Review by darkknight109

"Reams of potential, but not without issues"

So Nintendo has finally launched the successor to the Wii, the appropriately named Wii U. Thus far reception has been mixed – where the Wii was met with no small amount of anticipation and gaming hype, the Wii U has seen a far more hesitant response by the gaming community. Already critics are wondering if the Wii U can generate the same type of buzz and groundswell support that propelled the Wii to a thundering 1st place finish in the 7th console generation, or whether the new experimental steps Nintendo has taken are ill-thought-out mistakes that will damn their most recent console.

Prior to launch, you could certainly count me amongst the sceptics. The idea of a tablet-based controller did not exactly spark the same sense of wonder that the Wii's motion control did, and I questioned Nintendo's logic in deciding to go that route with the Wii U. Having finally gotten a chance to sit down and tool around with the console, I can now say that I think Nintendo may have another winner on their hands (providing they can get developers to buy-in to the new control scheme at the design phase of production).

The Wii U definitely feels like a successor to the Wii, right down to the console interface. Wii owners will feel right at home upon booting up their new console and seeing the old “TV screen wall” menu of the Wii. Miis are back, and Nintendo seems to want them to play a more central role in the console, rather than serving as a peripheral sideshow as they did in the Wii. You are required to create one upon first loading the console, and it basically serves as an avatar of sorts on Nintendo's various services. Speaking of which, the Wii U comes with a much larger eye to online play and community than any of its predecessors ever did. You are encouraged, right from the get go, to register an online account on the Wii U so that you can access a variety of features it has packed in.

Also included are placeholders for various third party services – specifically, Youtube, Hulu, and Amazon. At time of writing these services are not online, but bulletins on the console state that they will be activated at a later date. To be honest, I'm of mixed minds about these additions – one of the things that I've always liked about Nintendo's consoles is that they never hold any illusions as to their place in the techno gadget world. Nintendo consoles are video game consoles – not media centres, not supercomputers, just video game consoles. I think that's part of the reason the original Wii was so successful – instead of bogging itself down in details or trying to do everything, as Microsoft and particularly Sony attempted to do with their respective consoles, Nintendo set out to make a machine that played video games and, in doing so, made a simple, easy-to-use piece of technology that had wide mass appeal. Of course, this is just an opinion – the additions of the above services certainly don't take away from the console, and if you're the type that enjoys streaming movies onto your Xbox 360 or setting up a music library on the PS3, you may be pleased to hear that Nintendo is taking its first tepid steps in that same direction.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the tablet controller. Personally, after playing it I think calling it a “tablet” is a bit of a misnomer; it handles more like a king-sized, single-screen DS. In addition to the large touch screen that dominates the controller, it has the standard Nintendo ABXY button layout, as well as a DPad, +/- buttons from the Wii (that also pull extra duty as Start/Select buttons and volume control for the controller's speakers), two analogue sticks, and four triggers (L,R, ZL, and ZR). In spite of its size, the controller is fairly comfortable, lightweight, and feels quite natural to hold. All the buttons are in easy reach and seem quite sensibly laid out. The console also comes with a stylus, similar in design to the DS's, but longer. Graphics and sound quality on the controller are very impressive - I noticed almost no difference in the sound and image on the TV compared to the same image and sound on the controller.

Only one tablet is used per console (technical limitations apparently preclude the use of more), so any multiplayer games use Wiimotes for all other players. This actually opens up some pretty interesting options for multiplayer games. As I mentioned above, I was sceptical at Nintendo's decision to pursue this idea, but after actually trying it for myself you can count me amongst the converted. Having one player with access to a different controller and their own private screen hidden from their peers actually makes for some pretty interesting gameplay. I'll be interested to see what other developers do with the technology.

The launch lineup is arguably the strongest Nintendo's ever had. Apparently still smarting from an abysmal 3DS launch, Nintendo opted to pull out all the stops for the Wii U. The biggest titles are probably Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U, both first party titles and both excellent games, while the lineup is fleshed out by the addition of ports from other consoles (most notably Arkham City and Assassin's Creed 3).

For all its strengths, however, the Wii U still has a number of problems which lost it a few points from me. Probably the most egregious of the bunch is load times. Not on the games, on the console itself. Moving around screens on the console triggers a frustrating set of loading screens, most of which take ~15-20 seconds to resolve themselves. I'm at a loss to explain why this is, unless it involves data transfer between the console and the controller. For a company that has historically prided itself on having short-to-non-existent load times, creating a console that's rife with them seems like a significant misstep to me.

On a purely aesthetic note, I wound up splurging for the Deluxe Edition of the console, which comes in a glossy black finish (as opposed to the white of the regular version) and includes a matching black controller. This looks great coming out of the box, which is probably the last time it will ever do so. As any owners of the PS2, PS3, or Xbox will know, black shows up dust quite well. The gloss adds on another headache, especially considering that the controller heavily involves use of a touch screen. By the end of my first play-session of Nintendo land, the controller looked like hell, being covered in finger prints, smudges, and light scratch marks from the stylus. I can't help but think that sticking with the white theme for both sets of consoles may have been the smarter option.

The tablet controller, while impressive, also has a startlingly low battery life. I had to recharge it twice in my first evening's worth of play. Granted, it likely wasn't fully charged coming out of the box, but for it to completely drain from full to empty in only a few hours was something of a surprise. Fortunately, Nintendo learned from their mistakes with the Wii and made the Wii U's controller chargeable instead of battery-powered.

All in all, despite my quibbles, the Wii U appears to be a solid system. Its flaws, while a nuisance, are manageable and the design promises to be interesting, if developers can make proper use of it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/19/12, Updated 11/27/12

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

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