I’ve been pretty honest that I wasn’t overly excited about Nintendo’s new console. Like the Wii before it, the Wii U is really an underpowered piece of hardware facing off against two more powerful HD consoles with even newer consoles from Sony and Microsoft less than two years away. So even at the time of its launch, the Wii U doesn’t perform as well as systems that have been out for more than six years. Both Epic Mickey 2 and Batman: Arkham City run much slower with worse frame rates than on the PS3 or 360. So why do I own a Wii U? A couple of reasons.
The first is Nintendo’s games. Pretty much the only console games my wife actually wants to play on her own are the Mario titles such as the two Mario Galaxy games on the original Wii, and Nintendo’s social games really do appeal to non-gamers, which makes the Wii and Wii U a great option to have under the TV when family comes to visit.
The second reason was that I was out shopping on Black Friday and went into GameStop to take advantage of some of their cheap PS3 deals. When I got to the counter, they had two Wii U Deluxe bundles sitting there, so I grabbed one and forgot about those cheap PS3 games. I took the thing home, began hooking it up, and spend the entire holiday weekend diving into Nintendo’s new system. Is it worth $350 with new Sony and Nintendo consoles on the way?
Much has been made about the Wii U’s long initial firmware update, with many early adopters reporting a two hour update process and bricked consoles. Those long update times may have been due to Nintendo’s fledgling servers being overwhelmed on launch day as I didn’t have a two hour update. It took about forty-five minutes to an hour to download and update both the system firmware and the initial gamepad update, and then I was up and running.
One of the big innovations with the Wii U isn’t actually the gamepad with the screen. Sure, that’s pretty cool and does allow some great things to be done, but the MiiVerse is something that both Microsoft and Sony must copy with their next console. This adds a social layer to every game. So you can be playing Mario and leave notes for other players anywhere in the game. This works for every game and is better than achievements. It’s like Facebook or Twitter made for each game, which is linked to a central area in the system UI.
Of course the gamepad is pretty impressive. You set it up to work as a universal remote for your TV, and you can turn on your TV, select the video input, and change the volume all from the system controller. This is also something Sony and MS need to copy as it’s been needed for a long time with game consoles that have wireless controllers. You can play your full console games right on the pad without having to have the TV on at all. That also is a big plus for the system. Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video also all can be displayed right on the pad screen, giving you something of an in-house only tablet if you don’t have an iPad or Android tablet that does the same.
It’s a comfortable controller to hold, and should work out for most games. However for more intense games such as Tekken Tag 2, Ninja Gaiden, or the upcoming Bayonetta 2; you’ll probably want to spring for the $50 Pro Controller, which is designed more like a traditional console controller and works great. I’ve put in a couple hours with it on Tekken and it almost feels unfair to use that against people who are likely using the system gamepad.
The initial software selection is pretty much par for the course with any system launch, especially a Nintendo one. You have a high-profile Mario game, a quirky mini-game collection to show off console functionality, a big third party exclusive (ZombiU) that isn’t that great, and a bunch of ports from the PS3 and 360. New Super Mario Bros. U really reminds me of the first time I played Super Mario World back at the SNES launch. At the time, the graphics were a huge jump from the NES, but the game still felt like the Mario we expected. The Wii U game is about the same. It’s Mario in HD, but the gameplay is classic Mario and it’s great fun to play.
If you were a Wii owner, it is possible to transfer all your save data and Virtual Console games over to the Wii backward compatible section of the Wii U, but it’s a convoluted process. You’ll need a SD card with 512MB free. You use a Wiimote to go into the Wii menu on the Wii U and download a transfer tool from the Wii Shop. It then connects to the internet to verify some DRM crap on Nintendo’s servers and then prepares the SD card for your original Wii information.
Then you boot up your original Wii with the prepared SD card and download the same transfer tool from the Wii Shop. After it again verifies data from Nintendo’s DRM servers, it copies all your Wii system data over to the card; and deletes it from your Wii. Nintendo’s DRM only allows the VC games to reside on one system so they can’t be used on your original Wii again. Once they’re copied to your card, you take that card back to the Wii U and it copies everything over to its system memory.
To answer the initial question if it’s worth it, you’ll have to ask yourself if you’ll be able to live with a console that will be a generation behind of the competition in less than two years, and how much you like Nintendo’s own games. If you live off third party games like Call of Duty or Borderlands, the Wii U may not be for you. While Black Ops 2 is on the Wii U and is comparable to the Sony and MS versions, the same may not be true when the new consoles come out with new Call of Duty games.
For Nintendo fans, it’s a new Nintendo system that finally is in HD (with a HDMI output!), has a real only mode without stupid friend codes, and full compatibility with the older Wii stuff. $299 for the basic model isn’t too bad for a new HD system, but if you buy one really spend the extra $50 for the Deluxe. Not only do you get a cool black system, but you get more memory, a charging dock for the gamepad, and a free game in Nintendoland.
With all the firmware issues, the Wii U got off to a bit of a rocky start, but hopefully things will smooth out quickly. The things the system can do are pretty cool, people just need to be educated on that and it’ll probably take off.