Why the best thing about Wii U is not the thing youve been getting excited about for the last year

“Ooh, Nintendo is making a new machine! It runs in HD and it has proper, hardcore games, and a really pretty Zelda tech demo! Yay, Nintendo is coming back to us! How powerful is it? Is it better than a PS3? Will it make Mario Kart look as shiny as Forza? Will we be able to veritably taste the icing on Peach’s photorealistic innuendo-cake?”

Those are the kind of things we’ve been asking for the last year. But we’ve been getting excited about the wrong thing. Because having gone hands-on with a lot of Wii U games recently, I can tell you that there’s something much, much better about it. And it comes by way of something you’ve probably already discounted as crap.

Above: Sorry Batman. For once Animal Crossing is just cooler than you

It became increasingly apparent as I worked my way through the not-insignificant playable quota of Nintendo’s E3 line-up the other day. The big, shiny, obvious AAA stuff just was not where the real excitement was coming from. ZombieU? Fun, but I’m not convinced that any of the survival skill stuff attached to the GamePad screen is anything I haven’t done before in conventionally presented first-person adventures.

Arkham City? Currently looks a bit ropey, and the tacked-on touch-screen interface bits actually add clumsy and unnecessary extra inputs to what was once a beautifully fluid and empowering game. Platinum’s Project P-100? Loved it rather a lot, but it did come across a little like a simplified XBLA mash-up of Bayonetta, Pikmin and Viewtiful Joe. And again, the GamePad did little I couldn’t have done if it were an actual XBLA game, bar one clever but clumsily presented dual-perspective puzzle.

“Hmmm”, I thought. “Hmmmmm indeed”. Verily my brain did buzz with the maudlin hmmmmming of a thousand alcoholic bees, as the realisation hit that not only did the best seem over, but the best did not in fact, seem to have actually been all that good in the first place, thank you very much.

Above: Killing zombies in the head is always fun. Always has been. But that’s the problem. Nothing new here

But then suddenly my day, in fact my entire opinion of the Wii U, was turned around by a most unlikely of trios. Namely a twee-looking minigame based on a franchise I have less time for than herpes, another minigame that I had previously written off as “essentially Pac-Man (opens in new tab)”, and a long-maligned French also-ran mascot who for over a decade could most charitably be described using the phrase “at least he’s not Bubsy”.

Because the real, brilliant, exciting, absolute tip-top best bit, and the thing that now has me really excited about the Wii U, is not its potential for proper, PS3 and 360 equaling epics (although being a long-standing, long-suffering Nintendo fan who can remember when Ninty machines were traditionally beasts in the horse-power department, they’re very welcome). No, you see the thing is – and this is actually something else that appeals to my long-standing Nintendo fan status – the Wii U gave me more clever, fresh, invigorating local multiplayer fun in one afternoon than the other HD machines of this generation have given me in five years.

Above: Oh Bomberman. At least you’ve never left me. But seriously, what happened to offline multiplayer this generation?

Remember when multiplayer happened in your house rather than on a server? Remember when developing a formidable set of racing skills was as much about knowing when to punch your mate in the arm as it was perfecting your apexes? Remember when your communication with other players wasn’t through a headset as you talked about the game, but was an unspoken communication that you made through the game itself? The Wii U does. And at its best its games provide that stuff in swathes.

That trio of games I mentioned above? Nintendo Land’s Animal Crossing and Luigi’s Mansion-themed offerings, and Rayman Legends. And don’t think it’s just the novelty that these games even actually offer local multiplayer that excites me. No, it’s that they offer what feels like the next-generation of what friend-based couch play would have evolved into had this generation of consoles not squandered the medium almost entirely. This stuff might look simple, but it’s amazing how satisfying its hidden depths turn out to be when you really pay attention.

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