Nintendo took a lot of stick for the Wii U’s early slow, rather lumbering firmware, but has enhanced and improved it quite dramatically since launch. The Wii U now boots fast and gives you a quick-start menu on the Game Pad, allowing you to rush straight into the games or applications you’ve been using most recently. There are features for organizing games into folders, while you can now download games while the console is in standby.
Entertainment apps have never been a focus for Nintendo, and the TVii concept never had a chance to take off in Europe. You can get iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, but media streaming and playback is not exactly a key Wii U strength.
What is though are games. Faced with a dearth of high-quality third-party titles, Nintendo has worked hard to make its eShop an online games store worth exploring, with indie titles bolstered by smaller scale first-party titles and an ever growing selection of classics in the Virtual Console section. There are classics here not just from Nintendo but from Capcom, Sega, Bandai Namco, Natsume and Konami, making it a bit of a treasure trove both for retro fans and for younger gamers keen to explore gaming history.
And while Nintendo’s own remasters, like Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, have enhanced and updated classics, the Virtual Console prides itself on accurate reproductions. You can play these games the way they were originally played, only with a smoother frame rate on a better controller with better sound on better screen technology.
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If you’re thinking about buying a Wii U, buy it for the games that it already has. Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Maker, The Wind Waker HD, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U are all fantastic and a worthy match for nearly any title you can mention on PS4 and Xbox One (with some notable exceptions like The Witcher 3 or MGS 5: The Phantom Pain).
We’re not 100% sold on Splatoon or Xenoblade Chronicles X, but many people would say the exact same thing about them. If you’re looking for something different from the norm, something that evokes nostalgia for the way games used to be, or simply something different from the endless run of first-person shooters, RPGs and throat-stabbing, blast from cover action games, the Wii U has you covered. It’s also still the most family-friendly console of the lot.
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For the future, however, things look more gloomy. Anyone with any sense will be excited at the thought of the new, open-world Legend of Zelda, but rumours abound that this will be a cross-platform launch title for the Wii U and NX, just as Twilight Princess was for the Gamecube and Wii. That game is itself due for its own Wii U remaster, coming early next year, while Starfox Zero – after delays which should make it a stronger title – is also due around the same time. That’s basically it as far as the big hitters go. While less than three year’s old it’s clear that the Wii U’s best years are already behind it.
Does this mean you’d be mad to buy a Wii U now? Well, no. How bad can things be when you can play games of the quality of those listed above, especially when many can now be found at bargain-basement prices? But were I just a gamer looking to drop my own money on a new console, I’d be looking for a deal on or saving up for an Xbox One or PS4 rather than opting for a Wii U at this late stage. These are consoles with their own growing library of great games – and consoles with a future, not just a short but brilliant past.