The strongest next-gen line-up from the unlikeliest source
Why the Wii U is the best next-gen choice this Christmas.
Earlier this week, Nintendo confirmed that it was ceasing production of the Wii. You probably don't need reminding of its successes, just as Nintendo likely doesn't need reminding of the shadow it has been operating under with its successor. The Wii U, according to every sales report since its release late last year, has been a disappointment and, if you've an inkling for melodrama, something of a disaster. The common consensus is that Nintendo blew its 12-month head start.
Yet in spite of weak messaging and third-party support that has already been dramatically reduced, something amazing is happening: heading into the first Christmas where it will be toe to toe with the Xbox One and PS4, the Wii U isn't just sizing up to the opposition - it's fast becoming, I reckon, the best next-gen proposition over the coming months. Maybe Nintendo didn't blow its lead after all - maybe it's been using the time wisely.
It's not exactly a turnaround, but rather a small congress of circumstances. Firstly - and most importantly - there's the software. The removal of Watch Dogs from the Xbox One and PS4's launch line-ups revealed one of the underlying problems with the new round of next-gen launches: that mantra of games, games, games rings hollower by the day when there's only a handful of titles worth playing, and not much at all to get really excited about even within that.
The Wii U's slate may be slim for Q4, but it's got what's sure to be the jewel of the festive season: a new Mario, and a new Tokyo EAD one at that. Some of the concerns about a certain conservatism creeping in to the Galaxy studio's return to the series with Super Mario 3D World has been washed out in the glorious technicolour wave of each new trailer, and in that vibrant, inventive spin on the Mushroom Kingdom there's a bigger kicker, too.
There's colour in Super Mario 3D World, and a little of the vibrancy and verve that's sorely missing in so much of a noisy but drab line-up for Microsoft and Sony's consoles. Would you rather wake up to a morning with Killzone, Ryse or Mario? I'd like to think that much is a no-brainer, and if do you like your Christmas soundtracked by throaty violence, let's not forget that the slim third-party support the Wii U has is at least impactful: Assassin's Creed 4 and Call of Duty, two of the seasonal kings, are coming to Nintendo's console, and the former at least looks like a very handsome port.
But back to that colour, because the Wii U's really not lacking in it - it's been a quiet first year, but in that time the console's racked up a rainbow of exclusives. There are the greens of Pikmin 3's model village gardens, the comic book reds and yellows of the hyperactive Wonderful 101 and those beautiful, endless blues of Wind Waker HD. Cast a little further back and there's the colourful theme park of Nintendo Land and the parched deserts of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate - and even the greys and browns of the brilliant ZombiU are distinctive in that game's own odd little way.
Inject a little Tokyo EAD magic into that back catalogue and it's hard to deny that the Wii U's line-up eclipses those of the Xbox One and PS4 - and so it should after its lengthy headstart. Is it enough to turn the tide, though? That's a harder ask, but there are at least signs that Nintendo's beginning to push the console in the right direction.
The late Hiroshi Yamauchi sowed the seeds for both the DS and the Wii before his departure from the company, and it's telling that the machines made in his absence lacked that Nintendo spark of innovation that's at once thrilling and, more importantly, saleable. The 3DS's strange parlour trick had an instant appeal, but it's one that was only ever half-heartedly explored and, of course, dialled back completely for this year's biggest handheld release and the subsequent hardware redesign.
The Wii U's own party trick has never been quite so spectacular, but in many other ways it's been a little like that curious parallax screen - mis-marketed, searching for a purpose and increasingly unloved. It's telling that some of the biggest first-party releases from Nintendo this year still haven't figured out a fitting use for the second screen, and you begin to wonder if or indeed when it's going to follow its handheld compatriot and ditch its headline feature in order to undercut its competitors even further.
But before that happens, like the 3DS before it the Wii U is now starting to look more comfortable in its own skin. Upon its announcement the console felt like an apology to the core that Nintendo were perceived to have abandoned with the Wii (how adorable, too, that that core are appeased by the return of a series where you're snuffling through gardens in the quest for fruit), but recent months have seen the console slowly realigned with the philosophy that made its predecessor such a success.
The simplicity of Wii Karaoke U - which, once I've acquired enough microphones, looks like it will make and ruin my Christmas in equal measure - and the return of the prodigal son in the shape of the Wii Sports Club means that the Wii U's slowly turning into the living room star that its predecessor was, the machine that can bring the family together in a way that Netflix or a Sky Player never can.
That was the Wii's big innovation, really, and it's no surprise to see Nintendo falling back on it. Its play for revolution this time out may have faded away in the murky promise of that second screen, but looking at the other new consoles where even the dream of 1080p 60fps gameplay is looking to falter, at least Nintendo tried to innovate - even if it appears its GamePad gamble has failed.
Without that little quirk to distinguish itself, the Wii U's just another HD console, and all that can set it apart from its competitors is the games it can offer. Good job, then, that in that regard - this year at least - Nintendo's console is pretty much untouchable.