In this corner, the Xbox One, with its (mostly) all-knowing Kinect. In the opposite, the PS4, with hardcore gamer cred to spare. If you listen to most pundits—including us!—that's the full reckoning of the battle for your console dollars. Me? I'm buying a Wii U. And maybe you should, too.
Remember the Wii U? Quirky little thing, giant gamepad, came out last year? Of course you don't! No one does. I never gave the Wii U serious consideration when it launched last year; it was too different, too expensive, too many features weren't enabled yet. Besides, it would have been crazy not to wait and see what Microsoft and Sony had in store. In the meantime my Xbox 360 was doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.
Like any good romantic comedy, though, it turns out the one I really wanted was right there all along. Here's why.
The Wii U's head start will be negated in a year or two, sure, yes. But a year or two is not now, and right now the Wii U has nearly 200 games at its disposal. Xbox One and PS4 could be generously described as having a "handful" of games, as long as the hands in question are tiny little baby hands.
That's not fair, you're thinking. And you're right! It's only a matter of time before Xbox One and PS4 lap the Wii U in games, including megatitle exclusives like Halo 5 and the next Uncharted. If you are a serious or even halfway serious gamer, you are probably going to want one of those titles, and you should get the console that will have it.
Me? I'm not so serious. But I do love Mario.
GIF credit: Kotaku
The Wii U might not have as many barnburner exclusive titles, but it does have the ones that I want. Specifically, the ones that reunite me with Mario and Link. Super Mario 3D World and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD are finally here. Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart are coming. I'll trade my Master Chief brute shot for a Luigi uppercut any day.
Not to mention that the Wii U—unlike the Xbox One and PS4—is backwards compatible, meaning I can breathe new life into my old titles as well. I don't have an extensive catalog of Wii games, but I'm comforted by the fact that I don't have to buy the ones I like all over again to carry them with me into this generation. Or, if I'm feeling nostalgic, I'm just five bucks away from Super Metroid.
While the Xbox One is focusing on a living room takeover—often to great success—I'm more interested in the Wii U's GamePad, a feature that seems built specifically for a household in which the television is shared by those who sometimes enjoy a little Madden and those who don't. Hey, that's my household!
The Wii U's GamePad makes it versatile in a way that the Xbox One and PS4 aren't right now, in a way that suits my needs better than being able to talk to my video games ever would. I play games in short bursts, grabbing a few minutes here and there between work and parenting and... well, honestly, between those two very time-consuming (and rewarding!) things.
The PS4 offers some overlapping capabilities—if you own a PlayStation Vita. That's at least another $200, though, on top of a console that already costs $400. I'll take the Wii U.
When I was in my early-to-mid 20s, I wanted nothing more than to shoot my friends in the face with a grenade launcher. I think that's a perfectly natural and healthy impulse, and if you're in that demographic now, you should definitely get a console (read: Xbox One or PS4) that encourages it, preferably in some sort of multiplayer dystopian landscape, maybe with aliens? There should probably be aliens.
I'm older now, though, and have a daughter who is very nearly a year old. I do not want to shoot her in the face. I want to introduce her to Kirby.
There are—or will be, eventually—family-friendly games on every gaming platform. Kinect, in particular, offers great ways to make gaming an active experience instead of a conclave of couchlarditude. But at their core PS4 and Xbox One are still testosterone-fueled battle bricks, Monster energy drinks incarnate. For many, many people, including me from five years ago, that is a good thing! It's not, though, what I need now.
I want my daughter to grow up with Mario and Luigi and Kirby and Donkey Kong and Link and Zelda. I want the games I play to be games she can play too. We're a few years off from her picking up a controller, but this is the console I'm going to own for a decade. I want it to be a shared experience, instead of one where daddy goes trundling down to his man cave and yelps about n00bs for an hour while everyone else enjoys a friendly game of Cranium.
The Xbox One and PS4 both offer compelling set top box experiences. They feel very much like the future. That's great! But I don't need it.
The entertainment apps I'd like to be able to access on my television are Amazon Instant Video and Netflix. That's it. Wii U has those. As does my television, and my Apple TV, and my Xbox 360. I am not lacking for content. Chances are, in this connected age, you aren't either.
The Xbox One offers the most compelling counterpoint, since its living room ambitions go beyond just apps to include a (much-needed) complete channel guide overhaul and more. That's tempting! But anything that involves on-demand video for the Xbox One requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription, a tax on monthly fees I'm already paying for Netflix and the like. And while the cable box interaction is neat, it's also surface-level in a way that makes it sluggish and not quite future enough to pin your entire purchase decision on. Or at least, not for me.
All of which is to say, I don't need another way to watch Netflix. And if I did, I'd probably just get a Roku.
Another reason that's strictly near-term. But since people are deciding between a PS4 and Xbox One right now, today, it's worth pointing out that first-run hardware is imperfect. It just is, no matter if it's a console or a smartphone or a laptop or a hairdryer or some sort of smartphone-hairdryer hybrid.
That's why you're seeing reports of a PS4 blue light of death and faulty Xbox One disc drives. It's a very small percentage, and it happened to first-run Wii U units, too. It's not a big deal, it affects every OEM, and companies are usually more than happy to replace bum hardware. But! By this point, the Wii U's manufacturing process is fine-tuned and butter smooth. And that assurance is worth (a very little) something.
This is not a good reason not to buy a console. But it's worth mentioning, as an improbable reality that can still happen. And it's an even better reason to at least wait on the new breeds.
Okay, cheap. I'm fine with cheap. The Wii U does everything I want it to do, has games that I want to play that I won't find elsewhere, and does it for $100 less (bundled with a pretty great game) than the PS4, and $200 less than the Xbox One.
Yes, that amortizes over the lifetime of the console. Yes, in the grand scheme of things it's not a huge amount of money. But right now, today, it feels a whole lot like not paying more for stuff I don't need. Especially knowing that PS4 and Xbox One price drops are themselves inevitable, and will likely kick in right around when there are finally games you actually want to play on them.
It's entirely possible—probable, even!—that the Xbox One or PS4 is right for you. That's fine. But it's a shame that the Wii U has been left out of this particular conversation altogether. Especially since for some of us, it's the exact right fit.