Why the Wii U still matters in 2015
The Wii U hasn't had the strongest couple of years. Hitting shelves a full year before the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and offering an ambitious dual screen experience, there was some excitement building for the system back in 2012. Fast-forward to the present, though, and a drought of raw power and lack of third-party support have seen the console easily overtaken by its younger rivals. But is there finally enough quality content on the platform to make it a worthwhile purchase?
Perhaps the biggest problem with the Wii U is that Nintendo has failed to attract third-party AAA developers to the platform. The omission of big multiplatform titles like Destiny, Batman: Arkham Knight, Grand Theft Auto V and the upcoming RPG Fallout 4 are just a few examples on a very long list. The lack of marquee AAA fare alone is enough to sink a console.
This is partly because the Wii U simply lacks the raw power of the Xbox One and PS4, but it's also because publishers don't have faith in the platform. The user base isn't large enough, the online environment isn't nearly as developed as its competitors' and making good use of the dual screen setup takes significant effort and time that developers don't have enough incentive to commit to.
But now that the Wii U has been on store shelves for two and a half years, is that lack of third-party support such a big deal? Has the slow trickle of releases finally added up to something you can dive into?
Well, we think its slow-growing library may have matured enough to be worth your time. Nintendo has always had some of the strongest first party franchises in gaming – including several IPs that are still thriving after three decades – so if you've been waiting to take the plunge, we think there's enough of that content to dig your teeth into.
Staying true to its roots, Nintendo has put a big emphasis on platforming titles, so there's plenty of choice in that category. Launch title New Super Mario Bros. U (and the subsequent New Super Luigi U) provides 80s-era 2D thrills, while Super Mario 3D World borrows a bit more from 1996's Super Mario 64. There's also the stellar Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and – hey, look here, a third-party title! – Ubisoft's Rayman Legends.
Platforming may be Nintendo's bread and butter, but that isn't the end of the story. For racing fans, Mario Kart 8 is the strongest franchise entry we've seen in a long time. Strategy fans will enjoy the imaginative Pikmin 3, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD has held up so well since its GameCube release that you could easily believe it was developed for the Wii U.
Elsewhere, action fans will enjoy the often bizarre Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros Wii U and the franchise-melding Hyrule Warriors. Survival horror fans can dig their teeth into the polarizing ZombiU, while Nintendo Land provides a fun multiplayer, party-style experience.
One huge genre omission, though, is the ever-popular first-person shooter – things are more than a little thin in that category. You won't find the Battlefield franchise here, and while Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Ghosts did hit the system, Advanced Warfare didn't make the leap, and neither will the upcoming Black Ops 3 release.
That said, there is new IP Splatoon to enjoy. It's not exactly a traditional FPS experience, but trading live ammo for squid ink is more fun than you might expect.
Also, if you're into Skylanders-style collectibles (if you're over the age of 14, we're guessing no ... but if so, we won't judge) the Wii U is tough to beat. Nintendo's in-house Amiibo figures are well designed and of great-quality. They use the console's built-in NFC to provide in-game content such as new character skins and bonus levels.
One big concern is how the landscape will shape up moving forward. Nintendo's E3 2015 announcements were thin and a bit underwhelming, as the company focuses in private on its next-gen "NX" system, which has yet to have an official announcement (much less a public release date).
But there are still a few great-looking titles on the way. Japanese RPG Xenoblade Chronicles X is shaping up to be a deep experience, and Super Mario Maker looks like it could provide a wealth of player-created content, along the lines of PlayStation exclusive LittleBigPlanet.
There's also Star Fox Zero. Announced at E3, the title is a long-awaited new entry in a fan-favorite franchise, and while not graphically potent, looks like a lot of fun, and makes good use of the console's dual screen setup. There's also an unnamed Wii U Legend of Zelda title looming large on the horizon that's set to arrive towards the end of the system's lifespan in 2016. It already looks great.
So, if you've been holding off on the Wii U, is it finally time to buy? Unless you're a diehard first-person shooter player, or are looking for a console that's guaranteed to be supported for years to come, that answer could actually be yes. Whereas the Xbox One and PS4 offer fairly similar content (Halo vs Killzone, Forza vs DriveClub, etc), Nintendo stays true to its character with the most unique – not to mention quirkiest – selection of any console. It has some terrific games that you can only experience on Nintendo's system, and that alone makes it worth a long look, despite its obvious drawbacks.