Review: Wii U
By Paul Hunter
Nintendo has come first out of the gate with a brand new console -- the Wii U -- officially kickstarting the next generation of home gaming. The Wii U brings with it a new online experience, finally bumps the graphics up to full HD, and delivers a superb new Mario game; yet, it's the Wii U GamePad, with its range of innovative features, which really steals the show.
After putting the Wii U console through its paces over the last few days I was amazed at how multifaceted the Wii U GamePad is, and the degree to which the second screen adds to the overall gaming experience. There were a few hiccups with my overall experience with the Wii U, which I'll explain below, but they didn't detract too much from the numerous hours of enjoyment I had.
Wii U System
In terms of pure looks, the Wii U is the plainest Nintendo console yet. It has a smooth body with rounded corners, and is larger and bulkier than the Wii: 10.6” deep, 6.75” long, and 3.5lbs, vs. Wii’s 8.48” deep, 6.18” long, and 2.65lbs. Out-the-box the Wii U can only be placed horizontally, but can have a vertical orientation with the optional Console Stand (included in the Deluxe Console package, or sold separately). The face of the console has a disc drive capable of playing Wii U or Wii game discs, eject and power buttons, and a front hatch that reveals two USB 2.0 ports and an SD memory card slot. In a nice touch, the hatch slides into the console when you open it, instead of jutting out like it does on the Wii. Above the power button is a tiny LED that shines blue when the console is powered on and red when powered off. Above the disc eject button is a second light that emits a bright white light when a disc is inserted into your Wii U.
As previously mentioned, the Wii U is capable is displaying full HD graphics -- the first for a Nintendo console. The supported video modes for Wii U include 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. The back of the Wii U console contains slots for the AC adapter, sensor bar, AV connector, HDMI out, and two additional USB 2.0 ports. Inside the box comes an HDMI cable, which makes Wii U the first console to ever include one (Wii included a standard A/V cable). There's no AV cable included, so if you have an older model TV you'll have to either buy Nintendo's AV cord accessory, or if you have a Wii, you can use the same AV cable with your Wii U (very convenient). Finally, Wii U contains a built-in wireless adapter, allowing you to connect the console to the internet through your home network.
Wii U Sets Available
There are two Wii U console packages available now. They are: (1) the Basic Set, and (2) the Deluxe Set. For a comprehensive review of each of these sets, have a look at Erika's comparison article. There's a $50 price difference between the two packages, and if you look at the contents of each package you'll notice the more expensive Deluxe Set is a better value by a longshot. Not only does it come with Nintendo Land (a fantastic launch game -- see Raj's review here), it also has four times the hard drive storage space, and a slew of peripherals including a Wii U GamePad charging cradle and Wii U console stands -- items you will most certainly want to own. As a further incentive to pick-up the Deluxe Set, Nintendo will be rolling out the "Deluxe Digital Promotion" (coming Dec. 2012) which will give you a 10% credit for each purchase made through the Nintendo eShop. So for example, if you purchase a $60 game through the Nintendo eShop, you will receive credits equal to $6 towards your next Nintendo eShop purchase.
So you can visually compare the two sets, here's a full list of the contents:
Wii U 8GB Basic Set
White Wii U console with 8GB of internal storage
One white Gamepad controller
AC Adapters for both the console and controller
Wii U 32GB Deluxe Set
Black Wii U console with 32GB of internal storage
One black Gamepad controller
Nintendo Land video game
Gamepad charging cradle
Gamepad stand that allows it to sit vertically on a table
AC Adapters for both the console and controller
Setting-up the Wii U
Nintendo hit a small bump in the road this past weekend when they rolled out a system update on launch day that every Wii U owner had to install if they want to connect their consoles online. The massive update takes about an hour to download and install using a broadband internet connection, and Nintendo cautioned owners to let the process run uninterupted or risk damaging your Wii U system. That, combined with the physical set-up of the Wii U console and the 2.5 hours to charge the Wii U GamePad meant that there wasn't a lot of gaming during my first night with the Wii U. [pro-tip: start charging your Wii U GamePad immediately after opening the box to minimize overall set-up time]
Wii U GamePad
The Wii U GamePad is by far the most interesting aspect of the package. The natural focal point of the Wii U GamePad is the 6.2", 16:9 aspect ratio LCD touch screen (single-touch). The screen itself looks beautiful, but it's not HD, with a resolution of 854 x 480 (the same as Wii's video output). You can, as a main feature of most Wii U games, play the games directly on the Wii U GamePad instead of on your TV. Even with a lower resolution on the LCD touch screen, the games I played (New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge) looked fantastic and I barely noticed the drop in resolution. The truly impressive technical achievement of the Wii U is how smooth the games play on the Wii U GamePad, with no latency or graphical ghosting or clipping, despite being steamed to the controller from the console unit. It's impressive to see Wii U games running on your Wii U GamePad at the same speed as the image on your TV, so much so that I'd put it on par with the feeling of "awe" I got when I first tried the Wii Sports motion controls on the original Wii.
The Wii GamePad is much more than just the LCD touch screen, in fact, it's the most feature-rich main console controller that's ever been designed. The controller is bulky: measuring 5.3" high x 10.2" wide, it's almost as big as the Wii U console itself. Surprisingly though, it feels extremely light at 1.1lbs and the left and right grips are ultra-comfortable even during long game sessions. There are two analog sticks, at the top corners of the controller, and they are clickable for extra button inputs. Below the stick on the left is a D-pad slightly larger than what's found on the Wii Remote, and below the right stick are A/B/X/Y face buttons in the same triangle formation as the Super Nintendo controller. At the top there are left and right shoulder buttons, and below them on the back are ZL/ZR trigger buttons which have a short push distance, so there's no analog range.
The main navigation controls include +/- buttons, which act as Start and Select, and below the touch screen on the right is a Power button that turns the Wii U console on or off. In the centre below the touch screen is the Home button which serves a similar function as on the Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controllers.
Since you can navigate menus using the touch screen on the Wii U GamePad, the controller also includes a GamePad Stylus slotted in the back-right, which has a noticeable "click" that locks it into place when inserting it back in. Using the GamePad Stylus to launch apps such as the Nintendo eShop is a snap, and it helps to search through content quickly and easily. You can also use the stylus for typing messages to your friends using the on-screen keyboard, and you can draw pictures.
For audio, the Wii U GamePad includes stereo speakers adjacent to the touch screen, which sound better than the speaker found on the original Wii controllers, though there is still a noticeable tinny quality to them. Since I found myself playing games more on the Wii U GamePad itself than the TV, the included headphone jack came in handy for times when other people were in the living room. There's also a volume control on the top-right of the Wii U GamePad that adjusts the volume for your earphones or the built-in speakers. Furthermore, there's a microphone beside the Home button, though the only time I was able to test it out was in the "Donkey Kong's Crash Course" carting mini-game found in Nintendo Land (and it worked just fine).
Similar to the Nintendo 3DS, there is a front-facing camera that can snap photos or insert your face into a Wii U game, and the quality of camera is improved over the 3DS, though don't expect hi-res images. I tested out the camera in the Mii Maker application, which lets the camera take your picture and then convert the image into a Mii character. It worked "ok", and included my basic features (recognized I was a guy with glasses), but really, how accurate do you really want a Mii character to look?
There's yet more input mechanisms as the Wii U GamePad incorporates motion control with a 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope. It felt on par with the Wii Motion Plus technology that Nintendo introduced in their last console, and when I tested out the motion controls with ZombiU it felt 1:1 with my movements. The Wii U GamePad also has built-in rumble somewhere in between the quality of the original Wii and an Xbox 360 controller (so it's serviceable).
As for the battery life of the Wii U GamePad, I got about 3 hours in before the battery indicator started flashing, indicating low power, and about 3.5 hours use in total before it totally conked out. My average charge time for the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, using the Charging Cradle, was just over 2 hours. So, expect to be charging your Wii U GamePad quite frequently if you're a heavy user (or keep it plugged in while playing using the included Wii U GamePad AC adapter).
A feature that most users will quickly learn to enjoy is the TV Control button that, once pressed, calls open a menu which allows you to use the Wii U GamePad as a universal TV remote control. Upon set-up of your Wii U console you have the option to search for your TV's frequency (you search by manufacturer), and after finding the right frequency you have the ability to control various functions of your TV such as the channel, volume, and power on/off. So, this means that not only can you turn on your Wii U console with the Wii U GamePad, you can also turn on your TV using this one-stop-shop controller. Pretty nifty.
One feature I was not able to test out is the Wii U GamePad's Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities, which has yet to be incorporated into a Wii U game.
The Wii U console is able to support up to two Wii U GamePads (second controller sold separately), and up to four original Wii controllers. You can also use all your Wii accessories, including the Balance Board and Nunchuk. There are numerous different ways you can play games on the Wii U, including using just the Wii U GamePad, using the Wii U GamePad plus your TV screen, using the stylus, using the Wii Remote (plus Nunchuk), and you can even use the Wii U GamePad and Wii Remotes together for up to 5 players. The amount of play options are simply staggering, and the possibilities are practically endless for game developers -- meaning we should expect to see some very interesting combinations in future game titles.
With the Wii U, Nintendo has once again delivered an innovative piece of technology that has the potential to revolutionize the gaming industry much like they did back in 2006 with the Wii. Graphically, it doesn't have that "next-gen" feel you'd expect, simply because the Wii U brings the console up to the same standards we've expected for years with the Xbox 360 and PS3. With that said, the Wii U GamePad is really the main draw here, and with its numerous features and functions, there are a staggering number of gameplay possibilities. The software line-up for Wii U, which includes New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and more, is the strongest launch line-up we've seen to date for any console. My absolute favourite feature of the Wii U is the ability to control games using the Wii U GamePad, and I spent more of my time gaming on the controller than on my home TV. Nintendo has certainly ignited this new console generation in a big way, and given their history of innovation, I am already looking forward to what's potentially next for mega franchises such as Zelda, Kirby, Kid Icarus, Donkey Kong, and Metroid, on the Wii U.
Stay tuned in the coming week for a follow-up article on the Wii U's operating system interface and online features (of which there are many!)
Wii U is available now.
[This article originally appeared on the Future Shop Tech Blog]