Comparing The Launches Of Wii U And Nintendo Switch

And thus the Nintendo Switch has launched worldwide to much fanfare. The excitement is palpable as fans around the world finally got their hands on Nintendo’s hybrid portable-console, and games like the incomparable Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sounds win-win, does it not? Then again, the Wii U launch back in 2012 was kind of exciting, too.

Removed of the excitement over the Switch’s launch, how well does Nintendo’s new console stack against its predecessor? The Wii U may have been a let-down in the long run, but when it came out in November 2012, there was plenty to be optimistic about, fresh of the success of the original Wii.

In one corner, we have the Wii U with its tablet-like GamePad controller and dual-screen gameplay. In the other corner, we have the new Nintendo Switch. It’s high time to compare the two and see which system looked better by the measure of its launch.  This is a non-scientific look at major launch games, overall launch libraries, and how the hardware performed from Day One. It is very not-so-scientific, indeed.

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via Polygon

  • Hardware

Software may evolve, but short of a redesign, hardware is forever. The Wii U and Switch are very different beasts with the same Nintendo DNA flowing through each of them. What set them wildly apart were their functions. The Wii U was a home console with a portable tablet tethered to it, while the Switch acts as both a console and a portable.

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Wii U

The look of the Wii U is not too far from the original Wii, a clear branding gambit to hew closely to the super-successful Wii. It is longer and more rounded, but keeps the same form factor. The console may be more powerful than the Wii, but fortunately runs just as quiet. The Swiss Army Kife-like GamePad controller works for what its purpose is, but is plagued with a short battery life and a “Fisher Price” appearance. The poor execution of the system’s main feature was in part what made people turn on the controller so fast. At the same time, developers were wanting in justifying the controller’s existence with half-hearted attempts or just ignoring its potential altogether. The GamePad was a fine idea, but perhaps a bit ahead of its time.

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The Switch has an adult and decidedly un-Nintendo like appearance. When in portable mode, the Switch is shockingly small in your hands, yet has a comfortable form factor. When it connects to your TV in a dock, it has an unobtrusive appearance, taking up little space in your home theater. The Switch itself has battery life up to 6 hours, but that’s what USB-C cables are for (no more proprietary Nintendo cables). And if the GamePad was the largest controller Nintendo has ever made, the individual Joy-Cons are the smallest. They also come packed with technology and run for 20 hours on their own.

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Winner: Switch

Honestly, the Switch is what the Wii U should have been all along, but somehow wasn’t. It looks a mite more sophisticated so you won’t feel embarrassed to use it in public, it also dispenses of the baggage of Wii Remotes and Balance Boards of the Wii years. The Wii U at least works well, but it didn’t have the ‘look’.


  • Killer App

If it’s a Nintendo console, odds are it’s going to have a major first party game to sell to a hungry audience. The Wii had the one-two punch of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Wii Sports that propelled it to early success. The Wii U had Mario, and the Switch once again has a new Zelda.

Wii U: New Super Mario Bros. U

Mario made his return to the launch of a home console for the first time since Nintendo 64 with the fourth side-scrolling New Super Mario entry in 6 years. The excitement however was dampened by its release mere months after New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS. The way New Mario U made its claim to the Wii U’s next-gen hardware was not in graphics, but the GamePad. Multiplayer now came with a helpful Boost Mode for lesser players, and single players could indulge in Challenge Mode. New Super Mario U sold well for the platform thanks in great part to system bundles, but it wasn’t the revolutionary Mario game the fans wanted. Rather, it was there to just “be”.

Switch: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Only the second time a Zelda game has launched with a new home console, Breath of the Wild is on its own plane of anticipation among 2017’s upcoming games. Often delayed and also available on the Wii U, Breath of the Wild dares to break away from and reshape traditional Zelda conventions, such as dungeon exploration, non-linear exploration, and breakable items you have to scavenge for. Like Twilight Princess on the Wii before it, Breath of the Wild looks to have a strong attach rate among Switch owners from its sheer quality alone.

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Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

No offense to Mario, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is on a whole other level. Unlike the safe and conventional New Mario U, BotW dares to be different ad is infinitely more excitement. Judging from the critical reception, that’s a safe assumption.


  • Mainstream Software

Wii Sports proved to be the secret sauce for the Wii, moving the console and its motion controls into millions of homes and into the wider cultural landscape. Nintendo’s following two consoles have each made their own play for the mainstream crowd, albeit to lesser results. Irregardless of sales, which one was the better game: Nintendo Land for the Wii U or 1-2-Switch for the Switch?

Wii U: Nintendo Land

Nintendo Land collects 12 mini games that make use of the Wii U GamePad, all games themed around Nintendo’s iconic franchises. Granted, it got off on the wrong foot with a plodding, overlong presentation at E3 2012. When it finally hit the launch, the perception around Nintendo Land improved considerably. Not only were the various games fun to play, they also looked exceptionally pretty, even today. It also had the benefit of being bundled in with most Wii U systems in its life span.

Switch: 1-2-Switch

Nintendo dares to be weird with their mainstream play for the Switch. 1-2-Switch fancies itself a take on Johan Sebastian’s Joust with a pinch of Nintendo’s own WarioWare series. It offers over 20 mini-games that practically require two players to partake in faux-demonstrations of the Joy-Con controllers and what they can do. Be it milking cow udders, unlocking a safe, or fencing with swords, the variety is out there. The verdict is out on whether it can break past its oft-criticized $50 price tag (it’s not bundled with the console) and become a non-gamer hit.

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Winner: Nintendo Land

1-2-Switch’s critical prognostication is weak, with mixed-to-negative reviews pointing to it not having enough substance to last the party. Nintendo Land stands as the better value of the two, offering 12 mini-games of considerable creativity, in-game achievements, and gorgeous visuals that rethink the worlds of Nintendo franchises. And despite the price tag needs of four additional Wii Remotes, Nintendo Land is a hoot at parties.


  • Ubisoft Support

Beginning with Red Steel at the Wii launch in 2006, third party and Nintendo-sycophant Ubisoft set expectations that they among third parties would make an original game for Nintendo hardware that made extensive use of the system’s given controller. On Wii U, they did just that, but on Switch, we’re dealing with a mere port.

Wii U: Zombi U

Out of the many early games for Wii U, Zombi U got much credit for its creative use of the GamePad controller. You play the role of a zombie apocalypse survivor in a zombie-battered London, and the GamePad is your map and your backpack full of supplies. If you dig into your storage of health items and weapons, the action doesn’t pause for you if you’re rummaging while a herd of zombies are in hot pursuit. It might be a bit rocky by some measure, but Zombi U had bold ideas.

Switch: Just Dance 2017

What can you say? It’s the evergreen Just Dance…again. Foregoing an original title for the Switch, Ubisoft is instead bringing last year’s Just Dance 2017 at launch. Why? The company believes that the series is a good fit for the Switch’s adaptability, what with two-player capability and motion controls out of the box. Perhaps the real reason is due to the poor sales of Zombi U, which had a cancelled sequel and a port to rival platforms that ditched second screen functionality.

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Winner: Zombi U

Whatever your feelings on it, Zombi U deserves credit for making any effort to take advantage of the Wii U’s interface. All Switch owners have is a port of Just Dance 2017, which is available on other platforms. As of now, Ubisoft isn’t making a unique Switch game.

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via Kotaku

  • Overall Launch Line-Ups

Launches are hard to pull off successfully, with quality and quantity of software hanging in the balance. The Wii U had a larger launch line-up than the Switch, while the Switch concentrates on a less-is-more philosophy. Which console had better games on Day One?

Wii U

The Wii U launched on November 18th 2012 with over 30 titles, a mixture of retail heavy-hitters and eShop downloads. To wit, 23 games launched at retail alone, a list long enough to make your head spin:

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II
  • Skylanders Giants
  • Transformers Prime
  • Wipeout The Game 3
  • Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
  • FIFA Soccer 13
  • Tekken Tag Tournament 2
  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • Ninja Gaiden: Razor’s Edge
  • Nintendo Land
  • Sing Party
  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
  • Warrios Orochi 3 Hyper
  • Darksiders II
  • Assassin’s Creed III
  • ESPN Sports Connection
  • Just Dance 4
  • Rabbids Land
  • Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013
  • ZombiU
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited
  • Game Party Champions
  • Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition

And on the eShop, you could download these 5 offerings:

  • Chasing Aurora
  • Cloudberry Kingdom
  • Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition
  • Trine 2: Director’s Cut
  • Nano Assault Neo

By all accounts, this launch line-up should have helped the Wii U sell better. Nintendo had four first party games at the Wii U launch, including publishing Ninja Gaiden 3 for Tecmo Koei. Major publishers like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft were all present and accounted for. And while the idea of playing third party games like Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 on a Nintendo platform for the first time was solid, most hardcore players already had previous access to them on other platforms. This diluted Nintendo’s efforts to lean on third parties from launch, and thus those ports sold poorly.

The over-inflated launch lineup also included stinkers that are best not talked about, like Rabbids Land, along with under-cooked versions of sports franchises Madden and FIFA. More choices doesn’t always mean better sales, as the Wii U launch taught us.


Even days before the system’s launch, the North American launch lineup for the Switch was in flux. Back in January, only 5 games were confirmed for Day One, but since then, additional titles have had their confirmations (and de-confirmations) trickled out by PR. Here’s what the ultimate launch lineup came out to be in North America:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • 1-2-Switch
  • Super Bomberman R
  • Just Dance 2017
  • Skylanders Imaginators
  • Fast RMX
  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove/Specter of Torment
  • I am Setsuna

With a total of 8 games, the Switch has one of the smallest launch line-ups in Nintendo history. Fortunately, one of those games is Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a masterpiece by critical measure. On the other hand, 1-2-Switch nor Just Dance 2017 are any great shakes, but eShop releases like Shovel Knight and Fast RMX are safe bets. Unlike the Wii U, there will be a steady stream of releases following the launch day, so as to avoid the dreaded game droughts.

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Winner: Switch

A great example of “less is more” in action. In all fairness, the Wii U had a strong breadth of marquee titles on Day One, including Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Call of Duty: BLOPS 2, and Batman: Arkham City. The Wii U also had something the Switch doesn’t have yet: sports games, a favorite with the wider marketplace. But Wii U also had some shovelware-caliber games as well. Let’s not try to pretend Rabbids Land and ESPN Sports Connection didn’t capitalize on less-informed consumers. The Switch launch games aren’t a collective “perfect”, but a new Zelda of the caliber of Breath of the Wild evens the launch’s quality meter out.

  • Operating Software (OS)

It’s one thing for a console to look good, how it runs is another issue. Both Wii U and Switch rely on complex operating systems to play and download games, customize your user experience, and more non-gaming features. So how dose each one stack up in performance?

Wii U

To those who bought the Wii U at launch, it’s unlikely they’ll forget about the massive 5 GB patch that was required to install all online features whatsoever. That’s the eShop, Miiverse, TVii, the Internet Browser, and backwards compatibility with Wii software. It was a lengthy download that could brick your console if anything interrupted the download process (like the poor souls who unplugged their systems mid-way found out). It didn’t even begin to fix the long load times it took the Wii U to get into any application. The solace was that video apps Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu were pre-installed onto every Wii U system in North America, despite Nintendo’s claims to the contrary.


Even before its Day One patch, the Switch is already a snappier, faster experience than the Wii U ever was. And smarter, too. Menus are faster to get into for making minor adjustments, including a quick menu for while you’re in the middle of your game. Each user will have access to all games and each with their own save files. Better still, eShop purchases are promised to be tied to users and not the hardware. The only downside of the Switch experience: the lack of any background music, a stark contrast with the peppy tunes on Nintendo systems like the Wii and Wii U.

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Winner: Switch

Even before its Day One patch, the Switch is already outclassing the Wii U’s OS in speed, looks, and functionality. It’s disappointing to not have video streaming apps at launch like the Wii U did, or any catchy muzak tunes in the background, but the Switch has got user friendliness where it counts.

  • Launch Pricing

Pricing is a rather tricky area of quantification. The price a console goes for at launch bears many factors into account, from inflation to market forces, pack-ins, and the cost to make the machine versus profits to be had. Nintendo hardware generally sells for a profit, something they had trouble with on Wii U and have promised for the Switch. That’s not even getting into the hidden, add-on costs of owning a new machine. Which console of the two was priced more fairly?

Wii U: $299.99 USD/$349.99 USD

The Wii U came in two bundles on November 18th 2012. The stripped-down Basic Model (colored white) was $300 American dollars, held a meager 8 GB in storage space, and didn’t come with the accouterments of the black Deluxe Model. For $350, the Deluxe Wii U gave you the a system with 32 GB of storage, a copy of Nintendo Land, a charging and non-charging stand, and two standee ‘feet’ to keep the console upright. Both bundles at least had their expected AC adapters and HDMI Out cables, a first for a Nintendo console.

Beyond the console, Wii U games were now priced upwards of $59.99, a $10 increase from the last-gen standard of $49.99 and on par with the competition. And the Wii U Pro Controller cost a bit cheaper than the Switch’s Pro Controller at $49.99 USD. What salvages this was that the Wii U was compatible with your old Wii Remotes and other controllers, saving some much-needed dollars for multiplayer games, and a pro-consumer move on Nintendo’s part.

Switch: $299.99 USD

Unlike the Wii U, the Switch is only available in one SKU on March 3rd, for the same $300 asking price of the Wii U. And that’s with no game included, either, as Nintendo ruled out a predicted 1-2-Switch bundle due to price. Like Wii U, Switch games cost up to $59.99, but the accessory game is where things get hairy.

As the Switch doesn’t support any Wii controllers like the Wii U did, consumers are expected to pony up big bucks for extra controllers and the like. An extra pair of Joy-Cons together costs $79.99, or $49.99 for a single Joy-Con. A Joy-Con Grip that actually charges your controllers costs $29.99 and is not the one included with the system itself. Joy-Con wheel grips come in a set of two for $14.99. But the real stinger for hardcore players is the Switch Pro Controller, which retails for $69.99. This is not even mentioning the cost for an additional Switch Dock Set, which at $89.99, is the most expensive item you can buy for your Switch at launch.

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Winner: Wii U

While the Wii U may have been more expensive than the Switch, it did get more money for your buck by comparison. The Pro version of the Wii U came with a game and additional accessories for convenience. Plus that system had the benefit of backwards compatibility with your past Wii Remotes and Wii software. The Switch has no game bundled in, despite the cheaper price tag, so you’ll absolutely need to pony up for a game or two. And if you want additional support items for the Switch, your wallet will weep, especially for that $70 Pro Controller.

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Overall Winner: Nintendo Switch

And thus the Switch outstrips the Wii U in the above categories 4-3, closer than expected. While judging a system by the quality of its launch is risky, it’s safe to assume the Switch has more wind beneath its sails than the Wii U did. Its games library is looking sharp now and into the future, and the system itself is a neat piece of hybridized kit that runs smoothly. With the Wii U not having the best run for a game console, here’s hoping the Switch has a healthy launch and many years of success beyond.

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Editor-in-Chief (Former)

A man with a plan. My favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. I can also tell you trivial cartoon factoids.