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A Wii U is mandatory if you want to talk about 2014's Game of the Year

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The Nintendo Wii U has had a shaky past, and it's easy to criticize its terrible launch, confusing messaging and lack of modern conveniences.

It can often feel like a machine out of time, a console designed by a company that doesn't really understand how to compete in the modern market. Sales are up, but the system's installed base still can't compete with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

That reality is rather quickly washed away by the fact that the Wii U has built the best library of exclusives of the current consoles, and that's another trend that won't likely end anytime soon. It would be hard to turn the Wii U into your primary console — there are simply too many games that will never be on the platform — but it's equally hard to ignore Nintendo's latest piece of hardware. There are simply too many amazing games that won't be available on any other console.

This has happened before

This situation replicates what happened in the last generation: The argument between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is ongoing and contentious, but you don't really need both. If you want to make sure you hit as many software high points as possible, you need a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One and a Wii U. The same way you needed a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 and a Wii.

We've gotten to the point of the Wii U's life cycle where it's clear that owning the system, if you're serious about playing the best games on the market, has become mandatory.

Nintendo has always understood the importance of play

It helps that the value is so strong. Even without any deals you can pick up the Wii U with two games for $300, and while it's not that popular to talk about Nintendo Land after the hardware's launch, the game remains one of the best showcases of the criminally underused GamePad. Nintendo is offering some of the best bundles of the season at some of the lowest prices when compared to the introductory price of its competitors, and there are finally enough games to justify the investment.

What's interesting about the best Wii U games isn't just that they're family-friendly, but that they're so attractive for adults who don't normally play games. It's easy to pick up and play Mario Kart 8, and it features some of the best track designs you'll find in gaming. Everything about the game looks and feels inviting.

It's great that you can play with your kids, but even better is the fact that the Wii U can be such an ice breaker during gatherings of adults with different skill levels. It's the system I turn on and keep in the background when friends come over, and it doesn't take long before people want to play and conversation moves in that direction.

Everything about the system, from its size and simplicity to the large, bright screen in the controller, invites people in to have a good time. Even when people are running into walls trying to master the tight turns of Mario Kart, they get a laugh out of hitting the big horn in the middle of the screen. Nintendo has always understood the importance of play, and that's something that's just as attractive to older players as children.

This is also why Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo Wii U, complete with that ridiculous name, is one of the best games of the year. There is no right way to play it, no optimal number of players or skill level. If you throw in random elements and jump from character to character with your children, you give everyone a slugger's chance at getting a few wins. Or you can lock things down and get serious, and focus on the basic skill of each player.

It's an incredibly easy game for someone to begin playing, even if they don't understand the complexity of what's going on. If you begin to think of Smash as a collection of rules, most of which are there for your use or dismissal, you begin to see why it's one of the best-designed games of the year.

You can master a character while playing against the computer, or remove all random aspects of the game and play against another human player to test your skills, or play with a few people and mix things up, or play with up to eight players on any number of custom maps and pick the time and place you want to engage in the fights.

The Super Smash Bros. I play with my children isn't the same game I play by myself nor does it have much resemblance to the game I play with my adult friends, and each one is valid. It's a game that transcends demographics or skill levels, and you play with the rules just as much as you play with the game itself. It's not a good game, it's a great game, and it almost justifies the purchase of the Wii U by itself.

Then there's Captain Toad, which could have been a mobile title that sold for a few bucks with the same basic game play, but Nintendo is proving its point about not cheapening its own content by pouring on the visual charm and polish. It's one of the most pleasant games to play in this generation, and the amount of care and detail that went into its creation is evident. It may not be as flashy as the other games on this list, but it's one of my favorite games of the year, and has kept me up way too late on more than few nights.

There's also Bayonetta 2, which is an incredible game, and if you're just now picking up the hardware you owe it to yourself to track down an inexpensive copy of ZombiU. The list goes on, but the point is the software library is finally delivering on the promise of the hardware. As someone with many children I also appreciate the fact that one kid can be playing an Xbox One game while another kid is playing a game on the Wii U's GamePad with headphones. As a weapon to cut down on fights about who plays what, it's a godsend.

The prices have never been lower, the bundles have never been better and the games are just amazing. If you don't have a Wii U it's going to be hard to join the game of the year conversations that are about to begin, because Nintendo had an amazing showing when it comes to software in 2014. I'm not sure when the Wii U stopped gathering dust and became the first step in my nightly gaming sessions, but it's a welcome change.

The Wii U has become a console with too many good games to ignore.

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