Nintendo is back at the top of its game. Sort of.
It has been a long time since the current crop of video game consoles were new, and a new "generation" has been long overdue. When the Wii was released, Nintendo did what it does best: innovation. Nintendo came up with the motion control system with the Wiimote and nunchuck, and allowed players to interface with games in was that simply weren't possible before. This has been Nintendo's hallmark for every major console generation, from the Zapper gun forward. Nintendo continues to try new things; some of them fail miserably, and some of them, like the Wii, succeed beautifully. Not only did the Wii succeed, it opened up an entirely new demographic for Nintendo in a big way. That was an important thing for them, as so-called "hardcore" gamers had at that time largely moved to the Xbox or Playstations lines of consoles. Game for those consoles were (and are) deliberately directed at and marketed toward your high-school age kids and older gamers, who want the gritty and violent. There are plenty titles for Wii that are a bit more mature, and but marketing is a powerful thing, and while Nintendo was marketing to youths for generations, Microsoft and Sony rolled onto the scene trying to attract the attention of more dedicated gamers - largely to try to break Nintendo's near-total monopoly at the time.
But Nintendo opened up people to the idea of motion control, and let them bowl by actually miming bowling, or shoot arrows in an archery game, or several other things. You could draw on the screen or point at things in a fairly sophisticated way, and it left the competition playing catch-up. Now, of course, Sony Play and Kinect have their own good points, and excel at some things, but neither Microsoft nor Sony innovated the idea. The best ideas seem obvious in retrospect, and that's what Nintendo did.
And it is what it has done again.They have added a second type of controller to the console. It looks like a cross between a Sega Genesis and a tablet. It's big, and it has a nice, large screen, though without real HD capability. In many games, you can choose to play the game with a wiimote or with the new controller. Some games require you to use one or the other, however. Many games use the device to show you menu options that before would just be part of the pause menu, so that isn't a big breakthrough. Some games have really put it to good use with its gyroscope or touchscreen, but where the new controller really shines is multiplayer.
It is sort of a difficult thing to explain the experience of, but Nintendo has implemented a two-screen system for Wii U games. In multiplayer, for example, four players can use the wiimotes that have been carried over from the first Wii, and a fifth player can use the new controller. They can see a different display than the four who are playing using the TV. In some games, the fifth player will compete against all four other players working together. This competitive experience, in which one player sees something different from the other players, and has a different set of abilities, is really what, currently, sells the console.
As with any release, there aren't as many top-shelf games as I would like, and there are problems with many current games not using this new technology to its full potential (see the release off the original Wii, or Kinect for a long time), but it still have a big edge over the competition, because Nintendo has, again, done something no one else thought of, but seems obvious in retrospect.
It is still early in the life of the console, but if you have a kid or a gamer on your holiday shopping list, you won't do much better than a Wii U this year.