U Ready? – Wii U Review

I think it’s clear that desperation is now the main driving force behind my choices of post titles.

The Wii U, Nintendo’s new home console, launched in Australia and Europe about a week ago, and after spending as much time with it as my current lifestyle would allow, I present this, here, now.

Icy blue

Day One haul, clockwise from bottom left: Screen Protector Kit, Facepad & Stylus Pack, Wii U Premium Pack, Pro Controller, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Assassin’s Creed 3 Join or Die Edition, New Super Mario Bros U.

Yeah, if you haven’t already guessed, I enjoy throwing money at console launches.

I’ll be structuring this piece much like my Playstation Vita review from earlier this year. Here goes.

THE CONSOLE

Unboxing the Wii U Premium Pack (RRP $430) takes a similar dual tray form to that of the Wii. The HDMI cable, console stand, charging dock and such like are in one tray and all the good stuff is in the other.

Dem_Trays

Inside the box – Gamepad top left, console bottom left.

The Wii U console itself looks like a longer, smoother-edged Wii console, with two USB ports on the front and two at the back. The Wii‘s sensor bar works straight away with its successor, as do the Wii‘s regular AV cables (the Wii U doesn’t actually come with any, so if you don’t have a HD TV you’ll need to dig out your old console or buy the cables separately). It takes game discs that sit somewhere between DVD and Blu-Ray in storage capacity, if I’m not mistaken, and it outputs most everything in native 1080p resolution. I haven’t had the need to set up an external hard drive with my console yet, as the 32gb flash memory is covering all my launch needs, but such a purchase is on the near horizon.

The Gamepad controller, which is rightly the star of the show, feels just as comfortable as it did when I first tried it a few months ago, although the black gloss finish that comes with the Premium Pack means fingerprints look ghastly on it. Ugh. Half the reason I bought a faceplate for the pad was to cover up such filth. The patent-pending Nintendo screen protector kit I purchased on launch day was just as easy to apply as the official Playstation Vita one was earlier this year, which I appreciated a great deal.

The Gamepad packs a 6.2 inch resistive touch (not multi-touch) screen with a resolution that is better than I expected. It understandably leaves the 3DS XL in the dust, though it falls short of the Vita‘s 5 inch OLED sheen in terms of pure wow factor. You’ll see a sharper image on Sony’s handheld, but as the Wii U Gamepad derives its power through some pretty impressive, lag-free streaming technology from the console it’s tied to, graphics have more detail and depth than anything you can see on a portable device.

The Gamepad also squeezes in an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a strong rumble feature, an infra-red sensor, an NFC-enabled insignia, a camera, a microphone and every button input you might expect from a controller these days, including clickable analogue sticks and two sets of shoulder buttons. It can be used as a painless universal TV remote even when the console isn’t even turned on, which is definitely cool, and the camera automatically pulls the console out of power-saving “dim” mode when it sees you come back to the controller after a period away, which is nifty as well. Unfortunately all these features do a real number on the pad’s battery life, which sits somewhere between 3 and 5 hours depending on the usual factors. I usually just play with it plugged in to the wall next to my couch, which works for my set-up but may not for others.

The Wii U‘s operating system needs a gigantic day one update that took me well over an hour to download in order to even resemble a fully-featured layout, but after that is completed it does some pretty awesome things that I’ll talk about near the end of this post. It has some significant issues, though, not least of which include the loading times. At launch the console could take as long as 30 seconds to load between menus in some instances, and while the firmware update released a couple of days ago does speed things up noticeably, the cumulative waiting time is still less than ideal. I also experienced some crashing issues before the firmware update, but haven’t since, so hopefully they have been addressed.

Playing the Wii U is genuinely unlike anything I have experienced before, and while it does have some speed bumps to negotiate it is brimming with potential. The Premium package is absolutely the way to go if the console piques your interest, as 8gb of storage won’t cut it by itself, the included charging stand is handy and you do get the excellent Nintendo Land in the box. Although, that glossy black finish. Ew.

.

THE VERDICT

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Good:
Truly unique design and execution, smooth Gamepad streaming, feature-packed hardware, cost-effective package
Bad:
Poor Gamepad battery life, rough-edged OS
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

515/110A M A Z I N G

THE PRO CONTROLLER

I had a brief meeting with the Wii U‘s optional, “hardcore gamer” Pro Controller at this year’s EB Games Expo, when I used it to play Rayman Legends, but my extended time with it in the comfort of my own home has allowed me to form a more complete opinion.

Black is back

Yes, it looks a lot like a wider 360 controller.

The first thing you notice about the Pro Controller when you pick it up is that it doesn’t have a lot of weight to it. The feel of it is comparable to that of an Xbox 360 controller that has had its batteries taken out. This will irritate some players, as will the strange positioning of the right analogue stick above the face buttons rather than below them, but neither issue really fazed me at all. They both just take a session or two to get used to.

The controller itself has a sturdy, high quality design about it, despite its weight. The buttons are fixed firmly in place and don’t rattle when shaken like they do on the Gamepad. The control sticks feel awesome and the triggers, despite being digital buttons rather than analogue squeeze-ables, work as well as you’d expect from a modern controller. Its also a cool novelty to have the patented original Nintendo D-pad design present on such a controller.

Two of the controller’s odder design choices are the lack of a headset jack (you need to plug yours into the Gamepad) and a rumble feature so weak you have to wonder why it was included at all. Yet both these facts doubtless contributed to what is probably the Wii U Pro Controller’s most outstanding feature: it claims around 80 hours of battery life off a single charge, and early online reports are backing that claim up. I certainly haven’t needed to charge mine yet. That’s about eight times what you can expect from an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller. Ridiculous.

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THE VERDICT

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Good:
Premium feel, super-comfortable, an actual D-pad, utterly ridiculous battery life
Bad:
Piss-weak rumble feature, no headset jack
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

THE GAMES/APPS

I picked up six games at launch, including one downloadable title, Nano Assault Neo, which was the first Wii U title I played in the comfort of my own home. It cost me $13 to download off Nintendo’s gorgeous new iTunes-esque Wii U eShop (3DS eShop cards will work on it) and was worth every cent. The game plays a lot like PS Vita launch title Super Stardust Delta, with a twin-stick shooter style, but with the added intrigue of a human-body setting, purchasable power-ups and a co-operative mode using one player on the Gamepad and another on the screen using a Pro Controller. It looks stunning and plays just as addictively as Stardust ever did.

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed III quite a bit, and rather enjoying it at that. By all accounts it looks identical to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, with the added ability to make inventory selections and map adjustments via the Gamepad, or just to play the whole game on the controller with the TV off or on another channel. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper isn’t the best looking game on the Wii U by a long shot but my brother and I have been playing dual screen co-op and enjoying the endless army Japanese character-fest immensely. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is an awesome Diddy Kong Racing-style game with tight controls, great stages and five-player splitscreen that, while taking some graphical hits, runs at a smooth frame rate.

The star of the launch line-up and the closest thing to a must-have title if you ask me is Nintendo Land. Not only does it make the best and most varied use of the Gamepad that I have seen thus far, with awesome multiplayer and lone attractions alike, it also integrates really well with Nintendo’s new social network service, Miiverse. Other people’s Miis from around the world will appear in your “plaza” and it’s as simple as touching their avatars on the Gamepad screen to compare their stamps, trophies and high scores with yours. The hectic and challenging New Super Mario Bros U features Miiverse posts from the world’s players related to every level in the game and they pop up when you zoom out on the beautiful, interconnected world map.

Miiverse itself is an awesome idea and while its friend integration system could stand to make some improvements (although it is leaps and bounds ahead of the Wii and even the 3DS), the execution of said idea is generally quite impressive. Being able to post screenshots, drawings and words about your game while you are playing it in the background is an unexpectedly cathartic example of effectively cutting out the middle man, in essence bridging Facebook and Twitter-style social interaction with gaming itself. The dedication of the full-time moderators to keeping things Nintendo-clean is particularly impressive. In my many hours of play so far I have only seen one penis drawing, and in less than 30 seconds it had been deleted.

Screens!

An awful picture of my three favourite ways to play games this year.

The robust nature of the console’s native internet browser is a real surprise, mostly since Nintendo’s efforts in that field in the past have been less than stellar. Pages load quite rapidly and full HD, dual-screen video playback off the browser is very smooth. It’s a shame that the downloadable YouTube app, while presented stylishly, doesn’t work nearly as well for actually playing videos and doesn’t show your subscriptions properly. I’m sure patches will fix this, but at the moment the browser is the way to go for video streaming. The Wii U Video Chat app works quite well, too, with the benefits of two screens in immediate evidence, though it did take quite a while to start up when I tried it.

Nintendo’s inbuilt video streaming service, TVii, isn’t available as of yet, but I’ll post my impressions of it if and when it gets released in Australia. As an added side note, there is no word as of yet when the “Nintendo Network Premium” points-saving download scheme that comes with the Wii U Premium Pack will be activated.

-◊-◊-

Like the Playstation Vita, the Wii U is facing a bit of doubt as to its relevance in the gaming market. With graphics barely more powerful than its current competitors, questions of how it will compete with Sony and Microsoft’s next machines were bound to come up. But I’ve been playing the same kinds of games for the last two or three years and the Wii U scratches the itch that has resulted from such a state. There is no doubt Nintendo will need to keep up the third party developer support it currently enjoys, but regardless of what its fellow console manufacturers do, I get the feeling Nintendo will continue to go in its own direction, offering entertainment experiences you cannot have anywhere else, gaming or otherwise. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then there is a lot to be excited about elsewhere in the modern gaming landscape. But if you’re in the mood for a change, I can safely recommend Nintendo’s new home console to you. If you’re after a bit of fun, nobody does it better.

And by the way, you can find me on Miiverse as Vagrantesque. Ignore my creepy Mii.

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