Review by Phange

"Simultaneously excellent and extremely disappointing"

Invalid Disc. That was the first alert I received after spending what seemed like an eternity setting up my Wii U's perplexingly finicky networking. "Ok", I thought, "maybe it's just NintendoLand". Black Ops 2? Invalid Disc. ZombiU? Invalid Disc. Assassin's Creed 3? Invalid Disc.

"Oh no", I lamented, "right before my Thanksgiving break, I need to send this thing off to Nintendo for two weeks."

So I hit up Google and found that a large number of Wii U owners had the same problem, and the solution was simply to set the unit horizontally. With that simple change, all my discs read perfectly, save for an occasional Invalid Disc warning. Within a few days, the warning never appeared again.

"What the hell?", I thought. That is a perfect phrase to describe the Wii U at this point. On one hand, it's quite a powerful little box at a relatively good value (factoring in the genuinely awesome Off-TV Play feature, the excellent Netflix app, the surprisingly useful GamePad remote control feature, and the upcoming TVii), but on the other hand, it somehow manages to foible virtually every good thing it does.

The menu is sleek and efficient, but loads about as fast as a PC bogged down with spyware. The ability to access Miiverse, the eShop, the web browser and (eventually) TVii without quitting the game you're playing is equally impressive and equally obtusely slow. Miiverse manages to be fresh, interesting, and pointless all at the same time. Netflix has a great interface, loads quickly, but has an unusually washed out color gamut.

In all, the point is that the Wii U does a lot of things sort-of well, and nothing impressively so. Even Off-TV Play comes with its disappointments - notably that the picture often loses a considerable amount of detail and clarity.

Graphics

It's difficult to gauge a console's prowess by its launch titles (except for the Dreamcast, where Soul Calibur likely remains the best-looking title on the system), but the Wii U at least gets some respect for an excellent port of Black Ops 2 and a totally respectable rendition of Assassin's Creed 3. Hardware specs aside, it's clear that the Wii U has enough power to at least match the Xbox 360 and PS3 in most aspects, and for Nintendo-only players this is actually a huge upgrade over the Wii. For those who own gaming-quality PCs, an Xbox 360 or a PS3, the Wii U comes across as less of a technological upgrade and more of a system with similar hardware but creative, unique, and somewhat clunky OS features.

GamePad

At 150 ppi, the Wii U gamepad screen is acceptably crisp. The resistive touchscreen seems a bit more responsive than the offerings on DS and 3DS, but nevertheless suffers from the same pressure requirements that plague such screens. The analog sticks feel solid, though similar to the Wii's nunchuck with the added ability to "click" inward. The shoulder buttons lack analog support, but click inward in a more solid, less concerning way than the Xbox 360's. The D-Pad is uncharacteristically large by Nintendo standards, yet simultaneously feels a bit cheap but well-designed. The face buttons are oddly placed below the right thumbstick, and, at least for me, have led to many cases of confusing B with A and X with Y. It's hard to explain without having the listener experience it themselves.

Launch Lineup

It's hard to fault Nintendo for pushing developers to release ports of major blockbuster Xbox 360/PS3 titles on the Wii U, and the current crop is nothing if not impressive. Mass Effect 3, though out of place by itself, looks and runs about as well as it did on the other consoles. Assassin's Creed 3 is virtually indistinguishable from the other versions, and Black Ops 2 (hardly considered a port since the other versions came out a mere 5 days prior to the Wii U version) actually manages to surpass the other versions in resolution. To some, merely having the "best" version of Black Ops 2 makes the Wii U a far more "hardcore" experience than Nintendo ever achieved on the Wii.

Overall

While there are few "great" ideas on the Wii U, Nintendo made a genuine effort to catch up to the 360 and PS3 in terms of consolidated online networking, and Nintendo TVii is a fascinating service that has yet to be launched as of this writing. The TV remote feature of the GamePad is flat-out convenient in every way, and shows a remarkable sensibility to the GamePad's design. For those who owned only a Wii, there is no question that the Wii U is far superior in every way. For everyone else, the Wii U seems a bit like the Microsoft Surface - a lot of sensibile ideas wrapped around poor execution. In an age where console gaming is being legitimately challenged by a portable device tech arms race, releasing a console that is on-par with seven year old technology may satisfy some, but the average consumer may wonder what Wii U tablet gameplay offers that their current tablet doesn't - aside from better controls. This is the same issue that has plagued the Vita and, to a lesser but still substantial degree, the 3DS. Only time will tell if Nintendo can form a cohesive whole of the Wii U's impressive, yet flawed, features.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/27/12

Game Release: Wii U (Deluxe Set) (US, 11/18/12)


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