With Nintendo’s worst-selling console (bar the Virtual Boy, of course) now six feet under, we take a look back on the Wii U's life with some of the independent developers that kept the console ticking, during its infamous game droughts.
With those games in mind, who better to ask about the much-maligned Wii U than their fair creators! We’ve been fortunate enough to speak with Jools Watsham of Renegade Kid fame (Mutant Mudds), Thomas Tyssoy from Rain Games (Teslagrad, World to the West), Knapnok’s Anchel Labena (Affordable Space Adventures), Rodrigue Deperron of Thunder Lotus (Jotun, the upcoming Sundered), Rhys Lewis of Squarehead Studios (Star Ghost), and Asier Quesada and Arturo Monedero from Delirium Studios (The Rivers of Alice, The Delusions of Von Sottendorff). Enjoy!
What was the Wii U like to develop for?
Rain Games: We’ve built all our games in Unity, so in most regards it hasn’t been very different from developing for other platforms. The primary challenge has been in porting, and figuring out how to reduce the amount of RAM we use to fit the Wii U.
Knapnok Games: Wii U was a super exciting machine to work on, it opened up opportunities for creating games that weren't really possible on other consoles.
Delirium Studios: Well, 3DS was rough for programming. Let’s say it is a machine that requires lots of skills if you want to reach a high visual and technical performance! For The Rivers of Alice port to Wii U it was completely the opposite, apart from some audio conversion problems, Unity - we previously developed the game with this engine – allowed us to port the game from PC to Wii U reporting few tech-related problems. We had to redesign the game to make it compatible with the Wii U gamepad screen though.
Were Nintendo helpful/encouraging of your project?
Squarehead Studios: Yes absolutely. They were kind enough to feature Star Ghost on the eShop and they also promoted the game on leaflets included with physical titles. Considering it was a tiny one man, self-published title, I don’t think I could have asked for more.
Thunder Lotus Games: Nintendo did indeed offer much support for the development of Jotun for Wii U. It was important for all concerned that our game (as well as other indies due to release last fall) be available in time for a Nindies promotion Nintendo had planned for September.
Jools Watsham: Yes, it was always great working with the team at Nintendo. They were very supportive of our efforts on the Wii U.
"...it was easier for us to get visibility on the platform compared to other mainstream alternatives as fewer games are released for the Wii U, making it easier to stand out."
Did you ever worry about releasing a game on a console with such a small install base (comparatively speaking)?
Rain Games: Not at all. While the Wii U has a small install base relatively speaking, we were never in a position where the smaller pool of potential players would negatively impact our bottom line. Teslagrad actually did pretty well on the Wii U, and we think part of that is because it was easier for us to get visibility on the platform compared to other mainstream alternatives as fewer games are released for the Wii U, making it easier to stand out.
Knapnok Games: Not really - you always need to scale the cost of your project to match the potential gain on the platform, and we managed to scope the project relatively well so we didn't have to sell hundred of thousands of copies to break even. The advantage of making something on a less crowded console is that you have a much higher chance of standing out.
Squarehead Studios: Not really, though perhaps in hindsight I could have given it a little bit more thought! One of the attractions for me was that although the market has been small, it is composed of highly passionate and knowledgeable gamers. From a developer's perspective, it is very rewarding to be able to connect with the kind of people that really care about what you’re doing.
What are your thoughts on the Wii U now its time has come to an end?
Thunder Lotus Games: It's hard to strike a resoundingly positive tone when speaking of the Wii U. Truly, there were some stellar gaming experiences to be had on the system, but in retrospect, I believe Nintendo never adequately communicated to gamers why they should want the console, nor to devs what manner of unique experiences they wanted to offer on the console. It seems to me that the story of the Wii U is one of unrealized potential - though what precisely it had the potential to ultimately become is up to debate.
Knapnok Games: I think the Wii U was a great platform that tried a lot of different interesting things. One of the core problems of it was that many of these things were contradictory: the GamePad had a touchscreen which is great, but if you wanted to support the pro controller you couldn't utilise the touchscreen. The secondary screen is a really cool feature, the option to continue your game on the GamePad if someone else wants to use the TV. It was cheap to buy Wii Remotes so you could easily make multiplayer games, but then you couldn't really support the thumb sticks of the other controllers. All this gave the feeling that no game was truly designed for the Wii U - because no game could hit all the unique selling points at once.
Delirium Studios: In my opinion, with the new Zelda, Wii U has said goodbye in a more than dignified way. I suspect that many have dusted their consoles off and have given it a small chance again. There are great games for Wii U, and we keep selling on this platform, so (hopefully) it will last a little bit longer!
Rain Games: The Wii U was a strange beast. Now that the Switch is here, it feels almost like a prototype or proof of concept by comparison. The Wii U’s unique parts, like the nun-chucks and gamepad are just done in such an improved form on the Switch! The Wii U had plenty of fun games, particularly in terms of multiplayer that a lot of us have thoroughly enjoyed.
What are your thoughts on the Switch? Will you be developing games for it?
Squarehead Studios: It’s a nicely restrained and well-considered design. Nintendo often throw curve balls into their hardware that can leave you scratching your head, wondering how to take advantage of the quirks whilst also maximising the potential of your game. The Switch looks focussed, with characteristics that seem to cater well to the kinds of games that Nintendo fans want to play. Of course, only time will tell and the age old question of whether Nintendo can keep their pipeline full of new and interesting software is going to be key. I think it would be good for the industry if they can continue to define a viable middle ground, somewhere between snack sized mobile gaming and the massive AAA machinery.
Jools Watsham: The Switch seems to address many of the mistakes Nintendo made with the Wii U in terms of unique features and messaging. We are currently developing for the Switch.
Thunder Lotus Games: I think our initial collective reaction to the Switch here at Thunder Lotus has been as gamers first and foremost, gamers that have each grown up and grown through various generations of Nintendo hardware both portable and stationary. So our reactions have reflected some genuine love of the Nintendo brand (even if that love may have lapsed for some in the Wii U generation): we're all excited to see how great an experience Nintendo can craft with the Switch, now that they're working from what is visibly a clearer and more viable concept of how a living room console can also be portable. We can certainly imagine our games eventually finding a happy home on the switch. We'll see what the future holds in that respect.
There you have it, chums; the Wii U dissected by the developers that made its games. As we open up the console to check its organs for the cause of death, it seems clear that, from a developer’s vantage point, the Wii U was not only easy to make games for, but a comparative lack of competition actually helped to stand out from the crowd. It was, however, tricky to use all of the unique features the console boasted - something Nintendo themselves failed to do.
As one of the thirteen-odd million people that bought a Wii U, I part ways with mine having felt confused and disappointed, though, critically, entertained. I’ll cherish it for the wonderful Zeldas, Marios and Splatoon, as well as the fabulous indie games.
That said, the Wii U actually played a large part in putting me off investing in Nintendo’s future - a reliance on gimmicks and churning out the same core franchises has severely impacted the love we once shared. The current lack of games on Switch (bar two great titles already available on Wii U in Mario Kart 8 and Breath of the Wild) only proves that Nintendo haven’t learnt their lesson.
I can only echo Rhys Lewis’ sentiments that the gaming industry needs Nintendo firing on all cylinders to fill the middle ground left vacant by Microsoft, Sony and mobile phones. Whether they manage that, only time will tell. Until then, I’m off to drop some flowers on the Wii U's grave. Goodnight, sweet Prince.
Thanks very much to all the developers that spoke to us for this article, we look forward to playing more of your games soon!
This week’s giveaway is for a copy of Forma.8 on Wii U; the game is a new take on the Metroidvania genre from Italian indie developer MixedBag, so be sure to get your entries in here!
With the acclaimed release of SEGA and Platinum Games’ Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 now more than seven years in the past, the stealth release of a PC port earlier this week will undoubtedly have taken many by surprise. While it might have overshot the ideal launch window by a few thousand days, it provides the definitive version of a game that miraculously hasn’t aged a single day, and, as a result, is still very much worth your time.
While perfection is a big ask, Bayonetta's PC port comes very close.
Controlling that action translates incredibly well to a keyboard and mouse, which was somewhat unexpected. We’d happily click our way through the game, but with the gloriously hectic battles looking a little cramped on a 14” laptop screen, we reached for a controller and made use of Big Picture on Steam to pick up where we left off on a 49” TV. Switching over was seamless, but we did run into problems when reverting back. All keys had inexplicably been unbound, which made controlling the game literally impossible until we reconnected a controller to navigate the menus and reset them to default.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only issue of its kind. We were baffled when the game stopped outputting sound, only to discover the audio sliders had randomly depleted; the UI and tutorials turned themselves off, leaving us scratching our heads in the absence of vital information; the subtitles switched from English to Japanese. You also have to invert the camera for uninverted controls, though this one’s intentional. While all incredibly easy set straight, it’s nonetheless bizarre that the options menu can be a law unto itself.
The only other downside is that cutscenes haven’t been lavished with the same care and attention as the gameplay, which makes for some jarring transitions – though it’s hard to get too worked up when their contents just ooze style. Bayonetta’s characters and biblical narrative are utterly bonkers and all the better for it, especially the badass leading woman herself, who’s still empoweringly sassy and sexy.
From gravity-defying platforming to rewardingly deep combat encounters and beyond, Bayonetta is not only as joyous as it always has been, but better than ever, thanks to a some stellar work on the conversion. With a sub-culture for lazy PC porting currently going strong, one that nails the fundamentals this well isn’t only refreshing, but deserves applause, and is an easy recommendation.
Bayonetta is available on PC right now exclusively on Steam, you can download it for just £14.99 here.
Last year I made the silly mistake of walking up all 78 stairs of fair Shadwell Overground’s underground train station, to the nitty-gritty London surface. Learn from every experience, chums, as Lord Cliché always says, and with that firmly in mind I took the lift and whistled me a tune, before escaping out towards Tobacco Dock. Where was I, comrades? Well, Rezzed 2017 of course…
I love a good shmup (see recent release Ghost Blade for proof) and was especially overjoyed to see next stop Aperion Cyberstorm running on the much maligned Wii U! Taking advantage of the Wii U’s local multiplayer capabilities, I jumped into a five player destroy-em-up that managed that winning combination of frantic gameplay and fantastic fun. The single player also proved to be mighty interesting, riffing on many classic space ship games of the past (it felt like the Mega Drive’s exploration shooter Sub-Terrania mixed with genre classic Bangai-O). Keep your eyes on PTC for an interview with developer Apriori Digital in the coming weeks.
My next stop was publisher Soedesco’s stand. Here I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Tyssoy from Rain Games - the makers of Teslagrad - to talk about the Norwegian gaming scene and to play their new game World to the West. WTTW is a top down action-adventure game full of character and cartoony visuals that builds on what the team achieved with Teslagrad. We look forward to playing this one when in releases in early May.
I also had the pleasure of playing 8-Bit Armies and AereA at the Soedesco stand. Fans of Command & Conquer and pixel art will surely adore 8-Bit Armies and it’s classic RTS gameplay, whilst Musical RPG lovers will certainly care for AereA, too. Both games were charming, and will release later in the year in both digital and physical forms.
Venturing forth from Soedesco’s realm I ducked into Wired Productions section of the show to sample their upcoming console game (already available on Steam) - The Town of Light. A first person psychological adventure, the game tells the story of Renée, a woman trying to understand why she has been institutionalised. The subject matter driving the story forward is not something we’ve seen a lot of in the gaming word, and despite a few dodgy frame drops I’d recommend having a look at the game when it releases later this spring.
This was my first time playing a Switch and I have to be honest, I left disappointed; the buttons - triggers especially - were just too damn small for my fat hands.
Next up for me was Nintendo’s own section, and, in spite of being a lifelong fan of the company, I approached with some trepidation. Seeing Overcooked (my game of Rezzed 2016) running and surrounded with laughing people was a lovely start, as was having a quick blast on FAST rmx, the follow up to the excellent FAST Racing NEO. I was after new Nintendo joy though, so waltzed over to have a crack at the other offerings on the table.
De Mambo is a self proclaimed Smash Bros-loving arcade bash-em-up, with local multiplayer mayhem its main focus. I enjoyed the hectic, headless-chicken nature of a four player match, but found myself really enthralled with the single player element of the game. The game presents short, sharp challenges such as pushing items off a stage before the timer runs down, or completing a mini platforming level as quickly as possible. I savoured it's Mario inspired bouquet - keep your onions peeled for this one in the summer.
The rest of Nintendo’s stand left me rather underwhelmed though; Steamworld Dig 2 will be loved by fans of the original but I found it to be rather frustrating. Yes, the graphics were nice, but the game just wasn’t that fun and that’s what I expect from games on Nintendo consoles.
Gonner played a tough game of procedurally generated platforming, boasting an intriguing art style of muted primary colours against black backdrops. I enjoyed it, but it really didn’t feel like new ground, something that resonated through most of Nintendo’s offerings.
This was also my first time playing a Switch and I have to be honest, I left disappointed; the buttons - triggers especially - were just too damn small for my fat hands. It felt quite flimsy too, which was both a surprise and a shame considering how well it has been reviewed on the whole (including by our very own James). I’ll be waiting for a pro controller bundle at a sensible price before I take the plunge.
With that Nintendo fueled melancholy in tow I plundered the stairs to the Unreal Engine showcase, to have a crack at Formula Fusion, a furiously fast racer with more than a slight feel of Wipeout to it. The game looked beautiful; the super smooth framerate highlighting the contours of each vehicle and every bend in the road. Developer R8 are promising a stack load of tracks and content - and online races - when the game launches later in the year.
Pumped full of Formula Fusion techno I hopped, skipped and jumped to the ID@Xbox Arena. I was lucky enough to try many of the games on offer here; from story driven adventure game Blackwood Crossing (review in the next couple o’ weeks, kids) to multiplayer shoot-em-up Full Metal Furies to musical shooter Aaero. There was a lot of decent content here, but one rose several leagues above the rest: Wargroove.
Wargroove is a turn-based strategy game that takes cues from both Advance Wars (it's GBA inspired art style) and Fire Emblem and makes it its own. I played a lot of games at this year’s show and found 10 minutes to be enough playtime for most, Wargroove though was so moreish I found half an hour just slipped away. I’m keeping my flippers crossed that developer Chucklefish get this one finished ASAP, as I’m jonesing for more!
From the green-tinged halls of Xbox I stumbled into the blueish-hues of Sega’s exhibit. Like many I was there for one reason and one reason only: Sonic Mania! Just as expected, the hectic Hedgehog’s latest side-scrolling adventure played as if 3D gaming had never occurred. I myself couldn’t differentiate Mania from Sonic’s 1 & 2 - this will be joyous or displeasing news depending on your opinion/thirst for nostalgia.
I finished my time at this year’s Rezzed with three of my favourite games of the show; sidescrolling action game Sundered, ethereal adventure game Lost Words and stealth/cleanse-'em-up Serial Cleaner.
Sundered comes from Thunder Lotus Games, the makers of the fabulous Jotun. Like Jotun, Sundered features an absolutely gorgeous hand drawn art style that brought to mind classic hand drawn films of the past. The action itself felt like a cross between the great Disney platformers of the 90s (hello Aladdin) and Prince of Persia, whilst also feeling fresh. I look forward to taking on the huge bosses and procedurally generated underground caves when the game is completed.
Lost Words (pictured above) is the evolution of one of my top picks from Rezzed 2016; The Last Word. The name has changed but the quality of storytelling and interesting gameplay mechanics have remained. The game really stands out, not just from everything else at the show, but from the standard independently made swell of platformers and shmups. This year creator Mark Backler showed us some new stages of the game, as you work your way through the diary of a young woman coming to terms with her Grandmother’s stroke. I was left both impressed and deeply moved by Lost Words; keep your eyes on PTC for more from the game, and Mark.
My game of Rezzed 2017 goes to none other than ifun4all’s glorious stealth-em-up Serial Cleaner. From my first sight of the game’s stand - full of smiles and laughter - to my last arrest mid-job, the game endlessly entertained me. The game presents a simple premise: clean up all the dead bodies and blood from the crime scene before the police bust you.
And it’s from this simple premise that the game builds each stage. Starting off small with a reduced map, fewer police and only one body to dispose of, the game teaches you how to be successful in a fun, hilarious and intuitive way. Before I knew it I was using cupboards and long grass to hide from PC Plod, jumping out at just the right moment to scoop up a corpse and canter back to my 1970s station wagon. The aural bombast of classic cop show music only heightened my joy. Pray for Curve Digital and ifun4all to get this one finished soon, it really is that good.
Rezzed 2017 had some wonderful moments for me; from Wargroove to Lost Words to Sundered to Serial Cleaner, several independent devs proved yet again that our industry is thriving from the bottom up. With that in mind chums, I’m off to bed. See thee next year.
Were you at this year's Rezzed? Let us know what you thought of the show over in the forums.
If you were around for the early nineties and happened to own a Nintendo console, then chances are Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King will feel instantly familiar. Join us as we take Castle Pixel’s retro-inspired PC title for spin.
Dungeons? Evil wizards? Kingdoms in peril? Seems awfully familiar.
It’s true, the medieval setting and evil-wizard-done-bad storyline is ground already well-trodden by Link and co. in the past, but Blossom Tales boasts more than enough character, humour and alternate takes on classic gameplay tropes to ensure it’s more than just a simple homage.
Blossom Tales is packed with charm, colour and wonderful locations that any Zelda fan, or, indeed, fans of adventure games in general, would love to explore
What exactly sets the gameplay apart?
Useful items like the bow, bombs and boomerang all draw power from a regenerating energy meter, instead of a limited stock of ammunition, so you’ll never be found wanting for the right tool when you need it most. The input of Grandpa and his attentive audience can also introduce gameplay-altering twists on the fly.
Wait. Who’s Grandpa?
While gameplay takes place from Lily’s perspective, the whole story is in fact being told by a grandfather to his two grandchildren, who will occasionally interrupt their narrator with a different take on how the story should proceed in order to make it more entertaining.
Sounds interesting, but I don’t have a gaming PC.
That’s fine, you won’t need a supercomputer. It played well on a basic laptop, but weaker models may struggle to hold a steady framerate during the more intense action sequences.
Is it coming to consoles?
There’s no news of a console version just yet, but considering its source of inspiration we couldn’t help but feel that Blossom Tales would be a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch; something the game’s publisher suggested could potentially become a reality when we reached out to them.
Would you recommend it?
Absolutely! Blossom Tales is packed with charm, colour and wonderful locations that any Zelda fan, or, indeed, fans of adventure games in general, would love to explore. When you also consider the modest price point and lengthy runtime (~15 hours), it’s definitely worth a go.
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is available now on Steam for £10.99/€14.99/$14.99.