The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are out, officially signaling the start of “next-gen” gaming. There’s just one familiar problem; console launches kinda suck. Both new boxes are currently the largest, least attractive and most expensive they’ll ever be, and neither has knock-out launch titles. The games everyone is waiting for won’t arrive until early next year, at the earliest.
There is, however, a console that’s been out long enough to mature, and that’s the humble Wii U. Though indisputably less powerful than the hardware Microsoft and Sony have put together, Nintendo’s console has also been around long enough to start building a library, and it has unique features its rivals don’t offer. Here’s why you might be better off buying a Wii U this holiday season.
The Games! They’re Here!
A console without games to play is nothing more than an over-priced Roku. The Wii U ran into this problem at its launch, just as the PS4 and Xbox One are having the issue now. But the Wii U is now a year old, and that means developers have had time to push out some great games.
The highlight is no doubt Super Mario 3D World, a recent release that has received the best critical reception of any Mario game since Mario 64. But there’s also the more conventional New Super Mario Brothers U, the high-definition remake of The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and the cute puzzle-strategy title Pikmin 3. And that’s just the exclusives; cross-platform games that are great on Wii U include Rayman Legends, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Skylanders Swap Force.
But wait – there’s more! 2014 will see the release of other heavy-hitters like Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Brothers Wii U, and Bayonetta 2. These titles should easily keep a smile on your face while the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One beef up their libraries.
Still Backwards Compatible
While the new consoles may lack a game library, at least gamers can pop in games from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and enjoy them with the new controller and interface.
Oh, wait. They don’t support that.
The Wii U, however, has excellent backwards compatibility. If a game runs on the Wii, it will run on the Wii U, end of story. This opens up a huge catalog of games for those who never owned a Wii, and many of them are excellent. If you don’t enjoy Kirby’s Epic Yarn, for example, you simply don’t have a heart.
A Second Screen
Sony has been going on about the PlayStation Vita’s ability to stream games from a PlayStation 4. The feature is nifty and potentially useful, particularly for people who have only one large-screen television to serve everyone in the family. Just one thing; the Wii U does it better.
The reason why the Wii U has superior off-screen play is simple. The console’s gamepad, which has its own touchscreen, comes with every Wii U, and that means developers don’t have to put extra effort into making off-screen play possible. While it’s apparently possible for a game to hit the Wii U without “Off-TV Play” (Nintendo’s official name for the feature), no developer has released a game lacking support so far.
Sony’s Vita looks even worse when price is considered. You’ll have to spend about $200 for a Vita, and that’s without a memory card, which is necessary for Vita games. A 16GB memory card is $50 while a 32GB card is about $75, so you’ll end up paying almost as much for the Vita alone as you would for an entire Wii U.
Even if you decide not to buy a Vita you’re still going to pay a lot more for a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One than you will for the Wii U. The Deluxe model with 32 gigabytes of built-in storage and two games (Super Mario Bros U and Super Luigi Bros U) can be had for $340. Alternatively, you can grab a version bundled with The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker for $330, or the basic model with 8 gigabytes of storage for $299.
The amount of storage may not seem like much, but it’s off-set by the fact that games on disc don’t have mandatory installs and full game downloads are just a few gigabytes in size. If you do need more storage, you can readily hook up any USB external hard drive. There aren’t any peripherals of note to buy, and old Wii controllers you have lying around work with the Wii U, saving Nintendo loyalists even more cash.
An Experience For The Whole Family
Gaming has turned into serious business, and it’s no longer just for kids. In fact, the market for family friendly games has undeniably become a minority, buried (in terms of sales and revenue) by adult-oriented franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Call Of Duty. While some parents are happy to let their children play those games, it’s clear that minors are not the target audience, and many a father (or mother) is forced to wait until after the kids are put to bed before they can go on a murder-spree in their favorite shooter.
And that’s a shame. Video games can be great group activities, but families with children clearly aren’t the audience Microsoft and Sony are targeting. Only Nintendo continues to attract developers who enjoy building family friendly games that support shared experiences.
At the same time, though, Wii U games aren’t being dumbed down to appeal to a broader audience. Playing New Super Mario Bros U is easy. Beating it and unlocking all of its secrets is extremely difficult. There’s something for everyone, no matter their age or skill, to enjoy.
Though it has struggled to gain the traction it needs to be a financial success, the Wii U is beginning to mature, and offers more entertainment value right now than either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. While the competition will start to come into its own during the next holiday season, there’s no reason to buy a console until the games you want to play are actually available. And, from that perspective, Nintendo’s option makes more sense.