Review: The Wii U – Nintendo’s Latest Gamble

Today is a special day, internet, as I get to review a new console. Full disclosure, I bought the Wii U over a month ago, but I happened to get a defective Gamepad, so I had to send it back to Nintendo, which took a particularly long time. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hold this incident against the system, as these things happen sometimes. The Wii U, despite its name, is not a redesigned Wii, but Nintendo’s brand new console. It has abandoned the clunky, underused motion controls of its predecessor in favour of touch screen gaming; although, you can still use the Wiimote on it, and developers can potentially still use motion controls if they want to (Nobody does, ever). Like the original Wii, the Wii U is an underpowered consoles, meaning that it is only slightly stronger (If that) than the current generation of consoles. To compensate for this weakness, Nintendo has been pushing innovation like they did with the Wii; however, this time, the innovation is considerably less untested, as touch screen gaming has become a staple of handheld gaming since Nintendo first experimented with it on the Nintendo DS. As it stands, selling an underpowered system so close to the announcement of the next generation is still a very dangerous gamble, as people tend to get blinded by graphics and, if the Wii is any indication, the Wii U could fall far behind in the critical third party market, since they’re doing their own thing. However, today isn’t really about speculating about the future, but evaluating the present, so without further ado, let’s get on with the review.

Any customer can have a Wii U painted any color that he wants so long as it is black… oh, there’s a white one too.

The most important aspect of the Wii U is its innovative Gamepad, and, thankfully, it is also its most impressive part of the new system. The Gamepad is a touchscreen controller, which combines traditional button inputs with a large central touch screen. It is an excellent controller, being light, but still having enough heft to it that it doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. The twin analogue sticks are easy to use and effective, as are the face buttons and the d-pad. It has two trigger buttons called RZ and LZ, which are superior to the PS3 controller’s R2 and L2, but inferior to the 360 controller’s extremely responsive triggers. The primary shoulder buttons, R and L, are inferior to the PS3’s responsive R and L button, but are considerably better than the 360’s almost useless right and left bumper. The most important part is that, despite being the largest controller ever made for a console, it fits excellently in your hands and it very comfortable to hold, considerably more so than the current generation of handhelds; although, this is due to the fact that it doesn’t have to be portable.

It fits perfectly in your hands, your scary dismembered hands.

As for the touchscreen itself, it is extremely responsive, more than the 3DS or the Vita. There is no delay between what is shown on the screen and what is shown on the television, which means that it’s a reliable and non-frustrating way to game, unlike the always unpredictable and imprecise motion controls for the Wii, or (A better comparison) the horribly inaccurate rear touchpad of the Vita. From what I’ve seen, the Gamepad has a large variety of applications to gaming, which are sure to elevate the medium. Games such as The New Super Mario Bros. U, display the entire game on the Gamepad’s screen meaning you can play without having the television on, or, while the television is being used for another purpose, like streaming movies. This approach will also be used, eventually with Virtual Console games, so you can play them entirely on the Gamepad; however, this is not currently functional. Another major use of the touchscreen comes from the handy use of maps and inventory management on one screen, while the game plays out entirely on the television. This is exemplified by the game ZombiU, which uses the second screen to build tension as taking your eyes off of the main screen can be deadly. This application is the most interesting, and it is where the Nintendo DS and 3DS has been the most successful. Opening a menu to deal with inventory management or to view a map is always a chore, and the second screen cuts this out entirely. Finally, in some services such as Netflix, the Gamepad displays the menus, which you can navigate. It’s a ho hum use, but still effective. Altogether, the Wii U’s Gamepad is an excellent mix of traditional, proven effective button inputs and placements, and innovative touchscreen gaming, which has been pushed recently by the growing mobile market. The Wii U only supports a single Gamepad, meaning the rest of the players for multiplayer games will be using either Wiimotes or the Pro controller, which is a standard, touchscreenless controller. This can lead to some interesting play variations between the Gamepad user and the traditional controller user, and Nintendo Land does a good job showing off the possibilities.

This is not the time to check your backpack!

In terms of the interface, the Wii U is pretty much identical to the Wii; although slightly more streamlined. There are still channels, and downloading a new application or game will create it’s own icon. The Wii U is not a media device first and foremost like the Xbox or the PS3, and it shows. There isn’t really any effective way to organize any of the content, but it’s less critical as you are likely not loading it up with songs and movies. The Wii U was made for games above all others. There is a completely separate menu for the Wii, which allows full backwards compatibility, but it is a little strange. Instead of simply allowing the Wii U to play Wii games, you have to access the Wii menu, which effectively reboots the system in Wii-mode with all of the standard start up of the old system, and takes you to the old Wii homepage. It isn’t a problem, but it is a little slow and cumbersome, and I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to just integrate this feature into the main Wii U console. Despite the required booting up of a Wii menu, it’s still excellent that the Wii is fully backwards compatible, as it means that you don’t need to keep your Wii hooked up in case you feel like putting Skyward Sword in. Surprisingly, the Wii U allows you to transfer all of your Wii data including Virtual Console games to the Wii U. It’s an especially nice touch to those who invested heavily in the abandoned Virtual Console shop, and something I wouldn’t have expected from any of the big three console developers, no less Nintendo.

You wanted more? Hahahah, you’re never getting rid of me.

So exactly how powerful is the system? If you know anything about computers and want to know specifics, then go here. If you’re like me and that’s mostly gibberish to you, then read on. The Wii U doesn’t seem to be any stronger than the 360 or the PS3 at this moment. However, since both of those consoles have been out for years, and developers have been able to optimize their games for the system, it is possible that the Wii U games will get better looking. As it stands now, the Wii U is no more graphically powerful than either system, and its big system sellers at the moment are not graphically impressive at all. That doesn’t mean that the system is ugly, but it does mean that you shouldn’t buy the system expecting a powerhouse. Like the Wii, the Wii U is relying entirely on old hardware, and using its innovative controller to try to make up the difference. I don’t want to speculate too much, but this is a better gambit this generation than last, as the Wii U has much better internet connectivity and this opens them up to catering to the indie developer crowd, who may not have the money to develop for higher powered graphical devices. Still, this instantly puts the Wii U at a disadvantage against the soon to be revealed system, and it means that Nintendo will have to work twice as hard to prove its relevance in the crowded marketplace, something they’ve been doing quite well with in their Nintendo Direct announcements.

This is easily the best looking Mario game ever, but that’s not saying much.

Now let’s move to Nintendo’s online services starting with the e-shop. As of the writing of this article, the e-shop is a bit of a mess. There’s content in there to be sure, but none of it is organized in an effective way, and there’s no intuitive way to simply browse any category. For example, the only way I could find the Rayman Legends demo, was to specifically search for it, since it wasn’t highlighted as a new release. There isn’t any way to browse all demos, which I could find, meaning many gamers will miss out if they don’t know exactly what to look for. The e-shop is also missing a ton of content, notably everything that was available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, which should have launched with the system. This service is coming, and gamers will be able to pay a $1 fee to activate the VC games for the Gamepad, but it is still a notable absence. As for the process of buying and downloading, it is all fairly intuitive, unlike the 3DS’ strange ‘download later’ option that never seems to work as it’s intended. At this time, the Wii U e-shop isn’t as good as the 3DS e-shop, which is a shame, but it is still easier to access than the Wii and it’s horrible online service.

Don’t worry, Nintendo. You’ll learn what the internet is someday.

Thankfully, Nintendo finally listened, and you can create a profile for your system instead of relying on insane friend codes to manage all of your online transactions. The system is notably lacking some standard features such as achievements/trophies, among a host of others, but Nintendo’s online service generally gets the job done, as much as Nintendo intends anyway. In the games that have utilized online services that I have played, it is generally responsive and effective; although, I have a hard time imagining any game focused entirely on an online experience being successful on the system. Nintendo still has a long way to go for their online service, and they’ve only now brought themselves to the level that the PS3 was at when it first launched. With a not insignificant amount of effort, Nintendo may be able to effectively use online services, but many of their decisions still seem to stem from utter bafflement of the not so new technology, such as limiting uses on demos. The Wii U has a new social system called the Miiverse (Come on, Nintendo. Umiiverse practically wrote itself), which sets up all sorts of different online communities that you can join and post pictures and comments to in order to share hints to a game, or simply shoot the breeze. It’s an interesting system, which I don’t see myself using to often because of something called the internet, but it is a nice addition and Nintendo does seem to be pushing it, integrating it into all of the games I’ve played so far. I can see its use especially for younger gamers, who might be able to get something out of the community.

This has the potential to be amazing, but then again, so did motion controls. You’d better be ready to support it, Nintendo.

Is the Wii U a good system that’s worth buying? My answer to that is an unqualified yes. Every gamer, even the most stuck up PC gamer, deserves to experience Nintendo’s first party games and the Wii U looks like it will deliver fully on that regard. Is the Wii U worth buying now? That is a much tricker question. As of now, there are definitely some great games out on the system, but it may be worth waiting until some of the bigger releases such as Bayonetta 2, or Wind Waker HD come out. I doubt many people would regret buying the system early as it’s certainly fun to play, and I doubt there will be a price drop anytime soon, but sometimes waiting on a system you aren’t excited in now is a prudent option. I don’t have to speculate on the future of the Gamepad, as I’ve played the DS and 3DS. I know that touchscreen gaming is a massive boon to a system, especially with the presence of traditional button inputs, so the Gamepad will be and is a major success in my opinion. Nintendo is making another major gamble like what they did with the Wii. I personally don’t think that the Wii U will be as successful financially as the Wii as it doesn’t cater as much to the casual market; however, I feel like it will be a much better system for those who actually play games, and if Nintendo Direct is any indication, Nintendo is finally getting off their asses and trying to get back into the game.

Putting a score on a system is a really difficult matter. So much of a system’s worth is bundled in its potential and a lack of followthrough can completely ruin this. Conversely, active support can elevate a system far beyond its weaknesses. I don’t think that the Wii U will likely be anyone’s primary console next generation, but it will serve as an excellent supplementary system for all gamers. The Wii U has amazing potential and Nintendo could create something definitely worth owning, but so much is still left to the potential.

For all of the great ambitions of the Wii U, I give this system an excited 9

For the cold realities of the current state of the system ignoring the future, I give this system a cautious 8

I cannot predict the future, but I believe the system will likely match up more to the first score than the second, if my actual opinion is worth anything.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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