I regularly see the Wii U outright dismissed as a “failure,” generally based on little more than its low sales numbers. Sure, looking only at that, the Wii U hasn’t been a spectacular success. But since when are hardware sales numbers alone enough to state that a system is a flat-out failure? When a system like Dreamcast only sells 9 million, we say it’s a tragedy; when the Wii U is only at 10 million (so far), it’s a failure and Nintendo should take it out back and shoot it. The outright contempt for the Wii U – and at times, Nintendo itself – continues to baffle me, with people only zeroing in on what it does wrong (something that people don’t seem to do for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One nearly as badly). So I felt that the Wii U deserved to have someone call attention to some of the things that it does right that people don’t seem to ever talk about. No, I’m not necessarily saying that the Wii U is better than the PS4 or the XB1; that’s not the point of this. All I’m trying to do is get people to be a little more positive about the Wii U and respect it for the multiple things that it has been doing and continues to do right.
1 – FULL backwards compatibility, physical and digital
Wii U is the only system this generation that launched with any type of backwards compatibility, and it remains the console that has handled it the best of the three. Not only can you play all of your physical Wii games in the Wii U and use all of your same controllers (hear that, people who have had to spend $50+ for a second PS4 or XB1 pad?), but Nintendo has handled the carrying over of last gen’s digital games far better than Sony or Microsoft has. Ironic, since Nintendo gets so much grief about how behind the times it supposedly is in dealing with online features and digital game buying. While Sony and Microsoft both gave a big middle finger to the people who spent the previous 10 years racking up digital purchases on their PS3s and Xbox 360s, not letting gamers bring any of those games over to their new systems, Nintendo lets you transfer every single game you bought for your Wii directly to your Wii U free of charge. It even continues to let you access the Wii’s separate digital store and allows you to download games that are only available there directly to your Wii U. And should you want to re-buy the Wii U-specific version of a classic game for whatever reason (namely, the ability to play it natively on the tablet), you can do so by only paying a couple of bucks if you already bought the game on Wii rather than making you pay full price for it all over again. Nintendo has set it up so you have no reason to keep a Wii hooked up, as your Wii U does everything your Wii did and plays all of the games your Wii played. Those of us who have to keep our PS3s hooked up next to our PS4s and/or our X360s hooked up next to our XB1s while our entertainment centers strain under the excessive load should give Nintendo more props for not making us do that with our Wii and Wii U.
2 – The strongest – and best-selling – first-party support in the business, and some of the top-selling games of the entire generation
As of this writing, the top-selling game of the year that is exclusive to a single console is Wii U’s Splatoon. Halo 5 is nipping at its heels and may very well pass it by year’s end, but the fact that Splatoon and Halo 5 are comparable sales-wise is more credit than most people are willing to give Wii U games. I mean, a new core Halo game is an event, and it’s no small feat that a completely new IP – and on the Wii U no less – has drawn similar numbers. Going down the sales list for the year, the next console exclusive is PS4’s Bloodbourne, though Mario Maker is only about 60,000 units behind it (and has only been out a third of the time that Bloodbourne has and hasn’t yet been out for its first Christmas, when Nintendo games typically get huge spikes). Mario Kart 8 is the highest-charting game on the 2015 list in terms of games that came out in 2014 (not even just exclusives). In 2014, the best-selling exclusive of the entire year was Mario Kart 8, followed by Super Smash Bros for Wii U, with PS4’s Driveclub being the only other console-exclusive game to even come close (and it only sold about half of what Smash did, not to mention that a lot of those Driveclub sales were piggybacked off of a free version for PlayStation Plus members). Finally, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U are the best-selling first-party games of the generation by a pretty considerable margin at 5 and a half million copies sold; no first-party PS4 or XB1 games have yet passed 2.5 million. The only overall games that have outsold those Wii U games at the time of this writing are the PS4 versions of the last two Call of Duty games. If it seems like I’m hitting this “exclusive” thing a bit hard, I feel it is justified. First-party and exclusive games used to be what separated one console from another, and this gen Sony and Microsoft just don’t seem to have strong first-party lineups and are mostly just fighting over who sells more copies of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Nintendo deserves more credit for continuing to put so much work into nurturing its first-party output and giving Wii U owners a truly unique lineup of games instead of just trying to score exclusive DLC and timed exclusivity for the AAA third-party games that everyone else is getting anyway.
3 – Local multiplayer is still a priority
Nintendo is the only company that still places a priority on local multiplayer, and the Wii U is no different. Almost every first-party Wii U game has multiplayer support, and unlike the other consoles, you can actually play with people who are sitting next to you and not on the other end of the country. With Halo 5‘s complete lack of any splitscreen support – a feature that the entire Halo franchise was built on – it feels like local multiplayer is quickly on its way to becoming extinct. The Wii U is the only console where you can rest assured that a game having “multiplayer” never means “online-only multiplayer.” A lot of us actually do still like to gather around the TV with out friends and play, and a lot of us have families and kids we’d like to game with, and only with the Wii U is that a feature that is still respected and revered. There are even multiple Wii U games that have four-player local multiplayer, something that hasn’t been commonplace on PlayStation and Xbox consoles for the last couple of generations. Finally, the tablet makes local multiplayer gaming…well, let’s save that for #4.
4 – The tablet is pretty great
The Wii U’s tablet is often pointed to as the place where Nintendo “went wrong” with Wii U, with people seeming to have a serious grudge against the unorthodox controller. Those people don’t know what they are missing. The Wii U tablet is a very versatile accessory, and easily one of the most unique and innovative in gaming history. For starters, with many multiplayer games on the Wii U, one person can have the entire tablet to themselves while the other has the whole TV, which makes the longstanding issues with splitscreen non-existent and honestly makes it hard to go back to splitscreen once you’ve gotten used to it. It’s the most accessible way for two people to have their own screen – but still be in the same room – in gaming history, without having to drag a second TV and console into the room and deal with networking it all together. The tablet can also be used as a game screen for many single-player games, which is a feature than anyone who lives with people can appreciate. Best of all, you can generally toggle between the two on the fly. In the middle of Hyrule Warriors and your wife/roommate/kids want to take over the TV? No problem, just hit a button and you can keep right on playing on the tablet while they take the TV. In terms of Virtual Console games, old-school 8-64 bit games look fantastic on the small screen, sometimes far better than they do blown up on our giant TVs. You can also watch Netflix and Hulu on the tablet too, and with so many of us doing that on our phones and iPads anyway you can’t tell me that isn’t appealing. Only, again, you can use that to switch between watching something on the TV and watching it on the tablet seamlessly. Finally, even though you still need to use a Wii remote and it can be a bit cumbersome, Nintendo did make it so that original Wii games can also be played through the tablet, which is a neat feature (and, not unlike VC games, Wii games look pretty sharp on the small screen).
5 – Hardly any of the headaches of “modern gaming”
When Wii U games launch, they launch complete. They launched polished. They aren’t broken and buggy for the first month until all the patches come through. Even if you never connect your Wii U to the internet, any Wii U game you buy will work just fine without any major issues – can you say that about most PS4 and XB1 games? The Wii U is the last bastion of hassle-free, pick up and play gaming, with very minimal patching (and even then, it’s typically for balance tweaks and not just to make the game playable). When I only have 20 minutes to play, there is no safer bet among the 8th gen systems that I’m going to be able to spend most of those 20 minutes actually playing a game than if I choose the Wii U, even if I’m playing a game for the first time. Go out right now, buy a game, and put it in your XB1 or PS4 and time how long it takes you to actually start the game from the moment you first put the disc in. In that time, I’ll have raced a whole Mario Kart cup, beaten three levels of Super Mario 3D World, played a few matches of Splatoon, played enough of Wind Waker HD that I have a sword already, and probably still had enough time to beat one of those insanely long DK Country: Tropical Freeze boss fights.