Nintendo Wii U review
|Review: November 2012|
In a nutshell: The Nintendo Wii U continues the motion gaming that fans of the Wii are used to, while adding extra features using a new controller with its own touchscreen.
Today's best buy: Donkey Kong Country: Tropica ... from Coolshop (£19.00)
Out of the big three games companies, Nintendo is the only one to release a brand new console in time for Christmas 2012. Should you be adding it to Santa's list?
The yearly E3 games convention held in June is a great barometer of what will be hot when the holiday season rolls around, and that was the case again in 2012. While fans of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were praying for even the tiniest glimpse of the next game systems from Sony and Microsoft, only Nintendo pulled the covers off an entirely new console.
The Wii U system is a follow up to the innovative Nintendo Wii and once again it brings some new ideas to the home gaming market. Back in 2006 the Nintendo Wii used special controllers to add something extra to gaming and the latest release does the same. The play is still enhanced using the same Wii controllers - the Wiimote and Nunchuck - but this time a screen has been added to a much larger piece of kit called the GamePad.
The touchscreen adds extra functions in games, gives different perspectives than are shown on the main TV and includes new features such as working as a universal remote control.
The big question is whether that extra functionality will be enough to tempt hardcore gamers, who were less impressed with the original Wii, into making a purchase? And whether casual gamers, who loved the Wii's features and would get it out for parties but wouldn't see it as an everyday item, will find the touchscreen's functions as a big enough draw.
The design of the main Wii U system won't win any awards and it offers a similar kind of boxy look as the original Wii unit. Its styling is at least slightly improved over its predecessor with rounded corners, so it will sit next to other TV essentials such as a Blu-Ray player, TV receiver or media streamer without looking out of place.
The components inside are also unlikely to scoop any technology prizes. Whereas the Wii couldn't compete with the power of Sony or Microsoft's games consoles, the Wii U at least matches the Xbox 360 and PS3 in terms of graphics capabilities. However, both of those machines are coming towards the end of their lifespans.
The main hardware question posed by the Wii U is whether to opt for the 'Basic' package, or pay extra for the 'Premium' version. The Basic Set includes a white Wii U console with 8GB of flash storage, a white GamePad, AC adapters for the console and controller, an HDMI cable, and a sensor bar. It costs £259.99 RRP.
For an additional £40, the Premium Pack paints both the console and the GamePad black, includes 32GB internal memory, comes with all of the accessories from the Basic Set and adds a copy of Nintendo Land, as well as stands for both the GamePad and console and a separate charging cradle for the GamePad.
The extra storage in the Premium Pack also makes it a much better deal than the Basic Set. That's because some of the memory in the Wii U is used to run the system. Of the 8GB internal memory available in the Basic Set, only 3GB is able to store games and other content. This rises to 25GB of the 32GB memory available in the Wii U Premium Pack.
While it lacks the power to be a step ahead of its rival consoles, the Nintendo Wii U does at least have what made the original Wii such a great console: playability. Most of the additional game features come via the GamePad, which has a tablet-like screen at its centre.
Placing a 6.2 inch touchscreen at the heart of your game controller can't help but make it seem stupidly large. The fear with the Nintendo Wii U GamePad is that while that screen might work fine, overall it won't be as easy or as good to use as a PS3 Sixaxis or Xbox 360 controller. Gamers can relax - the wireless GamePad actually works extremely well, with buttons and joysticks all placed where you would want them to be for easy access.
Some of the features of the screen do really help to enhance gameplay. For example, Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition uses the GamePad to scan what the player can see on the TV. Zombi U offers the same trick, with the added danger that something might be sneaking up to attack you while you're checking out the finer details on the smaller screen. The Wonderful 101, an innovative beat-'em-up, brings the screen into play in a different way. When the character enters a building, the action switches to the controller's screen until you exit again.
Certain games allow players to continue on their quest using the gamepad's screen if someone else wants to use the TV. The Nintendo Wii U's built in internet browser also makes it easy to surf using the GamePad. The results can be displayed on a TV screen so everyone can enjoy the same content, or confined to the GamePad's screen.
The biggest problem with the GamePad is its terrible battery life. If you were tired of your kids spending all day in front of the console, then the Wii U is for you. After three hours of solid play you'll need to plug the GamePad in and recharge it, which quickly becomes a pain.
At least Wii owners will be pleased to hear that the same peripherals they used with the previous console will be compatible with the Wii U. That's particularly good news as neither of the Wii U packs being sold contains a Wiimote controller. Those who are just starting out with a Nintendo console will have to buy an additional set containing those original controllers.
The first thing you will want to do after buying a Wii U is connect it to the internet. Nintendo has already prepared a major system update that includes a huge amount of new features and applications and this could take a long time to download (Nintendo estimates it could take an hour or more to download and install for some users). If you want the kids to play with this straight out of the box on Christmas morning, make sure you plug it in at some point in the days before.
Nintendo is also taking a page out of Microsoft and Sony's books to make the Wii U more of a connected entertainment hub. It has the ability to stream online video content from Netflix, with sites such as YouTube and other streaming media services expected to be available soon.
Access for the online Mii community, where players are represented by cartoon avatars, has also been expanded. As part of this, a new system called Wii U Chat uses the GamePad so friends can video chat via the TV screen. Naturally, the Nintendo eShop now sells Wii U games, as well as giving access to game demos and trailers.
Nintendo describes the 24 games that are available to buy on the same day the Wii U launches as its "strongest line-up of launch software in Nintendo history".
It's also the first time that key franchises such as Super Mario Bros. have appeared in high definition. New Super Mario Bros. U is a 2D platform game that uses the GamePad for solo play, but can also use that screen to assist other players when in co-operative play.
Meanwhile, Nintendo Land acts like Wii Sports did for the original Wii, showing off what the Wii U console is capable of. The game features 12 attractions in a theme park that are based on famous Nintendo franchises.
The full list of launch titles includes: Assassin's Creed III; Batman: Arkham City - Armoured Edition; Ben 10: Omniverse; Call of Duty: Black Ops II; Darksiders 2; Disney Epic Mickey 2; Family Party; FIFA 13; Funky Barn; Game Party Champions; Just Dance 4; Mass Effect 3 Special Edition; Nintendo Land; New Super Mario Bros. U; Rabbids Land; Skylanders Giants; Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed; Sports Connection; Tank! Tank! Tank!; Tekken Tag Tournament 2; Transformers Prime; Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper; Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013; and ZombiU.
Research from VoucherCodes.co.uk claims that one in ten gamers will buy the new Wii U system within its first few days of release. A third of those questioned say they plan to buy one in the future. Should you be one of them?
Back in June, Amazon incorrectly listed the pre-order price for a Nintendo Wii U as £199.99, before the web page was quickly pulled from the site. Had the launch price been under £200, it would be much easier to recommend this console. However, there are a number of issues that suggest it might be better to wait for that inevitable first price drop early in 2013.
For starters, it is not worth buying the Basic Set to make a saving of just £40, so the RRP price you'll most likely be paying is £299. The difference in internal storage makes the Premium Pack a much smarter option, as do all the extra bonus items that come with it. Nintendo admits that those with the Basic Set may need an additional USB storage device to download a game from the Nintendo eShop, depending on the size of the game. Anyone who didn't previously own a Wii console will also need to pay extra for an additional pack containing a Wii Remote Plus controller and Nunchuk.
Another thing to bear in mind before splashing out for the Wii U console is that both of the other major games companies are likely to update their ageing systems in the very near future. That could be a whole year away, if not more, but both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 are ready for a replacement. Until they are replaced the current consoles are selling for a fraction of their starting prices, with Sony cleverly releasing a much smaller version of its PS3 in time for Christmas.
When it comes down to it, the problem with the Wii U is that the initial game offerings aren't good enough to make this a must-buy product. Exclusive titles such as ZombiU do add some value over other consoles but many of the titles have already been available on existing consoles. One of the major releases that has been tweaked for this console - Batman: Arkham City - was first available back in 2011!
Key titles for the Nintendo Wii U console will be those that use the GamePad's unique features in the best way. Until there are more of them, this console risks ending up gathering dust next to that old Wii in your cupboard.
Nintendo Wii U features include:
- Memory: 8GB/32GB Flash
- USB ports: 4
- SD card slot: 1
- Media Connections: HDMI port, AV multi-out
- Output: 1080p, 1080i, 720p
- GamePad: 6.2 inch touchscreen, speakers, microphone, front-facing camera
- GamePad Controls: 2 analogue sticks, D-pad, Start button, Select button, A/B/X/Y buttons, Front bumper buttons, TV button
- Number Of Launch Titles: 24
- Size: (width x length x height): 6.75 x 10.6 x 1.8 inches
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