Wii U Review
With the Wii U finally launched in Australia as of November 30 2012, Retry Quit is proud to bring you its official review of the Nintendo Wii U console.
A console launch is a momentous occasion. Not only for the consumer who gets their hands on an exciting new gadget but also because of the potential effect it could have on the whole gaming industry. When the Wii first launched back in 2006, nobody could have expected that motion control gaming would take the world by storm. Particularly for the first console to launch, this marks an important point in the gaming cycle: a brand new generation. In the same way that we think of the potential of our children to flourish and become successful and respected adults, we gamers get to see first-hand the way a new console evolves and how game developers make use of that potential to create truly magical games. When you consider how many game consoles will launch in your lifetime (say, about 30), the significance becomes more apparent. Nintendo, by being the first company to market with its successor, has much to prove but us gamers have a lot more to be excited about.
Nintendo has typically beaten to the sound of their own drum. This generation, they seem to have understood that sometimes it can be beneficial to take a little feedback from gamers. With a full-fledged online experience (and the removal of those horrible friend codes) in the form of the Miiverse, a software library that is likely to appease the hardcore and casual audiences alike and a series of their own innovations that nobody could have expected would work so well in tandem, Nintendo has gotten the message. While not perfect at this point, nearly all my concerns have been quashed and I am happy to report that the Wii U is exciting, fun, innovative and worthy to bear the flag of the next generation.
The launch software line up is huge. Could it be that this is the biggest line up in the history of gaming? While Nintendo have their first party offerings in the form of Nintendoland and New Super Mario Bros U, there’s also a massive amount of support from third parties like Konami with Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Sega with Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, THQ with Darksiders II, EA with Mass Effect 3, Warner Bros with Batman Arkham City, and of course Ubisoft with Assassin’s Creed 3 and ZombiU (And Call of Duty if you’re into that). After acknowledging there was a big problem with the 3DS launch last year, Nintendo are out to prove with the Wii U that they are a force to reckoned with.
So you un-box the console and what do you get? Hopefully you did the smart thing and purchased the black, premium version. You get all your cords, including HDMI (if you don’t have a hi-def television, you can use you AV or component cable from the Wii), AC adaptor and Wii sensor bar, the Wii U console and tablet controller. If you opted for the black console, you also get a copy of Nintendoland, a stand for the Wii U (or more accurately a pair of cradles that will allow it to stand upright) and a charging cradle (including mini USB cord, and a fairly long one at that) for the GamePad.
Warning: you will need an internet connection to update the console the first time you switch it on to make use of the console’s full features. The update took me about 50 minutes to download on a high speed wireless connection and then about another 10 minutes for initial set up (including the super important task of creating my Mii). The set up takes you through creating a Nintendo account that will allow you to buy games on the eShop, post comments on the Miiverse and add friends who you can call and chat to face-to-face using the tablet’s inner camera, and setting up the television remote control functionality. The process was all really easy and should not pose a threat to the greenest of users.
Size-wise, the console is slightly deeper than the Wii but roughly the same length and width. The glossy black finish on the console and tablet smudges super easily so unless you’re prepared to play with gloves on, you OCD types should always have a cloth handy. The GamePad is light to pick up with two hands but does get a bit uncomfortable to hold with one hand as the other holds the stylus for prolonged periods of play. I found myself keep having to lean the tablet on my legs upright so I could maintain a position that would allow me to keep writing/drawing. Not a great user experience there but certainly not a deal breaker. Your hands automatically default in the following: thumbs on the left thumb stick and ABXY buttons, and index fingers on the ZL and ZR triggers. I can foresee the L and R buttons being just slightly too high up which could become painful during excessive use or for those with small hands. Luckily, I haven’t played any games to this point that use these buttons (Sonic & All Stars racing uses ZR trigger as the accelerator for example).
The tablet itself is an amazing device which must have required much foresight on Nintendo’s part to know that the tablet would become such a mainstream household device. It’s a seamless experience to use the touch screen to navigate your way around the console’s menus, while the option also exists to scroll using the analog sticks and pressing the A and B buttons. One of my favourite and most appreciated features of the tablet is the ability to use it as your television remote control. It works just fine with my Samsung Smart TV so I don’t see there being too many problems with setting up the functionality for your television (there is troubleshooting information supplied if the process is not as seamless for you). Mid-game or in-menu, you simply press the TV button on the tablet and you will have access to your television’s TV guide, inputs, volume control and channel buttons. Pressing it again will return you to what you were doing on your Wii U. You can alternatively set it up to control your stereo or DVR device but unfortunately the option doesn’t exist (yet?) to support all of these devices. It won’t be replacing your universal remote so soon.
Also pretty cool is the dynamic audio of the tablet, whereby if you lower the volume on the control, your TV/stereo speakers will compensate for the change by adding in the effects from the tablet. Likewise, if you increase the volume on the tablet, the different effects will return to the tablet’s speakers. I did notice a bit of latency from the speakers in the eShop; probably about half a second or so from the main speakers but as far as issues go, that’s hardly a big one (so long as it doesn’t seep into other games).
Best of all however is the ability to play some games entirely on the Wii U GamePad, freeing up the television for anyone else in the house. This is possible with games like Scribblenauts Unlimited and Sonic & All Stars Racing, and even Wii menus and some eShop titles. The ability to do this won’t be possible with all games but for those it does include, it’s a really good user experience. The functionality works up to about a 10 meter radius from the console so unfortunately you won’t be able to take your GamePad on public transport and expect to jump on Goombas on the way to work.
In the same that you can play solely on the tablet, you can also play some games using just the Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remote and/or Classic Controller Pro on the TV screen. I found the button layout on the Wii U Pro Controller a bit foreign with the ABXY buttons sitting oddly below the right thumb stick. This hampered my game-playing somewhat as I kept having to look down to see the orientation of my right hand and compensate for this change. This layout goes against what gamers have been conditioned to since the Playstation 1 and doesn’t quite sit well with me. Of course, it’s just a matter of changing ritual behaviour which experts say helps prevent Alzheimer’s?
From the moment you enter into the main plaza/main menu, the graphical increase over the Wii console is apparent. I did find that the HDMI cable that came with the console was average, tearing up the screen a little bit. I would recommend a Sony brand HDMI cable that costs about $30 and is of far superior quality. Nevertheless, everything looks much crisper and in games like New Super Mario Bros U and Nintendoland, the increase in graphics is superb. I couldn’t tell you from a subjective standpoint whether they exceed the graphics of the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 (my guess would be either equal to or slightly less than) but graphics have always taken the backseat for innovation and quality at Nintendo.
The Wii U’s apps have also received a bit of a makeover since the days of the Wii and even the more recent 3DS. The eShop is a much better browsing experience and is packed full of delicious content even at this early stage. There’s a demo for Fifa 13, game trailers and videos, as well full downloadable titles like Mario, Nintendoland, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Darksiders II, Assassin’s Creed 3, ZombiU etc. There are also a small number of online exclusive titles like Puddle and Nano Assault Neo , but no sign of Trine 2: Director’s Cut yet. While the premium pack purported to give a 10% discount on all eShop purchases before the console launched, this has since changed. Now, each dollar spent counts towards a small amount of points so that when you reach 500, you are entitled to a small discount (the amount is not confirmed in Australia just yet; in the UK it’s 5 pounds off for roughly every 64 pounds spent which could mean we could be seeing a $10 discount for every $100-120 spent). Whilst this is a bit of a letdown, a discount is still a discount.
Miiverse is where the online action happens. Miiverse is like one big forum where gamers can get together, chat about games, ask for hints and challenge users in online games. There is a character limit of 100 characters (including spaces) which means you’re really only able to make a couple of sentences. This seems counter-productive to me, particularly when someone is asking whether a game is worth buying and you’re trying to fit a meaningful review into four lines of text. If you’re not as into typing on the GamePad (it definitely has not come as far as an iPhone/iPad keyboard but is still responsive to the touch) but seriously enjoy drawing, you can make your post as an artistic representation of your sentiment instead. Posts can also be marked as spoilers so as to not expose a game’s secrets which is nice. I found the response time to posts very quick (within minutes) but you can gauge the kind of response you will get by the amount of users active within each community.
The best thing about the Miiverse is that you can enter at any time during gameplay, so if say you’re seriously stuck and don’t know how to proceed, jump on to Miiverse, post your problem, get your answer and jump back into gameplay. You can of course jump onto the console’s web browser as well if you’re looking for the answer right then and there or access other parts of the Wii menu instantaneously from in-game.
Maybe instantaneously isn’t quite the right word. I found that some apps take between 15-40 seconds to open up which makes you wonder where all that extra RAM went. Despite this however, I didn’t notice any slowdown in gameplay and software patch downloads were a breeze because you can start the download, begin playing as it downloads, then when you’re ready to install, reset the title, install and you’re good to go. Ace! No more waiting for downloads… so long as it’s not a hardware patch, anyway.
All of your Wii software including digital downloads and saves are compatible with your Wii U. They can even be transferred across using an SD cards and following the instructions in the Wii system menu on Wii U. Unfortunately the Wii U lacks backwards compatibility with the Gamecube so if you want to continue using your Gamecube controllers in Super Smash Bros Brawl or play a game of Melee, you’re going to have to keep your Wii around for a little while yet (at least until they make Gamecube titles available for download on the Wii U Virtual Console).
One final downside to the Wii U is the issue of storage. While Basic pack owners will definitely need to upgrade their storage with an external hard drive, the console will only allow HDDs up to 2TB. Any higher and it will reject that extra space, thus downgrading your expensive 2TB+ hard drive to something lesser.
The last Wii launch was plagued by droughts in hardware shortages; the 3DS by a complete lack of software. Nintendo have taken everything they have learnt over the years (don’t toy with your hardcore fanbase for one thing) and applied that to make what is one of the most successful launches of all time. While the Wii U may prove not to be the strongest, most powerful, graphically-superior console on the market in coming years, Nintendo have set the standard once again, delivering excellent dual-screen tablet, motion-controlled gaming. They have proven once more that gaming is not just about the best graphics; it’s about taking a piece of technology and uncovering its potential for the benefit of the gamer. They will never be renowned for copying anybody, but revered for having the innovation and courage to try something new.
Now it’s up to its competitors to play catch-up.
Is the Wii U worth buying? Yes. Should you wait until the hype of launch has died down? Only if you don’t have the money to afford one now (or your local game shop has run out of consoles). There is not a single reason that would prevent you from enjoying your console purchase from day one.
- Tablets and video games are the perfect marriage
- Awesome software line up at launch, including digital versions on eShop
- Numerous control options
- Sizeable increase in graphics capability since the Wii
- Background downloads for patches
- The tablet can do so, so much
- Nintendo have gotten their act together with online
- A few teething issues in regards to Miiverse and other software bugs
- eShop membership turned out to be less appealing
- Long loading times for apps
- Tablet can become uncomfortable to hold after sustained gameplay
- Funny button configuration
- No upgraded console release just a year down the track, please Nintendo
Have you got a Wii U? Did it fail to meet your expectations or did it exceed them? Did we change your mind about getting one? The place to let us know is in the comments or on our Facebook page.