Whether you were a fan of it or not, you cannot deny that the original Wii simply went gangbusters back in 2006. Favouring an unorthodox (at the time) approach to gaming and tapping into a more casual audience, Nintendo bounced back amazingly from the slump caused by its previous console, the GameCube. Finally we have the Wii’s successor – the Wii U. Armed with yet another unique controller and a vision to win back the hardcore gamer, can Nintendo restore faith in its lost audience? But more importantly, is the Wii U worth your time and money?
At launch, Nintendo are offering two main models or ‘packages’ of the console. The Basic Pack, featuring a classic white Wii U console and the Premium Pack, sporting a fingerprint-loving piano black Wii U. While the Premium Package comes with a few extra bits and pieces, the main difference between the two models is the internal storage. The entry level package comes with 8GB of flash memory, while its bigger brother comes bundled with 32GB. If you plan on downloading software from the eShop, or taking the jump to digital distribution, we highly recommend grabbing the Premium Package as 8GB won’t get you very far. After setting up the console alongside your Mii, the 8GB will be reduced to a minuscule 3GB of space – enough for maybe one full retail title from the eShop (if that). Storage space aside though, let’s has a quick look at what each bundle offers:
|Basic Pack||Premium Pack|
|8GB Wii U Console (White)|
|32GB Wii U Console (Black)|
|Wii U GamePad|
|GamePad charging cable|
|GamePad charging cradle|
|Nintendo Network Premium Subscription|
|Nintendo Land Game|
By today’s standards of 320GB and 500GB consoles, it’s puzzling to see Nintendo go for such small storage options, especially given its push for digital distribution. If you do run out of space, fortunately enough you can plug in most external hard drives (so no overpriced ‘official’ hardware) to accommodate for more storage.
While Nintendo’s trump card with the original Wii was the Wiimote, the Wii U’s would be the GamePad. Take a traditional modern gaming controller and drop a 6.2 resistive touch-screen in the middle and you have the Wii U GamePad. The first thing you’ll notice immediately is the weight. Despite its size and housing a fairly sizable touch screen, the controller is incredibly light. Touch-screen aside, you have two clickable analogue sticks, 4 face buttons, plus and minus buttons and a pair of shoulder buttons and digital triggers. Along the backside, you’ll a find a smooth lifted edge allowing for a more comfortable, familiar feel when holding the controller.
The GamePad also allows for what Nintendo is dubbing ‘asymmetric gameplay;’ the interaction between what’s happening on the TV and the GamePad. From we played thus far, the concept holds a lot of promise. Nintendo Land (the console’s Wii Sports) does a great job showcasing this when combined with a handful of Wiimotes. Several mini games have the player with the GamePad focusing on a different goal than the players on the TV. ZombiU also uses the GamePad screen to compliment what’s happening on the main display to dramatic effect. Things such as your mini map are accessible on the second screen, while the game is still running primarily on the TV.
The second screen also allows for ‘Off TV Play.’ As the name suggests, this allows you to take the entire game on the TV and bring it solely to the GamePad’s screen, essentially freeing up the TV. This, I will admit, actually proved to be more useful and convenient than I originally anticipated. Users who find themselves in a busy living room will find this feature a godsend. More often than not I found myself playing without using the TV at all. However, this functionality is limited by the game and how they’re designed. Games such as ZombiU and Scribblenauts rely on both the TV and the GamePad to be free in order to be fully playable.
Wii U Operating System
Fresh from the box, the Wii U has no online functionality at all. No Miiverse, no friends list, no eShop – nothing. All of this (plus a handful of system enhancements) are contained within the Wii U’s Day 1 Update patch. Without this patch, you’re able to play games, and that’s really about it. The 1GB download is definitely one of my biggest issues with the system (I talked about it in depth previously) as the last thing you want to do after just buying a console is let it sit there unplayable for a solid hour or more.
Upon booting up your Wii U, and after a fairly straightforward setup guide, you’ll be presented with the appropriately named ‘Warawara Plaza.’ On your TV screen you’ll see a handful of icons along with a crowd of Mii’s from the Nintendo community standing underneath each icon. These icons are games that you’re currently playing (or might be interested in) and the Mii’s represent who are talking about that particular game within the Miiverse. This can be viewed as Nintendo’s ‘hub’ or starting point for the Miiverse.
Back on the GamePad, you’ll see the Wii U main menu, which looks fairly familiar to the original Wii’s channel view. From here, you are able to launch a game or application (such as YouTube or the Mii Creator), head into the Miiverse, change system settings so on and so forth. You’re also able to switch the two screens if you’re using your Wii U without a TV.
Finally, Nintendo have discovered the Internet, implementing a proper online service in the form of the Nintendo Network and the Miiverse. In true Nintendo fashion they’ve decided to go against the curve and mix things up a bit by putting more a social spin on what you’ve come to expect.
In the simplest form, the best way to describe the Miiverse is to imagine it as Facebook for games. Each game (or application such as YouTube and uPlay) has a ‘community,’ which can be viewed as a friend’s wall in Facebook. Users can then post comments or draw pictures within the community for the world to see. This can range from something as simple as asking a question about a particular stage, helping other users by posting comments on their post, or if you’re feeling a bit artistic, draw up a doodle or two. It’s an ingenious way to provide a connection to other fellow gamers you’ve never met or had any real interaction with – a feeling which is fairly absent on PSN and XBL. I found myself whizzing around the Miiverse, helping other people, posting up my latest wins and commending other players more than actually playing games. It can quite easily turn into a somewhat addictive experience. That isn’t to say it’s all sunshine’s and lollipops though. The Miiverse has its fair share of issues and weird quirks that we probably shouldn’t be surprised with given Nintendo’s track record with online services.
If you wish to add a friend via the ‘Friends List’ application, the other user won’t appear in your friends list unless that user also adds you. Furthermore, that person also won’t even get a notification that you’ve added them. However, if you use the Miiverse, you’re able search and add users which will prompt the other user to receive a ‘friend request’ notification. No doubt the Friends List limitation is Nintendo’s way of protecting the younger bunch (it some ways, similar to the infamous Friend Code) but then why make the Miiverse the complete opposite? It makes absolutely no sense.
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious issue with the OS is the simple function of navigating and switching Wii U applications. To sum it up, it’s a damn time vampire. Open up System Settings – wait 30 seconds. Switch to the Miiverse – wait another 20 seconds. Open up Wii U Chat – wait easily over 30 – 40 seconds. And it’s like this for the entire Wii U OS. A big highlight of the Miiverse is the ability to access it at nearly any given time (in game or not), but with the painfully slow loading times between applications, it can dampen a somewhat fantastic social experience. If there’s one thing to fix in the next major Wii U OS patch, it’s this.
On top of that, both in the Friends List and the Miiverse, you’re unable to call (video chat) the user from the respective applications unless you open up the dedicated Wii U Video Chat application. Mix this in with absurd loading times with each application and you’ll quickly find yourself just ignoring the entire feature all together.
Without delving too much into all the technical nitty-gritty, the Wii U’s graphical capabilities are on-par with PS3 and Xbox 360. From the range of games I played thus far, no titles really stood out as ground breaking or provided a significant difference from its competitors counter parts, which is kind of worrying. I just feel as through that Nintendo have shot themselves in the foot. Again. The successors to the PS3 and Xbox 360 will no doubt be announced next year, leaving the Wii U in the same situation the Wii was in (when talking about graphical capabilities). It’s still in its infancy so it’s not impossible to say that the console can produce visuals beyond PS3 and Xbox 360, but we did run into a few niggling issues.
At some points during gameplay I encountered frame rate issues, especially with Black Ops II. While not exactly game breaking, when the heat started to pick up on screen, slowdowns and jittering started occurring. I’m unsure if this is related to the console streaming the same content to both the TV and GamePad, a restriction of the Wii U console itself or maybe a sloppy port. But to see the same game run on hardware that is almost seven years old and perform as smooth as a baby’s bottom does raise some eyebrows about what Nintendo are really offering under the hood. Nintendo have stated this time and time again, it has never been at the forefront of graphical horsepower when it comes to their consoles, instead opting for more innovation and gameplay experiences and the Wii U is no different.
With all that said, it’s a blessing to see Nintendo finally waking to their senses and joining the HD era of gaming. New Super Bros Marios U won’t set the world on fire with its presentation, but the fact that we are one step closer to seeing Mario, Link, Samus and the rest of Nintendo’s crazy bunch in glorious 1080p is pure bliss. Come on Nintendo, announce the heavy hitters already (Pikimin 3 doesn’t count)!
It’s too early to tell if Nintendo have a real winner of its hands with the Wii U. There’s no denying that the use of the GamePad’s screen has the potential for some really innovate and ground breaking titles, but as of now there’s nothing compelling to make the Wii U a definite must buy. Nintendo Land does do a great job of showcasing the capabilities of asymmetric gameplay, and yes, there’s ZombiU catering for the hardcore, but I wouldn’t categorise either of these as killer apps.