Despite a rocky start, Nintendo’s latest shows promise for both kids and kids-at-heart.
It’s been exactly one week since Nintendo launched its brand-new video game console, the Wii U (from $299).
Sync has spent some serious hands-on time with the successor to the Nintendo Wii, and the good news is the new machine shows a lot of promise.
Setting up the console was a breeze, as you get everything you need in the box including the console, controller, HDMI cable, sensor bar (to place on top of the TV, like the original Wii) and power cable.
But once you turn on the machine and join your wireless Internet connection, be forewarned you won’t be able to play for an hour or two. In case you haven’t heard, the Wii U requires a 5-gigabyte system update that can take more than an hour to install – and that’s on a very high-speed connection. As a parent of three kids excited to play, you can imagine how this dampens the experience right off the bat. To make matters worse, some Wii U owners prematurely stopped the system update before it was finished and have rendered the console inoperable (hint: never cease a system update, on any device, no matter how long it takes).
Once this painfully slow process is complete it’s time for some fun and games. If motion-sensing defined the Nintendo Wii, a touchscreen tablet is what makes the Wii U stand out among its competitors, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3.
Specifically, Wii U ships with a wireless 6.2-inch touchscreen controller that can be used to control the games and see gaming elements — such as a different perspective of the action — than what’s playing on the TV screen (more on this in a moment).
Called the Wii U GamePad, it also has analog sticks, face buttons and dual triggers, as well as a forward-facing camera, microphone, speakers, headphone jack, rumble feature and accelerometer to control content by tilting. The GamePad also has a TV button, which allows it to act as a remote control for the TV; this includes the ability to change channels or turn the volume up and down, without turning the Wii U console on.
The Wii U also supports older Wii Remote controllers, too, and many games require them – especially in multiplayer modes as there’s only the one GamePad.
Along with more internal memory, the pricier Nintendo Wii U console includes the game Nintendo Land, which serves as a collection of a dozen mini-games (not unlike Wii Sports, included with the Wii). Called “attractions,” Nintendo Land includes Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, to name a few (the latter of which is based on an early Famicom game available only in Japan that turns the GamePad into a launcher for ninja stars). Kids will no doubt enjoy these “attractions,” though some are better than others. Battle Quest is lame, for example, because your character walks for you and you simply have to fight the baddies. Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is great with some friends because the person with the Wii U GamePad is the ghost who can see where the characters are moving on a map, while up to three others with Wii Remote need to stay away from the spirit.
Another launch title, Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. U, is yet another version of the classic side- scrolling platformer, but this time it’s in HD and adds the GamePad for an extra gameplay element. While gamers use the Wii Remotes to control their characters, the person with the GamePad can place down obstacles in the world with their fingertips or help out their friends by placing down blocks for them to jump on (perhaps to reach high areas). It’s fun, but hey, it’s still Mario Bros. all over again.
Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U are cartoon-like adventures that will appeal to little kids but Nintendo has made sure the Wii U will have mature titles for older gamers, too. For example, at launch we’ve seen Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed III, Nintendo’s Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge and Ubisoft’s ZombiU. Black Ops II and Assassin’s Creed III look and play as well as their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts, but ZombiU was a bit of a disappointment as the zombie-killing combat gets stale after a while – though it’s cool how the GamePad is your inventory screen and the action doesn’t stop around you when you need to access it.
Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition was also fun on the Wii U. Developed by WB Games Montreal, the game offers additional content introduced by the game’s original developer, Rocksteady Studios. For one, the game adds the Battle Armored Tech (B.A.T.) mode and new Armored Suits for both Batman and Catwoman. This allows the characters to build up kinetic energy during fight scenes and then enter B.A.T. mode to dole out more damage and experienced heightened awareness. The Wii U GamePad is now your Batcomputer, which lets you tap to access objectives, select gadgets, upgrade gear, detonate explosive gel and scour the area for forensic evidence in detective mode. In fact, this second screen is now a real-time map of Gotham you can call up at any time.
This version of last year’s Batman: Arkham City also houses all previously released downloadable content, namely: Catwoman Pack, Robin Bundle Pack, Nightwing Bundle Pack, Harley Quinn’s Revenge Pack, Challenge Map Pack and Arkham City Skins Pack.
As long as you’re near the console, some Nintendo Wii U games can be seen and played on the Wii U GamePad – just in case someone wants to watch TV instead. This is a very cool feature and something my kids liked a lot.
As with the Nintendo Wii, the Wii U also has a Netflix icon so as long as you have a subscription to the service ($8/month), you can stream movies and TV shows on the television or on the GamePad itself, if you prefer. Netflix worked well on the Wii U, but I didn’t get a chance to try out the YouTube app, also accessible on the Wii U GamePad.
While not yet tested for this review, Wii U also lets you video chat with others using the GamePad’s front facing camera. Called Wii U Chat, this service is free, but the other person must also have the Wii U console, too. I did get a chance to use the camera in Ubisoft’s Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013, though, in order to take my photo before working out in front of the television.
And then there’s Miiverse, an online community of Wii U gamers you can interact with via your Mii character. Discuss games, see what others are playing, get help in games, compare sores and challenge friends to a match.
Coming soon is an app called TVii, which is said to let users find, watch and engage with TV shows, movies and sports. It will include a program guide, remote control and social interaction into one, seamless second-screen experience on the GamePad. You’ll be able to comment on moments as they happen on live TV, and then share those thoughts via Miiverse, Facebook and Twitter.
Finally, Wii U comes with a web browser so you can surf on your big-screen television with your feet up on the coffee table. Or you can watch TV and browse the web on the Wii U GamePad.
While off to a bit of a rocky start – a huge update that will be a killjoy on Christmas morning and a first batch of games that are hit and miss – Nintendo Wii U shows a lot of promise for gamers, young and old, and entertainment lovers, too.
Nintendo is back, and in a big way. They likely have a full year head-start against the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation and will no doubt work hard to ensure the first and third-party games and entertainment services are enough to keep fans glued to the Wii U for months and years to come.
Sync readers, have you picked up a new Wii U console? What do you think about it?