Mario rushes to rescue his console
The New York Times
I NOW have the brand-new Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's even newer Xbox One under my television set, but I spent the weekend with the Nintendo Wii U instead.
A year into its existence, this follow-up to the Wii is flirting with a reputation as the game-console equivalent of Microsoft's star-crossed Zune music player, which was well-designed and had fierce devotees - among the few people who actually bought one.
The sales numbers for the Wii U, especially in contrast to the 100-million-selling Wii, have been almost-unbelievably woeful.
But the Wii U is also the only new console with a video game worth playing. Super Mario 3D World, which went on sale on Friday, is the best Mario game in years.
It's not just the best game for the Wii U; it's the most entertaining game that has been released this autumn for any system.
If you live in one of the perhaps two million households with a brand-new game console from Sony or Microsoft, you've probably already discovered that new consoles, with rare exceptions, don't come with particularly exciting games.
Nintendo has often flouted the mediocre-game rule of thumb for new consoles, which has added to the frustration of Wii U owners. The company built its reputation in 1985 with the Nintendo Entertainment System, which came bundled with Super Mario Bros, one of the greatest video games ever designed.
An early game for the Nintendo 64 in 1996 was Super Mario 64, which players regard with similar reverence. It brought Mario, the jumpy Italian plumber, into three dimensions for the first time and inspired the creators of the open-world Grand Theft Auto games, among others.
And, of course, the original Wii came packaged with Wii Sports, one of the very best games for that system. It remains the purest execution, for any system, of the power of motion controls to add realism to play.
Now, with Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo has at last delivered the kind of game for the Wii U that its players probably expected from the outset.
Like the best Mario games, Super Mario 3D World is a surreal celebration of play and exploration. It's a dazzling display of shifting perspectives, with an inventive use of light and shadow.
One great game won't save a console.
There are other good Wii U titles, but the console's line-up is still pretty thin, especially in comparison to Nintendo's own handheld 3DS, which has shipped almost 35 million units worldwide in its 21/2 years on the market, including more than 11 million in the United States.
If the Wii U is your only console, you still can't play the rest of the this year's best games, including Grand Theft Auto V, BioShock Infinite, Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch, The Last Of Us and Gone Home. You would need at least two more machines to play all of those.
But, for the first time, you need a Wii U to play one of the year's best video games. For beleaguered Wii U owners, that's probably enough.