Nintendo have never been the kind of company that does what people think they should be doing. Whether it was sticking with cartridges while the rest of the industry was moving to discs, or favoring a lower price point instead of High Definition graphics, they never seem to be that concerned with what the other consoles were doing. When they come up with a plan, for better or worse, they’re going to stick to it. The Wii U, at first glance, seems to be following this pattern by sticking a six inch LCD screen right in the middle of the controller. However, once you get your hands on the Wii U, you’ll see that Nintendo have left plenty of room for mainstream gaming experiences in and around all of the cool new stuff they’re doing.
The Wii U itself is a sleek machine that looks roughly like an original Wii, only a bit longer from front to back. Like the Wii, it can be laid flat or operated vertically with the help of a couple of plastic add-ons (included). An HDMI connector delivers full 1080p resolution and the cable is included. The internal storage varies from 8GB to 32GB depending on whether you’ve purchased the white, basic, console or the deluxe, black, bundle. I would highly recommend going with the deluxe, if you can, as the extra $50 will get you much more storage space, a copy of Nintendo Land, and a charging cradle for your Gamepad.
The Gamepad, the system’s main controller, has roughly the same number of buttons as the PS3 or Xbox 360 with two analog sticks, a D-pad, four face buttons and four shoulder buttons. It may look awkward at first, and I wasn’t a big fan of the fact that the face buttons are below the right analog stick instead of above, but the Gamepad is surprisingly comfortable to use.
The main attraction, of course, is the six inch touch screen in the middle of the Gamepad itself. This screen can be used to access the Wii U’s menus, control your TV and cable box as a universal remote, perform secondary functions within some games, and a number of games can be played in full on the Gamepad itself, without using the TV. On top of all that, the Gamepad acts as a combination web cam and microphone for use in the Wii U’s built in video chat application. Seeing a controller with an LCD screen in it screamed ‘gimmick’ at me, the first time I saw it, but the whole system has been built around doing really cool things with the Gamepad and it turned me into a believer very quickly.
Aside from the Gamepad, the Wii U can accept input from any of the many controllers that the Wii supported, as well as a new Pro Controller, which heavily resembles and Xbox 360 controller. The system comes with its own sensor bar, for use with Wii Remotes and it has been redesigned without the goofy stand the Wii Sensor Bar had. This small, black bar lays flat and disappears into your entertainment center as soon as you place it, becoming the the most unassuming piece of tech you’ll have in your living room.
Through the use of some manner of sorcery, and WiFi technology, the Gamepad can display the same content on its screen as you see on the TV with no lag whatsoever. My space isn’t very large, so I couldn’t test the extreme range but I was able to get about twenty feet away with the Gamepad still working as intended. The Gamepad is the kind of versatile tech that I’m excited to see what developers will try to do with next.
Tying everything together is a system called the Miiverse. This is where you’ll create your Mii, the avatar you’ll use for supported games and as your identity in the menus. Here you can check up on your friends and read the latest posts about your favorite games. That’s right, there is a built in forum for each game that players can post tips and notes to for other players to see. Some games will integrate these posts into the game, so you can see what others are saying as you play.
The Wii U also features a very slick web browser that can be accessed without exiting the game you’re playing. Just hit the home button and select the browser from the menu and the Wii U will even helpfully suggest you search for the game you’re currently playing. New links open in tabs along the bottom, you can touch to zoom and everything loads pretty quickly. My favorite feature was, when watching an embedded video on a website (I would recommend The Controller Online, if you want to test) the video automatically goes full screen on both the TV and the Gamepad. However, on the Gamepad you can hit an on-screen button to minimize the video and continue browsing, while the video continues to play on the TV.
The only real complaint I have with the interface is that it can be very slow at times. Opening applications like the Miiverse, or even the account settings, can have you frequently waiting five or ten seconds for the page to load. It seems strange to me that something like the web browser can be so fast, but navigating system menus can be so slow. Not to mention the fact that we were hit with a 5GB update, the second the machine was turned on. Waiting two hours for an update is not how I wanted to spend my first moments with this new console, and I hope this isn’t how Nintendo plans to handle updates in the future.
Backward compatibility with the Wii might bother some people as well, since you cannot launch Wii games from the Wii U menu. You’ll have to enter the Wii menu, which launches a full Wii emulator. You can transfer your Wii data to your Wii U, but you’ll have to access the Wii shop separately from the Nintendo eShop, where you’ll be buying your digital games from now on. It’s great that backward compatibility has been included, I was just hoping for a smoother experience. Speaking of the eShop, most of the big launch titles, like Assassin’s Creed 3, New Super Mario Bros U, and ZombiU, are available for download right now, on launch day.
With updated hardware, HD graphics, and a lot of really cool new features, I’m much more optimistic for the future of the Wii U than I was for the future of the Wii when it launched. The potential of this console is huge and Nintendo have been able to cater to gamers who want more core games, like Call of Duty and Mass Effect, while still offering genuine Nintendo experiences. After getting my hands on it, I really feel like the future is bright for the Wii U and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Visit the official Wii U Website here.