Now that I have less than a week to enjoy the remainder of my 20s, it’s not too early to declare that this moment from the current year was one of the most Distinctive Occasions Of My 20s (DOOM20).
That this is a second post featuring the Wii U speaks volumes to how important it’s been to my at-home entertainment. An avid gamer when my main consoles were the GameCube and Game Boy Color, I began losing interest in video games somewhat during the Wii era due to my ambivalence toward motion controls in games other than Wii Sports. Buying the Wii U on a whim in 2016 turned that trend upside down, reinvigorating my interest in gaming and inspiring me to give franchises I’d previously overlooked another chance. That I bought it so soon before the Switch was announced made me a tad spiteful; I was intent on enjoying the full breadth of everything the Wii U had to offer during the entirety of the Switch’s lifecycle. I’ve always been on the hunt for new games to play and deals to cash in on. With a couple exceptions (the version of Mario Kart that came preinstalled on the system and a couple indie games from a Humble Bundle sale), the drive to milk the system dry did not include investing in games from the eShop. When Nintendo announced that their digital storefront for the WIi U, the eShop, would close for good, I began to question those choices.
Likely due to the era of video games I grew up with, I have a strong preference for physical copies of games over digital, if such a copy exists. Introduced to gaming with the aforementioned Game Boy and Gamecube, the concept of a digital-only game didn’t exist at the time. Some games I’ve enjoyed on the Wii U, most notably Affordable Space Adventures, never had a physical release, and thus the only way to enjoy it was to have to have downloaded a copy from the eShop. Despite the games living on a console’s memory, it never really feels like one truly “own” the digital copy. It’s more akin to a rented game, especially since games are not transferrable to different consoles (eg, Wii U digital games can’t be played on the Switch), and if something were to happen to one’s console or Nintendo account, it’s possible one’s “ownership” of the game would cease to be. Barring damage to the medium (RIP to my shattered copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4), physical games feel like the safest way to truly own the game forever, and as I proudly display my collection in my living room, the games make for an aesthetically pleasing library.
When Nintendo first announced in February 2022 that the Wii U eShop was closing the following year, I wasn’t terribly bothered. By that point I only owned a handful of digital games. I mostly perused the eShop when I was bored, taking note of the games available without any intent of making a purchase. Reading later about how it was a negative turn of events for game preservation did make me a little upset that Nintendo was pulling the plug on the storefront, but with the Wii U having been abandoned five years prior due to awful sales it made sense that they’d save a little money by ending its run. Nintendo had already started to shut down some services for the maligned console, including ending their social network, Miiverse, in 2017. While certainly interesting news, the report of the eShop’s demise did little to change my gaming behavior.
Sentiments began to change shortly after the calendar flipped to 2023. Perhaps I was finally getting tired of Breath of the Wild after sinking 300 hours into it, or it was the allure of conveniently (and legally) playing older games I wouldn’t have access to otherwise, or even just getting panicked as the countdown to March 27, 2023 moved closer to 0, but I was slowly changing my mind about buying digitally. I tested the waters in late January by purchasing a Game Boy Advance title, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. I had remembered seeing it advertised during the Advanced era, though it would take many years after for me to try my hand at a Zelda title for the first time. The Minish Cap was my first “Virtual Console” title, and I was impressed by how good the old game looked on my TV. I could see myself investing in more titles after that one, but again I was in no rush. I figured that no Nintendo-made title would drop in price between then and the eShop’s closing, and only more games made by other developers would go on sale to eek out whatever last profits they could, so it was in my best interest to play the waiting game to see how far prices would drop. Every week or so, whenever I turned the Wii U on to play, I’d first check the sales page on the eShop to see if anything new or interesting was discounted. I didn’t make any additional purchases then, preferring to hold the line to the very end.
It was only on Friday, March 24, did I figure that everything that was going to be on sale was already on sale, and that the time to start shopping had commenced. To give myself some boundaries so as to not put myself into debt, I set a limit of $30 for myself to spend. Not being able to buy games directly with a credit card (Nintendo removed that feature soon after the initial closing announcement, requiring users to instead preload funds into their account) also helped keep my spending in check. In advance of the deadline, I’d reviewed several “best of the eShop” articles so I could make more educated purchases with my limited budget.
That education led me to purchase Pushmo World, a Nintendo-made, eShop-exclusive title on the 24th, in addition to the prequel to one of my honorable mentions for greatest game of all time, Paper Mario, and a game reminiscent of a beloved Flash game that was heavily discounted, SteamWorld Dig. The next day, I purchased another well-reviewed game collection that had its price slashed, the Gunman Clive HD Collection.
Between purchases with money, I was also scouring Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit for free download codes posted by both game developers and regular gamers. Developers often had many codes they could give away and for whatever reason did not, so with little time left to redeem many threw hundreds out in the ether hoping they’d find good homes. Other gamers may have received codes for Wii U games in bundles with codes for the Nintendo 3DS, and not owning a Wii U had never redeemed them. Many codes were claimed within seconds of being posted, and often the benefactor of someone’s generosity wouldn’t have the decency to respond that the code was redeemed. Testing a code meant inputting a unique string of 16 characters, and with many codes secretly redeemed there were many instances of disappointment after carefully making sure every character was entered correctly. In the off chance a code did work, however, there was a sense of glee as the sight of the blue download bar appeared on screen. I was lucky enough to redeem several free games this way, both marquee indie titles and games that were far from polished.
On Sunday, March 26, one day before the eShop was to close forever, I dedicated time toward the end of the day for the Wii U so I could make my final purchases. I envisioned one last look through the sales section of the eShop before determining what I’d spend my remaining $5 on. I spent a good chunk of the daylight hours out and about in the city, exploring new Citi Bike docks and just overall enjoying a beautiful early spring day. I returned to my apartment around 4:30 in the afternoon, and after a long day of biking and exploration I decided to treat myself to pizza for dinner. I took a walk to the good pizza place about nine blocks away from my apartment and walked back with my haul.
Something was clearly wrong when I turned onto my street. Two fire trucks were blocking traffic, and a group of fire fighters and other people were huddled around my building’s entrance. As luck would have it, for the second time in six months, there had been an electrical fire in one of the restaurants on the first floor. Thankfully there was seemingly no damage to the greater building itself, though as a result power had been cut to both businesses and apartments in the building. I was able to eat my pizza in the outdoor plaza near my building before they let everyone back into the building, but even when the fire trucks departed there was no definite ETA for when the power would return.
I was without power until the evening of Tuesday, March 28, blowing past the eShop closure deadline. I was disappointed that my shopping spree had come to an abrupt end, but I was at peace with it. I had acquired a variety of games that would keep me entertained for many more months, potentially even up until the release of the Switch2 (or, as I like to think it’ll be called, the SwitcherU). If I hadn’t lost power, it’s likely that I would have bought a game or two just for the sake of buying it.
That’s where this story would have ended, but an olive branch of sorts was extended shortly after my power was restored. Because Nintendo had disabled code redemptions a few hours earlier than they’d initially announced, the company issued a mea culpa and re-enabled code redemptions until April 3. This led to another week of scouring the web for any last codes that might be floating around. It took a little digging, including DMing one prolific game creator and commenting on a stranger’s status on Facebook, but I ended the week with a few more games in my queue.
From the start of the end-of-life sales to the last code redeemed, the madness that was the eShop closing felt like a final celebration of the life of the black sheep of Nintendo’s home console lineup. New to Reddit in an attempt to ween myself off of my Twitter addiction, I saw the r/WiiU community come to life with folks swapping codes and sharing stories of why they love the console. While it was an understandable business decision for Nintendo, it still hurt to know that one of the last semblances of support for the system was coming to an end. Though I’m still not onboard with the all-digital future we seem to be hurtling toward, I’m glad I was able to participate in the eShop madness while I could.
Honorable mentions for other important moments of 2023: Flying home in first class; Embracing Citi Bike; Saying goodbye to Croton