The ill-fated Nintendo Wii U was the Japanese giant’s shortest-lived home console. With a production run of just under five years and only managing to sell just 13.5 million units globally, it’s easily one of the most overlooked pieces of hardware to ever pass through the gaming industry.
Despite its missteps, Nintendo did learn a lot of valuable lessons from the system, ultimately leading to what we have today as the Nintendo Switch — the company’s most successful system in quite some time.
One of the Switch’s main focal points is its encouragement of local multiplayer; each Switch practically comes with two individual controllers out of the box. Its predecessor, the Wii U, also had a strong focus on multiplayer, but Nintendo never fully utilized its potential.
Back when the Wii U was initially revealed in 2011, former Nintendo of America president, Reggie Fils-Aime, did float the idea that each system could support two of its primary controllers: the Wii U Gamepad.
The Gamepad was pitched as being the ultimate companion for single-player experiences, and a game-changer for multiplayer experiences thanks to its touchscreen giving the active player a view all their own.
Some games used this in what was called “asymmetrical multiplayer”, where the Gamepad player would either manipulate the scene of the action on the main TV, or play from an entirely separate perspective. In games that made the best use of this feature, it was a novel concept. But, not many games ultimately supported this at all, which brings us back to what Reggie had to recently say about the idea of having two Gamepads for one system.
When the topic came up during an interview with the YouTube channel MinnMaxx, Reggie confirmed that Nintendo ultimately scrapped the idea of dual Gamepad usage due to the Wii U’s poor sales.
To add insult to injury, the company also never thought of a proper use-case for the concept. Thus, it seemed that when this feature was initially mentioned prior to the Wii U’s launch, it was likely still in the preliminary stages of being properly built out.
It’s certainly not uncommon for a game system to have changes between its reveal and launch. One example, also from Nintendo, is that the original Wii was said to be capable of playing DVD videos when it was initially revealed.
Nintendo ultimately scrapped this feature (though it’s simply just locked away in the Wii’s vanilla firmware).
Though Reggie didn’t mention this, it’s also likely that even if the Wii U did sell better and a game could be found to use it, the processing power required would have likely been quite taxing on the system.
When a game did make use of the Gamepad as a separate display, it had to render and beam that extra data to the controller. Having to do that for yet another Gamepad would mean a single Wii U would have to render three separate scenes, beam out two of them, and keep the action in perfect sync. Seeing that the system was only modestly more powerful than the PS3 / 360, this feat would have been interesting to see properly pulled off, to say the least.
[Sources: Go Nintendo, GameXplain]