The Wii U hit the market on Sunday and then hit my home. While I’m not ready to do a full review yet, I did want to share my initial impressions of the brand new Nintendo console by laying out all the hits and misses I've experienced so far with my family of four.
I will say that the GamePad makes for an impressive and eye-catching piece of hardware. Both my wife and 7-year old daughter did not know much about it while my 10-year old son had already gone hands-on by attending a Nintendo event with me earlier this year. All three ogled the controller and playfully argued over who would get to use it while I went through the quick process of hooking the console up to our big screen HDTV.
So far the Wii U feels more like an evolution of the existing console generation of PS3 and Xbox 360 and much less like a revolutionary control scheme that the Wii brought. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as the Wii remote was so different that it made it hard for third party software developers to support.
I’ll save my extended thoughts for a review but here’s a quick run-down of the hits and misses for the Wii U.
- It feels odd to say but the Wii U is the first console from Nintendo that feels substantial and not “like a toy” since the Nintendo 64.
- USB and memory card slots are smartly placed on the face of the console along with the sync button.
- Initial console setup was a breeze thanks to it being much easier to make selection and type with the GamePad.
- Day one software update that takes at least approximately an hour to download and install on a decent internet connect. PSA: Do NOT turn off the Wii U while the update is downloading. You’ll “brick” your console if you do that.
- No media playback. The PS3 and Xbox 360 let you load your own media via disc, flash memory or local network connection your PC. This is really disappointing as the GamePad could make browsing my library of video a much more enjoyable experience than the Xbox 360 or PS3.
- This is a surprisingly nice piece of hardware. The in-controller screen renders all the action wirelessly just as fast as the on the TV. The resolution isn’t as high as an HDTV but the graphics look very sharp.
- The buttons and D-pad have that expected “Nintendo feel.”
- The dual analog sticks are a welcome addition to the controller as Nintendo smartly courts third-party publishers concerned about making their games compatible across all platforms.
- The two trigger buttons should have been analog and not digital. When it comes to first-person shooters and racing games, digital triggers are not acceptable.
- The touchscreen is not always as responsive as I would like when using my fingers. This is particularly a problem when using my finger to try and scroll through Miiverse messages for example. The stylus works fine but you can’t always use the stylus.
- Battery life for the GamePad is going to be a constant battle with the Wii U at only 3.5 to 4 hours. Fortunately, you can use the controller while it is plugged in to the included AC adapter but that breaks the illusion of wireless gaming. The battery compartment can be unscrewed so it is possible we’ll see third-party solutions to this issue.
SOFTWARE / OPERATING SYSTEM
- Setting up your Mii is not that different from the 3DS version though there are more options. Possibly there are too many options judging by how long it took my 7-year old to create her Mii.
- The Wii U menu system has that same Nintendo 3DS feel which makes sense when, conceptually, the Wii U and GamePad are essentially a larger, home version of the handheld.
- Switching between apps and games can be done by simply tapping the home button on the GamePad. This brings up a menu of other apps to switch to such as the web browser, settings or in-game manual.
- While there’s not much there at launch, the eShop is fairly easy to navigate and make purchases.
- Miiverse is a cute app and, despite problems with it going down on Sunday, it was fun to see how creative people could be with their drawings. However, I will admit I’m concerned that this will be a repeat of the SwapNote app that launched with the Nintendo DS that saw immense popularity at the start and then use quickly fizzled out. How well games integrate Miiverse will determine its usefulness and popularity.
- Exiting apps to the main Wii U menu or switching to other apps can take up 20 seconds. Given the relative power of the console, this is bizarre and unacceptable. Nintendo has much optimizing to do in this area.
- No TVii, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video. Nintendo dropped the bomb that these three apps would not be ready just before the console launched. This was disappointing news but at least Nintendo has set the console up for easy updates, right? Right?
- I found the parental controls to be lacking compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. While you can limit which games can be played based on rating for each account, you can’t do the same with movies or TV shows that can be viewed through apps like Netflix. These are simply off/on affairs and some don’t have any explanation of what they turn on or off. Additionally, friend requests appear to be either on or off versus the Xbox LIVE solution of allowing parents to approve friend requests.
- Say, there might be something to this “Asynchronous” gameplay after all. Using the GamePad to essentially do something different from other players with the Wii remotes was way more fun than I expected with my kids. They did nothing but laugh while chasing each other or doing unique activities like controlling the flying saucer or shooting the bow in the different Nintendo Land mini-games. That’s a win in my book.
- Being able to play a game on the GamePad while others in the house do something else with the TV is an incredibly nice touch.
- Wii games look better than I expected when playing in the Wii U. There are some user reports that the console is upscaling them but I haven’t confirmed that officially yet.
- Some games still feel a little too gimmicky with the GamePad versus finding a way to really incorporate it into the gameplay. Hopefully, this will be less of a problem as developers are able to put more time and thought into the Wii U versus rushing out ports.
- Feeding off the previous bullet, there are times when I felt unsure if I was supposed to be looking at the GamePad or the TV when playing certain titles.