If you haven’t heard (thanks to Nintendo’s not-so-great marketing) the Wii U is their latest entry into the home gaming console pantheon and this lucky guy was surprised to see the new machine under his tenenbaum this past Winter Solstice. Its main features are a controller that has a touch screen, more power under the hood exceeding the specs of PS3 or Xbox 360, some notable apps, along with a Wii mode to play games from the popular system.
At first glance, the Wii U’s system OS is not that different from its progenitor the Wii, the main attraction being MiiVerse, a Facebook/Twitter-like service that gives you the ability to post messages or simple monochrome drawings. It proves to be good fun to watch the artistic efforts of Wii U users popping up on the opening screen (called “WaraWara Plaza”). Another feature in the OS I really enjoy (but might not be fun for everyone) is Nintendo TVii. I get basic cable with my apartment and don’t own a box, and now I have TV listings in a guide! Sweet freedom.
But you probably came here to hear about the GamePad. It’s big yet very light and comfortable. The secondary screen offers benefits you won’t see as default in a lot of other game tech. The big one being Off TV Play (a feature of the console you’re supposed to capitalize) where you can take your game to the GamePad screen while utilizing your TV for another purpose (not your Wii U apps, though!).
The games I’ve spent the most time with are the “Nintendo Land” (which came bundled), “Assassin’s Creed III,” and “New Super Mario Bros. U.”
“Nintendo Land” is an excellent demonstration of where the technology can go, and offers the sort of casual fun you might have gotten out of WiiSports without all those ridiculous “sports” and the “Hey, you’re getting some activity in the living room” premise. It’s a colorful romp filled with all my favorite bloops and bleeps from Nintendo antiquity. The game consists of a variety of different “attractions” each based on a different Nintendo game or franchise with differing play styles. There are six single player games (each with a hidden multiplayer component), three games that can be played with one or more person, and three games that are multiplayer only. Each game takes you through the controls carefully if you’re a new player, and like most Nintendo games, it’s pretty intuitive once you get going. However, the fun factor seems to have been worn a bit thin after I unlocked everything.
I felt attracted to “Assassin’s Creed III” as I enjoyed the previous titles. The Wii U features are mildly interesting. You get a horse whistle and a nice mini map on the GamePad screen, which for me came in handy very rarely. This fault isn’t exclusive to the Wii U, but the menus are designed more complicated than it feels like they should be for things like trading which require scrolling through the entire contents of your inventory to get anything done.
Although Nintendo has a reputation of not lowering their prices (ex. the three year old “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” still retails at full price for $50), I decided to shell out the sixty bones for “New Super Mario Bros. U.” At first, I found the game more frustrating than fun, but after the anger subsided, I found myself running through the game during most of the weekend. Multiplayer isn’t too shabby, but come on, Nintendo, let’s get some online play! The MiiVerse features really shine in this title, with players leaving tips and tricks or just commiserating. In the end though, it’s really hard to justify the price of this one since it’s just a rehashed sequel of a DS game. GamePad features aren’t really anything to write about in this game, I found it preferable to play with the NES-like Wii Remote held sideways.
Speaking of the catalog, I feel like that is definitely the worst feature of the console. I’ve heard the argument that console launches are usually pretty slim on the software, but it’s still kind of a bummer that not much is announced as on the horizon.
Bottom line: If you’ve liked Nintendo consoles in the past (as you should and probably do), the Wii U is another one. You may want to consider waiting for the library to collect more interesting titles but there’s plenty of entertainment to be had from this new toy.