In a surprising turn of events, Nintendo has announced Mojang will be bringing its world-spanning construction sandbox game Minecraft to Wii U. I say "surprising" because (1) it seems sort of bewildering that Minecraft wasn't already on Wii U and (2) that's it's coming more than a year after Microsoft locked down the franchise by buying Mojang in a deal worth more than the GDP of some nations.
Better late than never, I suppose, but this version feels a little too late to matter. Wii U (despite its remarkable library) will never be able to rise above also-ran status, and I can't help but think a port of Minecraft a couple of years ago could have done wonders for the platform's fortunes. Not because it's the world's most popular video game among the 5-10-year-old set that Nintendo caters to so effectively, but also because Minecraft has the potential to justify the Wii U's design in a way few other games have managed. Minecraft Wii U will support off-screen play, which makes it ideal for family couch scenarios; but more than that, the Game Pad integration will allow it to straddle the line between the PC/console versions of the game and the awkward tablet ports that kids usually have to settle for. It could, potentially, be the ideal, kid-friendliest version of the game ever made.
The official announcement also makes a passing reference to the fact that Nintendo and Mojang are "collaborating on new content for Nintendo fans to be released at a future date." You can bet your sweet bippy that means amiibo integration—and probably not just content for existing amiibo, but for Minecraft-specific figures as well. There is the question of whether or not Microsoft would want to license its property for a toy format specific to a competitor's consoles, but the fact that Minecraft is still being licensed out to non-Microsoft consoles suggests either (1) a remarkable amount of autonomy for Mojang or (2) Microsoft didn't snatch the rights to Minecraft in order to lock it down as an Xbox/Windows exclusive but rather so they could continue putting the franchise on every device imaginable and reap the profits.
And certainly this port of the game stands to make a healthy profit. At $29.99, Minecraft on Wii U will be the most expensive version of the game on the market when it arrives next week—previous console versions have topped out at $19.99, and the PC versions sell for $26.95—and that's before you factor in all the paid add-ons. The base price includes several skin and texture packs, but more than a dozen expansion packs will be available at launch, including both the desirable (Star Wars, The Simpsons, Skyrim) and the less enticing ("Halloween 2015 Mash-up Pack").
Minecraft puts a capper on a strong year for Wii U—by all accounts a much happier note to wrap 2015 on than Devil's Third. But even as hits like Splatoon and Super Mario Maker have helped move the needle slightly for the platform, the console just lacks the reach and traction it deserves. I can't help but feel that Minecraft on Wii U could have made a huge difference in 2013; here at the end of 2015, however, I wonder how much impact it can actually have.