Console Review: Nintendo's Wii U starts its own dual screen revolution
Nintendo, the company who modestly started with their 8-bit NES has certainly evolved into a much more experimental company these days. The Wii brought dedicated motion control gaming to the living room, and the DS had gamers playing games on two screens. Nintendo can be thought of more as an innovator in that regard.
The Wii U is Nintendo's latest console, and the first to take the plunge into HD visuals. Beyond the new console however, is the Wii U's controller, which is without a doubt the star. What was previously just secondary to consoles is now in the forefront, and will have gamers interacting with their console games in ways that were previously impossible.
Quite possibly the biggest letdown of the Wii U is its console design. Not that it looks bad or anything, it just doesn't look all that new or flashy. It might be due to the fact that the attention should be spotlighted on the gamepad, but I can't help but feel Nintendo was just being lazy when designing this thing.
The Wii U bears a striking resemblance to the Wii in both shape and size. It's only slightly longer than the Wii but just about the same height. The front houses a flip open compartment which has 2 USB 2.0 ports and an SD Card reader. The back also has two more USB 2.0 ports along with a new HDMI slot for those crisp, clean, HD visuals. If you get the Deluxe Edition, you also get some snazzy stands which prop up your Wii U much better than the previous grey stand that the Wii came with.
As I previously stated, the controller that Nintendo cooked up with a screen built directly into it, is almost more important here than the console itself. The gamepad not only provides new avenues of gameplay, but allows for direct gameplay of many popular titles without the need of a TV.
Let's get the negatives out of the way first, which first and foremost is the touch screen itself. It's still the same old resistive touch screen that Nintendo has been using for years on their DS and 3DS systems. Living in an age of capacitive touch screens, with iPhones, Vitas and smartphones, it's pretty surprising that Nintendo is sticking to their guns rather than conforming to the norm. But hey, that's never been Nintendo's way.
The other problem is its battery life. While it's no big deal to play with the gamepad mostly plugged in, thanks to its long cord that also conveniently plugs into its own outlet, it makes sense to want to play unhinged, without cords, without limits! You'll get a few hours of straight game time out of a fully charged gamepad. More or less depending on how intensely the gamepad interacts with the game.
However it all goes uphill from here. The gamepad is truly a revolutionary controller. It has its own speakers and microphone, as well as jacks for headphones and headsets so you can play games without disrupting others. You can even set it to act as a universal remote for your TV, satellite and cable box. It's also extremely lightweight, which at first glance doesn't seem that way, and the ergonomic grip design will have you holding it very comfortably for extended periods of time.
Most, not all, Wii U games have the ability to also be played on the gamepad exclusively, and this is truly a gamechanger. This feature will show its importance differently in various households. As someone who is married to an avid TV show watcher, it's perfect, since it allows me to continue playing my game, without the need to compromise the TV.
The only feature I find the gamepad to be lacking is a button that would allow you to swap your TV screen and your gamepad screen. I say this because each game has a different way of allowing you to do that. Madden requires you to hold the - button, Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor's Edge requires you to go into the options screen, and then games like New Super Mario Bros. U and Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper just have the game play simultaneously on both screens, which I find to be a big waste of battery if you're solely planning on playing it on your TV.
Keep those Wii Motion Plus controllers!
Nintendo wasn't kidding when they announced you'll still be getting a lot of mileage out of your old controllers. Many titles require them for any sort of multiplayer action. Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U and others all require these controllers if you ever want anyone else joining in on the fun.
It's a little strange to be using an outdated controller on a brand new console, but it works. I just hope that even though Nintendo still recognizes these as viable controllers, we won't get any more dedicated motion control games.
The interface slow down
The new UI doesn't scream new, as it generally borrows similar designs from both the 3DS and the Wii. The gamepad will display your selection menu, while your TV will display the new Wara Wara Plaza (which I'll get to later).
It's certainly easy to use and makes switching from game to web browser, to eshop, back to game rather easy. The problem is with the long load times. For some odd reason, any sort of switch to a separate app, or even going back to the Wii U menu takes an astonishingly long time. It's frustrating that something so trivial like quitting your game to access the Wii U menu takes more than 10 seconds. This can be said for booting up apps as well, which is somewhat more forgiving, albeit still quite annoying. Hulu Plus is yet another instance of it taking more than 10 seconds to show.
My only solace lies in hoping that Nintendo will fix these issues with future updates and patches, and make navigating its menus a breeze.