Wii U Impressions
Well I’ve finally been able to spend enough time with the Wii U that I feel like I can actually share some meaningful observations and opinions.
To give a brief overview of the system, I’ll highlight what has changed since the Wii. The Wii U is an all new system and not in any way an “add on”. The most obvious difference is the Gamepad controller. It’s pretty much a standard controller except with a big touchscreen in the middle. The Wii U in a lot of ways is a living room sized DS. You can use all your old Wii remotes with the new system, though many of the games will require the use of Wiimotion Plus, so check your games to see if its required.
With some improved hardware in the new console, you’ll get better graphics, and also HD for the first time on a Nintendo console. The Wii U also earns a small footnote in history by being the first home console to come packaged with an HDMI cable. Unfortunately this means for guys like me, if you want to run your audio through a receiver you’ll either need a receiver that supports HDMI switching, or you’ll have to use the old school component cables, which means no HD. Guys like me with older audio equipment are forced to choose between high quality picture, or high quality sound.
My initial impressions were lackluster at best. I have owned every Nintendo console to date and several others from the “other guys”. I say that not to boast, but to illustrate the fact that in the first 20 minutes of using the Wii U, the system felt very “not ready” for launch. The menus were slow and clunky. Many of the apps that were pre-loaded on the home screen weren’t functional yet. And the system itself completely froze on me three times in two days.
However, since then, there’s been a system update or two that seems like its fixed almost all those gripes. Menus are a bit faster. Not instantaneous or as fast as they should be for brand new hardware in 2012, but they are tolerable now. I haven’t experienced any freezes. Most of the apps are working now, even if they feel like they were put together just to get them done. The only lingering problem I have is a browser issue that apparently I’m literally the only person in the world to be experiencing.
But let me talk about what is right with the system, and what Nintendo nailed right out of the box. The games. The two titles I got on launch day are New Super Mario Bros. U, and Nintendoland. The latter of which was packed in with the deluxe bundle. Nintendo has always said they’re in the business of making games, and if that’s the case, they’re going to be in business for a long time.
Let me start with New Super Mario Bros. U. This is actually the first Nintendo system to launch with a Mario game available at launch since 1996 and the Nintendo 64. If you played any of the NSMB series on the Wii or DS, this new one will be instantly familiar. Most of the music and sounds are the same, but the picture is crystal clear in HD. What I always wished the Wii would have looked like. Usage of the new Gamepad controller is limited to “Boost Mode” where you can add blocks onto the screen to help the other players or stun enemies making it easier to defeat them. I might say it’s just as easy to screw your friends over as it is to help them in Boost Mode. It’s up to you whether you want to be a good guy, or a bad guy!
One thing you can’t do however is have one person playing NSMB:U on the Wiimote and one person playing on the gamepad. The Gamepad can only be used in one of two ways. Either Boost Mode during multi-player with other players using Wiimotes, or single player you can drop the entire game down to the gamepad and play NSMB:U while sitting on your toilet. It’s not a huge deal, but if you only have one Wiimote, you’ll be stuck with a single player experience, even though you have a capable Gamepad sitting there.
Nintendoland, for me has been the defining game for the Wii U. It’s a game that is certianly experience better the more people you have. We had 4 Wiimotes and one person on the Gamepad playing in our basement the other night, and it’s the most fun I’ve had playing videogames in a long time. The minigames are designed to take advantage of the “asynchronous” gameplay the Wii U can provide. All 5 people are playing the same game at the same time, but the person with the gamepad is getting a completely different perspective and usually an opposing objective than the group has. One level has the person playing the gamepad play as Mario trying to run away from all the other players. And another has the gamepad player as an invisible ghost trying to sneak up and catch the other players. It’s a lot of fun!
In some ways, the Wii U hasn’t yet lived up to all it’s promises. But since it is Nintendo, you can be sure that the games you get are still going to be a blast to play. Like the Wii was, it’s a system that you’re likely not to “get it” until you play it for yourself. Even watching someone else play it doesn’t convey what the console is all about. If you get the chance, try it out. Not in a store kiosk, but in a friend’s living room. It’s all about what games should be. Bringing people together and having fun!