Late 2016 update
The video game titans have been busy of late, announcing and introducing a slew of new and upgraded systems. In August, Microsoft introduced its Xbox One S, a thinner version of the Xbox One ($445 at Amazon), and announced Project Scorpio -- an Xbox on steroids, scheduled for release in 2017. In September, Sony slimmed down its PlayStation 4 ($495 at Amazon Marketplace) and introduced the forthcoming PlayStation 4 Pro, which supports 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) gaming. And in November, Nintendo will begin selling its , a miniature version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System with 30 games built in.
- For a detailed comparison, check out CNET's analysis of how the PS4 Slim, PS4 Pro, Xbox One and Xbox One S stack up.
Meanwhile, Nintendo has officially unveiled its next big game console. Theis a tablet, a home console and a portable multiplayer tabletop hybrid.
The Switch connects to a TV like a traditional console and works as a tablet-style handheld with its own controls. Nintendo's preview video shows people playing games on the TV, then popping the tablet out and playing on the sofa. Its Joy-Con controllers detach and become standalone wireless controllers. It's slated to arrive in March 2017.
And then there's the Nintendo Wii U, which is coming up on its fifth birthday. It's the only home console where you can currently play Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox and other Nintendo-specific franchises. But in graphics it lags behind 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, either.
The Wii U is still great fun for kids, but with other affordable holiday options like the Mini NES, 3DS XL ($24 at Amazon) and 2DS ($80 at B&H Photo-Video) -- and the Switch less than five months away -- it's tough to recommend.
Editors' note, October 23, 2016: This review has been updated from its original version with updated impressions and comparisons, new pricing and bundles, and holiday game releases.
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), Nintendo Land, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Smash Bros.
$300: Wii U (32GB), Nintendo Land, Super Mario 3D World
$300: Wii U (32GB), New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Luigi U
$300: Wii U (8GB), Nintendo Land, Skylanders Swap Force, 3 Skylanders figures
$300: Wii U (32GB), Nintendo Land, 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.
For a start, 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: Nintendo Land, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World and Super Smash Bros. In fact, it's the best single-room multiplayer 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.