Staff Musings: The Wii U a month later

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Nintendo’s Wii U has now been out for more than a month in North America. With the initial excitement for Nintendo’s first HD console out of the way, how does it fare?

Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but since Lowell and I have now spent ample time with the Wii U and its intriguingly different GamePad, a look at the pros and cons of this fresh Nintendo console is in order.

Game consoles, to me, are really about one thing and one thing only: videogame software. Features like Netflix, Hulu and Miiverse I couldn’t care much less about. I purchased a Wii U almost immediately because I adore a lot of Nintendo’s core franchises, and the promise of the Wii U GamePad coupled with HD graphics made the console a must-buy for me.

That’s the question I ask myself when judging the Wii U: is it is truly a better Nintendo experience? The short answer is…well, I don’t know. There simply isn’t enough software to judge as of yet.

If you’ve read my New Super Mario Bros. U review, you’ll see that the game is an adequate launch title offering. This is good, because outside of Nintendo Land, it’s Nintendo’s only first party title. Which is bad.

wiiugamepadnewsupermariobrosuI quite enjoyed the GamePad with New Super Mario Bros. U. Not only is it surprisingly light and well built, I never had any trouble with my frail wrists getting sore (they’re really skinny). Furthermore, while NSMBU doesn’t take any special steps with the GamePad’s screen, I see potential for, let’s say a Zelda game, to utilize it in unique ways. Not to mention Penny-Arcade’s take on the GamePad’s potential.

It’s just a shame that Nintendo launched without a game that did just that: show what made the new controller special.

pikmin3screenNintendo hasn’t been known as a company of graphical prowess in recent years, either, so the upgrade to modern software had me excited for Zelda and Mario like I’ve never seen. While there was a beautiful Zelda tech demo floating around awhile back, and Pikmin 3 looks slick, as it stands now we have disappointing visuals in their only first party launch effort.

This has me worried that Nintendo will be repeating the missteps of the Wii. Namely, there were only a few third-party gems that capitalized on what the Wii had to offer. Yes, Mass Effect 3 and Darksiders 2 are on the Wii U, but I can play those on my 360, PS3, or PC already.

I want Nintendo to make the Wii U special with its own software on a regular basis, not a few games spread out over six years. After spending an entire month with the console, I see the potential, but I’m worried Nintendo is going to let my Wii U gather dust.

- Lowell Bell

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I like the GamePad itself. It’s surprisingly lightweight and comfortable to hold although I can’t say everyone’s hands will feel fine after extended periods of play. The controller itself is full of so many doodads: it’s a TV remote, controller, touch screen, webcam and microphone all in one. You’d be surprised at how the simple inclusion of TV remote functionality adds an awesome layer of handiness in not having to fiddle with another remote.

I think the device has a ton of potential, and we’re already seeing it in spurts with the likes of New Super Mario Bros. U’s TV-less gameplay and the enjoyable minigames found within Nintendo Land. At the same time, I worry that future multiplatform games will simply shoehorn gimmicky touch screen features just because the developer or publisher felt like they were obliged to.

wiiumiiverseThe Wii U’s Miiverse, which acts as a built-in social networking app, is a fantastic feature that I can most certainly expect to see in some form on Sony and Microsoft’s future consoles. The Miiverse is a great way to enhance someone’s experience with whichever game they’re playing, from the incredible fan art drawings that permeate the community boards to seeking out advice during gameplay. Whenever I was stumped on a hidden Star Coin in New Super Mario Bros. U, I asked for help on the Miiverse and usually got a response back.

I’ve even seen a developer for the Wii U version of Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two post on that respective channel, essentially turning it into a Reddit-styled “Ask Me Anything” conversation. Imagine other industry figures or developers utilizing that as a way to chat with their fans.

The communication aspect of the Wii U also extends to its Wii U Chat, which lets you use the camera on the GamePad to video chat with anyone on your friend’s list. I tried this first with Lowell and was taken aback by how good the video quality was. The only issue I do see with this function is that you need to be in the main menu and not using any sort of app or playing any game to receive or send a call. Still, it’s a welcome feature.

The Wii U easily features the best web browser on a console to date. You can thankfully access the browser without exiting your current game, so if you ever need to quickly multi-task (or look up a walkthrough) you’re a few taps away.

Wii games happen to look a ton better when upscaled via an HDMI connection, so those of you who, like me, have some catching up to do with the Wii’s solid game library (you read that correctly) will take great pleasure in being wowed by how much better games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Super Mario Galaxy 2 look on the Wii U.

I don’t like how washed out the colors on the GamePad’s screen look in comparison to what’s happening on the TV. This is especially noticeable with games like New Super Mario Bros. U, where the colors are simply not as vibrant on the smaller screen. Nevertheless, it’s not a severe issue, seeing as how a better-quality screen (or an improved streaming process) would raise the system’s costs considerably.

The Wii U came out with a surprisingly extensive launch library, one that hasn’t been seen in a long time, if ever. Nevertheless, aside from standouts like New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, ZombiU and Scribblenauts Unlimited, it’s hard to recommend multiplatform titles like Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition or Mass Effect 3 to those who already have it on other consoles.

wiiuupdatescreenOne of the most controversial aspects of the Wii U proved to be its massive day one update that can take over an hour to download. This patch implements the online system for the Wii U, and it’s mind-boggling to think that Nintendo ran out of time to implement this from the get-go. That’s not to mention that there’s some risk of bricking your Wii U in the event of a power outage or freezing during such a long updating session.

The implementation of backwards compatibility for Wii games on the Wii U is a little strange. In order to play a Wii game or your transferred-over WiiWare and Virtual Console games, you need to access the “Wii Menu” mode which essentially transforms the Wii U into a Wii, menu and all. The time it takes to get into the Wii Menu feels too long. It’s a bit disappointing given that Gamecube and Wii discs could be launched from the same Disc Channel on the original Wii.

Another nagging issue is the fact that your Virtual Console and WiiWare titles are still tied to the system, and not your newly-established Nintendo Network account. I don’t understand why the Wii Shop Channel’s content hasn’t been integrated to the Wii U eShop. What happens when the eShop gets its own Virtual Console section, are we expected to rebuy games on there just to have the convenience of launching them from the main menu of the Wii U?

I’m hoping that in the future Nintendo can factor in GamePad and Wii U Pro Controller support for Wii backwards compatibility. Imagine being able to play Virtual Console games on your GamePad’s screen, away from the TV. It’s also pretty maddening that I can’t play a game like The Last Story with the Wii U Pro Controller, since it’s a better alternative to the old Classic Controller Pro.

- Patrick Kulikowski

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Author: Pixelitis Staff View all posts by