Wii U Review -
Happy holidays! This Christmas season my wonderful girlfriend decided my cooking has warranted a rather extravagant present: a Wii U. I’ve spent a little over a week with it, and I have to say that I’m impressed. I don’t want to spoil too much of what you’re about to read, but suffice to say I’m having a great time with my new toy.
With most consoles the defining factor behind having a successful launch lies in the hardware, that is, unless you’re Nintendo. Pack-ins, charming additional features, and family friendliness seem to dominate Nintendo launches, with the powerhouse software being saved for later in the launch window. The Wii U is no exception to this, and the Miiverse continues to be one of the most talked about as well as most exciting new features of Nintendo’s next gen console. However, I would be remiss to not mention the large amount of M rated games that have also launched with the system.
This flies in the face of the philosophy that the Wii launched with, but less mature audiences will still find plenty to play here with titles like New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Skylanders. It’s quite a shock coming from a Nintendo that shocked the world by announcing that Bayonetta 2 would be on the Wii U to see them following through with their promise that the system would be better geared towards more avid gamers. Of course, only the future will tell if this practice continues, but at least for now they have delivered. So, without further ado let’s get into it.
Anybody following the Wii U will tell you that all the excitement lies, much like the Wii before it, in the new controller that Nintendo has cooked up. The gamepad features a touchscreen squeezed in the middle of a traditional controller. Adding to the impressive hardware of the gamepad are several smaller features including a camera, microphone, stylus, and gyroscopic sensor. My initial worry was that it would be too cumbersome to hold for extended play sessions, and the screen would become as useless as the second screen on many DS games. I was quickly proven wrong with the lightweight design and comfortable form factor of the gamepad, which molds to the hand nicely and seems to be, overall, more ergonomic to handle that a 360 or PS3 controller.
A huge plus for me is that the shape allows me to place four fingers on all four shoulder buttons comfortably, which is a complaint I’ve had about modern controllers for quite some time now. The only negative comment I have to levy against the gamepad is that it’s in fact so light that initially it almost felt like a cheap toy. This is likely from years of holding and getting used to ten inch tablets, many of which are heavy enough to wear yours arms out if you’re sitting at an uncomfortable angle. Again, this criticism is very nearly a compliment to the gamepad since I’m able to sit at any bizarre angle on my couch and be completely comfortable playing the Wii U.
The most surprisingly well liked feature seems to be the ability to play many games entirely on the second screen, a feature that looked like a forgettable addition when it was unveiled at E3. As someone who is leaning heavily towards handheld gaming recently, this makes the Wii U infinitely more valuable as a system. Like many handheld gamers, I actually do the bulk of my handheld gaming at home, but being able to move around the house and free up the TV so my girlfriend can watch Netflix makes playing my 3DS over my PS3 an easy choice. Likewise, being able to move around the house with my Wii U has held the same benefits. The range that the gamepad can go from the console is a little disappointing. My bed is too far away, as well as the master bathroom, but my office and guest bathroom are well within playing range. Most of my gaming takes place in the office, living room, or kitchen, so this isn’t a major complaint, but adding even fifteen feet would have made a world of difference to the gamepad range. Mix that with a little more battery life, and I would be hard pressed to find something to complain about.
Comfort combined with portability make the gamepad more of an achievement that I ever thought possible, and as long as developers make playing solely on the gamepad a high priority feature I can see myself really enjoying Nintendo’s newest controller.
Without a doubt Miiverse has been the talk of the town, even outshining the gamepad in many conversations. Essentially it’s a message board separated into communities for each game in which players can exchange small black and white pictures, short messages, and in some cases screenshots with one another. All this social interactivity is done under the watchful eye of Nintendo’s over protective moderators. This means you can’t use foul language, share any kind of personal information, or talk about politics and religion. For social service in 2012, this is beyond frustrating. I can understand the moderation of vulgar or graphic comments, but anything more than should be enough to gimp any service.
I say ‘should’ because Miiverse has somehow become a thriving community of hilarious art and surprisingly interesting conversation. To call it the killer app of the Wii U might be going a little far, but it rounds out the system software incredibly well. Before I start a game I generally look around at some Nintendo art in Wara Wara plaza, and after I quit a game I tend to check Miiverse for fun comments. The moderation, while frustrating, is the last thing on your mind when you’re reading the comments on a picture of Yoshi pelting Mario with eggs.
Where the software falters is the loading times. While not completely egregious, the load time going in and out of the system menu are just long enough to be noticeable. They hit that perfect amount of time where I start thinking, “I should probably take care of some things, instead of just sitting here on the couch playing video games,” and then the moment I start seriously considering those things the menu pops up and I waste another several hours in front of the TV. It’s really hard to throw too much hate at Nintendo for this oversight because it’s probably the first thing that’s going to be fixed with the next system update, but it does make me feel a bit like a beta tester instead of a customer.
Something I would classify as egregious is Nintendo’s treatment of Wii software. After the slightly confusing process of moving all my Wii software to my new system I discovered the way in which the Wii U plays Wii software: completely compartmentalized emulation. What this means is that to play a Virtual Console game you turn on the Wii U, wait for it to load, select the Wii channel, wait for it to boot into the Wii firmware, select the title you want with a Wii remote, and then proceed to play the title with the Wii remote or classic controller. Simply not being able to play Virtual Console titles on the gamepad was irritating enough, but to completely wall my Wii software in a virtual machine is like a kick in the face. I understand that this is likely because emulating the Wii isn’t as simple due to hardware restrictions, but it’s something Nintendo desperately needs to work out to avoid alienating anymore fans.
Backwards compatibility aside I’ve been enjoying my two Wii U games: Darksiders II and Nintendo Land. Like Wii Sports before it, Nintendo Land is a perfect showcase for your new console. It’s a slew of Nintendo themed mini games that seamlessly integrates the Miiverse into a package that I wouldn’t be that upset to have paid for separately. It’s not deep enough to provide an avid gamer more than a handful of hours of enjoyment, but it’s great fun when other people want to see what the Wii U is all about.
Darksiders II was my add on, which I chose over New Super Mario Bros. U just to see how well the Wii U handles the game. So far I’ve experienced some slight screen tearing, and at one point completely locked up my Wii U. While I haven’t played Darksiders II on any other console, it seems that these are just symptoms of porting the game to the Wii U. However, the ability to play a full current gen game on the gamepad, as well as being able to manage my inventory on the second screen when playing on the TV have far outshined the technical problems I’ve had. I hope that the problems are indicative of a quickly done port instead of problems developers may have with the hardware, but only time will tell.
I’m excited about the future of the Wii U, but I’m a little worried about future releases. A lot of big titles slated for early next year don’t seem to be bothering to port their titles to the Wii U, and the only big first party title on the horizon that I’m excited for is Pikmin 3. The hardware is solid, and the majority of my issues with it can be fixed with firmware patches. If Nintendo would relax a little more with their Miiverse moderation I could see their online presence being comparable to that of Microsoft and Sony.