There are a lot of ways to play video games right now: older game consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, current-gen systems like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, handhelds, PC games, and even phone and tablet games. And then there's Nintendo: a brand to itself, and largely the home of a legacy list of excellent games you can't get anywhere else.
As of November 2014, the Nintendo Wii U is 2 years old. Should you get one? We originally felt pretty lukewarm about the Wii U compared to its legendary predecessor, the Wii: although Nintendo games in HD looked great, but the software felt slow to load, the included GamePad had a short battery life, and there were too few good games to justify the investment.
Now the Wii U is competing with the likes of Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and -- on paper, at least -- it still has its shortfalls. The graphics lag the newer Microsoft and Sony consoles, and the Wii U is the only one of the three that can't play DVDs and Blu-rays. You also won't find many of the latest and greatest triple-A third-party titles like Call of Duty and Madden on the Wii U. (Lots of third-party games like Madden were originally available, but now aren't being made -- and games like Watch Dogs can end up debuting much later on the Wii U, if ever.)
That said, the Wii U does have a growing library of exclusives that you won't find anywhere else. All of the company's biggest icons are here: Mario Kart, Super Mario, Zelda, and now Super Smash Bros are all represented. The software's been improved. And it's all extremely kid-friendly.
I really love playing games on the Wii U. You might too.
Editors' note, November 26, 2014: This review has been updated from its original version to include updated impressions and comparisons, new pricing and bundles, and recent game releases for the holidays.
Wii U bundles
In the US, the Nintendo Wii U currently comes in a variety of bundles with games or accessories packed in. Almost all of them cost $300, but what you get varies.
The bundles currently include:
$360: Black Friday bundle with Wii U (32GB), NintendoLand, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Super Smash Bros.
$300: Wii U (32GB), NintendoLand, Super Mario 3D World
$300: Wii U (32GB), New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Luigi U
$300: Wii U (8GB), NintendoLand, Skylanders Swap Force, 3 Skylanders figures
$300: Wii U (32GB), NintendoLand, Mario Kart 8
Of these, we'd recommend the bundles with Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 the most since you get a better game assortment, plus the 32GB storage.
Major Wii U exclusive games (available now):
- Super Smash Bros. Wii U
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (coming December 5)
- Super Mario 3D World
- Mario Kart 8
- Pikmin 3
- Bayonetta 2 (for adults only)
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Major Wii U exclusive games due by the end of 2015:
It's totally kid-friendly.
I have a 6-year-old, and I don't want him anywhere near most PS4 or Xbox One games. There are kid-friendly PlayStation or Xbox titles, but they're like finding a stuffed animal in a pile of machine guns and zombies. The Wii U's interface, Mii characters, and most of its best games are very approachable, Disney-esque, and fun for families to play together. Except for Bayonetta 2, of course.
Tons of multiplayer cooperative party games.
The best games for the Wii U can be played by more than one person in the same room: Nintendoland, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, and Super Smash Bros. In fact, it's the best single-room multi-player game system out there. If you have more than one kid, or like party games, the Wii U is hard to beat.
It can use old Wii accessories and play old Wii games.
You can use old Wii remotes as extra controllers. For families with a lot of kids, that cuts down on some of the Wii U's overhead cost. And older Wii games -- both the disc versions and downloaded content -- can play on the Wii U. It means you can unplug that old Wii, if it wasn't already unplugged, and sell it at a garage sale. Many older Wii games have excellent replay value and still look good years later.