On Console Gaming

My interest in console gaming has waxed and waned throughout my life. I grew up playing Super Mario Bros. 3 with my sisters, Mega Man X2 at my friend’s house, and Crash Bandicoot 2 on my aunt and uncle’s Playstation. There was a bit of a dry spell after I graduated from high school, though — I owned a Playstation 2 and a few retro consoles, but I just wasn’t interested in purchasing any new games. And I was a lot worse at managing my free time, spending far too much of it on writing (trust me, it’s possible).

Around 2011 I decided to dip my toes back in the water and purchase a Nintendo Wii. I thought it would be the perfect console for the job because I perceived its focus to be more on casual gaming. At the time, all I wanted to do was play Wii Sports Resort with my girlfriend (now fiancée) and her parents on our semi-regular board game night. A few short months later we had purchased New Super Mario Bros. and had spent dozens of hours on the game — it was ridiculously fun.

My fiancée’s never been much of a gamer, but she spent some time in her childhood with a hand-me-down NES and Super Mario Bros.

In conversations with her before we bought New Super Mario Bros. she had mentioned to me that the biggest annoyance she had playing Mario games was that her older sister would often play-through multiple levels before she had a turn. And she’d inevitably die in 30 seconds and be left watching her sister play for another 10-15 minutes. This is a fairly common complaint — at least in my circle of friends — about the original Super Mario Bros. that has, thankfully, been left by the wayside.

New Super Mario Bros. features simultaneous multiplayer, allowing the more experienced player to help the other make their way through harder levels — there was plenty of times when Mario picked up Luigi to make it past a tricky jump. This rexulted in a great experience for two players with varying degrees of skill.

Though, even with the interesting new multiplayer mechanics, our Wii eventually began gathering dust. We purchased a couple other games for the system — Animal Crossing City Folk and Skate It — but it didn’t stop the console from sitting dormant under our television. That was until several months ago when I decided to try my hand at hacking my Wii with the simple LetterBomb hack. About 30 minutes later I was playing Mega Man X3 and loving it. I beat it a few days later, but I couldn’t manage to find another game to emulate which would satisfy my interests. Rocket Knight Adventures was the only game that came close — I loved that game as a kid — but I couldn’t help but want something a little more modern.

Then I was browsing around in my local Target and came across a small collection of Wii games. One of them was Mario Kart — a franchise I had heard good things about for most of my life, but never actually played myself. On a whim, I made the purchase. Since then my fiancée and I have played Mario Kart about 3-4 times a week. The game’s really good, but I couldn’t help but be curious of what Nintendo had been up to lately. The Wii is essentially dead at this point and if I’m going to dive into this head first, I might as well take a look at the current generation of consoles.

It didn’t take me long before I found out about Super Mario Maker — a game that, even without playing, I consider to be the epitome of the platforming genre. This is the game I’m most interested in right now. Sure, the Wii U is likely in its final days with the NX looming, but I don’t care. Super Mario Maker looks like it was built for me — I’ve spent most of my gaming-life playing platformers, why wouldn’t I be interested in this game? You can take your Destiny and your Star Wars Battlefront, enjoy them. In a couple of months I’ll be knee deep in outrageously difficult Mario levels with hundreds of hours of entertainment in front of me.

But, Where Should I Start?

It’s been four years since I last purchased a game console. The choice was easy back then, there was only one mainstream Wii Bundle available, which came with Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, but today things are a bit more tricky. Especially considering that I won’t be making the actual purchase. My fiancée plans on buying this as a gift for me this Christmas, but needs me to point her in the right direction. From what I can tell, there’s currently four Wii U bundles available:

I’m immediately drawn to the Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Maker bundles because they’re two games I know I want to own, but my biggest problem with the Wii U bundles is that (as far as I can tell) all of them come with the games pre-installed (which most likely means a download code) instead of actual game discs. This is a red flag for me — which is saying something coming from someone who’s incredibly excited about gaming on the upcoming Apple TV. I still prefer game discs and will continue to do so until they’re no longer available. As someone who’s bought and sold used games and consoles in the past, I would much rather maintain as much flexibility as possible in case I ever decide to sell any part of my collection in the future — something that isn’t possible with digital versions.

So if I’m forced to get a Wii U bundle that omits game discs, it would make sense that I’d rather buy a bundle with a game I know I’m going to love and am least likely to want to sell in the future. But that isn’t the case. I also want to future-proof myself if my Wii U ever goes belly up. And if Nintendo doesn’t allow me to redownload games at that point, I’ll be left with a dead console and a ton of games that I’ll never be able to play again unless I purchase discs. At this point, I’m leaning toward the Super Mario 3D World and Nintendo Land bundle. This will get me two games I’m interested in playing and are not likely to want to sell, but that I also don’t expect to be my favorites long term.

That is, of course, if I don’t end up suggesting she go the used or refurbished route. I hesitate to do so because I’ve had mixed experiences with this option in the past. But if I’m bound and determined to get a console for as little money as possible, it might be the best way to go. Nintendo’s online store usually has refurbished consoles with Nintendo Land for $200 — which is much cheaper than anywhere else I’ve found.

And seeing as how I’m interested in local multiplayer, I’m also curious as to whether I should consider getting the Nintendo Pro Controller. I already have two Wii Motion Plus controllers, two nunchucks, and two Classic Pro Controllers, so any game that supports (or requires) those are covered. But I don’t know if I’ll want the newer Pro Controller for any reason. I suppose some more research is in order in the accessory department.

The last thing I want to mention is the list of games I have my eye on. My focus has been on well-designed platformers with multiplayer options and casual games that I can play with my future in-laws. I had a chat with my younger sister — a major video game enthusiast — who suggested the following to me:

I think this is all of the games I should be paying attention to, but if there’s any glaring omissions or if you have any suggestions on the hardware side of things, please let me know.