Review by BigReed

"With the PS4 and Xbox One right around the corner, Nintendo is offering very little substance to sway consumers"

The Good:
Gamepad is lightweight and truly fantastic to play on, brings your entertainment center together, very strong software launch, MiiVerse

The Bad:
Large day one update, unimpressive hardware power, lack of exclusive titles, slow download speeds, overly strict moderation (MiiVerse), numerous OS problems, loading times

The Wii U, Nintendo's latest piece of hardware, forebodes a chilling future for both me, and the industry I have gladly been a part of for the past twenty three years. Nintendo is actively attempting to innovate an industry that has a severely outdated business model with every new device they create and release. During the GameCube era, all three hardware companies were fine with having almost identical machinery. All three consoles were roughly the same in terms of power, and the only key differences were a growing online and DVD playback. While video games are probably the most mainstream they will ever be, year after year sales drop. The game industry is a market segment of the technology or electronics industry. However, no other segment within that industry has a business model like a video game company does; in fact, no other company operates like this. And for good reason too, because long console life is sapping the life out of the industry, and a huge lack of innovation is allowing other markets to provide gaming experiences as well.

The argument a year ago was that the iphone/ipad/ipod was going to be the death of the gaming industry. But to me, it looks like the gaming industry is content on killing itself. The Wii U, while incredibly fun and full of potential, is proof that the future is for gaming will have a vastly different landscape in roughly five years. Either the industry dies, or it evolves. Either way, the “strictly gaming” business is done for consoles. Nintendo was two years too late, and attracting third parties will be nearly impossible this time around.

Hardware

With both the 3ds and the Wii U, Nintendo has found odd ways to make their consoles expensive to produce. The 3ds was roughly on par with the psp in terms of power, yet Nintendo was barely breaking even with the 250 dollar price time. Once again, this time at 350 dollars, Nintendo needs at least one game sold to be profitable. The Wii U has much more RAM than both the ps3 and 360 (2gb versus 512mb), yet once again the hardware is more comparable to the past generation of consoles. The way Nintendo has designed the system means that developers cannot simply do a straight port of their games. Rather, they need to take some time and tweak it so it runs properly on the Wii U hardware. This is problematic because ever since the N64, Nintendo has struggled greatly to gain third party support. I was curious to read that before the Wii U launch Nintendo was actively working with third parties to show them how to develop for the Wii U. At first, I thought this was just Nintendo showcasing how to use the gamepad effectively, but as time went on and more information was released, I think Nintendo knew that the Wii U had slightly less processing power and that during development; this would have to be addressed. Third parties already hesitant to release games on the Wii systems due to lackluster sales and casual fans, and throwing in extra development time will just deter them further. But as Nintendo has showed us in the past, it's all in how you use it. Nintendo was able to craft games like Super Mario Galaxy which while they were not in high definition, they did look impressive.

The sweet spot for release of the Wii U was probably a year or two ago. It was announced too early, and released too late. Microsoft and Sony now have an easy opportunity to slightly tweak their consoles so that games their new systems run will require too much power for the Wii U. Also, Nintendo's lack of experience with operating systems has required a large day one update and also many freezing problems and long load times. Time can fix these things, but Nintendo has a long road ahead of them.

The GamePad

During a heated interview after Nintendo officially announced the Wii U, Reggie was quoted as saying “It's just a box...” when asked about the Wii U console. This comment didn't mean much to me until I actually owned the console itself. Now, I fully understand and agree with Reggie on this. The Wii U is just box, a box that powers the much more important gamepad. When I come home from work and want to unwind a little bit, I don't go looking for the console. I grab the gamepad, which is the central hub for my game room now. The gamepad controls my television and my Wii U. It plays my games and helps me post on MiiVerse. It also controls the eShop, Netflix, hulu plus, youtube, and amazon video. In this sense, Nintendo has succeeded in making the Wii U a “living room device”.

Another interesting feature of the GamePad is being able to play a full console game without a television. For me, gaming with my feet kicked up on my computer desk has always been the most comfortable position. Playing the Wii U without the need for a television is not only comfortable, convenient, and impressive, but it also makes taking the console different places much easier. Taking the ps3 or 360 places required also packing up a television, which created too much difficulty to travel with it often. The short time I have owned a Wii U has resulted in me taking it many different places since all that is really required is an outlet. One last thing that impresses about the gamepad: it does not have a cpu, gpu, ram, or anything like that. Which means the Wii U is able to stream, uninterrupted, full games onto the gamepad with no lag. This is truly impressive when you think about it. It's something that is almost never done for products, especially as their main selling point. Since Nintendo wanted to do this however, it is confusing as to why they skimped on hardware power considering they are doing something that is intensive to the hardware.

Operating System and MiiVerse

Let me start this section off by stating that outside of the PC, Nintendo has finally released a truly online social experience. I love using xbox live. Out of any other console I have ever used, the 360 offers the best and easiest user experience. There are also a ton of users online at any given time. This was always great for games like Call of Duty and Halo. Saying that however, xbox live never actually felt social to me. Anytime I left players go unmated, they reminded me of why that was a huge mistake. So for years, playing games online just felt like I was competing against well programmed AI. With the Wii U though, Nintendo is attempting, and succeeding, at making the Wii U the most social video game console. MiiVerse is the bread and butter of this movement. Imagine “GameFaqs” with a lot less trolling, in a fun environment, with the ability to draw and post screenshots directly from the game you are playing. MiiVerse is not being promoted nearly enough by Nintendo, because in all honesty, MiiVerse might be Nintendo's killer app for the Wii U. It's amazing, albeit distracting, to hit the home button, go to MiiVerse, and post directly about the game, in a “community” specifically for the game. Throwing in high definition screenshots is also a nice touch.

Nintendo's Wii U operating system has a clean look. Sporting a home menu that features popular game communities with messages from Miis being displayed is interesting, and continues with the social aspect Nintendo is going for. Youtube, Netflix, Amazon Video, Wii mode, the daily log, and Wii U chat decorate the main screen on the gamepad. You can also sync the gamepad up with your television and control not only the volume and channels, but also the input the television is displayed on. You can also use the internet browser at any time when hitting the home menu during gaming. This is one of the few console browsers I will use. While the touch screen is not as effective as my iphone or ipad screen for using websites, it still gets the job done quickly and without the need to completely leave my game and get on the computer.

Competition approaches: Can the Wii U pick up at this price point and hardware power?

The ps4 and Xbox One are approaching quickly. Soon, but definitely not soon enough, the gaming industry will have all three brand new home consoles out on the market. Nintendo launched first with the Wii U, and while the launch was surprisingly strong, the system seems to be floundering at this point (August 2013). Sony has stolen the show, and unless they make early ps3 level mistakes in marketing and pricing, then it seems to be set in stone that they will easily sell the most hardware this go around. Microsoft is struggling to find the identity of the Xbox One. One of the only things that remains the same from its initial debut, is that Microsoft is planning on the Xbox One being an all around "media device", rather than a gaming centered device that can also play other media. Now, Nintendo is in an all too familiar setting. Stuck with an underpowered piece of hardware that the "dedicated" crowd has all but abandoned, and third parties outside of Ubisoft seem to have no interest in. Nintendo has a lot of work ahead of them, and it might finally be time to dip into the huge amounts of cash the Wii generated for them. From a business standpoint, Nintendo is large, flexible, and creative enough to survive a less than satisfying console release, but going forward, Nintendo cannot continue to have back to back system launches like the Nintendo 3ds and the Wii U. This holiday season is absolutely crucial for the Wii U, and it will also determine how the industry views the identity of the system. Third parties want nothing to do with another Nintendo Player.

Final Recommendation: Consider it

Newly launched gaming consoles always start out slow on the software front. This is one of the huge problems that the industry is facing as a whole. If you already own a 360, ps3, and Wii, I'm assuming you already have purchased the Wii U. Active gamers generally own every console that is released. For the more casual crowd however, who only own one console at a time, the Wii U might not be the replacement you are looking for. The Wii U has more potential than any other console released before it, but once again, Nintendo is in a position where only time will tell. The Wii U is fun to play, has a strong software launch, and brings your entertainment center together. However, there are many problems that Nintendo must fix with the operating system and marketing.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/13, Updated 08/27/13

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


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