Nintendo turned the Wii into a phenomenon by creating buzz around motion controlled video games. Much to the chagrin of hardcore gamers, simple games expanded the Wii’s user base. Titles like Super Smash Bros. Brawl still made the console an attractive purchase for Nintendo fans, but the Wii was missing strong support from third party developers. Six years later, Nintendo has a new console and a different innovation. Let’s check out the Wii U.
Let’s talk about the hardware first.
Compared to the Wii, the Wii U is heavier, longer, and glossy black if you get the Deluxe model. A sliding cover on the front of the console hides two USB ports and SD card slot. Two more USB ports are on the back along with HDMI, sensor bar, AV cable, and AC adapter connectors. You can use the HDMI cable bundled with the Wii U or the Wii’s AV cable to connect the system to your TV. We tested both and the Wii component cables can output 1080i resolution.
The Deluxe model has 32 GB of storage space, but you only 25 GB is available for save files and downloadable games. Storage can be expanded with USB flash drives and external hard drives. The catch is you have to format these drives to work with your Wii U and you cannot create a separate partition just for Wii U data. SD cards hold Miis, but cannot be used to save Wii U software. You may want a SD card for Wii mode since it can store save game data, WiiWare and Virtual Console titles. The Wii U is backwards compatible, but Wii mode is in its own universe apart from the the rest of the system.
Since the Basic Wii U only has 8 GB of storage and most of that is used for the console’s operating system, we recommend the Deluxe Wii U. It also includes Nintendo Land and accessories like a charging stand which makes the Deluxe package a better value.
The tablet-like controller is Wii U’s defining feature.
What separates the Wii U from every other console on the market is the Wii U Gamepad and its 6½ inch touch screen. Sure, the Wii U isn’t the first console with two screens. Nintendo experimented with that when they made Game & Watch devices. We’ve seen some good ideas with the Wii U controller being used to expand game space when you look around the theme park in Nintendo Land. Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition turns the GamePad into the Batman’s wrist computer, which makes the game more immersive. Most launch window titles turn the Wii U’s touch screen into a mini-map or touch screen menu.
The most clever uses of the GamePad so far are seen in multiplayer games. Mario Chase and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day in Nintendo Land are examples of 1 vs. 4 game. ZombiU has a neat multiplayer mode where the player with the GamePad creates zombies and the other player has to shoot them. The idea of someone being a “game master” while everyone else with a remote in hand enters a player created world is intriguing. I’m also looking forward to using the touch screen for real time strategy games and seeing stylus controlled games like Balloon Trip Breeze on my TV. The addition of a touch screen gives game designers the flexibility of reconfiguring controls with custom layouts too. Nintendo also put features into the GamePad like the camera, microphone and near field communication for developers to tinker with.
Being able to play console games while someone else uses the TV sounds like a novelty, but it’s quite useful if you share a TV. New Super Mario Bros. U automatically streams data to both screens while other titles like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge have an option to turn the GamePad’s from a menu into a game screen. You can sit about 25 feet away from your TV before the connection breaks up. The Wii U GamePad can also control your TV like a simple universal remote. You can channel surf, turn the volume up or down, and power on your TV using the touch pad.
The GamePad is surprisingly light and the buttons are lined up like any other controller. This is a significant change from Nintendo’s last three consoles and it seems like Nintendo is trying to appeal to core gamers. The familiar button placement also makes it easier for third party developers to release multiplatform games. Wii U is also compatible with most Wii accessories. Wii remotes and nunchucks are required to play many games in Nintendo Land. The Classic Controller Pro is compatible in Wii mode, but I couldn’t get it to work with Wii U software like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge which supports the Pro Controller.
The downside about the GamePad is you only get three and half hours of play per charge. Sure, you can plug an AC adapter in and keep playing, but adding a cord hampers games like Metroid Blast where you move the Wii U GamePad to aim. Charging the GamePad takes around two hours. The Pro Controller (sold separately for $49.99) which looks and feels just like an Xbox 360 controller lasts significantly longer – 80 hours after four and half hours of charging according to Nintendo. I charged my Pro Controller when I received it on November 7 and it still has juice in it.
Miiverse = Swapnote + Twitter.
Released just hours before the Wii U’s launch, Miiverse is Nintendo’s take on social networking. After registering a Nintendo Network account, you can post public messages in communities like New Super Mario Bros. U and Netflix. So far, every Wii U title, even download-only ones, has its own community. Tap on a community and you’ll see a stream of messages or pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog if you click on Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
Like a comment? You can tap on “yeah” to show your appreciation or follow users to see what else they have to say. Miiverse lets one account follow 1,000 users and have 100 friends. While online multiplayer was a painful process on Wii, it’s a piece of cake on Wii U. You can search for friends via their Nintendo Network name or add them straight from Miiverse. Nintendo also added a helpful option for users to self-censor spoilers. Nintendo plans on moderating Miiverse to keep it clean and friendly. An admirable goal, but I wonder if it’s possible given the nature of the Internet. Word filters might solve some problems, but communicating through scribbles is what makes Miiverse unique.
The downside about Miiverse is there isn’t an “off topic” community yet and the service has been buggy all day. Sometimes I couldn’t connect to Miiverse and other times I couldn’t check my feed. If you care about trophies or Gamerscore, you might be disappointed to hear that Wii U does not have a global achievement system. Nintendo left it open for developers to create achievements, but these are game specific like Nintendo Land’s stamps.
The hardware has potential, but every console needs software that utilizes it.
Wii U has more third parties supporting the system at launch than any other Nintendo console. Want a fighting game? There’s Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Wii U Edition. Mass Effect 3 covers the role playing genre and Darksiders II ticks the action RPG box. The problem is most of the Wii U launch day titles are expanded ports of games already available on other consoles. Assassin’s Creed III adds a mini-map on the controller, but that’s not enough of a reason to buy or play it again.
Right now, the current Wii U lineup doesn’t have enough unique experiences or a game with the intuitive appeal of Wii Sports. Yeah, New Super Mario Bros. U is a blast, but you’re not missing out on much if you wait a few months to get a Wii U. Pikmin 3, Game & Wario, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate are slated to come out in spring 2013. We’re not sure how easy the Wii U will be to get during the holidays and if your only option is to get the Basic set we recommend that you wait for a Deluxe bundle. If you already have a Wii U consider playing these games:
- Nintendo Land is the best showcase of what the Wii U can do so far. It’s fun to play with friends and has that Nintendo novelty quality. You probably have this already, though!
- While it doesn’t reinvent Mario, New Super Mario Bros. U is an excellent platformer and has some memorable levels.
- ZombiU’s multiplayer mode is interesting. There’s something satisfying about creating a horde of zombies and the single player is essentially a FPS roguelike.
The Wii U is a promising console and has enough power under the hood for two screens. Like most Nintendo hardware, it’s going to take time for developers to utilize it. Nintendo Land shows the potential of having a second screen, but doesn’t define Wii U the same way Wii Sports did for Wii. While Nintendo marketed Wii towards people who never bought a video game console before, from the familiar button layout to the Bayonetta 2 publishing deal Wii U feels geared towards core gamers.