Wii U get!
We picked up a Wii U on Sunday for the grand price of £400. For that money we got a Deluxe (black and 32GB) Wii U console, a gamepad, a Pro Controller, Zombi-U, a charging dock (that is ugly as all hell), New Super Mario Brothers U and some junk screen protectors. This seems like a huge amount of money to splash out on a soon-to-be last gen console, but with the Wii-U it seems there is more than meets the eye.
First of all, the packaging is functional. Forget Apple’s sleek and intricate unpacking experience; forget Microsoft’s glossy cardboard and neat little sections. The Wii-U box is full of ugly brown cardboard, and everything seems to be jumbled a little bit. There is a mountain of plastic bags and ties but I feel no thoughts have been spared for aesthetics. It’s easy enough to set up if you’ve ever set up another console, with the only differences being the inclusion of a HDMI cable (a surprising rarity nowadays), the sensor bar that is used for wiimote functionality and a second AC cable. This seemingly extraneous AC cable is for the gamepad, it can’t be plugged into the Wii-U for power and instead needs a seperate power socket. This might be a consideration for those of you with little space to play around with. There’s also unfortunately no ethernet port on the Wii-U. This means you need to rely on wireless. While the majority of people will use wireless anyway, the option for a wired solution would have been nice as wireless is incredibly unreliable in our building.
Once everything’s plugged in, there’s the usual set-up screens, followed by a hefty patch download. If you have the basic model of Wii-U, by the time this patch is finished you will be left with only three of the eight gigabyte hard drive you started with. On the larger model this is less of concern, but it still takes a long time. It took around three hours on our terrible connection, but I’ve heard of it taking much more; there’s also been many reports of restarts and corrupted downloads possibly even bricking consoles, so be careful and don’t turn the console off while it’s updating.
After the update you can create your new Mii or import an old one. There’s something vaguely unsettling about the new Miis, I think it’s just the fact that they’re in high-resolution but they look a tiny bit more lifelike and so are falling quickly into the uncanny valley. You’ll understand what I mean when they stare into your soul with their freakishly opaque and plastic eyes. This entire set-up is almost identical to that of the Wii. There’s an additional step where you get to configure your gamepad to work as a TV remote, which worked incredibly quickly for me, a bonus as I’ve had problems with universal remotes in the past. You just type in the manufacturer of the TV (in my case LG) and it just works, and it works well. I am able to change inputs, volume, and power on and off from a menu on the gamepad that you can bring up at any time.
Once you are connected to the internet and updated, you can make your Nintendo ID. This is essentially a gamertag and will be a joy for anyone who has dealt with friend codes in the past. There’s still some tomfoolery involved when it comes to accepting friend requests, but the functionality is there when it’s working, and I could quickly populate my friends list (NID: TPSout) once it was all set up.
The gamepad itself is brilliant. There are many shortcomings such as a reasonably low-res screen (compared to an iPad) and only single touch support, but as a controller it works brilliantly and is very comfortable. The streaming seems to work well and I can easily enjoy a film on Lovefilm with my TV switched off, or carry on playing Mario when someone wants to use the TV for something else. This sounds like a minor feature but it really is a significant change in how you can access content. Even waiting for the patch to download, I watched a film but could keep an eye on the progress using the gamepad on a stand. Pressing the home button on the gamepad always brings up a menu that gives you much of the same content as the main menu.
From the main menu you can access the usual settings, games and online e-shop; you can also enter the Miiverse which is quite possibly the most useful and innovative change I have seen in console gaming in the last five years. Essentialy the Miiverse is Twitter, but with drawing, and less arrests (so far).
In Miiverse you can look at communities based on different Wii-U software. This isn’t restricted to games, and so far there are thriving communities on every single title. Within these communities you can leave messages that are comprised of a small amount of text or a hand drawn picture. Drawing on the gamepad is basic, but a lot of fun, and some of the art appearing is already amazing. You can lose hours (and I have done) just browsing through other people’s posts. You can comment on them, and ‘like’ them, pushing them towards a ‘most liked’ section that is currently filled with artwork created by wizards with a stylus where their hand should be.The whole system is amazing intuitive, and can be brought up at any time. If you press the ‘home’ button while playing a game, not only will it let you access the community tailored to the part of the game you are tackling, but it will temporarily save a screenshot of what is on both the gamepad and the main screen, which can then be posted alongside a comment. It allows for guides/funny photos/ glitches/ impressive shots galore and is already being used consistently well.
I have yet to see a single offensive post on the Miiverse. This means either Nintendo is refusing to sell to anyone who giggles when they say ‘boobies’ at the till, or, more likely, they are moderating the hell out of it. I’m assuming there’s an automated system backed up by moderators, but it’s working impeccably at the moment. You can even report other people’s posts as spoilers, or tag your own so that people who haven’t finished the game won’t necessarily see what you’ve posted if they don’t want to. The whole environment is fairly sleek and incredibly useful and most importantly fun.
There are problems with the Wii-U, and you should be aware if you’re considering buying one. Many users have reported hard locks which seem to have been mostly eliminated with a recent patch, the update process is slow and frequent, not all external hard drives will work (although the fact that many will is pretty good), the menus are slow to load up, the gamepad can seemingly lose connection at a range of 4ft if there is an obstruction to the console, and last but definitely not least: £300-400 is a lot of money for a console. If you pick one up, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, I’ve had a lot of fun with mine already, but the game library is understandably thin at the moment and once the first few games are finished, you could be waiting a while for the next wave of must-have games..
Speaking of games, you’ll have to wait for full reviews, but so far Mario is great fun and reminiscent of Super Mario World. Zombi-U is scary and I had to stop playing after half an hour before I had a heart attack.