Join in us over the next few days as we look at all of the leading games consoles and platforms out right now and try to convince you why you should spend your hard-earned cash. Today we're looking at the Wii U, with Justin Haywald taking the lead on why you need the system in 2015.
The Wii U had an undeniably rocky start. Sales were slow at the start, and there was confusion over what the system was exactly: a standalone controller for the Wii? A self-contained game system and tablet in one? The situation was dire enough that it even prompted one GameSpot editor early in 2014 to wonder if Nintendo would just slowly kill the system off.
Sales still haven't skyrocketed in the last year, with just a slight bump in hardware numbers over recently. But despite facing increasing competition from Microsoft and Sony's current-gen systems, Nintendo has turned the perception of its console around significantly. 2015 is the year that you should buy a Wii U.
As a developer, Nintendo has settled into a comfortable groove. With every new hardware iteration, gamers can set up a checklist of exclusive, high-quality games: Mario platformer, Zelda game, Mario Kart, Smash, etc. And 2014 did not disrupt those expectations.
The party-friendly Super Smash Bros. introduced a larger cast of characters than ever before, including surprise appearances by Bowser Jr. and the dog from Duck Hunt. The option to play eight-player matches ramped up the on-screen chaos exponentially, but the series stays true to previous iterations with its simple to learn fighting moves that make it approachable for new players while maintaining enough depth for hardcore tournament play. And for the first time in the series, players could construct their own arenas to battle in.
Mario Kart 8 also came out last year. It doesn't try anything terribly ground-breaking for the series, it's an example of how small refinements can turn what could've been a phoned-in sequel into one of the best entries in Nintendo's racing franchise. And that's helped by the Wii U's HD graphic capabilities, which show off how great the details look while also giving us a close-up view of individual racers' faces, and their occasionally dark, intimidating stares.
Nintendo isn't the only one creating Wii U exclusives; the console is also the only place to play Platinum Games' Bayonetta 2. One of the few games in GameSpot's history to garner a perfect review score, Bayonetta shows off not just the technical prowess of the Wii U in handling a good-looking game, but also the availability of more adult-focused software on the what is generally considered a kid-friendly machine.
The Wii U is also getting a new entry in the Star Fox series this year, which we got a brief flight mechanics demo of last year. Kirby and Yoshi will be making a return in standalone games. And the epic RPG Xenoblade Chronicles X is targeting an April release in Japan and a worldwide release sometime in 2015.
Nintendo is branching out as well with some new ideas. For the first time the developer is working on a shooter in the form of Splatoon. The bright, paintball-looking third-person game is being overseen, but not developed, by Shigeru Miyamoto. And Mario Maker is an upcoming creation tool that lets you make your own Mario levels while choosing what graphical style (NES, SNES, or Wii U) you'd like to play with.
But most exciting is what we don't know. It's rare that Nintendo has provided even this much insight into the games it has in the works, but that means we're also in store for some big surprises at E3. Nintendo has still been completely silent on the future of some of its biggest franchises; will we hear about Wii U versions of Metroid or Pokemon?
After the simplicity of the original Wii's design, the Wii U seemed like an overcompensation. The large, tablet-like controller looks too big to be comfortable and the touch-screen seems like an unnecessary gimmick. But the controller is built to be surprisingly ergonomic and easy to hold. And although few games make very innovative use of the second screen's touch controls, that's actually a blessing in disguise: the real highlight is using the controller as a second TV screen.
The Wii U controller streams directly from the console, but without any perceptible lag or decrease in graphical quality. The Wii U's ability to play a game directly on the GamePad while someone else uses the TV for watching a show or playing a different game (on a separate system) is utterly invaluable when you have multiple people who want to use one TV.
In terms of raw processing power, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (and any mid-range gaming PC) handily beats out Nintendo's console. But only Nintendo has a built-in second screen solution that works this effortlessly. And for those instances when you want to play on the big screen and just use a regular controller, the Wii U Pro Controller provides an excellent solution with a more traditional design and a crazy 80 hours of battery life.
The Wii U GamePad has some other built-in features like a front-facing camera and gyroscopic controls, but the tech with the most potential in the coming year is the NFC reader. While the Skylanders series is already taking full advantage of the feature for its set of figurine-focused games, Nintendo's own Amiibo program has yet to reach its full potential. But knowing Nintendo, that's only a matter of time.
Make no mistake, several Amiibo (even those without unfortunate manufacturing errors) are already highly collectible commodities. And the figurines do introduce fun extras to a growing list of Wii U games. In Super Smash Bros., you can fight alongside or against your Amiibo, level it up, and save that progress to the figurine. For games like Hyrule Warriors or Mario Kart, different characters unlock cosmetic in-game additions.
But eventually Nintendo is going to release their own Disney Infinity-style Toy Box feature. Or even more potentially compelling: some functionality with a future Pokemon game that allows you to "collect 'em all" in real life. However, even without a killer application to justify them, the figurines are solid, detailed collectibles that any Nintendo fan will want to own at least one of.
In the end, the Wii U is far from a perfect system. But Nintendo is turning its company's outlook around and making what started out as a year-long commercial disaster into a console that you should own. For me personally, and I think for any hardcore gamer, the Wii U has established itself as the perfect "second console." Having access to either a gaming PC, Xbox One, or PS4 will let you play the AAA blockbusters that come out on almost every platform. But I wouldn't give up my Wii U and its slate of timeless exclusives for anything.
With a library of wonderful experiences out now, access to an ever-expanding eShop of upcoming indies and classic games from previous Nintendo consoles, and a very bright future, 2015 is a great year to finally buy a Wii U.