To put it lightly, the Wii was a pretty big deal. Nearly 100 million were sold, it helped bring Nintendo back from the brink and it introduced gaming to a lot of people who may have never considered it before. I’m not one of those people. I’m a “hardcore gamer” who was supposed to hate the thing because the graphics were bad and I had to move my arms to play. And yet, I liked the Wii. I liked it a lot. I liked discovering what odd little games developers could make for this odd little console and of course, I liked getting new Nintendo hits. That’s all in the past now, though, since the next generation of Nintendo gaming, the Wii U, arrived. Guess what? Turns out I like it, too.
Obviously, all everyone wants to know about is the Wii U GamePad. Along with the usual buttons, triggers and analog sticks, this brand new controller features an embedded six-inch touch screen. While tablets are old hat at this point, marrying that idea with the capabilities of a major console could produce games we may have never dreamt of before. However, there are some distinct features worth mentioning about the console itself. While it’s barely bigger than the original Wii, it packs enough power to run modern games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Assassin’s Creed III with ease. But besides just being a competent port machine, the Wii U finally delivers the dream of Nintendo classics in high-definition. If a game as simple as New Super Mario Bros. U can be noticeably improved by the sharper graphics, just imagine the future of something like The Legend of Zelda. Plus, most of these releases can be bought from a store or from home with the expanded eShop online store. Those kinds of added conveniences show that Nintendo’s march into the future, while slow, is steady.
Really, though, the controller is the star. Think of it less like an iPad and more like the bottom screen of a DS. Nintendo has been finding neat ways to integrate two screens and touch screens into their games for a while now and this further continues that approach. The screen itself, while not quite HD, is still super sharp and provides a perfectly acceptable viewing experience when the TV has to be sacrificed. Some launch games, like Nintendo Land, explore interesting ways to use the TV and controller in tandem for both personal and asymmetrically social gaming experiences. Others games though can be displayed just on the GamePad, cutting the TV out entirely. Honestly, being able to play full console games in places other than the living room, like in the kitchen or curled up in bed, in one of the coolest things to do with the system. The controller has a decent amount of wireless range and should work fine in most areas of the typical cramped college apartment or dorm room. Physically, it feels good in the hands; it's light but solid and not cheap looking. Buttons, triggers and analogs sticks are springy and responsive while ergonomic grooves are all comfortable and well-made. It’s essentially a handheld system that doesn’t have to worry about fitting in pants pockets.
This isn’t an advertisement, though. There are some shortcomings about the Wii U potential buyers should be aware of. The initial system update is painfully slow, as is the data transfer process, despite its adorable Pikmin animation. Even after the system is set up, applications still take a while to load. Players can plug in USB hard drives to expand their memory, but the Wii U is very finicky with them and will shut down if it even thinks the drive has been pulled out. Some features are missing for now, like Nintendo’s own TVii service, while other features are just kind of dumb like the overly sanitized Miiverse social network. Also, between the GamePad, Wii Remotes and Pro controllers, players will have to juggle a lot of fairly complex equipment to get the most out of their new machine. Most Wii owners will probably already have all that they need but those going in fresh should consider much they are willing to invest in getting the full multiplayer experience.
However, a review of a game console itself is almost irrelevant. Gaming is about the games, not the box that plays them. Before we can truly pass judgment on the Wii U, we’ll have to see what kinds of gaming experiences it will provide us. Right now, it runs traditional games just fine and it is offering some intriguing looks into new dual-screen, HD Nintendo ideas. With new, even more powerful machines coming from Sony and Microsoft as soon as next holiday though, Nintendo better start delivering on those promises soon. There’s a lot to like about the Wii U, but hopefully we’ll all learn to love it.