The so-called "console wars" are usually framed as a straight battle between the PS4 and Xbox One, but over the last twelve months these two gaming titans have been thoroughly embarrassed by a quiet, humble yet devastatingly impressive contender. No ifs, no buts: the Wii U is the must-own console of 2014.
Some argue that "consoles are an investment," but I'm not convinced by the logic. Money in the bank is an investment. An investment is an investment. A console, meanwhile, is only as good as the games you can play on it right now, and this is just the first way in which the Wii U proves its worth for any serious gamer.
There's no denying that Nintendo released their system sellers this year. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros deliver local multiplayer perfection -- a niche that both Microsoft and Sony are ill-equipped to contest -- while Bayonetta 2 casually destroys the hardcore competition. A triple-threat of essential software to be sure, but dwelling on these three games does the Wii U's software library a huge disservice.
See, while 2014 saw the release of the big guns, the Wii U has been quietly yet consistently amassing an incredible collection of quality games. Not just products, but hand-crafted, gorgeous, expansive, working games created with clear love and attention to detail. Super Mario 3D World is one of the best games of the decade. The Wonderful 101 is a hectic and insane work of art. Pikmin 3.The Wind Waker HD. New Super Mario Bros U. Hyrule Warriors. Even ZombiU proved to be one of the best true survival horror games in recent years, despite many of my fellow reviewers bizarrely critiquing it as some sort of action game. The Wii U brings colour and vibrancy where other consoles bring grit and guns, delivering the fun and the quality as comprehensively as the new-gen machines deliver the hype.
I'd be a hypocrite if I mentioned the upcoming 2015 titles, seeing as I rubbished the "consoles as investment" argument 300 words ago. So I definitely won't namedrop the likes of new Zelda, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Star Fox, Yoshi's Wooly World and Splatoon. No sir.
So the Wii U does the business on the games front... but we're just getting started.
Let's talk backwards compatibility. Remember when that was a thing? Nintendo certainly does, and though you'll annoyingly have to boot up an official emulator app, you can play any number of superb games from the Wii that you might have missed. If you never got around to playing Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, Pandora's Tower, Sin & Punishment II,, MadWorld, Tatsunoko vs Capcom, No More Heroes, Fire Emblem, Dead Space: Extraction and Zelda: Twilight Princess, you can now. It's hardware backwards-compatible too, allowing you to use your existing WiiMotes should you have them.
Then there's the Wii U's functionality. Despite being a games machine first and foremost, the GamePad functions as a handy universal remote, while there's enough entertainment apps to tide you over. More to the point, you'll also get access to MiiVerse, which is one of the most under-appreciated yet impressive killer apps that any of the current-gen consoles have to offer.
Gamer culture has been rightly and wrongly accused of being toxic over the past few years, but MiiVerse disabuses that notion thoroughly. It's a charming and genuinely nice social network baked directly into the firmware, allowing you to make new friends, talk shop, draw pictures, post screenshots and get involved with lively debates all from within a game or via your browser. It's a masterpiece of moderation that lets nary a single abusive comment or phallic doodle past, but still allows gamers to vent their frustrations or offer up conflicting points of view about games without being shut down.
And, perhaps most importantly of all, the Wii U gets its priorities right. In an age when publishers are constantly forcing us to jump through hoops, it's a refreshing change of pace. I'll let my past self explain:
"If you've found yourself grinding through games because you're chasing ranks, achievements or unlocks, not enjoying the core experience of simply playing them, the Wii U will remind you why you fell in love with this hobby in the first place. And potentially rekindle it."
The Wii U is all about the games. Not hype or flam, not subscriptions and hurdles, just the joy of videogames themselves. And though Nintendo still has to sort out their idiotic region locking restrictions and weird hard drive tethering (seriously, why are purchases locked to your console rather than your account?!!), the Wii U does its level best to stay out of the way and let you play. It doesn't even charge you for online multiplayer.
But the Wii U's ultimate success is that it doesn't want to replace your PS4 or Xbox One. It fits right in beside them.
Available in cheap console bundles for around the as £160-£220 mark (such as yesterday's deal for a Wii U bundle with Super Smash Bros for £169), the Wii U is designed to be a second console, a machine that enriches and enhances your gaming experience with unique, lavishly produced and lovingly crafted titles that uphold the traditions of the past while still looking to the future. There when you need it. When you want it. I freely admit that much of this gushing article reads like a love letter if not an advert, but after savagely bashing the Wii U throughout its reveal and first year, I'm just looking to redress the balance and give credit where it's due.
The Wii U is the must-own console of 2014. Do you own one yet?