Nintendo’s Wii U will likely be remembered as the most misunderstood major game console ever released. As the sequel to Wii – which sold over 100 million consoles – the Wii U is a true 1080p HD console, plays all of the Wii’s games, and even includes a screen on its packed-in controller. It’s also the best current-generation console for couples and families, hands-down. But it had a slow start due to weak early software support, only getting mega-hit games in mid-2014, and many people didn’t realize that it was actually an all-new console.
Today, a bunch of great Nintendo exclusives are available, and more are on the way – it’s finally a great time to buy a Wii U. That’s what we just did, so for this week’s edition of Gaming For Couples, we’re going to walk you through the best titles, accessories, and deals we’ve found, helping you to do the same.
Wii U: Why Buy One?
Exclusives. Only one console has the latest Nintendo exclusives, and that’s Wii U. The Wii U versions of Super Mario, Super Smash Bros. (above), Donkey Kong Country, and Mario Kart are all considered to be the best games ever released in their respective franchises, and 2015 will bring sequels to The Legend of Zelda, Starfox, Yoshi, Mario Party, and Kirby games.
Play With Or Without a TV. The Wii U GamePad has a 6.2″ touchscreen built in – larger than any iPhone but smaller than the iPad mini, plus actual joysticks and buttons. Although the Wii U supports full 1080p output to a HDTV, it has lag-free wireless mirroring to the controller at 480p (854×480), so you can play from a nearby bed or couch even when your TV is off. The photo above shows what Super Mario 3D World looks like on the GamePad screen: it’s better than any Nintendo handheld.
It’s The Best Console For Couples, Families, And Retro Gaming Fans. Nintendo was criticized because of its Disney-like approach to gaming: there’s no Grand Theft Auto or ultra-violent content on Nintendo platforms. But this also means that its game catalog – including current and retro titles – is almost entirely safe for players of all ages, with franchises that are likely to be recognized by grandparents, parents, and kids alike. Nintendo is working to appeal to everyone with the Virtual Console, which lets Wii U play downloadable retro games, while new games like the NES Remix Pack ($30, above) use classic content in new mini-game challenges.
Wii U: Buying The System
Unlike Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo didn’t aggressively discount the Wii U during the 2014 holiday shopping season – probably because Wii U is already the least-expensive current-generation console on the market. Nintendo currently sells Wii U with the awesome Super Mario 3D World and mini-game collection NintendoLand for $299.95, and the bundle price only rarely falls lower from trusted retailers. We strongly recommend this particular Wii U bundle, because it provides the best overall two-game value, and because it includes one of the very best Wii U games available. Most retailers sell it for the full MSRP, but Amazon includes free Prime shipping if you have an Amazon Prime membership, which is typically the best shipped price around.
The Wii U includes all of the parts and cables a single player needs to start playing right away: one controller, an HDMI/TV cable, wall power adapters for both the console and controller, two stand pieces for the console, two stands for the controller – one with recharging abilities – and a Wii sensor bar for original Wii games.
Nintendo currently only sells Wii U with 32GB of built-in storage, which unlike the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is actually enough to hold a bunch of games. An older 4GB version with too little storage for most purposes has been discontinued. You can tell the white 4GB version apart from the black 32GB version by the color of the console; there are no other color and capacity variations at this time.
Wii U: The Confusing Controllers
Controllers are the single biggest challenge for a new Wii U buyer. Nintendo insists on releasing substantially different controllers for every one of its systems, which creates major problems when you want to play older games on a new machine. It’s not unusual to load a Wii U game and see this list of supported controllers: “Wii U GamePad,” “Wii Remote,” “Wii U Pro Controller,” “Wii Remote + Nunchuk,” and “Classic Controller Pro.” (That’s not even the entire list. Nintendo recently added support for original GameCube controllers via an official adapter.)
If you’re buying a Wii U console and want to let four people play Wii U games at the same time, your safest choice is to use the packed-in Wii U GamePad (with built-in screen) and three Wii Remotes. They are supported by basically every title with a multiplayer feature, and sell for under $30 new. If you want to play original Wii games, you’ll want to get at least one Wii Nunchuk $20 add-on as well; a fancier version of the Remote called the Wii Remote Plus sells for $50, and is required for a handful of Wii games including Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Another option is to get “Fight Pads” like these, which are useful for Super Smash Bros. and any other title that calls for the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro, including Nintendo Virtual Console games. The Wii U Fight Pads don’t require Nintendo’s GameCube controller adapter, but provide the same functionality.
If you’re thinking of buying a second Wii U GamePad… don’t. They’re sold only as a replacement part if your first pad breaks – and Nintendo doesn’t support using two at the same time.
Wii U: Get Started With Free Game Demos
When it comes to selling and demoing games online, Nintendo is far behind Microsoft and Sony – discounts are rare, the selection of games is small, and there are only a handful of demos available to try before you buy. But there are a handful of games you can sample immediately after signing up for Nintendo’s eShop. Pikmin 3 (above and below) was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, the genius responsible for the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises. It’s an action puzzle game where three astronauts land on an Earth-like planet, using armies of little creatures called Pikmin to explore the planet and find a way home. The graphics are beautifully organic, and the game is a fun way for a savvy gamer to teach a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend how to use the Wii U controller. It’s a free demo; rather than downloading the whole game from Nintendo at the full $60 price, save money on the disc version via Best Buy here.
As of today, Nintendo’s eShop (below) offers a total of 20 demo games. They include three Sonic the Hedgehog-themed games, a bunch of indie titles, survival horror games Resident Evil: Revelations and ZombiU, and a couple of sports games.
Some of the more noteworthy picks are Shin’en Multimedia’s shooter Nano Assault Neo, Sega’s teen-to-adult action game Bayonetta 2, and EA Sports’ FIFA Soccer 13. But because Nintendo offers no discount on digital downloads – which are locked to both your account and console – we’d strongly recommend buying the resellable disc versions instead. As one example, the top-rated Bayonetta 2 can be had at a small discount through Amazon and Best Buy; when comparing prices, note that the disc version comes with two full games (Bayonetta 1 and 2), while the eShop version only includes one.
Wii U: First Games To Buy (How + Where)
Beyond the superb one- to four-player action game Super Mario 3D World ($54 at Amazon), which is included in the Deluxe bundle above, our top pick right now for the Wii U is Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 ($57 at Amazon). Both titles are appropriate for players of all ages, fun to play either alone or with several people, and excellent uses of the Wii U console.
Mario Kart 8 was released in mid-2014 and subsequently has been updated to version 3.0, including access to three downloadable content (DLC) packs. The first pack is free and includes Mercedes-Benz cars and tires, as crazy as that may sound.
The second and third packs each include 8 new tracks plus new characters and vehicle upgrades. They can be purchased right now for $8 each, or for a limited time in a $12 DLC bundle, both directly through the game. Even moreso than the game’s original tracks, the new courses are awesome, including Wario’s wooden rollercoaster-like Gold Mine (above), the outstanding F-Zero Mute City track shown at the top of this article, a castle-themed Zelda Hyrule track, and the classic Excitebike track below. Eight additional tracks are coming in the third DLC pack in May of this year.
The other “must-have” pick for the Wii U is Super Smash Bros. (shown above and below, currently $57 online). This one- to four-player cartoony fighting game is the top-rated Wii U title of all time, and contains an incredible roster of Nintendo characters, plus several from Sega (Sonic), Capcom (Mega Man), and Namco (Pac-Man). All of the Smash Bros. games have relatively easy button-mashing controls that almost anyone can figure out, and enough retro characters to be accessible to players of any age.
Wii U Deals
There aren’t a lot of deals on Nintendo’s biggest releases – the titles above have seen only small, temporary price drops since they came out, and some (such as the disc version of Pikmin 3) are commonly selling for more than their original asking prices. This 9to5Toys link is constantly updated with the latest Wii U deals, which you can check out over time to see the best options we’ve found. Don’t miss our guide to Nintendo’s Wii U-compatible rare Amiibo collectible figurines and pre-orders, either!
Past editions of our Gaming For Couples column can be found here.