better or worse, a Nintendo Switch game. Full stop. Once you accept the truth in that statement, you realize that the Wii U went its whole abbreviated lifespan without The Legend of Zelda. Of all the missteps surrounding Nintendo’s handling of the Wii U, that’s the one that may be the most egregious of all.
Update: It has been pointed out to me that the GameBoy Color did indeed see two original Zelda games in Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, a fact that I completely brain-farted on. Which means the Wii U and the Virtual Boy stand alone as the two Zelda-less Nintendo consoles.
So Wii U = Virtual Boy.