The Wii U is the Dreamcast

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I remember when I first saw the Dreamcast for sale in Electronics Boutique (EB Games for the younglings). I saw Sonic Adventure in action and thought it looked just like what the younger me would have wanted on the Saturn about four years earlier. Despite that, I had no interest in buying the Dreamcast at the time. I had chosen the Nintendo 64 over the Saturn due almost entirely to GoldenEye but also the fact that most of my friends had bought one. A few years after first seeing the Dreamcast in stores, I would opt for the PlayStation 2 for similar reasons. Even with all the advantages the Dreamcast had, the Sega brand had become toxic.

With hindsight and after plaything through many titles in the Dreamcast’s library, part of me wishes I’d paid attention at the time. Maybe if people in my position had, the system would have been a whole lot more successful. We’ll never know though for sure but I see a lot of similarities in the Wii U. With the NX announced and possibly coming soon, the life of the retail life of the Wii U will be cut short soon but like the Dreamcast, it is still a system that deserves more attention than it is seeing from consumers.

Leading up to the Xbox 360’s launch the now defunct 1 Up posted an article with a number of comparisons with the Dreamcast and Microsoft’s then hotly anticipated console. Some of them were a real stretch but it was still an interesting article. Here I’m doing the same with the Wii U

1. A technically weaker console launched a year before its competition.

The Wii U launched in late 2012, an entire year before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The Dreamcast launched a year before the PlayStation 2. Both the Wii U and the Dreamcast were technically weaker than their competition.

2. A unique controller

This may seem like a stretch but the Dreamcast’s visual memory unit (VMU) was designed similar to the Wii U. It wasn’t just a memory card but something that could be used as a way to extend play off screen. The VMU could be used to play mini-games like Chao Adventure as part of Sonic Adventure. This was expanded significantly with the Wii U with off-screen play and more interactive features. It is easy to see how the Dreamcast’s VMU although now comparatively primitive, was an early step in what became the Wii U’s gamepad.

3. Sales

The Wii U’s sales, despite already outlasting the life of the Dreamcast are disappointingly similar. As of writing, the Wii U’s sales are estimated around 12.7 million by VGChartz which is only a couple of million more than the lifetimes sale of the Dreamcast. With only a handful of major releases on the way and a successor all but announced, they aren’t likely to climb much higher. This will leave the overall sales below the GameCube.

4. Experimental Games

The Dreamcast’s greatest strength was with its excellent selection of arcade titles such as Soul Calibur, Street Fighter III and Crazy Taxi. But it also had plenty of experimental titles that saw varying levels of success. The most bizarre is no doubt, Seaman. But games like Jet Set Radio, Samba De Amigo, ChuChu Rocket! and Space Channel 5 were also experimental and notable for their colourful art styles. The Wii U has also seen games like Nintendo Land, Splatoon, Zombi U, NES Remix and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. These were either new ways of doing well known genres or entirely new experiences.

5. Quality games despite a lack of support.

The Dreamcast and the Wii U have an amazing ratio of good to bad games. A major reason for this is certainly with its poor sales. The more successful a console is, the more shovelware it has. The PlayStation 2 and Wii are perfect examples of this. Both the Dreamcast and Wii U had difficulties with obtaining third-part support. EA didn’t support the Dreamcast and the Wii U saw a few half-hearted ports before support ended. Sega and Nintendo both funded and developed many of the stand out titles. Unlike Sega though, the Wii U hasn’t had anything as comparatively ambitious as Shenmue.

6. Limited online structure.

This comparison is not positive. The Dreamcast’s online while quickly overshadowed by the PlayStation network and especially Xbox Live, was at least pioneering. With Phantasy Star Online being the most impressive. The Wii U improved from the Wii but it was still behind even the previous generation in terms of functionality. The Dreamcast was eclipsed but the Wii U was already beyond the horizon when it started.

So what was the point of this? The Wii U can be compared to the Dreamcast in both favourable and unfavourable ways. It has yet to be seen whether it will develop a similarly positive legacy but I think it will. So the question is – do you want to experience it now or read about it later? Think about it, do you want to be pretending to know how cool the Wii U was at the time when you’re really just had a PS4? Are you going to appropriate other people’s nostalgia for a console you bought years later for nothing? Or are you going to get in and enjoy all the experimental and just plain fun games out now? The Wii U is inexpensive, has a lot of great games and a few more still on the horizon.

March, 2016

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