Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury comes to Nintendo Switch this weekend giving the console another excellent first-party game. It’s the latest in a line of Wii U titles to receive a Switch port in the past few years, salvaging the best of the ill-fated two-screen system’s surprisingly strong library.
Even with games like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Pikmin 3 making the jump to Switch, there’s a handful of strong Wii U games that haven’t — and probably never will. That’s creating a generational dead zone that may leave games that dared to take advantage of the console’s bold concept forever trapped on the Wii U.
While the Wii U’s whole selling point was its two-screen experience, developers weren’t entirely sure what to do with it at the time. That included Nintendo itself, who often used its gamepad as a glorified map screen in games like Mario Kart 8 or Splatoon. By the end of the console’s lifespan, Nintendo seemed to have given up on the concept entirely with games like Yoshi’s Wooly World hardly using the second screen at all.
The good news is that it’s been easy for those games to come to other systems since then. With no meaningful second-screen experience, Nintendo could easily pull games like Super Mario 3D World onto the Switch without entirely reworking them.
That’s not so easy for the games that actually went along with the console’s gimmick. Wii U launch title Nintendo Land is inseparable from the hardware itself, creating unique multiplayer experiences that revolved around the gamepad. Star Fox spinoff title Star Fox Guard uses the system to invent an ingenious tower defense game where players arrange camera-equipped drones on one screen and monitor them on the other.
There’s no easy way to bring these games to Switch or likely any console moving forward. They are fundamentally linked to the idea of dual perspective, a concept that Nintendo seems to be done playing with for now.
That’s especially unfortunate for smaller studios or third-parties who went along with Nintendo’s tech gamble. Indie game Affordable Space Adventures is a brilliant Wii U gem where players pilot a spaceship on the TV while managing controls in its cockpit via the gamepad. It’s a wonderfully creative experience, but one that leaves developer NapNok Games few options if it wants to bring the game to a wider audience. It doesn’t help that the indie was sold digitally, meaning that once the Wii U eShop shuts down, no one will be able to buy it period.
All of that creates a nightmare for enthusiasts who worry about game preservation. Imagine if you could only ever play the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. That’s the reality for a handful of Wii U games which seem as though they’ll be lost to time without some sort of solution from Nintendo.
It’s the kind of problem that’s unique to video games. Films can utilize all sorts of projection tricks in theaters, but the movies themselves can always be captured digitally, future-proofing the format. Video games are much more reliant on specific technology, whether it be unique controllers or console-specific features. If a company’s next system scraps any of its technological innovations, that leaves any game that was built around it in weird shape. What happens to Astro’s Playroom if the PlayStation 6 decides to do away with the DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers?
The problem is especially precarious for Nintendo, which spent 15 years doubling down on concepts like motion controls and dual-screen gameplay in its hardware. The Wiimote concept has managed to hang on thanks to the Switch’s Joy-cons, but there’s no telling if Nintendo’s next system will continue with a remote control design that makes it possible to play something like Wii Sports in the future.
There aren’t many immediate solutions to the impending problem. Game developers (and fans) are at the mercy of hardware makers who inadvertently decide the fate of certain titles moving forwards. Perhaps one day Nintendo will allow players to use a phone or tablet as a second screen on one of its consoles, making it possible to play games like Affordable Space Adventures again.
Until then, we’ll have to hope that our Wii U’s keep powering on.
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