2014 is coming to a close very shortly and with that comes a moment of reflection. Over the last two years, the current generation of consoles have invaded the living rooms of the general mass and those who haven’t jumped on the current-gen bandwagon are diligently waiting for the right opportunity. The Wii U launched in November 2012 while the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrived the following year. After a decent amount of time on the market, how well have these consoles fared? Well in terms of sales, they’re doing exceptionally well with the PlayStation 4 in the lead, but with the Xbox One treading not too far behind. Even the Wii U is currently picking up in numbers. So as someone who owns all three current-gen consoles, people constantly ask me which one is most deserving of their well-earned money. It’s all a matter of preference really. Do you want the machine that has the superior graphical capability or the machine that has a stronger gaming library? Out of all the current gaming consoles, I definitely play my PS4 the most, as that’s where my player ecosystem resides and where I indulge most of the third-party titles. My personal favourite current-gen console, however, is Nintendo’s peculiar Wii U. Followed by a confusing reveal and a shaky launch, the Wii U had a struggling first year, but 2014 was the Wii U’s time to shine, and boy did it shine ever so brightly. Redefined tweaks resulting in a more accessible UI, the release of a robust collection of fantastic first-party titles, an unbeatable price advantage, the resurrection of a personal favourite gaming mode, and so much more make the Wii U a great, albeit sometimes faulty, console.
The Wii U is, for some strange reason, my first Nintendo home console. Yes I have extensively played previous Nintendo consoles such as the GameCube, Wii, N64, and NES, but these experiences were indulged in the confides of my friend’s residence, not my own; the Wii U is the first Nintendo home console that I have owned personally. Wii U is arguably behind its time, with Nintendo finally joining the HD generation and online gaming community, but it’s better late than never. The actual hardware, back in and only in 2012, was the superior piece of tech besting the likes of PS3 and Xbox 360, but those consoles were already a near decade old. Currently, the Wii U can’t keep up with the likes of the PS4 or Xbox One, that graphical fidelity is just not there. But even with the graphical disadvantage, Nintendo still manage to somehow boast clear, crisp, colourful, and gorgeous graphics with stellar art designs and that unparalleled Nintendo charm is still alive and well. The current Wii U interface is quick and streamlined for the most part, with this year’s biggest iteration: the quick start menu. Avoiding the main interface as a whole and swiftly jumping into your game of choice with ease is a significant upgrade. The online integration, for the most part, is done well. Connecting and finding matches in Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U is painless and surprisingly fast, and the connection does, though not always, hold a steady frame. With all Nintendo gets right with online integration, there a most definitely still a few mishaps present. The most noticeable being the lack of player chat options. Certain games like Mario Kart 8 don’t support chat whatsoever, so the only way to communicate is with the Nintendo default chat texts or setting up a skype call with your friends. The fact that you have to resort to third party applications is unacceptable at this point and Nintendo seriously need to fix this qualm. On the plus side of Nintendo’s online service, it’s currently the only online service that you don’t have to pay for.
However a console is extremely obsolete and meaningless without its sole fundamental, software. Although the recurring backlash at the Wii U’s lack of third-party software is warranted, the Wii U has an absolute killer first-party line up that is currently unrivaled at this point in the console generation. With what was a rocky console software launch at best, Nintendo’s gaming library has been slowly, but steadily improving and 2014 is a testament to just that. Sony’s and Microsoft’s killer console exclusive line up is just not there at the moment. Yes the PS4 has Infamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall and the Xbox One has Sunset Overdrive and TitanFall, these titles, as great and amazing some of them are, still aren’t enough to support the promising vision Sony and Microsoft had. The thing that keeps these two consoles afloat are their impressive third-party line up, which at this point is unattainable on the Wii U. The PS4 and the Xbox One undoubtedly have a promising future, with fantastic games on the horizon, but with the Wii U, that future is here and those games are ready to be played at your leisure. That premium Nintendo quality is present with flying colours and each of their first-party exclusives boast that loveable Nintendo charm. With the likes of the over the top, action frenzy Bayonetta 2, the fast paced and addictive Mario Kart 8, the couch co-op loving Super Mario 3D World, the extremely charming and strategic Pikmin 3, the traditionally challenging Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, the NES inspired Shovel Knight, and my 2014 game of the year Super Smash Bros for Wii U, Nintendo are pumping out quality products and these fantastic titles are easily the most fun I’ve had with the current generation. Even as someone who never owned a GameCube, I got to experience the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the first time in HD remastered goodness. The culmination of these phenomenal titles are without a doubt, better than the exclusives that the competition offer. And before you hark at me and claim how I’m a Nintendo fanboy, let me just express my obsessive love for the PS3 and how The Last of Us was easily one of my favourite games of the past generation. I’ve just been personally disappointed with the exclusive line up Sony and Microsoft have offered so far. All three consoles boast promising futures and will eventually have that killer line up, but the Wii U has the most compelling line up thus far with more fantastic games coming within the next year or two. The highly anticipated and prestigious next iteration of The Legend of Zelda, the adorably crafted Yoshi’s Wooly World, the upcoming atmospheric JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles X, the chaotic paint ball inspired shooter Splatoon, and the endless platform creator Mario Maker, are a few titles in Nintendo’s myriad line up of upcoming software. Also in a year infested with constant day one patches to fix a plethora of both online and offline problems, Nintendo’s games work straight out of the box.
Another advantage Nintendo has over the competition is its price point. Here in Canada, the deluxe edition of the Wii U (the definitive model to get for its black paint job and extra 24GB of storage space) will run you at about $299.99 and many models are bundled with a triple ‘A’ title at no additional cost. Games can also be slightly cheaper on the Wii U, costing you about $64.99 instead of the competition’s price of $69.99, though these prices will vary depending on the selected game. And as previously mentioned, you do not have to pay a premium price to utilize Nintendo’s online services. Want to quickly jump into a race in Mario Kart 8 or diminish the competition in online brawls in Super Smash Bros for Wii U? Nintendo allows you to do so with ease without taking an extra cent from your wallet. And saving that extra $50-$60 (Sony’s and Microsoft’s online service price respectively) could buy you another fantastic title to add to your gaming library.
The last feature I’ll discuss is Nintendo’s distinctive ability to develop products that gather friends and family in front of the TV screen. Local multiplayer is dying breed as we hover in an online-centric gaming era. The Wii U revitalizes that core fundamental of hectic shared gameplay and reminded me that playing games in the company of friends is an endearing experience. Mario Kart 8 pits four players against each other as they race through exhilarating tracks, Super Mario 3D World caters to that traditional Super Mario platforming goodness but encompasses 3D landscapes and allows you to tackle the challenge with three of your friends, and Super Smash Bros for Wii U supports its chaotic brawling gameplay for up to eight players, for local matches only. These hectic gameplay memories can now be experienced with your friends and Nintendo’s dedicated homage to the nearly extinct but never forgotten local multiplayer alone make the Wii U a must own system.
Nintendo’s Wii U is not a perfect console, far from it actually. With inferior hardware specs, a somewhat primitive online design, lack of intuitive player interaction options, and the troublesome abandonment of third party software, the Wii U has a lot of room for improvement. However, this was not enough to deter me from my beloved console. I play my Wii U for first-party software and Nintendo easily provides the best first party line up at the moment. While Sony’s and Microsoft’s major titles take significant post launch time to fix a plethora of game breaking bugs and horrendous server conditions, Nintendo’s games are working splendidly without any major frustration. Of course this opinion of mine is subject to change. 2015 will be a phenomenal year for not only the Wii U, but for gaming as a whole. I am eagerly waiting for Naughty Dog’s next masterful entry to the beloved Uncharted series and Crystal Dynamics’ follow up to their fantastic 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, but as for now, I’ll stick with Smash Bros as Nintendo remain the current victor in my book. If you’re looking to enter the next console generation this holiday season, then you will not regret placing the Wii U at the top of your Christmas wish list.