The Wii U is the first new video game console in six years and the sixth console Nintendo has ever made.
It comes loaded with high expectations. It's more or less launching the next generation of consoles that will see a new Xbox and PlayStation at the end of next year, and so it must seem like a leap forward. It has to signal whether it's probably another phenomenon like the Wii or just a passable role-playing player like the Nintendo GameCube.
Nintendo isn't going anywhere, but the question is how far the next Wii can go. Here's a machine as powerful as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and introducing a radically new way of playing home console games: with or simply on a motion-sensitive, camera-enabled twin stick controller that includes a 6.2-inch touchscreen.
At least we have a brave new player on the scene.
Consoles are difficult to judge on their launch day. Developers usually take a long time to get used to the hardware before they can make their best games on it. The machine you can get on day one is therefore a potential vessel, but rarely the promoter of an instant masterpiece. Consoles are also no longer static. They evolve with firmware updates and get new features from month to year and year. The Wii U is a product of these factors. It has a strong, but not mind-boggling, grid, and begins its cycle with the immediate flaw of a promised feature – the vaunted Nintendo TVii service – that isn't available on day one.
What can you do with this thing?
The Wii U is not a Wii
The Wii has always been a glorified peripheral for one of the most popular and instantly engaging games of all time: Wii Sports. This was a game that deserved the average person's instant affection. At launch, the Wii U is missing a game with similar magnetism (believe me, we've tried its games on gamers and non-gamers; sometimes we even recorded the results). There is also no game that has the historical excellence of the great justifier of day one Nintendo 64 purchases, Super Mario 64.
There are certainly bright lights on the Wii U's grid, but nothing that relieves the new console from being judged on its own merits as a machine regardless of the games placed in it.
The Wii U is better hardware than the Wii, GameCube, or any other Nintendo home console.
The Wii U is a capable machine. For once we have a Nintendo console that doesn't feel littered with omissions. Gone is the era of the GameCube controller with three shoulder buttons when the competition has four. Gone is the era of the Wii that couldn't send HD graphics to an HDTV. Gone are most of the excuses and exceptions that instantly threw new Nintendo consoles out of balance with other game consoles.
With the Wii U, Nintendo is finally adding industry standards to its innovations.
With the Wii U, Nintendo is finally adding industry standards to its innovations. Around this unusual GamePad controller screen are two clickable analog sticks, a D-pad, four face buttons and the quartet of shoulder buttons and triggers that players from Call of Duty to Ninja Gaiden can expect. The Wii U supports optional Xbox-style Pro controllers, outputs graphics in HD, and essentially gives the new Nintendo console the tech foundation that on paper should ensure it can do everything that its competing consoles do on this side of the road Microsoft's Kinect sensors can. Games are played that run on modern graphics engines such as Unreal Engine 3 and the in-house technology that supports the latest Call of Duty and Assassin & # 39; s Creed games from Activison and Ubisoft.
The Wii U meets the standards of modern console games, but also supports Wii remote controls and therefore serves as the HD version of the Wii. It does all of these things and introduces some well-implemented new features to modern console gaming.
Finally a Nintendo console that doesn't compromise. **
** The console needs two asterisks in the list of current features: 1) The internal memory in the 8 GB or 32 GB models (neither of which really offers that much storage space) is simply too small to hold the content offered after release supported by most of the major video games such as EA, Activision or Take Two; 2) Support for peripheral devices, especially voice chat headsets, is initially limited. Regarding the memory problem, Nintendo has support for external drives and certainly has the ability to free up future Wii Us with more memory. Peripheral problems can also resolve themselves as peripheral manufacturers work more closely with Nintendo.
Do that … almost no compromise.
A big screen in a controller is a great idea
The Wii didn't invent motion controls, and the Wii U didn't invent the concept of putting a second screen in the hands of a person using a television. Like the Wii, the Wii U simply takes a tested idea and undertakes to do it very well. The innovation on the second screen should delight any passionate console gamer. The Wii U supports optional Xbox-style Pro controllers and outputs graphics in HD. These features essentially give the new Nintendo console the tech foundation that, on paper, should make sure it can do everything the competing consoles can on this side of Microsoft's Kinect sensor. It makes playing better.
There is little to worry about about the Wii U GamePad's controller screen. This does not make the controller too heavy. It's not distracting. It depletes itself of power in two to three hours, but it comes with an eight-foot cable that, in the worst case, requires use as a wired controller.
There is a lot to enjoy thanks to the controller's screen, which brings many unexpected conveniences to console gaming:
It enlarges and enlarges a player's viewable screen area, and moves the cards or inventory of some games to a secondary display that allows these items to be made larger and more legible. This offers utility and convenience. Yes, a player may now have to look down to see a minimap in Assassin's Creed III, for example, but that map is now larger and therefore more useful. The same goes for the always available Power Wheel on the GamePad screen in Mass Effect. These elements of modern games used to have to be pushed into a corner of the TV screen or hidden behind a pause menu. They are now more accessible on the Wii U thanks to a second screen.
You can use your console when your TV is turned off or someone else is using it. Games like Madden NFL 13, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and New Super Mario Bros. U can be played right from the GamePad screen. Since the GamePad is wireless and works up to a range of about 30 meters (your experience may vary), these "off-TV" games can be played even in rooms that lack a Wii U or TV. The games can be played well on the GamePad, as the GamePad has all the standard sticks and buttons of an average game controller. Suddenly, console gaming is no longer dependent on a television. Mark this as a luxury few have asked for, but that turns out to be wonderful. This feature is amazing at first, and many new Wii U owners will get confused for a moment and then probably delighted when one day they turn off their TV and find that their Wii U is not only on but still showing up on the startup interface on the GamePad controller. You can use this console after turning off your TV. This is very, very new.
It gives you a touch interface for console gaming. Controlled with either a stylus or a fingertip, the GamePad screen can emulate the bottom half of a Nintendo DS-like game, or it can simply be used to quickly drag and reorder items of a player's inventory in ZombiU. The light version of Nintendo's real-time strategy game Pikmin, which is part of the launch game Nintendo Land, shows how a pen on a controller can improve the strategy game on a console. With the system's Madden Launch Game, the player can quickly draw new games with the mere strokes of the pen on a currently virtual sketchpad in the player's hands.
It enables local multiplayer with private screens, so two players can play a game together in one room without having to split a TV screen in two.
- It allows you to reconfigure a controller and add new virtual buttons if a game requires an advanced user interface.
- In combination with the GamePad's gyro sensors, a gamer can use the screen-capable controller as a motion-controlled viewfinder for a virtual world that appears to exist around the controller. This effect is used in the Zelda game by ZombiU and Nintendo Land so that the GamePad player who sees the game world on their screen can lift and tilt their controller to see the game world sky, lower it and see the ground or to pan and see the game world around them. A television screen can create the illusion of being a portal to a virtual world behind it. The gyro-capable GamePad creates the effect that a virtual world surrounds the player. It offers the player who is ready to get up, turn around in his room and treat himself to something, an exciting impression of virtual reality.
Some have hoped for a multi-touch screen or a capacitive screen that is both finger-sensitive and the Wii U's resistive screen responsive to a stylus. The support for multi-finger gestures would have been nice, but the size of the screen makes typing with your fingers more responsive than the crumpled resistance screens on the original non-XL models of the DS and 3DS.
The resolution of the GamePad screen is worse than an HD TV or an iPad, but it still offers very good graphics for the game. Mario looked just as alive and was just as playable on the GamePad screen as it was on the TV. Madden transmitted well. Nintendo Land's Pikmin and Zelda games technically looked better on the GamePad screen than any console game in their respective series ever seen on TV. The GamePad asserts itself graphically and visually.
The connection between the screen control and the console is excellent. The GamePad screen's ability to stay in sync with the television screen at all times is as welcome, as was required for the Wii U version of multi-screen games. The GamePad's ability to swap pictures with the TV screen or take over the main TV screen is Nintendo's best new technological ploy. It happens in an instant.
Nintendo may not be the only company that offers two-screen experiences with a TV, but what they offer they do very well.
Some of these things are just too early to judge
A firmware update on the eve of the system's release suddenly activated most of the system's online-connected functions. I haven't had enough time with them to give them a fair rating, but more importantly, their quality is only proven by how they work with a live community.
In theory, the system's new Miiverse social network, which will be placed on top of a free online Nintendo Network service, will allow the exchange of messages with one another and the development of a happy, helpful community for various games. Wii U users can already check social hubs for important launch games and post messages on this group's message board via the GamePad. In some games, such as B. New Super Mario Bros. U, users can leave tips in games, but that's not a feature I was able to test.
If Nintendo can develop a happier, less toxic, and immature online community among gamers, they will have more power.
Nintendo tries to foster “empathy” among its players and encourages them to keep things clean and free of spoilers. If they can develop a happier, less toxic, and immature online community among gamers, then they have more power. When that works, the Wii U becomes the most convenient online platform to play games on. It's just not something that can be judged in the moment.
Likewise, the system's backward compatibility with most Wii games that required a firmware update was activated just hours before launch. I was able to transfer my Wii data to the Wii U, and while the animation for it has gone down in history as the most adorable progress bar in the world (we'll post the video later), I just can't tell how well the Wii U is holding up, when it switches to Wii mode. It should work fine, but it's not tested.
What I've tested, and downright confused, is why it takes 15-20 seconds to switch from the main menu on the Wii U to any of the system's apps, even basic system settings. It's bizarre and inconsistent with the system's otherwise fast-paced GamePad-to-TV graphics transfer or the various pause menu functions. If you exit the System Settings app or, for example, a user's game time log, another 15-20 second load is enforced. Something is going wrong at the system menu level. It interferes with an otherwise smooth user experience.
The games are good, but there are no instant classics
The highlights of the Wii U launch are Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land. The former is a solid sequel in a story series. The latter is a 12-game-in-one example of how the Wii U controller can transform the way we play single player and multiplayer. Both are good games, but the latter comes just three months after the previous Mario side-scroller on the 3DS (irrelevant if you don't have that machine, of course). The latter is full of content, but still feels like something that will be set aside for everyone but its party games once more meaty full-size Pikmin, Zelda or Metroid games are released. (Read our reviews of Mario and Nintendo Land.)
The other standout feature of the Wii U is possibly Ubisoft's ZombiU, the horror first-person shooter with an interesting permatod system (player characters die and then become zombie enemies on the player's next try through) and an elaborate use of the GamePad. We'll have a look back at that game tomorrow.
In addition, the system has a pile of other third-party games. An armload of them makes the Wii grid look mighty. There's Assassin's Creed III, Mass Effect 3, Madden NFL 13, Skylanders Giants, Disney's Mickey 2 from Black Ops II, Rabbids Land, Just Dance 4, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Batman: Arkham City, Ninja Gaiden 3, and more.
Nintendo promised a lot of games. They promised third party support. You delivered. In fact, many of these games have limited but promising use of the GamePad, and the potential graphics bugs in the ports may be excused as standard results for porting games to new consoles.
The line-up just doesn't have a game that has the glitz of a Wii Sports or Mario 64. Nintendo's competitors are not expected to vacate their console launches, but one that Nintendo may well outperform. That they don't is understandable, but slightly disappointing. That they have a grid full of games available on other HD consoles – some like Batman and Mass Effect for many months – weakens the appeal of the offer. For someone who only had a Wii, there are many gems here. For anyone with a 360 or PS3, there are plenty of reps.
Compared to an Xbox or a PlayStation … It's better the first day
It's been six years since someone had the chance to review a new console and, frankly, not only has the gaming scene changed, but the review scene has changed too. Kotaku didn't conduct regular assessments six years ago. Neither do I. With hindsight, however, it is clear that there was a huge difference between the quality of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 at launch and now.
Gone are most of the excuses and exceptions that instantly threw new Nintendo consoles out of balance with other game consoles.
The highlight of the 360 launch for me wasn't the disappointing Perfect Dark Zero or The Condemned, but the downloadable Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. (I'll admit that Call of Duty 2 was a delight for some.) Oblivion helped the console a few months after it was released, but it took a year before I felt the machine was reaching its potential. The PS3, which launched with Genji and Resistance: Fall of Man, took even longer to feel like a console to be used on a regular basis. Both machines are now more functional and come with excellent games.
It's easy to argue that the Wii U's grid is more impressive, and that the second screen technology alone makes a more interesting hardware addition to console gaming than anything the 360 or PS3 had. To say it's the best HD console to debut would be to ignore the seven and six year gaps between the Wii U and these consoles. The Wii U benefits from the generations of game development maturation that have enabled the EAs, Ubisofts, and Activisions of the world to create the huge, complex blockbuster games they are now making.
A new generation of Xboxes and PlayStations will be released next year. Publishers and developers are already making games for them. As a result, the Wii U will either start at a really good time, which will allow it to be well stocked with good games straight away, or the Wii U will arrive so late that it may be back to the situation the Wii was in when it was last found a couple of years ago: So little and unloved by the development and publishing community that most blockbuster games weren't even made for it. It's hard to tell, but it's impossible not to notice that dark streak around the silver cloud of a healthy console grid.
There are many unknowns …
Buying a new console is an investment in the future of a machine, more than an investment in the present. At launch we can take stock of what a console has, but there will inevitably be some blanks, some questions that will need to be answered in the months and years to come. In order to be able to best assess the Wii U, answers to the following questions are important:
- How successful will Nintendo Network and MiiVerse be in supporting online games and social interaction?
- How graphically powerful is the Wii U, and in the months after the understandably crude-edged Startports were released, will we find that multiplatform games look better or worse on Wii U than on Xbox 360 and PS3?
- Will the Wii U's online store and Nintendo's newfound eagerness for consumers to download full-size games transform the Wii U's eShop into a modern, digital-centric platform, a la Steam or iTunes? Or will it stay behind?
- Will the Wii U have the trust and support of major publishers? EA's support at launch is decent, Ubisoft has promised a lot, but Take Two has little for Wii U and the omissions of BioShock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V – two of next year's most anticipated games – from the Wii U version announced calendars are garish. And what if publishers release games for the next PlayStation and Xbox in a year – will they bring the same games to Wii U? Can they, given the expected big difference in performance?
- Will Wii U support for one – possibly two – GamePads focus or limit development to the console?
- Will the Wii U's range of choices – which includes the GamePad's sticks, buttons, camera, and gyro sensor, as well as Wii remotes, nunchuk, pro controllers, and who knows what else – prove too confusing and confusing? Especially when compared to the simplicity offered by the carefully crafted signature experiences from Wii Sports, Mario Kart Wii (with bike) and Wii Fit (with board)?
- Is the Wii U ready to survive what's next? Does it have to support free games or benefit from the sale of one dollar downloadable games?
The Wii U is the console for this moment in history
Regardless of its future, the Wii U feels like a machine of the moment. A year and a half ago, I saw the Wii U for the first time and didn't understand it. It struck me as a solution in search of a problem. We played console games without a second screen. The GamePad doesn't make gaming any less intimidating. Who needed that thing? More importantly, who could even play it?
The Wii U is for each of us who, even when we're together, is in our own worlds.
I was confused, but when I started asking questions a top Nintendo designer asked me if I'd ever looked at my phone while watching TV. Of course I did. Then I played some Wii U multiplayer games and had the strange experience of sharing a TV with some other co-op gamers while a competing gamer in the same room was playing their part of the same game through their private screen on the GamePad controller. I got it there.
The Wii was a machine that allowed a family or group of friends to focus on one thing they could enjoy together.
The Wii U is for a new way of life. It's for the era of four people who go out to dinner, theoretically together, but also all of them in their own worlds via the cell phones that keep checking them. It is for the husband who is watching TV and has his iPad nearby while the wife is in the same room on her laptop. It's for the teenagers who write in the movies. It is for each of us who, even when we are together, is on the move in our own worlds. How to play the most interesting Wii U multiplayer games. You are meeting someone in the same room. You play the same game in theory, but on the two screens of the Wii U you can immerse yourself in your worlds separately and – this is important and makes this more than a LAN party – interact with different controls and do different things via your two portals .
Take a look at New Super Mario Bros. U: Four people are looking at the TV and running through a landscape rolling sideways with Wii Remotes held to their sides. They jump on platforms and destroy enemies. There are four people at a dinner party talking about the same thing. The fifth player is on the GamePad. You don't control characters. They don't push buttons. You just see the same game world roll by and tap the screen to create blocks that will catch falling TV players and build stairs for any TV player who needs a leg up. The GamePad player is at the same dinner party but is not really listening. You are on your cell phone. This is our world now. The Wii U is a perfect implementation of the video game console. The topicality is exciting.
In games, we review the game and imagine we are asked if a game is worth playing – not buying. We answer yes, no or not yet. We're not assuming telling you to buy, rent, or borrow a friend. We don't know what the value of a dollar is to you.
With a new console, we have to imagine that you'd wonder if a machine is worth it. We still can't figure out how a $ 350 expense for a deluxe Wii U bundle (included with Nintendo Land) or a $ 360 expense for a basic Wii U plus game would look like It affects you. We can't know if this will be your only console or if you will get them all.
All we can say is that for those who only have one Wii, the Wii U is everything the Wii was and more. However, we cannot say that this requires the Wii's immediate attention. We can't say that his games right now are the games you have to play this season. When you get a Wii U, you're probably at least as satisfied as the people who bought an Xbox 360 the first day. You did as the PS3 people on launch day.
But if you're standing on the fence wondering if it's time to buy a Wii U, we can guess with you that Nintendo is going nowhere, that excellent Nintendo games are certainly on the horizon, and that firmware updates are just that the system can do all the functions it should have when it starts, perhaps as early as early December. After playing a number of games on the Wii U and having the system at home for almost a week, I can confirm that it's a good machine that makes console gaming life surprisingly more comfortable and luxurious. I just can't tell you that you must have one now.
Is it time for a gamer to get a Wii U? Is it a must do?
Give it a month or three. Wait until the "start window" closes at the end of March and Pikmin 3, Lego City Undercover and a number of interesting download-only games become available.
With any new console, it may be wise to give it a year, especially if you want to compare it to the next developments from Sony and Microsoft. And if they don't build screens into their controllers, now you know that Nintendo has at least this excellent advantage over them.
Republished with permission. Stephen Totilo is an editor at Kotaku.