Why The Wii U Is the Best Current Gen Console

7/28/2014 at 12:04 PM

Nintendoes what Microsoft and Sony don't

The next generation of video game consoles is here. The latest and greatest technological offerings from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are available on store shelves everywhere. The Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are pushing the envelope of sizzling graphics and jawdropping visuals. The Wii U takes the innovations of its predecessor and takes them a step farther with HD graphics and the GamePad controller. So which system is a gamer to choose? I believe a strong argument can be made for Nintendo’s Wii U as the best choice at this time.

Before I go too far into this editorial, I should share a bit about my perspective. Most of my video game time is spent playing with my thirteen year old son. Now that my older son has moved off to college, a single Xbox 360 is the only previous-gen system in our house. We have previously owned a Wii and a PS3, but our favorite system by far was the Xbox 360. We still play games on it regularly. I have been playing more PC games lately than I have in years, and often buy multiple copies of PC games in order to play co-op with my son.

My initial plan for the latest console generation was to buy an Xbox One but to wait until the first major price drop. The XBox 360 had provided us the best combination of features for the past seven or eight years, and choosing the successor to the 360 was an easy decision. I figured by the time a must-play game like Halo 5 or a new Gears of War title came along, the XBox One library would be a bit more robust, and, after a price drop, the system would be more affordable. Launch day came and went, various sales tempted me, and yet I still remained steadfast in my determination to wait.

One afternoon in January, my oldest son made a hard sell for an Xbox One when we were at our local Toys R Us. I detailed all my reasons for waiting, and he reluctantly agreed. However, the Wii U caught his eye, and he asked my opinion of it. I found I couldn’t come up with many good reasons to NOT buy a Wii U. Within a few hours, I was home playing New Super Mario Bros. U with both of my sons and having an absolutely fantastic time. 

Though my decision to get a Wii U was an impulse buy, after enjoying the system for several months, and tracking the continued development of the Xbox One and PS4 cycles, I am convinced I made the best decision that day. I believe that right now, and in the near future, the Wii U is a much better choice than either the Xbox One or the PS4. The Wii U provides value, backwards compatibility, support of local co-op, and exclusives that the other systems cannot match.

The most obvious advantage the Wii U has over its competitors is value: it is the cheapest system to purchase by a good margin. Several Wii U bundles are available now, including some with the system’s best games packed right in the box. We picked the New Super Mario Bros. Wii U bundle, available for a reasonable $299. Unlike the PS4 or Xbox One, these bundles offer more for the same cost as the initial retail price of the system. The Kinect-less Xbox One is $399, the same price as the base PS4. Bundles are available for these other systems, but at a premium; A Kinect/Forza bundled Xbox One is available for $499, while an upcoming PS4 box packed with Destiny will cost $449. Clearly, the cost of the WiiU is a significant advantage.

Related to cost is the advantage of backwards compatibility. While the Wii U has an innovative tablet-like controller, it uses the same Wii Remote Plus that has been available for several years now. The nunchuk attachment works the same, as does the Classic controller. A Pro controller, shaped more like that of the Xbox One or PS4, is available, but is not required for any games at this time. Compatible controllers are widely available used if you want to save a few bucks.

Better yet, it’s not just the controllers that are compatible from the Wii to the Wii U. The Wii U can play all Wii game discs. There are several excellent Wii titles that all gamers would do well to check out, and the Wii U provides access to them all. Another great feature is transferring your downloaded Wii games to your Wii U. If you have a library of eShop titles for your Wii, you can easily move them over to a new Wii U and continue to enjoy them. The lack of backwards compatibility with the previous generation is a major deficiency for both the Xbox One and the PS4. To turn an old slogan, Nintendoes what Microsoft and Sony don’t.

Local or couch co-op, where multiple players can enjoy a game together on the same screen, seems to be overlooked more and more these days, as a quick look at our co-op games database can determine. Using the Xbox 360 as a baseline, of the 377 co-op games in the Co-Optimus database, 270 of them included couch co-op, a healthy 72% of the total. Check out this graph showing the data for the next generation of video game systems. Local co-op games are in red, other co-op games in blue.

The Wii U is the clear winner here, with a whopping 80% of co-op titles including local co-op. That’s a better ratio than the Xbox 360! The Playstation 4 comes in second with 64%, with the Xbox One a distant third with a mere 49% of co-op titles featuring couch co-op. For gamers like me, who enjoy playing co-op games with friends and family on the same console, it’s hard to make an argument in favor of any system other than the Wii U.

Love them or hate them, exclusive games are a big deal. “Killer apps” sell game consoles, and all three game companies have strong libraries of exclusive game series. The Wii U delivers exclusives in spades. According to the game lists available on Wikipedia, there are 26 exclusive titles that are unique to the PS4, and 33 to the Xbox One. The Wii U has 110 exclusive games  that aren’t available anywhere else. We aren’t talking about shovelware, here, either; Zelda, Mario, Starfox, Donkey Kong, Kirby, and many more storied franchises have Wii U games available now or on the way soon. First-party Nintendo titles are consistently well reviewed, and you cannot play them on PC, Xbox One or PS4. 

So what are the downsides to the Wii U? Obviously, it is lacking graphically compared to the PS4 and Xbox One. If you require the highest frame rates, slickest visuals, and most realistic textures, the Wii U falls short. However, speaking from personal experience, the jump to HD from the Wii to the Wii U is far more noticeable than the performance of the Xbox One over the Xbox 360. The Wii U is a high def system, and Nintendo’s games have never looked better than they do on this console. There is plenty of eye candy here for all but the most stringent of graphical purists.

Online features are another area in which the Wii U compares unfavorably to the Xbox One and PS4. Nintendo’s slowness to embrace online play has long plagued them. Though the Wii U online system isn’t perfect, it is light years better than the Wii in this regard. It still clearly lags behind the robust features of Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, which is unfortunate. Whether that is a deal breaker depends on how important online play is to you.

Another oft-heard concern is the perceived future of the Wii U. It’s clear that the Wii U isn’t moving systems at the same rate as the newer consoles. Though it had a year’s lead time, the Wii U has sold about two million less units than the PS4, and just over 1.5 million more than the Xbox One. It is very unlikely that the Wii U will end up at the top of the sales charts at the end of this console generation like its predecessor the Wii did. Some have expressed concern that third parties or even Nintendo themselves might end support of the system, perhaps dropping out of the console market entirely. However, Nintendo has been making games far longer than either Microsoft or Sony, and have weathered tough competition for multiple console generations before. They are still around, making great games, and plan to be doing so for at least the foreseeable future.

While graphics and online features are important, and the Wii U could certainly be improved in these areas, I believe the benefits of the system more than make up for the shortcomings. The significantly lower price point makes a big difference for a thrifty gamer. Being able to play Wii games you might have missed is a great benefit. The Wii U is the king of local co-op, and in fact a great option for local multiplayer in general; it is a great system to bring out for parties and get togethers. System exclusives on the Wii U are extremely strong; Mario Kart 8 alone is almost worth the price of the system, plus Super Smash Bros. and a gorgeous new Zelda game are on the way.

While graphic junkies or online-only gamers may find the Wii U lacking. But the value of the low price point and backwards compatibility coupled with the strongest local co-op options and AAA level exclusives make the Wii U truly stand apart from the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Even hardcore gamers would do well to pick one up as a second system to enjoy. I believe it is the best choice among all the current generation of video game consoles. Do yourself a favor and check out the Wii U. Like me, you will be glad you did.