My colleague Dieter Bohn is wondering whether to buy a Wii U. I'm here to convince him that he should.
Nintendo's Wii U launch was the company's biggest disaster since the Virtual Boy. The console was slow and clunky, with very little to play upon release and a barren line-up of games for the next several months. It's a cliché, but after I bought mine upon its Japanese launch, it quite literally gathered dust for the best part of a year. (It does that pretty easily because it is glossy and black.)
Just look at the chart above — the Wii U has posted terrible retail figures ever since its initial burst of sales, and there's little chance of that changing even with blockbuster titles like Mario Kart 8. Many third-party publishers have abandoned the platform. Nintendo seems to have no idea how to make use of the tablet-style GamePad controller, meaning the Wii U's unique selling point has mostly been a wash.
We're way past the tipping point where there's enough to play on the Wii U
The Wii U is actually a great buy today. For my money, we're way past the tipping point where there's enough to play. Will it last as long as the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? No. Will you get more use out of it than either of those two consoles if you buy one today? Maybe! I like my PS4 a lot, and I'll be picking up a Japanese Xbox One next week because no one else will and I feel bad for it, but neither has much in the way of must-have, exclusive games that you can actually play right now.
Nintendo, on the other hand, is finally bringing its A games. Super Mario 3D World is one of the most stunning entries in the entire Super Mario series — a gorgeous, intense cornucopia of creativity, with countless amazing ideas that get used once and thrown away. Mario Kart 8 is the best Mario Kart ever made; the balance between skill and chaos has been tuned to perfection, and the track design is phenomenal. Both NES Remix games recontextualize Nintendo's ’80s catalog in a fun, fresh way. The next Super Smash Bros. is out soon and will no doubt continue to be the wildest mashup in video games. And just as PS3 ports The Last of Us Remastered and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition are some of the most impressive releases on the PS4, Nintendo's gorgeous remake of my favorite Legend of Zelda game — The Wind Waker — is pretty compelling too.
Nintendo has had trouble attracting third-party developers ever since the N64, and the issue is even more pronounced on the Wii U. If you truly hate Nintendo games, it's not your system. (If you truly hate Nintendo games, you should go see a cardiologist.) But there are some notable efforts worth paying attention to. Ubisoft's ZombiU is a unique, tense take on the horror genre with the most original use of the GamePad yet. Platinum Games' The Wonderful 101 is a raucous beat-em-up where you control dozens of superheroes at once. Platinum is returning to the Wii U in October with Bayonetta 2, the sequel to one of the best action games of all time, and throwing the original Bayonetta into the box while they're at it. There's a reasonable degree of indie support, with Shovel Knight the clear standout.
The system itself has improved, too. While it's still inexplicably slow to start and quit apps, that's been improved a little through updates, and a quick-start mode now lets you boot straight into games without waiting for the whole system menu to load. And although it's a little disappointing that there are hardly any games exploiting the two-screen concept of the GamePad, it's actually a blessing in disguise — just being able to play regular games without a TV turns out to be a useful feature. The flip side of this is that you can also play most Wii U games without the GamePad at all by using the Pro Controller, a super comfortable standard joypad that seems to have decades of battery life. Either way, the Wii U is a flexible machine that lets you play it the way you want.
What about the graphics? Well, it's true that the Wii U is much less powerful than either the PS4 or Xbox One. But that's not to say that it's incapable of some beautiful games. Nintendo's own output reminds us all why they have some of the most talented developers around, whether it's the clean, colorful worlds of the Mario games, the tilt-shifted surrealism of Pikmin 3, or the tactile toy box style of Nintendo Land. Metroid Prime team Retro Studios somehow even managed to create an attractive Donkey Kong Country game in the shape of Tropical Freeze. It's not the console to buy for gritty depictions of bloody warfare, but the best Wii U games look amazing and buzz with personality.
Will the Wii U be around in a few years? It almost doesn't matter
When you buy a Wii U, you're not investing in a vibrant platform that will see developer support for years to come. You're not getting the most powerful console out there. And you're not getting an all-in-one media solution that will help you cut the cord. But what you are getting, as we leave summer and head into the holiday season, is a great, relatively inexpensive system with some neat features and better exclusive games than either of its next-gen competitors.
Will it be around in a few years? It almost doesn't matter. It could crash and burn like the Dreamcast — the wonderful failure that sank Sega as a hardware company — and leave just as many good memories behind. I might not recommend the Wii U as someone's only console, but it's already done enough to make me more than glad I own one.
From the archives: The Verge's 2012 Wii U Review