Review by Stirlingo
"Nintendo has finally come of age."
Following the massive success of Nintendo's previous home console, the Wii, legitimate concerns have arisen from within the video game media as to whether Nintendo will be able to repeat this success with its newest console, as well as whether the company can rekindle its relationship with 'hardcore' gamers, a group who were clearly not Nintendo's primary focus during the Wii years. These legitimate concerns have somehow boiled over into wild forecasts of doom and gloom for the console and even the company itself, with nonsensical rumours that have somehow been given widespread attention and somewhat slow sales to start the system's lifespan combining to create an atmosphere of doom and gloom around the Wii U. Anyone however who has actually played a Wii U console will know as well as I do that the negative press surrounding the Wii U at the moment is almost completely unjustified and that, despite some minor issues, the Wii U is a fantastic console.
As touched on briefly before, the Wii U most certainly did not enjoy the same delirious anticipation the Wii did. The pre-release atmosphere was comparable to that of when an opening band walks on stage at a concert, with the vast majority of the audience skeptical, hesitant or not paying attention, despite a decent contingent of the crowd feeling pumped up and excited. This reaction was somewhat justified; the Wii failed to deliver on many of the promises the gaming media assumed it was making when motion controls were unveiled. The first-person shooter genre wasn't fundamentally altered, no sports titles or party titles emerged that were good enough to really make use of the Wii Remote or Wii Motion Plus and despite some of the best games of all time making the Wii their home, an unbelievably large proportion of the Wii's game library consisted of cheap, crappy 'family fun' games. Not to mention the sub-par graphics processor meaning Nintendo fans once again missed out on a lot of good third party titles. The Wii may have sold better than its competitors, but it is highly unlikely that the system also won in terms of satisfying those who bought it. Don't get me wrong, I love the Wii, but it is perfectly understandable why many hardcore gamers didn't bother, why many casual gamers got over it and why many casuals 'converted' by the Wii moved on to the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, hence making the mass hesitation over the Wii U somewhat understandable as well. But if one thing has become clear after playing the Wii U almost non-stop since launch, it is this: Nintendo have learned from the Wii's mistakes, and that is what makes Wii U so great.
Straight out of the Premium Pack box you get yourself a very nice looking sleek black Wii U console, a black GamePad controller with a stylus, AC adapters for the console and the GamePad, a HDMI cable (big tick!), a sensor bar, a gameplay/display stand for the GamePad, a recharging cradle for the GamePad, small 'stands' that allow the Wii U to sit vertically and the Nintendo Land game, in a box with a manual and everything. As a package this works exceptionally well. The AC adapter can be plugged in to the cradle to recharge the GamePad when not in use, but can also be plugged in to the GamePad to recharge whilst playing. This is incredibly useful given that the GamePad's battery life, whilst nowhere near as abysmal as some have claimed, is still on the short side. The inclusion of the HDMI cable is a massive plus and the Nintendo Land game serves as a perfect showcase of the GamePad and the Wii U console. The system and all its accessories look great in black and the console itself looks awesome next to a TV horizontally or vertically, although the gloss finish makes fingerprints and other marks very visible. The Basic Pack on the other hand has the advantage of coming in white and therefore not displaying greasy marks as visibly, but otherwise is really not worth it. The system comes with one quarter of the memory of the Premium Pack, no game, no stands or cradles and no sensor bar, unless you owned a Wii (and thus already have a sensor bar) and you really, really, really don't want Nintendo Land, there is no point considering the Basic Pack.
Operationally the system runs somewhat slowly but very smoothly (Nintendo is releasing system updates to increase the system's speed), the internet browser is superb and other social features such as Miiverse and the Nintendo eShop are a joy to use. In terms of performance, the system is, contrary to semi-popular belief, undoubtedly next gen. Most multi-platform games do look slightly better on Wii U, and the system's overall graphical performance will certainly improve as time goes on and developers have more time to figure out the console. In case you were wondering, rumours that the Wii U's graphics processor is the same as or weaker than the PlayStation 3's or Xbox 360's have been demonstrated to be completely false.
But the main point of difference, the main selling point, of the Wii U is undoubtedly the GamePad controller and this idea of 'asymmetrical gameplay' that it has brought along with it. Is the GamePad a cunning innovation or a cheap gimmick? Do any games actually feature 'asymmetrical gameplay'? Does the GamePad make 'normal' games any better? The answers to these questions are exactly what demonstrates how Nintendo has learned from the Wii's mistakes and exactly what demonstrates why the Wii U is such a fantastic console. The GamePad controller itself is surprisingly light and ergonomic, but at the same time incredibly durable and as a whole feels surprisingly natural for such a unique controller, but how it is used (and how it is not used) is really what makes it so good. One of the most excellent features of the GamePad, and also one of the most overlooked, is remote play. The vast majority of Wii U games at present allow for remote play, which allows the player to continue playing the game on just the GamePad should someone else wish to use the TV. I cannot stress highly enough how useful this feature is. The more heavily advertised features of the GamePad work brilliantly so far as well, games like Nintendo Land obviously make heavy use of both screens to create unique gaming experiences, whereas more hardcore games like Assassin's Creed III and Batman: Arkham City use the GamePad as a mini-map. Now whilst some may trumpet this light use of dual-screen gameplay by the aforementioned hardcore titles as proof the GamePad is a bad idea, it actually demonstrates something else.
They say in music that the most important notes are the ones you leave out, essentially meaning that it is best when bad ideas are allowed to die and therefore good ideas allowed to flourish. One of Nintendo's problems with the Wii was that the notes that should have been left out weren't, by this I mean that motion controls were everywhere they shouldn't have been in many Wii titles. Many fans felt Donkey Kong Country Returns, an otherwise absolute classic of a game, suffered from unnecessary inclusion of compulsory motion controls, many fans were disappointed by Skyward Sword's attempt to more or less tailor the combat system to fit motion controls, not the other way around, whilst other titles, like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, were essentially buried under a rotten pile of ill-conceived motion controls. The fact that so many games so far have remained largely unchanged by the Wii U's GamePad shows that Nintendo have learned from this mistake. No longer are the features of a new controller shoved down the player's throat, games that do not require GamePad features simply don't have them and in many games, the player can skip the GamePad altogether with the Wii U Pro Controller (the most ergonomic controller there ever was if I may ad). This more mature approach to gaming, this coming of age from Nintendo can also not be stressed highly enough. Where the Wii catered almost exclusively to those swept by the 'phenomenon' of motion control gaming, the Wii U offers 'asymmetrical gameplay' experiences to those who are interested and offers a traditional gaming experience to those who are not. Nintendo have learned from their mistakes and it has so far proved beneficial to everybody. Not to mention that the Wii U is the first Nintendo console that actually takes online gaming seriously.
Now, of course, the system is not without its issues and one of the most obvious is one briefly discussed earlier, the Basic Pack serves no purpose whatsoever. This is Nintendo's first attempt at releasing different versions of a console simultaneously and it shows. Where the Premium Pack gives a gamer everything they could want and need, the Basic Pack fails to deliver either. The games library itself has been somewhat poor at launch as well. Whilst lifelong Nintendo customers will enjoy the first party titles, have their first tastes of franchises like Assassin's Creed, the Batman Arkham series, Mass Effect and Darksiders, as well as finally having decent versions of FIFA, NBA 2K, Madden and Call of Duty, for those who already own a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 the games library is limp. With at least one exception, none of the multiplatform games available on Wii U are substantially improved enough to warrant purchasing again and the third party support for the console, whilst greatly improved on the Wii, is still not exactly impressive. Delays to some keenly anticipated titles have not helped, and whilst Rayman Legends was not Nintendo's fault, Game & Wario is yet to arrive and someone needs to file a missing persons report on Pikmin 3. The other serious gripe one can have with the Wii U is the staggered release of main features such as Nintendo TVii and the long wait for the launch of Wii U's Virtual Console.
The key thing to remember about most of the Wii U's problems however is that they are very temporary, once TVii and the Virtual Console launch all will be forgotten and forgiven, the games library will undoubtedly improve (have you seen any of the latest Nintendo Directs?!) and with the scheduled expansion of Miiverse on to the web and smartphones, the next 12 months will surely see the Wii U properly take off.
The Wii U has had an admittedly rocky start to its lifespan, but the so far masterful implementation of the GamePad into most games, the exciting games line-up, expanding social features, stronger commitment to online gaming and third party support suggests that the Wii U will flourish sooner rather than later. Nintendo have learned from past mistakes. Nintendo has finally come of age.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/28/13
Game Release: Wii U (Premium Pack) (AU, 11/30/12)
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