The first of the next-generation video game consoles has arrived with the highly-anticipated Nintendo Wii U! But is getting out of the gate first really worth it or does the system fail to impress? 411's Mark Salmela checks in with his full review of the system!
Itís been 7 long years since we entered the 7th generation of home consoles. It was 7 years ago that the Xbox 360 launched in North America and changed the face of gaming forever. Itís already becoming hard to remember just how different and secluded video games were even back in the first half of 2005. We went from personal experiences such as Shadow of the Colossus where it was simply you and the game to the Xbox 360 where every single thing you do in the latest Need for Speed is recorded and given to your friends to play as challenges over the Internet. We now have video games that seamlessly connect you to other players and sometimes (like in Journey) you donít even realize that itís happening. Thatís incredible when you think about it.
What this all means is that the video game landscape has changed. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony arenít simply making pieces of hardware anymore. They truly are developing home entertainment centers designed to give users an ďexperienceĒ to make their product a ďdestinationĒ rather than simply being a distraction from the normal world. Nintendo was able to get away with making a bare-bones platform in the Wii. Sony was able to get away with making a rather featureless PS3 when it initially launched in 2006, although in order to keep pace with the competition they had to undergo radical changes to the platform. But in 2012, bare-bones simply isnít going to cut it anymore. Gamers and consumers alike expect a full-fledged, working, and feature rich platform that will provide a unique experience right out of the gate. So how does the Wii U stack up? Letís find out.
First, itís time to address the big elephant in the room. Yes, the Wii U is not the end-all, be-all of consoles. Yes, the Wii U is right there with the PS3 and 360 in terms of graphical capabilities. But thatís not what the Wii U is about. Consoles--and computers in general--require future iterations to become more powerful in order to be seen as worthy improvements that impress consumers enough to consider upgrading. The Wii U has taken the necessary steps to finally join the HD generation, but the Wii U is designed entirely around the controller you hold in your hands. And when you really think about it, Nintendo has seemingly always designed their hardware around the controller that youíll hold in your hand. Itís been that way since the Nintendo 64, at least.
The Wii U Gamepad is an impressive controller. The controller feels very ergonomically friendly. I may be someone with larger hands than most, but I found the Wii U Gamepad to be extremely comfortable to hold. Games like NintendoLand will require you to hold the Wii U tablet in extremely different and compromising positions, and almost all of them feel comfortable. The only time the Wii U feels awkward to hold is when games want you to hold the controller directly straight up facing your TV. Itís simply not natural to bend your wrists straight up in the air. The tablet controller isnít heavy by any means, but itís not light and it certainly wonít feel weightless when youíre trying to hold it towards your TV. Besides this one compromising position, however, the Wii U tablet is truly a beauty and will be one of the things fondly remembered about the Wii U experience years down the road.
Besides the Wii U tablet, the Wii U also lets you use Wiimotes and the new Wii U Pro controller. At this point everyone and their mother has used a Wiimote before (literally), so Iím not going to waste your time talking about how a Wiimote works, but be aware so far most games seem to require Wiimotion Plus as well. NintendoLand for example can only be played with Wii Motion Plus (besides the Gamepad of course), so youíre going to need to stock up on new Wiimotes or the Wiimotion Plus attachment if you only have regular Wiimotes. The Wii U Pro controller basically mimics the 360 controller, which is a good thing. The big differences in the Wii U Pro controller are that the 4 face buttons and the right analog stick have switched positions, which takes some getting used to but isnít a hindrance on anything, and the triggers which are small and clicky versus long the long triggers on the 360 controller.
The launch line-up of the Wii U is extremely impressive, but has a big, glaring problem. Every console that has become extremely successful has had a killer-app that really made the consoles fly off the shelves. The Wii had Wii Sports. The 360 had to wait a year but finally got Gears of War in 2006. The N64 had Super Mario 64. I could go on. The Wii U has many great launch games, and is right there with the PlayStation Vita for probably the most well-rounded and overall impressive launch line-up for a new platform, but thereís no ďsystem sellerĒ for the Wii U. NintendoLand is close, but thereís just not enough replayability on the mini-games. Wii Bowling and Wii Tennis had enough replayability to make them killer-apps. The games of NintendoLand are fun and theyíre the perfect way to show off the capabilities of the Wii U, but you probably wonít be playing NintendoLand years from now. Wii Sports is still fun to play with friends.
So far most Wii U titles focus on providing one of two experiences. So far most every Wii U title is either a port of a 360/PS3 game with some Wii U extras tacked on, or a collection of mini-games meant to show off the potential of the platform. There are a couple of exceptions like New Super Mario Bros. U and Zombi U, but Mario fails to utilize the Wii U Gamepad at all while Zombi U is basically just a full retail title meant to show off the potential of the platform rather than a mini-game collection meant to show off the potential of the platform. There are a handful of downloadable titles available on the Wii Uís online store, but I havenít had a chance to try any of them out yet.
Overall, the Wii U already has an impressive line-up of software, but much like the Vita and for a long time the Nintendo 3DS thereís no killer-app that makes it worth plunking down $300 to $350. The controller is a unique experience that warrants the consoleís existence, but the controller alone does not make the console worth buying. Games make a console worth buying. Iím convinced those games are coming, and Iím also convinced there will be enough exceptional games to justify calling the Wii U a success (just like the Wii), but those games arenít here yet.
The User Interface
Quite frankly I hated the Nintendo Wiiís interface. I hated the whole idea of channels, even though it laid the groundwork for the app experience Apple took with their iOS platform that has become so wildly successful. The Wii U is a huge improvement over the old user interface. The Wii U has basically 2 different menus, with one displaying on the TV and the other one displaying on the Wii U Gamepad. Both menus offer a comprehensive selection of most everything you can do in the Wii U, including accessing your friends list, the online store, the apps and most importantly, the games. You can flip between both menus at the press of the X button, and both menus can be controlled by using the analog sticks and both menus can be controlled by using touch when itís displayed on the Wii U Gamepad. Itís neat and fun to show off.
One interesting quirk about the Wii U is how it handles backwards compatibility. The Wii U will play Wii games and Wii apps, but it will not play Gamecube games like the Wii did. When you want to play a Wii game, you need to flip over to the Wii channel on the Wii U menu. Basically, youíre loading the old Nintendo Wii legacy operating system on top of the Wii U operating system, and itís kind of a mess. Simply loading the Wii OS and then eventually reverting back to the Wii U OS is clunky and takes forever. Iíll touch on this more in the next section but it shouldnít take 20 seconds to boot up the Wii OS when the Wii U is allegedly so much more powerful than the Wii. Nintendo built an absolutely fantastic online store for the Wii U, and so far Iíve noticed the online store running pretty fast, but backwards compatibility on the Wii U kind of sucks. Also, Iíve noticed absolutely no upscalling when playing Wii games on the Wii U. They donít look any better to me. The PS3 upscales PS2 games to HD and they usually look pretty good when using backwards compatibility, why canít the Wii U do the same to the Wii?
The Load Times
So far, this one hurts the most. The Wii U uses a new proprietary disc format, meaning itís not using actual DVDs or actual Blu-Rays to play games like the Xbox 360, Wii and PS3. Nintendo did this to fight piracy, plain and simple. The new Wii U disc format can hold up to 25 GB per disc (not sure if thereíll be dual-layered discs like Blu-Ray has for 50 GB discs), with an alleged write/read speed of 22.5 Mb/second. Thatís significantly higher than the Xbox 360 and 3 times the speed of the PS3. Going by that logic, load times should be cut in 1/3 for most games. But the load times arenít faster at all. In fact, reports say most games take longer to load on the Wii U compared to the older 360 version. Iím not sure if this is due to developers figuring out how to best allocate resources on the Wii U, or if the console really is that underpowered under the hood, but right now this is a big cause for concern. As I mentioned above, trying to load the Wii OS on the Wii U takes forever, and most Wii U features such as the friends list and Mii channels have had intermittent load times at best. Netflix is fast on the Wii U, as is the online store, but Iím very worried about why certain things are taking forever to load on my brand new console. Normally itís not until you fill your hard drives up with a bunch of crap that an OS starts to slow down (Iím looking at you, PS3).
The Online Interface
Besides the controller and true HD graphics, this is by far the biggest improvement from the Wii to the Wii U. The online experience for the Wii U has been fantastic so far. It seems Nintendo is taking the Sony approach to the online experience, letting individual developers and publishers figure out how they want to run their online servers, as opposed to Microsoftís very strict policy on using their in-house system for Xbox Live. Besides some struggles on day 1 (which should be expected) Iíve had no problems playing games online, surfing the online store, or checking out all of their social apps. The only problem I have with Nintendoís online interface is that both people are required to add each other to their friends list before you can actually become friends and see what each other is doing online.
- The Wii U Gamepad is a fantastic piece of hardware.
- The Wii U interface is significantly better than the Wii.
- The online features are leagues better than the Wii.
- The graphics are finally full HD with 1080p.
- The Wii U does play Wii games.
- The launch line-up is solid.
- You can download full retail titles off the online store on the same release day as the physical disc.
- Miiverse is a unique and original social networking application that's quite fun to mess around with.
- Thereís not that one piece of killer software that makes this console a must buy.
- Downloading software and system updates takes forever right now.
- Loading is very slow for certain applications on the Wii U.
- The graphics wonít be as impressive as the next console from Sony and Microsoft.
- The Wii U likely wonít be able to handle next generation engines like Unreal Engine 4.
- The controller will likely be overly large and feel heavy for certain people.
- The Wii U Gamepad only holds a charge for 3 - 4 hours. It does come with a charging cable.
So at long last, the next generation of consoles is finally here. Even though the last generation of consoles technically started in 2005, it doesnít feel all that long ago that we were still referring to the PS3 and Wii as the ďnext generation.Ē Well, their successors are finally coming, and even though the Wii U may not have the graphical jump hardcore gamers are looking for, the Wii U provides a unique experience that truly offers something weíve never seen before. The Wii U Gamepad is a great controller, the user interface has been revamped and has been improved significantly, the online store is actually usable, and the online experience is right up there with Xbox Live and the PSN. The Wii U is a great platform with a ton of potential. I have confidence that the games are coming that will fulfill its destiny of becoming a great console. But for right now, the Wii U simply doesnít have the ďitĒ factor that makes it a must buy. The Wii U is great, but until that killer app finally comes, for now, only hardcore Nintendo fans should pick up the Wii U. Everyone else should wait a good 6 months until we have some more quality experiences that justify a minimum $300 point-of-entry.
Note: This review score is representative of the Wii U console as of 11/20/2012. Obviously, the Wii U will undergo numerous changes over the years just like the PS3 and 360 did. This is meant to be a review score based on how the platform performs at launch.