Nintendo Co.’s Wii U is an ambitious console that packs plenty of technology into a mass market price. With the tablet-like Wii U GamePad for dual-screen play, solo consumption, or asymmetric local play with friends, the device relays a lot of new in a solid yet unfinished package.
System setup is a bit of a marathon for the Wii U due to a large day-one online patch that adds online functionality to the hardware. Services like Miiverse, Nintendo eShop, Netflix, and pending buttons for Amazon Instant Video and Hulu drive the 45-minute to one hour download.
In addition, the interface itself, which includes select Mii characters that hover around each program in a hub-like fashion, is very slow. The Wii U Menu takes about 15 seconds to launch when backing out from any application which isn’t acceptable when the hardware is a next-generation system.
Despite a multi-hour setup, which includes recharging the Wii U GamePad, the Wii U hardware shines with the innovative Nintendo Land. Included with the Deluxe Set and sold separately, the title is a quality demonstrator of what the Wii U offers as a game system. Activities like Pikmin Adventure, Metroid Blast, and The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest offer asymmetric gameplay in which the Wii U GamePad user views a solitary and unique perspective of action, while the remaining users utilize the standard television.
The high-definition graphics, even in the basic Nintendo Land, shine thanks to a custom IBM CPU and ATI Radeon GPU. While final specs haven’t been disclosed, the vibrant color saturation, special effects, and sharp detail at 60 frames-per-second hit a home run. All of the gameplay experiences that have never been done before in a home console, Nintendo pulls the rabbit of the hat with industry-leading expertise.
Another unique function of the Wii U is to transfer gameplay completely to the GamePad to free up the TV for other users. The function works as advertised and the controller is entirely capable of being a stand-alone device with microphone jack, front camera, and enough controls for the most complex first-person shooter.
The range of the Wii U GamePad is good and can travel a short distance before it loses connection with the main system. A move back into its system radar and the GamePad quickly reconnects without issue.
The build-quality of the controller is average but packs a lot of next-generation features. The sharp 6.2-inch LCD is competent to relay 60 frames-per-second gameplay, though it is a bit washed out. The LCD screen unfortunately lacks capacitive touch functionality found in most mobile phones and tablets to limit additional touch controls. Despite this, the GamePad includes a gyroscope, front camera, microphone, headphone jack, and NFC for wireless micro-transactions. While large, the controller is comfortable, light, and the button layout is excellent.
A minor highlight of the GamePad is its ability to access the Internet. The 6.2-inch screen and included stylus offers competent and quick tablet-like surfing for most websites. At default, Internet browsing is shielded by a virtual curtain on the television. A press of the X button opens the curtains and displays the Internet, including impressive video streaming in great quality.
The new Miiverse service a cross between Twitter and a message board that groups user conversation around each Wii U game. At launch, the Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U communities are thriving with live comments regarding each game. In addition to viewing conversation feeds, users can ‘Yeah!’ a specific comment, reply, or send a friend request. The Nintendo Network ID consists of a basic username that will be used across all future Nintendo hardware and is a significant upgrade from the prior Friend Code method.
The Nintendo eShop allows users to purchase full digital download titles including launch titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU. Large titles require users to plug in an external hard drive. While not as flashy as the latest digital store offerings from competitors, the option to download full titles at launch is an impressive effort in Nintendo’s online strategy and will likely be fine-tuned in each incremental update.
Features to be added in Dec. include Nintendo TVii to add a television guide and DVR control from the GamePad. In addition, services like Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus will arrive shortly to expand the entertainment options of the hardware.
The Wii U is an impressive piece of machinery that does the best it can to promote a brand new game experience at a mass-market price. While the slow operating system and patch-ridden updates make the hardware feel rushed, the innovative Wii U GamePad combined with the right software can allow the system to shine as bright as the Triforce.