Review by NF_Kodiak
"Much more than just a Wii, this system really is next-gen."
I've own a Wii for quite a few years now and didn't use it much. As mainly a PC gamer, the Wii offered me more games than the Xbox and PS3. I never felt that the Wii was an especially good system. It was decent but the motion controls always lacked something. Aside from precision, it never gave that immersion it always promised. On a whim, I purchased a Wii U and I've had my Wii U for a week now and I've gotten a decent amount of time to get a good feel for it. It's an interesting system with lots of potential, not just graphically but with the main game pad, possibilities hinted at in the Nintendo Land mini-game collection.
My first night with the system was frustrating, to say the least. It feels like they shipped the system without an operating system. When you first get a system, you don't want to have to let it sit for an hour or so. You want to dive in. I even had trouble getting it to start downloading the infamous and massive update. For reasons beyond me it would pass the connection test but then fail to connect to begin downloading the update. After a few attempts it decided to start working and about an hour later I was good to go, until I had to download an update for Nintendo Land. Then to use Youtube or Netflix I had to download another update and another for Super Mario U. I did not hold the console in high esteem at this point in time. I had spent more time that first evening troubleshooting and downloading updates than any actual playing.
The user interface, when you first boot up the system, is interesting. You're shown the menu on the game pad and on the TV is a ring of games that Miis begin to gather around. They begin milling about and showing chat balloons, which are mostly drawings which are very well done. There is something to just sitting there and watching what comes up. Your Miis will appear in the center of the ring and begin to wander around on their own. It gives the system a sense of life that hasn't really been seen elsewhere. It doesn't take long to notice the long loading times, however, especially for things which should only take a second or two like checking notifications. It gets annoying when trying to navigate from menu to menu.
I started with Nintendo Land and like Wii Resort before it, it gives you a feel for what the system can do. The controller is lighter than expected and feels good in your hand, despite its large size. No button is hard to reach, I don't feel like I ever need to stretch my hand to press anything. The movement controls work well with the games, giving precision when necessary and you never feel you have to move it so far or so fast for it to register in game, almost instantly giving you confidence. The touch screen is clear, responsive and has adjustable brightness. It gives the system the feel of a console version of the DS, a solid system in its own right but also one that developers have experience with. This may mean that it may not take as long to start seeing games that take better advantage of the system itself. The main issue with the controller right now is the short battery life which will run you between three and five hours. For more casual gamers, that might not bother them but for people who prefer longer gaming sessions, this will become a nuisance, solved by having to spend more money for a booster back, a larger replacement battery or finding a way to play with the system plugged in and the charge cord they give you may not be long enough, depending on your room's layout. Nintendo does allow you to replace the battery on your own, however, which is a plus.
The Miiverse is an interesting aspect. It is basically a social networking program running in the background, allowing you to see and post comments on levels or other aspects in the game. It extends that liveliness you see at the main menu into the games themselves. I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I did but it's interesting to see what other people have to say and I started making posts of my own, whether to celebrate a victory, express frustration or give others a heads up. The main Miiverse community boards could use more organization, however. Instead of being modeled like a message board with each game having a series of threads based on subject, when you go to a game's section you are shown a list of messages with no running theme. A further separation would be appreciated as well as a search function.
Nintendo has also improved their online service, ditching the friend codes for an ID which is basically your user name, You can add friends, they see your friend request, add you and that's it. Gone is the hassle of adding friend codes on a per game basis.
The video chat program is also of good quality. The video and sound were better than expected and I was surprised. Unfortunately you can't pause a game or chat while playing a game. Nintendo has announced that they will attempt to add this feature but for right now, you're given what amounts to a Wii U specific Skype.
The TVii function is a nice touch but may not work great for everyone. The controller can act as a universal remote for both your TV and cable box, which is a nice touch but, for instance, on my TV when I go to change the input source, there is no way to close the input sidebar, requiring the use of my TV's remote control to do so. The actual TVii function itself is designed well but I can't see many people giving up their cable box's guide for the Wii U's. It allows you to select favorite shows and give you a heads up on if it's going to be on soon but again, if it's a favorite show then you probably already know its air times. This may become a better feature down the road but as for it stands now, it's a nice attempt but doesn't offer too much more than what's already available.
The eShop is as it has been in the past. It's easy to use and navigate. However, Nintendo is running a promotion for people with the deluxe bundle where purchasing a game in the eShop will net you 10% of the cost back as points. In other words, buying a retail game for $60 will give you $6 in return. When other companies are punishing you for purchasing used or loaning games with DRMs and other anti-theft measures, Nintendo has given incentive to buy games online, while removing your ability to share or sell your games. It's a clever promotion that I hope they expand upon. This leads into the final issue with the Wii U and that's the low hard drive space. While it's enough for people who purchase physical copies, people who buy full retail games from the eShop will soon have to start using portable hard drives in order to continue doing so.
Overall, the system continues Nintendo's streak of doing things differently while showing that they're beginning to listen and get up to speed. While the system may frustrate at the beginning, it doesn't take long to get comfortable with it and to begin enjoying what it offers. The issues are unlikely to be deal breakers and can be resolved, either by future updates or throwing money at it, but Nintendo did let them slip by. No console release is perfect, however, and the system is brimming with potential. It is a shame Nintendo still included Wii in the name because the system is much more. A next-gen console doesn't need better graphics to prove it's a generation ahead and it's up to the third-party developers and their ability to recognize and utilize this potential and prove it's more than an upgraded Wii.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 01/30/13
Game Release: Wii U (Deluxe Set) (US, 11/18/12)
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