Wii U Review: Don’t Call It Next Gen
Nintendo strikes first! With the battle plans still being drawn out by the enemy, Nintendo has swooped in to lay the foundation of the next gen for video games. Or has it?
I’m going to go into this a bit later but to call the Wii U a next gen system just doesn’t feel right. Does that mean Nintendo is playing catch up still? If you think that, then you don’t really understand how Nintendo works. There seems to be this call that Nintendo should release the be-all, end-all console to reign supreme. The company doesn’t need to do that. It never has. Nintendo has also focused on delivering a product that will bring a smile and some fun to a living room, or even your hands. Aside from the Virtual Boy and maybe the early years of the Gamecube, it is hard to deny that they’ve done a great job.
The Wii U isn’t meant to crush the Microsoft and Sony rebellions. It is meant to further build on every concept Nintendo has brought to the public since their inception. They are a company that build internally and creates upon ideas. They always have been. They don’t conform to what’s normal or hip. They do they’re own thing. That much is evident in the products they release and with the Wii U, it has never been more present.
So what do we have here in this new console? A next gen contender? A master of current gen tech? Or just something else to fill up your living room with? Is it worth it? Should you wait on buying on? Do you need it under your Christmas tree this year?
So many questions and only so much time to write. After all, I do need to get back to playing the thing. Let’s get started!
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How powerful is the Wii U? I don’t believe many people could answer that question correctly right now. At launch we’re seeing some high quality titles but nothing that will compared to what releases later on in this new console’s life cycle. Look at the 360 and PS3. At launch no one thought we would get games like Uncharted 3 or Halo 4 to look that good.
Still, the Wii U is comparable to what’s out there now. That is just basing off of what I see with my own eyes using launch titles. You can’t expect companies to be so proficient with the Wii U already to produce top tier quality. With that said, I won’t come out and say either “the Wii U is lacking behind current gen systems” or “the Wii U is better looking than what’s out there now”. However, I will say that I am satisfied with today’s results and can’t wait to see what, let’s say, Super Mario Galaxy 3 will look like in the years to come.
Aside from that, the Wii U packs some mighty gear inside. It has to or the core of the system won’t function correctly: the Game Pad. The streaming that is done to the Game Pad’s 6.2 inch, VGA resolution screen is intense and if used for off-TV gaming, is a constant power drain on both the controller’s battery and the console’s hardware. With that out of the way, Nintendo made sure that enough power would be packed within the Wii U to ensure that streaming is as smooth as it is uninterrupted.
Thanks to the need for that kind of streaming, you can be sure that the console uses that hardware for other things, too. You know, like actually playing the games. Using Mass Effect 3 as a measure, the Wii U was able to play the game at 720p and with very smooth gameplay. There’s some slowdown after loading a new area but it quickly goes away and you’ll be talking, shooting, and romancing just as good as you can any gaming computer (high enough specs, not ridiculous set ups) and even better than on the PS3 or 360. The only thing that becomes a downfall for this version is the muddy graphics. Textures looks fine from a distance but up close a slight blur and mixtures of colors makes character models look inferior to every other version.
So what does that say about the Wii U at launch hardware-wise? Don’t expect greatness. Expect a new console and the hassles that companies go through when developing for a fresh face. Go in wanting but don’t charge in expecting 2012 Xbox 360 or PS3. You’re essentially going back in time to 2007. It isn’t quite launch time but the gen is fairly new and companies are picking up on some techniques. That is where the Wii U sits right now. Be excited for what it can bring down the line. It will most likely have software that looks better than what the current gen can produce but you need to give it some time.
Used to the Wii? Good, just get used to it with a touch screen. Nintendo didn’t break the mold here with the Wii U’s operating system. They certainly treated it like a chance to perfect it but they made sure they did it with the Game Pad in mind. In fact, the OS is controlled with the Game Pad only. With familiarity comes a sense of ease as you try and get used to this new console on your day 1. However, I have to say if Nintendo knew it was keeping roughly the same GUI, it makes me wonder why they didn’t spend more time making sure it ran good enough. This operating system is extremely slow.
How slow? It takes roughly 5-15 seconds to load up the system settings. It also takes about 5-10 seconds to leave an app (not a game) and return back to the Wii U menu. Everything just seems so slow on the Wii U when it comes to software. Discs and games load up fairly quickly which is a great sign for disc read speeds but apps and hard drive/SDcard/Ext. HDD speeds are horrid. It feels like I’m loading WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2007 on a PSP every time I try and do something. Okay, not exactly that bad but it feels like it!
This also translates into download speeds. The store and even patches/updates are slow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going off of peak time downloads. I understand this is launch week and servers are being bombarded but I tried to download Trine 2 off the shop and an update for Black Ops 2. Trine 2 took about 20 minutes to download. On my computer with Steam it took 5 minutes. The patch for Black Ops took just under 8 minutes. For a patch, that is really high.
I would estimate that the speeds within the network are roughly the same between the Wii U and the PS3. The 360 smokes both out of the water when it comes to downloading off the store or updating. When it comes to the operating system itself, the Wii U is far behind both current home consoles and even the handhelds, including Nintendo’s own 3DS.
I’ve also had the operating system crash on me once. It happened when leaving Black Ops 2 to head back to the Wii U Menu. It came up with the menu but a pop-up asked me to please wait. A couple seconds later, a constant buzzing noise came from the system. I had to unplug it and then re-connect. Can I be certain that this was an operating system issue and not hardware related? Not entirely but even still, you can either chalk it up to this section or bring it to the hardware one above.
This is the bread and butter of the Wii U. Without this, the system would either just be a Wii 2 with the remotes or an Xbox 360 wannabe with the Pro Controller. The Game Pad is what separates this from the pack and what will keep it separated from the upcoming rivals.
With Nintendo hinging their entire console’s future on the controller once again, can they hit 2-for-2 or will the Game Pad fail where the Wiimote surprisingly succeeded?
Controlling the Wii U
To be honest, I enjoy using the Game Pad. It makes me feel more in control of not only the games but also the system. Even still, I was not prepared for how much you have to use the screen. The OS and menus are basically all on the Game Pad and that means you’ll be touching, tapping, and using the Pad’s stylus often. It isn’t a bad thing though. You can always throw up the Game Pad’s view onto your TV so you can control the operating system and menus with the d-pad and your TV but it feels more intuitive with the touch screen.
Aside from that, everything on the Game Pad feels pretty nice although you’ll have to get used to the elevation of the analog sticks. They feel a bit high to me and I’ve heard most of my friends say the same thing. This is very noticeable in games like Black Ops 2 but you can get used to it. The d-pad and other buttons work like a charm and the screen is extremely responsive.
The 6.2 inch screen is massive and it works a lot better than most probably thought it would. It is very quick to respond and even though it has a VGA resolution, it still looks fantastic. I had to double take on the resolution after seeing Mass Effect 3, Black Ops 2, and Super Mario on the Game Pad. You’ll be very pleased with the way the screen looks and how fast it responds to you and your actions.
Setting up the Game Pad to utilize your TV and/or set-top box is very easy. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to work. I was able to get my LG HDTV to work with the Game Pad the first time. It works great. My RCN TiVO box, though? No such luck. Both RCN and TiVO are listed as compatible devices for the Game Pad but both won’t work. I have heard that other boxes – cable and satellite - are working well but it seems that RCN and/or TiVO are not yet enabled or aren’t set correctly by Nintendo.
Still, even using the Game Pad to control basic functions like volume or input are incredible helpful. When my roommate upstairs needs me to be a tad more quiet, I don’t even have to get up or fetch the remote to make the adjustment. Sounds lazy, sure, but to be honest it’s just cool to control your TV with your video game controller. It’s a minor feature that works really well if you can get your device to sync up with the Game Pad.
Front-Facing Camera & Video Chat
Might as well talk about the Video Chat app as well here. Both the app and camera do a pretty good job. If anything, video chatting on the Wii U is fun. You can draw on the Game Pad showing images or words in real time. The quality of the picture from the camera is better than any front-facing camera on any mobile device and there is only a 1 second delay from when you talk, draw, or move. The app shows both your image and your friend’s so you can see what is happening on both. You can even switch images so you can see your camera’s image as the primary one on the screen if you want.
The camera is pretty good here. I’m sure later on down the road we’re going to wish they added the same type of camera for the back of the Game Pad which could have opened up possibilities with not only Video Chat but with games.
This is the best feature of the controller. The ability to play supporting games on the Game Pad’s screen is fantastic. You can’t do it with every game but when I was able to throw the image of Mass Effect 3 onto the screen and be able to play, see, and hear clearly I was pretty happy with the result. Off-TV play means you can give the TV up for another non-Wii U function like Netflix on a different machine, cable, satellite, or whatever else you do on your TV. It also means if you have a close enough bathroom, the action never stops!
This doesn’t mean you make the Wii U do other stuff while you play on the screen. Streaming a game to the Game Pad takes a lot of horsepower from the Wii U and you’ll be stuck playing the game just like you were when playing on the TV. One action at a time, folks! You can’t play Mass Effect 3 while telling the Wii U to put on Netflix. Which would be pretty awesome.
Other Features & Battery
Some features aren’t used yet on the Game Pad such as NFC but it is great to see that here on the Game Pad. NFC is going to allow games similar to Skylanders and things like credit cards or phones to have an easier time being used on the console.
The battery isn’t half bad but having to charge up the thing after 3 or 4 hours of constant play is a tad annoying unless you have an outlet close by. Otherwise you’re going to have to relocate while you play or leave it charging for a bit and turn the Wii U off. I was able to get about 3 to 4 hours out of the controller with constant use and a bit more than that just using Miiverse or other apps with some breaks in-between.
The Game Pad is pretty beefed up in features and functionality. Being the focal point for the console, Nintendo sure did spend plenty of time on the controller and it was a job well done. The Game Pad feels very comfortable in your hand which helps prolonged play sessions. I am very happy with the controller but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
Issues With The Game Pad
I had some issues while using the Game Pad but none of them were dealbreakers, just things I noticed. Most of these, if not all, can be patched and updated through Nintendo.
- Bad prediction feature – Be prepared to type well or use the backspace often when chatting up friends and communities on Miiverse. The predictions also don’t put in an automatic space which is annoying.
- Useless dictionary – Nowadays devices with touch screens or even just a chat program pre-installed have their dictionaries filled up with useful words, especially ones that deal with the company making the device. It baffles me how words like Metroid, Mario, Wii U, Game Pad, and many other Nintendo branded words are no where in the dictionary nor come up spelled correctly. This also goes for words like “communities” or most other plural words. No where to be found.
- More typing issues – You may think these typing complaints are minor but with the Miiverse and new friends system, typing is very common on the Wii U. It’s just annoying when capitalizing the first word or an i doesn’t happen automatically. It’s annoying when the prediction feature doesn’t automatically fix errors for you. We’ve been spoiled by typing upgrades with every new firmware release on a tablet or smartphone.
- Notification light doesn’t work all the time – The little ring around the Home button is where the notification light will show up. It comes up whenever you get a call, message, or Miiverse notification. This does not work all the time and you’ll be forced to check apps to see if you got anything.
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