Why the Wii U Is the Best Console You Can Buy [Op-Ed]

As is the case every year, I spent my holiday break doing two things: eating too much takeout food and playing lots of video games. While I fulfilled my takeout quota with flying colors, there was something different about my annual holiday game binge — it was done almost entirely on my new Nintendo Wii U.

Even as my more powerful Xbox One sat in my living room, begging me to finally start my inevitable 80-hour Dragon Age adventure, it was Nintendo's humble brick that kept me hooked. Maybe it was the fact that I could slay demons in Bayonetta 2 while still watching football on TV. Or the fact that my controller has a built-in touch screen perfect for navigating Netflix and YouTube. Or, simply, it's the fact that the Wii U offers some of the most polished, smartly crafted games on any console.

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From the sheer joy delivered by Nintendo's top-notch exclusives to the surprising versatility of the system's tabletlike GamePad, I'm convinced that the $300 Wii U is the best gaming console your money can buy. Here's why you should be, too.

The Best Game Library in the Business

As publishers continue to rush out broken, buggy games at the expense of gamers everywhere, Nintendo remains defiantly committed to quality. In a year when high-profile titles such as Assassin's Creed Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Driveclub came stumbling out of the gate with game-breaking issues, Nintendo churned out hits like Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, all of which exuded the level of painstaking polish that the brand is known for.

Of course, good games need to do more than simply work, and the Wii U's diverse library delivers in spades when it comes to fun. There's simply no better system for playing games with friends, whether you're throwing banana peels in Mario Kart 8, engaging in eight-man brawls in Super Smash Bros. or barreling through frozen jungles together in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Solo adventurers can play a gorgeous HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (until the new Zelda arrives, at least), or rack their brains with the puzzle platforming of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

The Wii U has more than just the nostalgic lure of Mario and company going for it, too. Hack-and-slash hit Bayonetta 2 proves there's a place for adult action games on Nintendo's console, and 2014 multiplatform game of the year contenders Child of Light and Shovel Knight shine on the system.

The Wii U can't rival the third-party support of its competitors, but games like Resident Evil: Revelations, Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Mass Effect 3 (and if you really must, Watch Dogs) ensure that there's something for everyone. Thanks to the Wii U GamePad's unique touch screen, these titles often pack second-screen features that their non-Nintendo versions lack.

While Xbox 360 and PS3 games are useless on the Xbox One and PS4, the Wii U is compatible with just about all of the 1,300-plus games released for the original Wii. That gives the Wii U the largest library of any new-gen console, and provides a perfect excuse for checking out classics like Super Mario Galaxy or the Metroid Prime trilogy for the first time. Most Wii peripherals carry over to Wii U as well, which will save you a pricey trip to GameStop in search of extra controllers for your weekly Mario Kart tournament.

When you factor in the Wii U's stunning new-generation offerings, a massive back catalog, downloadable NES, Super Nintendo and Game Boy Advance classics and a steady stream of indies, you've got a library of titles that no other platform can top.

The Wii U's Hidden Weapon

When Nintendo debuted the Wii U's touchscreen GamePad in 2012, I laughed, brushing it off as a gimmick guaranteed to fail. Flash forward to 2014, and it's my absolute favorite thing about the system. Like the motion-sensing Wii Remote before it, the Wii U GamePad reinforces the fact that it's not just the games that make Nintendo consoles special, it's the way you play them.

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For starters, the controller's 6.2-inch, 854 x 480 display lets you play your games without the aid of your television, so long as you're within range of your console. I can't stress the value of this feature enough; whether your spouse needs to catch up on Game of Thrones or you need to heed nature's call in the middle of a tough boss battle, there's comfort in knowing you never have to stop gaming. PS4 offers similar functionality in the form of Remote Play, but you'll need to own a PS Vita or compatible Xperia Z device to take advantage of it.

The GamePad's ability to free you from your TV is commendable enough, but the controller becomes even more exciting when it's working in conjunction with your big screen. Take Nintendo Land, for example, a bundled-in party title that's become one of my favorite games on the system. When playing solo, you can use the touch screen to slide ninja stars at targets that appear on your TV. When you're with a group, you can engage in hide-and-seek games in which the players using the TV and the player using the GamePad screen have completely different views of the action.

This functionality extends to more traditional games like Super Mario 3D World, in which you can tap the touch screen to stun enemies and collect coins — and even blow on the controller to activate wind-powered platforms. Combined with the same motion-control capabilities that made the original Wii famous, the Wii U GamePad's second screen offers engaging, novel experiences that you simply cannot have on any other console.

Entertainment and Extras

Aside from becoming my favorite place to play games, the Wii U has become my go-to entertainment hub. The console features a Web browser and a requisite roster of HD streaming apps (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and Crunchyroll), all of which are doubled in value by the system's GamePad.

The controller's touch screen suddenly becomes a keyboard for perusing your Netflix queue or pulling up websites on your TV, and you can hand the GamePad off to your little one when your child wants to watch Hulu while the TV is occupied. The device's 6.2-inch, 854 x 480 display certainly won't make you toss your iPad out the window, but its value as a family entertainment tablet (especially for kids) cannot be overstated.

Other handy features include Nintendo TVii, which lets you use the GamePad as a TV remote, and Wii U Chat, which utilizes the GamePad's front-facing webcam to let you video chat with Wii U owners around the world for free.

The Amiibo Factor

If you or your kids are into interactive toy-based games (in which plastic figures become in-game characters), there's no better home for them than Wii U. In addition to supporting third-party hits like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the Wii U boasts Nintendo's own NFC-based amiibo figures.

When tapped into the GamePad, these $13 figures can do things such as become trainable fighters in Super Smash Bros., or unlock special costumes in Mario Kart 8. Most amiibo work across a wider range of titles than any other interactive toys, and their potential for spicing up the way we play games on Wii U is exciting.

The Best Console for Your Money

Available for $100 less than an Xbox One or PS4, the $300 Wii U offers the most entertainment for the lowest price tag. Each 32GB Wii U Deluxe Set packs two free games, whether you opt for a combination of Super Mario 3D World and Nintendo Land, Mario Kart 8 and Nintendo Land, or New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U.

As of this writing, the only comparable bundle from either Sony or Microsoft is a $400 Xbox One set that includes Assassin's Creed Unity and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Other than that, you're paying $400 for a shiny new system with no games.

MORE: Most Disappointing Games of 2014

Playing games online with friends requires a paid subscription on Xbox One and PS4, but you can beat the snot out of your Smash Bros. rivals around the globe free of charge on Wii U. This is complemented by Nintendo's excellent Miiverse social app, which allows players to share screenshots (something you still can't do on Xbox One) and discuss games on title-specific community pages.

Bottom Line

While I firmly believe that the Wii U is the best console for your money, there are plenty of people who would give it an emphatic thumbs down. It's the least powerful new-gen console, graphics-wise (though I'll be damned if any modern game looks better than Super Mario 3D World), and lacks third-party blockbusters like Shadow of Mordor, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the latest Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed games. Its online services aren't quite as seamless as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and, strangely, your online Nintendo ID can only be used on a single console.

The Wii U also won't win over anyone who can't stand the sight of Mario, hates playing games with friends in the same room or is generally allergic to happiness.

However, if none of that deters you, you'll have a system whose first-party titles are polished and charming in an era of broken and dull games, with a GamePad that offers novel ways to play for families and serious gamers alike. Whether as a complement to your high-end console or tricked-out gaming PC or as your first foray into new-gen gaming, Nintendo's Wii U is the best console you can currently buy.

Nintendo Wii U
Nintendo Wii U

Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide. Follow Mike @MikeAndronico and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.

  • ta152h
    If your other choice was an XBone, that kind of disqualifies any opinion that follows it from being rational.

    Outside of that, clearly the game mechanics and user interface are always more important than the resolution, etc... I could still argue that games from the 1980s (like Defender) are a lot more fun than many of the games made today, despite very primitive visuals. So, if you prefer the Wii U, despite having clearly inferior hardware, its completely understandable. Everyone has different taste.
  • hixbot
    I really like the Wii-u, but this reads like an advertisement more than an article.

    Nintendo first party games always hook me, and I'll always buy a Nintendo console in order to play them. but I'm not impressed with this hardware, and the gamepad is a cheesy gimmick in most games (although I do like the offscreen play sometimes).
  • larkspur
    "Like the motion-sensing Wii Remote before it, the Wii U GamePad reinforces the fact that it's not just the games that make Nintendo consoles special, it's the way you play them."

    Exactly. My sister asked for a Wii U for her birthday. I figured whenever I visited, we could revive our old Kart rivalry that goes back to the SNES. So I (reluctantly) bought it for her during a visit in October. After setting it up, and trying just a few of the 'Nintendoland" included mini-games and Kart 8, man I was impressed. She loves it and likes the ease of touchscreen controls for the games and netflix, and also to whoop her boyfriend's butt in Smash Bros. The variety of controllers and unique gameplay with each different controller make it stand out from its competitors. Its nice to be able to walk away from the TV while still playing or watching a movie. The few games I've played with it were beautiful and very well polished. I game on PC, but I kinda wish I had a Wii U also... It certainly doesn't replace a gaming PC, but it definitely compliments it.
  • airborn824
    I am a PC gamer first and formost so graphics importance is covered already. But when i wand a polished well made game that i can just pick up and have fun, Wii I wins. I have always had a gaming PC and i also have always had a Nintendo console, no matter what i play nothing is as fun as throwing shells at my wifes kart or using fire poer in Mario World. Nintendo games are unmatched in polish and design. I will always play Nintendo AND PC games to get my graphical fix as well as my kid fix.
  • dstarr3
    The Wii U was the only console that put out games that weren't massive disappointments this year. Fuck Destiny, play Bayonetta.
  • BulkZerker
    I must he the only person calling billshit on the writer for owning a xbone and not a "steambox". Steam os is perfectly capable of giving you the "sit on a couch" experience so many people laud consoles for. Especially if you have your actual gaming rig in the same state streaming to the steambox.
  • Bloob
    A PC and Wii U seem to be made for each other this gen as most of the multiplats run on PC as well (not that there have been many that caught my interest), and Wii U for great exclusives. Most of my solo gaming is done on Wii U, as well as local multiplayer (the best kind really), PC still dominates online mp though.

    Just wish I had more time to play, and that the gamepad had a longer battery life (gotta get a Pro controller I guess).
  • Mike Andronico
    Thanks for all your feedback, guys! It's funny, I have several friends who feel that, between a good PC and a Wii U, you're pretty much set in terms of good games. I'm still a bit attached to Xbox exclusives (mostly Halo), so right now a combo of Xbox One/Wii U has been doing the trick for me.

    @BulkZerker, I see where you're coming from, but SteamBoxes don't seem to have hit the mainstream yet (I'm personally not sure if you can buy one right now). Sure, you can buy something like the Alienware Alpha for your living room, but those will run you way more than a console.
  • Retail Ready
    I guess you haven't noticed that literally no one is buying (Wii U is the biggest home console flop in Nintendo's History) this line of garbage. I own a Wii U (although I own a PS4 and PC as well) -- and besides Bayonetta 2 there is pretty much nothing on the console worth playing for anyone over the age of 12. Once the third party abandoned it this year, I knew it was game over. Most retail stores barely carry the Wii U at this point..... As much as I like the hardware, it is really a poorly designed console for kids. What was Nintendo thinking? Let's design a game console with an incredibly expensive/difficult to replace gamepad for a younger demographic = Disaster. I can't tell you how many used Wii U consoles I've seen on eBay with a broken gamepad. It appears kids are breaking the gamepad and most parents ditch the system. Let's be realistic now, the Wii U probably has one last full year of new releases because it appears like AMD let it slip that the Wii U replacement was being greenlit for a 2016 launch..... You should probably advise potential console buyers of this -- instead of writing puff pieces detached from reality. You know what that extra $100 buys for PS4 / Xbox One systems? = A viable system that gets new software more than a year from now.
  • knowom
    No thanks I'll stick to PC games on Steam with games like Divinity: Original Sin and Grim Dawn. I prefer PC games with modding support they tend to be a lot better in large part.