May 6, 2021 - Technology

Nintendo's disastrous Wii U proves to be the Switch's secret weapon

Illustration of a Wii U on a patterned background

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nintendo's worst-selling home console, the Wii U, continues to be the source for some of its biggest hits on the record-setting Nintendo Switch.

Why it matters: With the Switch, Nintendo is putting on a clinic about how to turn prior failure into fortune as it repurposes games from the disastrous Wii U and tries selling them again on its newer hit device.

  • The latest example of this salvaged success is the Switch's "Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury," which sold 5.6 million copies in its first seven weeks of release this year, according to new Nintendo financial data.
  • Compare that seven week total to the just over seven-year total of 5.9 million copies sold of 2013's "Super Mario 3D World" for Wii U.
  • The newer Switch game is basically the old game with a fun bonus adventure.

The big picture: The Wii U was a disaster even by Nintendo’s usual cycles of occasional struggle and phenomenal fortunes.

  • The 2012 successor to the popular Wii (remember swinging that controller?) bombed, with just 13.6 million units sold lifetime.
  • Its big innovation: a home console with a controller that contained a screen, allowing players to keep playing their games using that screen when others needed the TV.
  • But people didn't care and it was discontinued by early 2017.

Or maybe the Wii U was just a half-step to 2017's Switch, which expanded the idea of taking TV-based games on the go, without the Wii U's limitation of needing to be plugged into a power outlet.

  • The Switch's lifetime sales are now over 84.6 million, closing in on the Wii's 101.6 million.

By the numbers: 

  • Nintendo has brought 10 major Wii U franchise releases to the Switch, each with minor modifications at best.
  • The Switch’s best-selling game, “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” is also a Wii U carry-over: 35.4 million copies of the Switch edition vs. 8.5 million
  • The Switch’s “New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe” (yes, these are real game titles) has sold 10.4 million, more than the lifetime sales for the two Wii U games it combines

Between the lines: Nintendo is proving there's a second chance when a game is basically new to most people.

What's next: With the list of potential Wii U ports running low, Nintendo will bring a modified version of the Wii's "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" to Switch in July.

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