Two years on – Is the Nintendo’s Wii U worth owning?
Re-reviewed by Damien McFerran
When Nintendo launched the Wii U at the end of 2012 it had plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the system’s chances. The console took the most notable feature of its forerunner the Wii – motion controls – and added more powerful hardware and a unique, tablet-like controller which looked set to tap into the consumer frenzy over products like the Apple iPad. Having won the last-gen war with the Wii, Nintendo could have been forgiven for assuming that its next machine would continue that trailblazing commercial success – but sadly, that hasn’t been the case.
Total worldwide sales of the Wii U currently stand at around 8 million. In contrast, the PS4 – which has been on the market a full year less than the Wii U – has recently blasted past the 18 million units sold marker. Nintendo’s marketing for the Wii U has at best sporadic and at worst totally counter-productive, leaving many confused punters to incorrectly assume that the console is merely a controller upgrade for the existing Wii – a system which most people have relegated to the back of their cupboards after their fixation with Wii Fit and “waggle control” has waned. Sluggish sales have resulted in many big-name third party publishers abandoning the console and consequently software releases have been reduced to a trickle, with Nintendo’s own output being subtly augmented by digital download releases via the console’s eShop platform.
Taking all of this into account, you might assume that the Wii U is dead in the water and that there’s no good reason to pick one up now – and you’d be wrong. While it has singularly failed to achieve the same prestigious sales as its forerunner and it may not be getting the big third party AAA franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and FIFA, the Wii U is nevertheless one of the finest gaming systems money can buy at this moment in time – and that’s largely thanks to the fact that when it comes to designing addictive and appealing experiences, Nintendo is quite simply in a class all its own.
Before we get onto software however, it’s worth taking a look at how the Wii U has changed since it launched back in 2012. Like Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has constantly been tinkering with the firmware on its console and has added a raft of improvements in the past couple of years. The most notable is a general increase in boot speed, with the console now loading a lot faster from a standing start. A new quick-start menu has also been added to the Wii U GamePad, allowing you to jump right into recent games or applications without having to go through the main menu screen. Downloads can also be applied while the console is in standby mode, and you can organise games and apps in folders to keep things tidy. These are little enhancements which actually go a long way when you’re using the Wii U on a daily basis.
See also: Best Wii U Games 2015
In addition to improving the basic functionality of the console, Nintendo has introduced some new content via its eShop platform. Sitting alongside the usual indie eShop releases we have retro-themed “Virtual Console” content. Wii owners will recall being able to play classic games from the NES, SNES and Mega Drive era, and while Nintendo has been annoyingly slow to push these same games to the Wii U, there’s still more than enough to be getting on with. Sega fans will be disappointed to learn that Mega Drive titles haven’t made the jump to Wii U as yet, but in their place we do have Game Boy Advance, Wii and DS games – the latter of which take advantage of the console’s unique controller to totally replicate the dual-screen experience.
For all of these changes and upgrades, the Wii U’s biggest gains have been made in pure gaming software. Unlike Sony and Microsoft – who are both hell-bent on turning their respective systems into your living room “input one” via movie download services and TV connectivity, Nintendo has kept the Wii U resolutely focused on gaming – although it should be noted that the likes of Netflix and YouTube have dedicated Wii U applications.
See also: PS4 vs Xbox One
Since the release of the machine in 2012 we’ve seen some amazing titles, mostly from Nintendo itself. Super Mario 3D World is a masterpiece, while Mario Kart 8 is arguably the highpoint of what is already a solid gold racing franchise. More recently, we’ve seen Super Smash Bros. for Wii U bring classic cartoon combat to the platform, along with support for Nintendo’s take on the “toys to life” concept, known as amiibo. These must-have games have been backed up by an equally enjoyable slew of releases which includes Hyrule Warriors, the fantastic Bayonetta 2, Pikmin 3, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, the fairly average Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and excellent remake Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. The Wii U’s library hasn’t grown as quickly as that of the PS4 and Xbox One – thanks largely to a distinct lack of third-party support – but it has seen some truly amazing titles, many of which are worth buying the console for on their own.
In 2015 that library is only going to get better, with a new, open-world Zelda adventure being perhaps the highlight. RPG fans will also have system exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles X to look forward to, while action addicts have a brand new Star Fox entry and Splatoon – Nintendo’s predictably brilliant take on squad-based online shooters – to keep them happy.
See also: Best Games 2015
The Wii U has also seen its fair share of amazing download-only titles, with the likes of Tengami, Shovel Knight, Art of Balance, The Swapper, Child of Light, Thomas Was Alone, Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones, Teslagrad and Steamworld Dig all proving that small-scale indie titles can provide just as much entertainment as big-budget retail releases.
The thing that really seals the deal is that the Wii U is now cheaper than it has ever been. You can get a Wii U console complete with Mario Kart 8 for £250, but shopping around usually yields even better deals, with many UK retailers throwing in additional games for even less cash.
Out of the three next-gen systems the Wii U may be the least powerful, but it’s also the cheapest – and it has to be said, the gulf in graphical quality between Nintendo’s console and the PS4 and Xbox One isn’t as pronounced as you might expect, especially when looking at some of Nintendo’s own games. Super Mario 3D World is watching a cartoon in motion, and it all runs at a silky-smooth 60fps, arguably matching anything Sony and Microsoft’s machines can deliver when it comes to sheer aesthetic brilliance.
The Verdict – Two years on
The Wii U is most definitely worth a look even if you’ve already committed to either Sony or Microsoft’s camp. In fact, this is the one respect where it follows perfectly in the footsteps of its predecessor; the Wii was seen by many gamers as their “second system”, sitting neatly alongside either the Xbox 360 or PS3.
The Wii U is almost identical in this regard; while it’s easy to argue that there’s little point in owning both a PS4 and Xbox One due to the high volume of shared third-party titles between them, the Wii U is unique in that you can’t play its best games anywhere else – Nintendo’s output is exclusive to its own hardware, and you won’t be able to enjoy the likes of Zelda or Mario elsewhere. Nintendo’s system may not be selling as robustly as the original Wii, but in our opinion it’s still a highly recommended purchase.