Nintendo Wii U review: ​A great game system for kids, and you might like it too

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good An included tablet-style GamePad can play games when the TV is in use; Nintendo has a core library of awesome exclusive titles; works with older Wii games and accessories; very kid-friendly. Access to a vault of your childhood classics. Off-TV play is great.

The Bad Can't play DVDs or Blu-rays; lacks a lot of third-party games available on Xbox or PlayStation; GamePad battery life too short; Wii U and 3DS handheld don't share games. On-board storage is severely lacking; Wii U interface is still way behind other consoles. Limited GamePad wireless range limits it to use barely one room away.

The Bottom Line The Wii U has shaken off some of its initial growing pains to become a superior kid and family console, with a limited but excellent lineup of exclusive games you won't find anywhere else.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Ecosystem 6.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Value 7.0

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.

Super Smash Bros. and Nintendo's new amiibo figures are the Wii U's biggest new draws. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Major Wii U exclusive games (available now):

Major Wii U exclusive games due by the end of 2015:

Mario Kart 8, one of several great kid games. Nintendo

What's great

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.

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