I know that many like to view Nintendo as a company that chases trends and casuals and has an inconsistent hit or miss success rate with hardware. Until the launch of the Switch, the success of the Wii was written off as a fluke or aberration sandwiched between the failures of the Gamecube and the Wii U. I have a different take on this however. I believe that the Nintendo Switch is a device that Nintendo as a corporation has been working towards going back to the Gamecube era. It all started with Nintendo's push for "connectivity" of devices and the GBA Link Cable that connected Nintendo's Gameboy Advance handheld to Nintendo's Gamecube home console.
This allowed for innovative gameplay ideas utilizing the Gameboy Advance as a 2nd screen for the Gamecube console. In my opinion, the best utilization of this was done with "Pac-Man Vs." which was developed by Nintendo and published by Namco to bundled into Namco's releases of "Pac-Man World 2", "I Ninja", and "R: Racing Evolution". The Gameplay of "Pac-Man Vs." consists of 3 players controlling the Ghosts using Gamecube controllers plugged into the Gamecube's first 3 controller ports, while 1 player played as Pac-Man through the Gameboy Advance connected to the Gamecube's 4th controller port via the Link Cable. (Both the N64 and Gamecube had 4 controller ports built in, and did not require an adapter to be purchased separately for local multiplayer as opposed to other systems of the day) The 3 Ghost players could see the small surrounding area of their positions on the TV screen (expandable by eating fruit) as they hunt for Pac-Man. Meanwhile, the Pac-Man player would see the entire maze on the Gamecube screen. The Ghost players would have to verbally co-ordinate their search of the maze in an effort to trap Pac-Man, while Pac-Man had the advantage of knowing where all the Ghosts were in an effort to remain elusive. It was an incredibly fun game and completely unique idea for the time. I had all of the necessary components (Gamecube, Gameboy Advance, the Link Cable, and a copy of "Pac-Man Vs." that came with my purchase of "R: Racing Evolution"), and some of the people who would come over my house would specifically request that I hook everything up for play, or if I could bring over to attach to their Gamecube at home.
Unfortunately, "Pac-Man Vs." released late in 2003. Two years after the release of the Gamecube, and by this point production had already been temporarily halted due to a surplus of unsold stock resulting in a price cut to $99.99. The PS2 was wildly successful by contrast, and so this flew under many people's radar. At this time, Nintendo was also beginning to dabble with motion technology. The original idea was to release motion sensing controllers for the Gamecube. However, due to the Gamecube's sagging sales, Nintendo executives feared that if released as a peripheral, the motion controllers would likewise fly under gamer's radar similar to the Link Cable. The decision was made to instead build a new console around the controllers, thereby putting them directly into the hands of every new Nintendo console purchaser. And thus, the Nintendo Wii was born as the successor to the Gamecube.
The Wii was an instant hit as millions embraced the phenomenon of it's pack-in game "Wii Sports" that allowed you to really feel like you were engaging in what your character was doing on screen from physically throwing punches in boxing, swinging and pitching in baseball, swinging a tennis racket, to actually bowling as well. Nintendo's decision to build a new console around the Wii-motes, rather than release them as a peripheral to the failing Gamecube was an incredibly wise business move. It propelled Nintendo to the winner of a console generation for the first time since the SNES. As huge a phenomenon as the Wii was, however, it was a standard definition console, and hugely underpowered when compared to its HD competitors the PS3 and Xbox 360. As the years wore on, this became more and more evident while many 3rd Parties dumped uninspired motion control cash-in shovelware. Nintendo executives were keenly aware that they had to release a new HD console onto the market in order to bring back higher tier 3rd party games and the hardcore console gamer. Thus, the Wii U began development. The Wii U's Gamepad, with 2nd screen functionality is immediately reminiscent of the Gameboy Advance's connectivity with the Gamecube through the Link Cable.
It is interesting to note, however, that having a screen on a controller was also in the Nintendo mindset during the development of the Nintendo Wii. One of the original design ideas for the Wii-mote featured both an analog stick and a touchscreen. Nintendo ended up scrapping this idea, because they believed the Wii-mote should be a simple in design as possible, so that non-gamers would be able to pick it up and not be overwhelmed by a numerous configuration of button inputs. Another carry over from the Wii into the Wii U Gamepad, was the fact that Nintendo desired an off-tv place to convey messages to the gamer more complex than the Wii's flashing blue-light disk tray. This was something that was not cost effective in the Wii's cycle, but by the time of the Wii U, the idea had evolved into a full-fledged touchscreen.
In my opinion, the Wii U finally combined the Gameboy Advance and Gamecube into a single cohesive system. The concept was brilliant. However, the execution didn't quite nail it. When first announced, it was conveyed that you could take the Gamepad and continue gaming off-screen anywhere in your house. In reality, the Wi-Fi communication between Gamepad and Wii U console was actually rather limited. Walls, floors, and ceilings all interrupt communications. I've been able to take my Gamepad into the basement and use Netflix or You Tube while working out on my treadmill, but that's if the Gamepad remains perfectly stationary, and therefore would not be practical if playing an actual game. But, I believe this was just another step in Nintendo's evolutionary cycle. Nintendo always knew where they wanted to go. It was just a matter of when they could actually achieve it. Just like a touchscreen controller was not yet cost-effective/practical for the Wii, Nintendo's dream of a Console/Handheld functionality for the Wii U Gamepad was not yet ready to be achieved either. The Nintendo Switch, on the other hand, is that perfect marriage.
With the Nintendo Switch, you can console game on your tv. And when it is time to go out, you can remove the Switch from its dock and seamlessly continue anywhere you want without restriction. The Switch is proof of concept of the Gameboy Advance connected to the Gamecube via link cable finally delivered into your hands in one package with a unified library. This becomes even more evident when you consider the fact that "Pac-Man Vs." has even made it's return.
Some consider the Wii a gimmick/fad that allowed Nintendo to "accidentally" recover from the failure of the Gamecube. A fad that soon wore out and led into Nintendo failing again with the Wii U as they presumably chased another technology craze with tablet gaming. As the Wii U failed, these people then assume that Nintendo had to rush into develop their newest gimmick, handheld console gaming. I counter this hypothesis with one of my own. Nintendo has by design incrementally leading themselves down the path towards the success of the Switch all along ever since the days of the Gamecube.
There were bumps and hiccups along the way. And a need to be as cost-effective as possible necessitated that they drive for the long end game rather than produce a prohibitively expensive device much sooner. But, I still believe that the Nintendo Switch was the dream device Nintendo had been planning all along. Not, something they stumbled onto out of desperation. Rather than the Switch being a stop-gap console to replace a dying Wii U. I think the Wii U was the stop gap console meant to bring in some sales in the interim period between the dying Wii and the actual readiness of a Switch launch. This is why the Wii U never received the massive price-cuts that other systems normally get to increase sales or liquidate inventory. The Wii U may have been a swing and a miss in the grand scheme of console sales, but it was also a taste of what was to come, and laid the necessary groundwork for its successor.
Please feel free to agree or disagree and share your thoughts.