Six years almost to the day after Nintendo launched the Wii comes its successor, the Wii U. Much like its predecessor, the Wii U hopes to garner new audiences with a new way of playing. The GamePad is the Japanese company’s latest attempt at innovation by merging a tablet interface with a traditional controller.
How successful was the console’s launch depends on what your expectations were but it certainly didn’t fall flat on its face. However, that is not the purpose of the following 2,000 words. We chose not to do a review at the time of launch as, well, we wanted time to settle with the hardware, get a good look around the different aspects of what were available and, perhaps most importantly, test it out in a variety of scenarios.
WHAT WE LIKE
DUAL SCREEN AND GAMEPAD POTENTIAL
The cornerstone of the Wii U is the new and innovative GamePad. The ability to add a fifth player is fantastic, and having almost two separate game modes as a result is terrific for multiplayer gaming. By granting an advantage to the GamePad player over the other players allows for a balanced advantage when against multiple opponents and creates a great sense of teamwork against that one player. At no point does it feel as though those without the GamePad are left with an inferior experience, just a different one.
As for the build of the controller, it was widely loved when played with friends and family and many found it to be smaller and lighter than they were expecting. Those with larger hands may find that there isn’t enough grip on the back of the device to support with their fingers, but this was designed this way so that even the little ones can hold it.
IT COULD BE THE REBIRTH OF LOCAL MULTIPLAYER
Local multiplayer has been on the decline this generation but the Wii U hopes to change that. So far, the best experiences with the console have come with a group of friends and the increase of participants to five players is a positive. Passing around the GamePad, the use of personalised Miis – and the ease at creating, selecting and changing them – creates a wonderful social atmosphere and the comradery between players is clear to see.
Both New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land excel when played with a room of people. Whether it’s in a competitive or cooperative fashion, there could be a big rise in local and party focused titles for the Wii U, beyond the usual substandard “Party” shovelware that saw a release on the Wii. Whilst motion control invited a new wave of players, the interesting ways that the GamePad can allow developers to create interactions between players is very exciting.
The use of the Wii’s Wiimotes is very good news for those that had them as it’ll grant a quick, cheap and easy route into the best Wii U experience.
SLEEK AND SEXY HARDWARE
Whilst mimicking the Wii’s form factor to such a degree that many assumed it was the same machine, the Wii U cuts a stylish and slick frame – especially in black. Supporting standard HDMI out of the box as well as the proprietary AV output of the Wii, the Wii U comes with everything you need to get going right away.
The dual LED on/off and disk light setup is pleasant but it’s the consoles running volume that is most impressive. It’s without doubt the quietest home console on the market. The GamePad meanwhile is surprisingly comfortable and much lighter than expected – at 1.1 pounds, it weighs less than the latest iPad, though is of course heavier than the standard PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controllers.
What a refreshing change it is to see an online network not ravaged with hate and lewd comments, but instead praising games, stories of player’s good times and of general merriment. There’s a lot of potential with the different game areas where gamers can discuss about their games, ask for hints and warn players about potentially difficult sections. There’s a wonderful array of impressively drawn images and it’s pleasant place to visit.
Whilst it’s not a traditional gaming online network that we’ve come to know with the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and even PC and GameCentre spaces, it offers something fresh albeit a little adolescent. Hopefully it’ll flourish and mature – much like the PSN did – as the years go by.
NINTENDO’S GREATEST IN HIGH-DEFINITION
Whilst it is certainly something that was expected as the very minimum requirement, it is incredibly delicious to see the likes of Mario in high-definition. The Wii U menu is crisp and the Miis that populate the home menu are delightful. Both New Super Mario Bros U and Nintendo Land can run at a native 1080p resolution – something that other consoles struggle with as they’re most likely running at 720p. Third party titles haven’t quite made it to that level yet, but if Nintendo can do it on their own console, chances are the others can too.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
GAMEPAD BATTERY LIFE
One of the reasons the GamePad must be so light is the severe lack of a substantial battery housed within. Whilst the likes of the DualShock 3, with its built-in battery, lasts around the 15 hours mark, an iPad used for 3D gaming will push around six hours, however, the GamePad will barely stretch to three hours. GIven the severe lack of processing that the controller actually does it’s a real frustration.
During a day session of gaming with a group of friends, the GamePad required two whole charges. Such a poor lifespan is extremely disappointing and can really intrude upon your gaming activities. For those that want to use it in without the TV this will cause some concern.
SYSTEM LOAD TIMES
Perhaps the biggest annoyance so far has been the length of loading between the Wii U’s menus. No matter whether it’s between or from the Mii menu or the eShop it takes far too long. What’s most surprising is that it seems to only be with operating system; once into a game, load times are kept to a minimum and things move along quickly – why this isn’t the case for the main menus is baffling and quite frankly infuriating at times.
VOLUME AND LENGTH OF LAUNCH SYSTEM UPDATES
Another aggravation comes via the volume and length of system updates so shortly after launch. Within a week of launch there were two updates each over an hour-long. I’m a staunch advocate of system and game patches and welcome their place in gaming, but for a brand new system to require such a lengthy update twice in a week is frustrating.
I’ve never had such problems with either PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 updates, both of which are usually over within five or ten minutes. Hopefully the length of time these updates take will reduce as otherwise there will be a lot of sitting and waiting to be had.
Whilst this one may not be apparent, it’s a certain bugbear for those who don’t have a Wii already. Many of those who voiced interest in purchasing a Wii U having spent some time with it were greatly discouraged following understanding how much it would cost to achieve the same setup. Although the Premium console is not overly highly priced, it would be the additional cost of four WiiMotes that dissuaded most.
The fact that it did not play DVDs or Blu-rays was a disappointment to many and seen as a reason to buy a PlayStation 3 over the new Nintendo kit. Especially when, currently, there’s no discernible difference in graphical quality between the two.
OPERATING SYSTEM NIGGLES
Without doubt these should get ironed out in the coming months, but currently a series of strange choices plague an otherwise enjoyable OS experience. Being unable to view or buy certain content at particular times is bemusing, whilst the disparity between notifications for friend invites is maddening. Issues with screen resolutions, some of the apps appearing on the home menu but not being activated and no way of turning off the GamePad screen are just a few of the aggravations.
Then there’s the connectivity issues. On multiple occasions the GamePad will lose connection with the Wii U, which sits merely feet away. It’s limited range also means that other than within the same room, there’s little reason to use it as a TV-less device.
WII U PRO CONTROLLER
Sub-Editor Dave Irwin got his hands on the Wii U Pro Controller, designed to be used to play games in a more traditional fashion. It’s a shame then that the Pro Controller is lacking compared to the build quality of the GamePad itself. The button layout is relatively similar to the Wii Pro Controller packed with titles such as Xenoblade Chronicles and Monster Hunter Tri, but the overall design is remarkably comparable to the Xbox 360’s control pad.
These are forgiveable traits for sure, but the overall build quality of the Wii U Pro Controller is pretty awful. The material used to create the device feel cheap to hold and it is a little too light to give any feedback or support while playing. You can’t even use it in some games, including New Super Mario Bros U, as the controller turns itself off if it isn’t compatible. We can understand it for the motion controlled games of Nintendo Land, but a 2D platformer that features almost no motion controls?
LACK OF INTERNAL SPACE
This one will surely become an issue further down the line, but I’m already finding myself being far more cautious with purchasing and downloading eShop titles due to the limited space. With the operating system eating up a huge amount of the available capacity, it’s a problem that will rise it head in the not too distant future with some force.
The ability to use external HDDs is of course available, but the restrictions and difficulties this causes are real stumbling blocks and the suggestion of doing such a thing was met with disbelief by those who are far less tech savvy than I.
NO REASON TO BUY THIRD-PARTY TITLES
With a higher price point, no discernible difference in quality and releases out-of-date, there’s little reason to buy third-party titles at the moment. Obviously, now that the console is out one would expect more and more titles to see simultaneous releases with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but without a noticeable jump in quality (yet) there’s little incentive to spend the extra money.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Wii and the Wii U outside of the actual hardware is the actual complexity of the setup. With the Wii and its motion control it was very simple to hand some the controller and they would almost instantly pick it up. The GamePad, for all its qualities, is as complicated as controllers come. This could be the Wii Us saving grace or its destruction; a greater degree of inputs caters to the hardcore, whilst the interesting gameplay ideas are great for the more ‘casual’ player.
The does make it somewhat difficult to understand what Nintendo is trying to achieve with the Wii U, and although reception has been positive it hasn’t been overwhelming. It may be attempting to cater to the tablet market, but lacks the flexibility of their hardware revisions to do so, and probably won’t have the power to keep the hardware entertained for longer than a few years. The need to wirelessly tether the GamePad negates the most important facet of a tablet, it’s convenience.
After spending a month with the console it’s clear that it’s great fun. Local multiplayer gaming has been an absolute joy on the Wii U and hopefully it’s just the start. I still have some major concerns over the hardware’s long-term sustainability with new consoles from Sony and Microsoft due over the next 18 months however; not to mention to less than solid support from third-parties for some of this and next year’s biggest titles.
There’s a lot missing from the online capabilities of the system but that’s stuff that could easily be added early in it’s lifespan. Unfortunately, it’s bones of the console that could be it’s biggest undoing and whilst dual-screen gaming has some fantastic possibilities ahead, so did motion control gaming. If Nintendo can garner strong support from outside studios to utilise the potential then the Wii U could be a fantastic system – but for how long?