I was fortunate enough to be able to nab a Wii U just a few days after it was released (hence the lack of updating on my part…sorry!) and let me tell you this: I’m glad I did. I’ll be honest, after what was (in my opinion) a huge let down with the original Wii I wasn’t too keen on picking up its successor. I didn’t really read much about it and figured I would just wait until the PS4 or Xbox 720 (or whatever they’ll be called) before I plunge into the next generation of consoles. The Wii U became an afterthought, shoved back into the dark depths of my mind. A few weeks ago I was in Gamestop picking up a game or two and an employee there asked if I wanted to get on a wait list for the Wii U. I asked, “Why should I? I didn’t really care for the Wii. What’s different about the Wii U?”
The employee went on and on about the new experience the GamePad provides and I found myself growing more and more intrigued. I went ahead and got on the wait list but started browsing for open pre-orders for the 32GB model (to no avail). Then, on the day before the system was to release, I found that Newegg.com had it up for pre-order. I immediately bought it and waited anxiously for it to be delivered. I was super lucky that it came in on Tuesday giving that this week was a short week due to Thanksgiving (thanks for releasing a major console on a holiday week, Nintendo!) I immediately set it up and fell in love with the system. This was what the Wii should have been. So without further ado, here is my review of the Nintendo Wii U.
Setting It Up
The Wii U took me about 2 hours in all to set it up. Nintendo had a mandatory Day One update that took approximately an hour to download and install but most of the delay came before the update. For some unknown reason my Wii U could not connect to my wireless router. I double and triple checked the password and settings but it still would not connect. This wouldn’t have been a problem if Nintendo had put a LAN port in the Wii U but unfortunately, like the Wii before it, they did not. I don’t know what Nintendo’s aversion is to LAN ports (both the PS3 and 360 have LAN ports) but the setup process would have gone a LOT smoother (and quicker) had the Wii U had one. Luckily, I wasn’t the only person with this problem and I found an easy to follow tutorial on Kotaku.com (you can find the link here if you are having the same problem with your Wii U) that let me set up my internet connection manually. Once I got the internet working everything else went along swimmingly.
The next step was to transfer my existing data from my Wii to my Wii U. Basically what you do is download an app for both the Wii and the Wii U that allows you to create a save folder on an SD Card. The whole process only took me about 20 minutes (although I had very little data on my Wii so your experience may vary). I have to give Nintendo props here. They could’ve just had a boring progress bar displayed during the whole process but they went one step beyond. They created an animation involving Pikmin (God I love Pikmin) literally packing up your save data and moving it into a ship. The ship then launches towards the Wii U planet. Once there they unload the ship and unpack everything. It’s incredibly cute and a nice touch.
The Wii U’s interface is a lot like the original Wii’s. Everything is displayed via icon in a grid like pattern. It’s nice to see Nintendo not making any drastic changes here as I thought the Wii’s UI was great. I would almost venture to say the Wii U’s UI (say that five times fast) is actually a bit easier to understand and navigate. The Wii’s options were often times hidden among several different menus. Here, everything is laid out for easy access. The only negative aspect I have seen so far is that it takes the Wii U a bit longer to load things than the original Wii did. Sometimes you’ll be waiting for 15-20 seconds for something to pull up. While that may not seem like a long time at first, when you can pull things up almost instantly on a tablet or smartphone these days waiting for 15-20 seconds for something to load feels a lot longer in comparison.
Say what you will about Nintendo, but one thing is for sure: they know how to make a unique gaming experience no matter which format (console or handheld). Yes I know it’s probably only a smidge more powerful than current gen consoles (the specifics on what exactly is inside the Wii U are still a secret as of this writing) but Nintendo has never been about super powerful machines. What they want is to create a one-of-a-kind experience and with the Wii U they have certainly succeeded. While not as ground-breaking as what we saw with the original Wii, the GamePad creates a singular experience that just has to be experienced in person. Essentially the Wii U functions a lot like one of Nintendo’s previous smash hits: the DS. The GamePad is basically the bottom touch screen and your TV is the top display screen. What this means is that if you’ve ever used a DS, you’ll feel at home the Wii U.
The GamePad is a lot like a tablet with physical buttons. You have a 6.5” touchscreen in the middle, analog thumb sticks on each side, a d-pad, 4 face buttons and 4 trigger buttons. Basically it’s a controller with a screen in it. However, the GamePad is surprisingly light and ergonomic considering its size. The touchscreen is super responsive and you can use either the included stylus or your fingers to tap and select items on the touchscreen. Both work perfectly (although if you have massive fingers it might be a little tougher). All of the buttons are responsive and feel firm. Perhaps the most welcome feature is that the analog sticks are not like the ones on the nunchucks from the original Wii. No longer is there a horrible clicking/grinding noise when making circle motions thanks to the removal of the weird hexagon-shaped opening for the thumb stick. This makes for a much quieter experience.
One of the greatest (and most understated) features is the ability to play most Wii U titles on the GamePad exclusively. What this means is that if your wife/kid/annoying cat wants to watch something on the same TV you’re playing your Wii U on, you no longer have to argue/fight/engage in a rap off to decide who gets to use the TV. Most Wii U games allow you to transfer the display to the GamePad, allowing you to do something else on the TV while still getting to play a console quality game. This may not sound like a big deal but I’ve used it on more than one occasion and it’s absolutely fantastic. This is something that could’ve easily been left out and its inclusion shows that Nintendo really put some thought into this console.
Another fantastic aspect of the GamePad relates to multiplayer games. If you have a game that has local multiplayer you are usually relegated to spilt screen with other consoles. With the Wii U, games (such as Nano Assault Neo) put one player on the TV and the other on the GamePad. This allows both players to get a full view of the game without having to worry about their viewing area being shrunk to accommodate the other player. This is yet another understated but awesome feature the GamePad provides.
The only other notable feature here is that Nintendo has finally entered the HD-era of gaming. When the original Wii launched over 6 years ago, HDTV’s were not as common as they are now. They had just started becoming affordable and Nintendo decided that they would rather make the Wii standard definition in order to avoid alienating potential consumers who did not own an HDTV. I still think they could’ve made the Wii HD and still have a standard definition option (just like the PS3 and 360 did) but at least they did not make the same decision with the Wii U. The Wii U comes with an HDMI cable (as well as component cables for those of you still living in the past) and everything looks gorgeous in full HD. One of the greatest moments for me was seeing Mario in all of his HD glory. Colors are more vibrant and everything is sharper and clearer, making for a much more enjoyable viewing experience. I know this may not seem like a big deal as we’ve had this with the PS3 and 360 for years but it’s really a great feeling to see a brand that I’ve loved since I was a kid finally get the HD treatment.
The Wii U has a pretty decent selection of games available day one. There’s Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U from Nintendo itself and several high profile ports (including Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Darksiders 2, etc.). Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of Wii U only experiences but that will change with time. I picked up Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U and Darksiders 2 and will touch on each of them briefly.
Nintendo Land really shows off what the Wii U can do. Much like Wii Sports before it, every facet of Nintendo Land explores how you can use the new input device to play games. However, unlike Wii Sports, the experience this time around is a lot more fun. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Wii Sports. However, it only had 4 basic mini games and it got old really quick (granted it was completely free so I can’t really complain). Nintendo Land has 12 unique mini games that provide a much more fleshed out experience. What’s even better is that each mini game is based on a Nintendo IP; something Wii Sports didn’t have. The catch here is that if you buy the 8GB Basic Edition, you’ll have to pick up Nintendo Land separately (at full retail price). Is the game worth a full $59.99? No, it’s not. Your money would be better off being spent on New Super Mario Bros. U if you want a first party game. However, it’s a great value if you get the Deluxe Edition and it provided some great laughs for me and the Hive Leader (who is suffering from a serious case of Wii envy…God I still hate that name).
Darksiders 2 is a pretty decent and enjoyable port. I played a bit of the first Darksiders when it came out a few years back but I found it to be a bit too difficult to enjoy thoroughly. The sequel seems to be a bit more accessible and has provided a pretty entertaining experience thus far (I’m only a few hours in as of this writing). It is hindered by some technical issues such as long loading times when running across the game world but I’m giving THQ a free pass since porting to a new system (especially one where you need to incorporate an entirely new input device) can be difficult. It’s also not the prettiest game and doesn’t look any different than its PS3 and 360 counterparts (it may look a little worse but I wouldn’t know). What is nice is that they’ve included all of the DLC from the PS3 and 360 releases on the Wii U game disc so it feels like you’re getting a little more bang for your buck. Overall I’d recommend this game if you are looking for a good third person action game to play on your Wii U.
New Super Mario Bros. U
The best game of the launch lineup, however, is New Super Mario Bros. U. The Hive Leader and I played this game for hours and hours this weekend and it was a blast from start to finish. I was on the GamePad, creating platforms and taking down enemies while The Hive Leader was playing on a Wiimote (yes the old Wiimotes work with the Wii U which is a nice move by Nintendo). We had a TON of fun and it was probably one of the best times he and I have had while gaming in a long time. I won’t go into too much detail as this review is about the Wii U and not the games but I’d definitely say that if you are going to pick up a Wii U you NEED to get this game. It’s definitely the hands down winner of best Wii U launch game.
Overall the Wii U is a great console and definitely worth a pick up if you can find one. While we still don’t know the full capability of the console, I foresee Nintendo remaining competitive in the next generation of consoles. The PS4 and Xbox 720 will likely be more powerful machines but neither will likely be able to provide the same kind of gaming experience the Wii U can provide. My only concern is that the Wii U may stop getting a lot of software support from third parties, just like the Wii before it. While creating a new way to play games is great for consumers it means a lot more work for third party developers. Work that many may find isn’t worth their time/effort/money. Hopefully that won’t be the case here. For now, I see a great future for the Wii U and I can’t wait to see what Nintendo has in store for us down the road.