Nintendo’s pronouns continue, look out next year for the Wii – He,she, or it
The Wii U has been out for just over four months now and we have reached the end of it’s ‘launch window’. All new hardware faces difficulties but the Wii U perhaps had more than most, with poor advertising not really setting it apart from the Wii in cosumers’ minds, and the hardware not capable enough to head into the next generation on an equal footing. So what is the Wii U actually good for? Quite a few things as it happens.
Hardware-wise the Wii U is an odd beast. It looks like a long black (or white) lozenge, and in pictures it’s quite hard to get a sense of how long the console really is. Thanks to its tiny front, just big enough for the disc drive, it comes across as unusual to say the least. It’s also quite a noisy beast, more on par with the old-style XBox 360 than the newer slims.
The real draw of course is the gamepad and this is much more impressive than any of us were expecting. It’s chunky and solid, and surprisingly comfortable to hold as a controller, but the screen that takes up so much space is high quality and works well as a touchscreen. Obviously it’s nowhere near the same build quality as an iPad or Surface, but you’re paying much less for this. As a controller I was expecting Nintendo to skimp on the parts but it feels solid and tough, and the tiny little charging dock you get with the console works well, holding the controller up in a way that it’s even easy to watch videos off, or keep checking the status of downloads. The buttons and triggers are all fine, and while not as comfortable as the Xbox 360 Controller, it’s serviceable and you get used to it after a long play session or two. I think the convex tips on the analog sticks slightly odd but that’s more of a personal preference.
The greatest feature of the Gamepad is sadly something that not every title is able to use. With many games (Call of Duty Black Ops 2, Sonic Racing and New Super Mario Bros U etc) you can play the game entirely on the Gamepad. This might not seem like a big deal, but since the controller has a decent range, this means being free from wherever you have to sit to get a good look at the TV, and in households where not everyone’s a gamer, you can play even if someone else wants the main television. Being able to play Black Ops multiplayer in bed seems like a revelation and a game-changer, enough to make me buy a new copy of the (oddly expensive) title even though I’m not the biggest fan. The optional extra Prot controller is fantastic, and there’s no problems with it at all, working as a perfectly capable console controller, except for the fact that some games don’t support it. In Lego City Undercover you can’t use it at all, or, even more offensively, in New Super Mario Bros U. We’ve got our value out of it just for Call of Duty and the surprisingly fun multiplayer mode of Zombi-U, but it’s a real shame they didn’t make sure it would be compatible with every game that doesn’t explicitly need the Gamepad’s screen.
The operating system appears fairly standard at first. On your screen you see the Miiverse with icons for different popular games at the moment and little Miis running around to whatever their owner is playing. I’m still not sure how many of those Miis are real and how many are just there to fill up the screen, but it appears at least some are the real thing. On your gamepad you get a menu familiar to anyone with a Wii or 3DS, with a grid or list of icons representing all your programs. There’s all the standard settings, Mii Maker, safety warnings etc, and then a shop, the Miiverse menu and all of your games.
The Miiverse itself is possibly the Wii U’s greatest asset. Essentially it’s just a messageboard, with a thread for each game. What it allows you to do (accessible at any time, even in game, especially in game) is to post comments, doodles or screenshots based on what you’re doing. Some games will push you towards this, in others it’s optional, but it’s always there. At first it might have seemed like a gimmick, but after ten minutes trying to work out how to get a coin on Mario, it’s nice to be able to post a message or screenshot and get five replies within the space of thirty seconds. I’ve probably spent more time doodling and posting them to the Miiverse than I have actually playing the games, and there’s some really talented artists out there doing the same. It gives you a sense of community no matter what you are doing on the console and shows how Nintendo might be late to the online world, but they’re still able to innovate and create something special.
The shop is also much improved on the Wii eShop, with demos galore and games at not too unreasonable price points. Things are still more expensive than they should be, but there’s some bargains to be had for under £10, and there appears to be fairly regular sales on even some of the more high-profile titles. All of this would be pointless if you only had the base 32GB of storage, but it’s incredibly simple to set up an external hard drive with the console, just plugging one in via USB so storage never really becomes an issue with large external hard drives being so cheap nowadays.
Now onto the games. The Wii U launch was fine, but nothing to get excited about. Mario was a lot of fun but nothing we hadn’t seen before, Zombi-U was tense and had some interesting ideas but might be seen as a little shallow, and Nintendoland is a surprisingly fun collection of mini-games that really should have been bundled in to every system. Other than that it’s been hard to find worthwhile games to play on the system. Of course this has changed over the last few weeks with the excellent Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Lego City Undercover, but there’s still no real ‘killer app’ and it feels as though the console is struggling to find its place without this kind of game. Nearly every console launch has this problem, but it can be a nightmare as while some like the 3DS and the Wii pull through, others like the Vita are left to flounder. Nintendo need to get their act together before the next wave of consoles hit and their first party games start to look outdated by compairson. We still don’t have a 3D Mario, or a Zelda, or a Smash Bros, or a Mario Kart. For a company essentially built on certain key series, they’re surprisingly absent at the moment. Overall I think it’s safe to say the launch window has been underwhelming, and there’s little to get excited about for the rest of the year. Hopefully at E3 in June we’ll see a few more titles announced.
That is the biggest hurdle the Wii U has at the moment. It’s a decent piece of hardware with a good, useful controller and an excellent online service; but without the games it might not even amount to much. If you can find one for £200 or less, I would say go for it, particularly if you have any interest at all in the exclusives (Monster Hunter on the big screen!) but if not, it might be worth waiting to see what happens at E3 to see if anything there takes your fancy. A great console without great games is hardly worth your time.