on March 1, 2014
Being a video game enthusiast, there isn't a console I haven't at least temporarily owned since 1995. That being said, I was entirely convinced that I was going to skip this generation of consoles. The Wii U, Xbox One, and PS4 didn't interest me enough to warrant a purchase for any of the 3. I thought maybe I was just outgrowing video games, but I was wrong.
Like a lot of people, I berated the Wii U when I first heard of it. Under-powered hardware. Late-to-the-party HD graphics. Built around the original Wii. I felt that Nintendo was still stuck the the last generation of consoles while Sony and Microsoft have moved on. I learned, though, that the Wii U has moved on, just in a different direction than the other consoles.
Although I talked negatively about the Wii U, I hadn't actually played it until about a week before from the time I'm writing this review. My first playing experience was a blast. I had tried it with my friend at the Wii U demo station at GameStop. Before I knew it, an hour had passed and I forgot why I had originally went to the store. It was then that I decided that I have to get a Wii U.
I bought the Wii U Deluxe Set with the New Super Mario Bros. U and New Luigi U games for $300. At $50 off the original price and 2 free games, I thought this was a great deal, and it is.
The Deluxe Set comes with:
-Wii U Console (32 GB)
-Wii U Gamepad
-Gamepad charging cable
-HighSpeed HDMI cable
-Gamepad Charging cradle
-New Super Mario Bros. U
-New Super Luigi U
-10% cash back from digital purchases until 2015
The Wii U console bears some resemblance to the original Wii, but you can definitely tell it's a new system. It is about a pound heavier, and about 2 inches longer than the Wii. Basically, the Wii U will fit just about anywhere your Wii fits. It's rounder and more sleek, compared to the original Wii, and the black will blend in with almost any entertainment setup, provided your other electronics are black as well. The front of the console has a slot-loading disc drive capable of playing both Wii U and Wii games. Of course, there are the standard Power and Eject buttons, a sync button to connect your controllers, and a small door that flips down to reveal an SD card slot and two USB 2.0 ports. The Wii U CAN support additional memory via SD cards and external USB storage devices, should you ever need to expand the memory. On the back of the console, you have your main power port, HDMI out, sensor bar port, two additional USB 2.0 ports (for a total of four), and a video out port. (The video out port is only needed if your TV does not have an available HDMI port, and you choose to use standard composite or component cables instead. These cables are not included and need to be purchased separately) I won't get into the internals of the Wii U for the sake of this review, but the Wii U DOES support and output 1080p full HD that is on-par with, if not better than, the Xbox 360 and PS3!
Overall, the console looks very simple yet sleek and professional. I'm pleased that Nintendo included an HDMI cable with the system so that you can experience the full HD right out of the box, and the support for external storage drives ensures that you will never run out of space for games. One drawback I do have with the console though, is that they chose to use a very shiny, glossy, black material that seems to attract fingerprints like a light attracts mosquitoes. This shouldn't bother most, nor affect their opinion on the Wii U, but it will bother those who are OCD about keeping their console clean!
The Wii U Gamepad is what really won me over for the system. The increased power and HD graphics are nice, but if it plays exactly like a Wii, anyone would grow bored of this system fast. Nintendo took a risk when implementing this gamepad, but I think it's a very intuitive and fun way to change the way games are played. It incoporates motion controls just like the Wii controller, but that's where the similarities end. The Gamepad is rather large, though it weighs in and just slightly over a pound.
It sports a 6.2-inch (non-HD) touchscreen in the center, which is where most of the Gamepad's features will come into play. Above the screen is a 1.3 megapixel camera, which can be used to take pictures and stream video-chat sessions.
Below the screen lies the Home button, which takes you a home menu similar to the Wii, and a mic. Off to the right a little bit, you have a battery light indicator which will let you know when the Gamepad's rechargeable battery gets low, a Power button that can be used to turn on and off the console, and TV control button which I will get into more later.
To the right of the screen, you have an analog stick, ABXY buttons, a Start (+) button, Select (-) button.
On the left side of the gamepad, there is another analog stick, a D-pad, and a NFC chip, which I will also get more into later.
The front of the gamepad also houses 2 audio speakers, which allow it to output stereo sound separate from the TV.
The top of the Gamepad is home to the left and right bumpers and triggers (L/R and ZL/ZR respectively), a stylus holder (with stylus included of course), volume slider, infrared sensor, 3.5mm audio jack, and charging port. The back of the gamepad features a sync button to connect the gamepad to your console, and a removable battery cover should you need to replace the battery.
The bottom of the gamepad features an expansion port, which will presumably be used for future accessories that attach to the gamepad.
When I first held the gamepad, I initially thought that it felt very awkward and bulky. However, I quickly became adjusted to it as the design is very ergonomic and comfortable. The large touchscreen is nice, and will hit home with anyone who uses tablets. The analog sticks (which click, allowing for even more functions!) and buttons are nicely placed so that you can play games with ease, unlike the Wii controller held sideways. I have not used the camera yet, so unfortunately I cannot give my review on any of it's features. I have not used the NFC chip either, however, for those who do not know, NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is a type of wireless technology used to transfer data, most commonly found in newer smart phones. In the future, Nintendo will be able to use the Gamepad's NFC to transfer data between real-world objects (that are compatible) and probably smartphones as well. I'm very interested to see how Nintendo uses the increasingly-popular technology!
Anyway, the Gamepad does function very similarly to a tablet. Nearly anything that the Wii U displays on the TV, can be displayed on the gamepad. This includes full games, internet-browsing, video-streaming (Like YouTube and Netflix), and even the original Wii menu. This is incredibly useful (and in my opinion, under estimated) as the Gamepad almost functions as a second Wii U console! This is very handy if you want to continue to play games, but someone else wants to use the TV. As far as games utilizing the gamepad, developers seem to have created very fun and clever uses for it, namely in titles that contain minigames. The gamepad has so much potential, and I can't wait to see how it will be used next!
There are some drawbacks, however. Some games I've tried seem to have not bothered with the Gamepad's second screen, by either throwing in some gimmicky features or not even using it at all. This is really disappointing, as there are so many creative ways it can be implemented. Also, the gamepad has a relatively short battery life of about 3 hours (according to Nintendo). My gamepad did drain power pretty rapidly, and although you can play while you charge it, it does become a nuisance for gamers who play for long periods of times.
The Wii U menu is actually 2 menus. The first, called the Home menu, is similar to the original Wii's menu, and shows all your different "channels" (games and apps) in a grid of squares. This menu appears naturally on the Gamepad screen, where you are able to tap or click (via buttons) what you wish to do. This menu can also be accessed at almost any time by pressing the Home button on the gamepad. The second menu is called the WaraWara Plaza and is displayed on your TV. This menu displays various Miis, including your own, in a large circular plaza with different apps and games displayed floating above. Here you are able to see which games are currently "hot" and being discussed, and you can join in conversations through the Miiverse if you wish. The two menus can be swapped from the TV to the gamepad at will (by pressing a button on the gamepad screen), however the gamepad will only have control over the menu that is being displayed on it's screen. This can get a bit confusing, especially since it wasn't explained well in the initial setup.
On the Home menu, your Mii is displayed in the top left corner. Pressing this icon will allow you to change the current user. There is your "Play disc" app, Mii Maker, System settings, Activity Log, Parental settings, Wii U chat, Wii Menu and Health & Safety Information. Along with this, the Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu Plus apps are pre-installed on the system. These apps are interchangeable and can be placed in any order you wish. Below these are 5 permanent apps: Miiverse, the eShop, Internet browser, TVii, and Notifications.
-Miiverse is a community-style app where you can connect with other WIi U gamers and chat and draw about your favorite games. I haven't played with this too much, but it seems Nintendo has finally created a way where gamers can interact with others not on their friends list.
-The eShop is just what you would expect it to be: a virtual shop where you can spend real money to purchase digital games and add-ons. This is similar to the Wii eShop, but is now much more clean, snappier, and responsive.
-The Internet browser is also self-explanatory: a built in browser in which you can browse the web. Like the eShop, the internet browser seems to have gone through some drastic improvements, becoming MUCH quicker at loading webpages, able to play videos, and eradicate any lag or staggering seen with the Wii browser. It's also very handy that the browser will display on both the TV and gamepad if you wish, making navigation a breeze.
-TVii is a cool feature... that I don't know how to use! You can turn your Wii U gamepad into a TV/cable box remote (remember that TV Control button?) to do functions such as power on/off the TV, change the channel, adjust the volume, and even change the video input. The TVii app specifically finds channels, movies, and TV shows that you enjoy and displays various information about them. Using this app, you are supposedly able to watch shows on your TV, while sharing moments and comments about the current show ion your gamepad. Again, I have not experimented with the feature a whole lot yet, but it seems like it has a lot of potential!
-Notifications will display any new updates about your system or games when they are sent to you.
Overall the Wii U menu is sharp and clean, but pretty static. The WaraWara Plaza menu does give you some connectivity to the rest of the world, but it can get confusing.
Of course, what is a game console without games? The most important part of the Wii U is how it incorporates it's gamepad to new play styles within games. So far, I have found this very enjoyable! For example, in New Super Mario Bros. U, a player can play the game solo using the gamepad. They can play off the TV, or keep their eyes on the gamepad the entire time if they wish. But if you choose to go multiplayer, one to four people can play through the game normally using Wii remotes, while the person with the Gamepad can watch and assist the others play, by tapping on the gamepad screen to build platforms, stairs, bridges, or to distract enemies! This is a very cool new way to introduce asymmetric gameplay, and is great if you have a sibling or friend who would prefer to watch you play, but can still affect the outcome of the game and directly assist you along the way.
Another example of a game that used the Gamepad intuitively is ZombiU. This survival-horror game is all about being limited on supplies and carefully making decisions in order to survive. One wrong move and it could be game over for you! The gamepad becomes the core element of the game, and is essential for your survival. The screen will display your inventory and equipment, including weapons and your flashlight, and you can quickly switch between these with a quick tap. The gamepad really becomes fun when you use the radar and scanner functions! The environments in ZombiU are very dark and eerie, and it's hard to tell when a zombie will pop up from the darkness to attack you. Using your Wii U gamepad, you can scan the surrounding area for enemies and adjust your survival plans accordingly-- all without pulling any sort of menu up on the TV screen. The scanner is a bit different. When you activate your scanner, your point of view and focus shifts to the gamepad. Moving your gamepad around, you can view the virtual game world around your character. Doing so, you can spot and scan various elements that are important to your survival, and mark them for future reference. This gamepad mechanic puts you in the game like no other Wii game before, and really heightens the suspense and thrill of this game.
These are just 2 examples, but there are so many more games that use the gamepad in clever ways that will surprise you on how fun it can really be!
I intended for this to be a full yet relatively short review, however that's not easy considering how much the Wii U has to offer! Here's a summary of the pro's and con's of the system:
-First HD and most powerful Nintendo console, allowing games to play smooth and look stunning
-Expandable memory fully supported
-Gamepad included with each system, and all Wii accessories and games are compatible
-Allows for very unique gameplay that sets it apart from the Xbox and Playstation, and even the Wii.
-Variety of video-streaming apps, with fast speed and no lag
-Family friendly and appealing to both gamers and non-gamers alike
-10% back in all digital purchases made before 2015
-Ready to play out of the box. 2 games included, no memberships required for online use, and HDMI cable lets everyone experience HD
-If you didn't own a Wii beforehand, you might miss out on some features as the Wii controllers and accessories are all used with the Wii U
-The Gamepad has short battery life, so you will find yourself charging it a lot
-The TVii seems a little lackluster for the time being, and could feature a whole lot more
-Updates. Holy cow do updates take a long time. The first system update I had took over an hour and a half, and I have a speedy internet connection. ZombiU's update took about a half hour and the YouTube app took almost an hour. Not sure why Wii U has tremendously slow updates.
-Nintendo is known for prioritizing it's first-party games and having a small amount of third-party titles. If you love a lot of Nintendo's offerings, such as Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, etc, this won't be a problem for you. However, some big-name third party titles may be left out.
(I actually disagree with this, however. Wii U has gotten numerous popular third party games so far such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed Black Flag, and the upcoming game Watch Dogs)
My final verdict? The Wii U is a great console that has received a lot of heat, probably because of poor marketing choices and how on the outside, it can seem a lot like the original Wii. The Wii U offers a ton of new gameplay styles, with endless possibilities thanks to the gamepad. Like the Wii, however, it is a system that can appeal to anyone, and you'd be hard-pressed trying to not have a good time with the Wii U!