Nintendo’s new console is now available across the globe and gamers are weighing in. Most impressions are based of game selection, graphics and the new controller. Gamers, like everyone else, prefer to pay less and get more.
It can be hard to justify the new console when approaching it from the perspective of graphics and games. Most Wii U games are a port, which means they can be played on hardware that’s less expensive and they don’t make good use of the touchscreen. But there are some features that make the system better than it might look on paper.
Step Into The Miiverse
The Wii U ships with a new online component known as the Miiverse. It’s Nintendo’s concept of an online console gaming community – and it’s nothing like what’s been offered before.
The Miiverse is, at its core, a giant web forum. There are separate categories for each game available on the system and anyone who owns a Wii U can visit, post comments or even draw pictures with their stylus. It’s impossible to visit the forums in a normal web browser. The community is only open to Wii U owners.
But the Miiverse goes beyond a simple web forum. It can be integrated into games so players can discuss strategies and boast about victories. New Super Mario Bros. U does this well. It encourages players to post when they do something special or beat a difficult level. I find this system more rewarding than achievements. It’s more rewarding boast about exploits with fellow players than it is to have the game award an arbitrary number of points.
Moderation is key to this feature. Nintendo removes posts that show spoilers or include objectionable content. That keeps the signal-to-noise ratio at an acceptable level. You don’t need to spend much time with Miiverse to find useful posts and responses to your own activity can be viewed separately. It’s easy to pop in, read a few posts, and then get back to gaming.
The Web Browser
All of the major consoles now have a web browser, but the Wii U’s is the best. The tablet controller ensures this. While it’s no match for an iPad, the gamepad is reasonably respond and offers a large display area complete with virtual keyboard.
The gamepad buttons are useful as well. It turns out that an analog stick is a great way to scroll through a web page and face buttons can perform other functions like heading back a page. Both the Xbox and the PlayStation 3 are way behind the Wii U in this area.
Compatibility is good. The browser displays web pages as they should and handles the major browser benchmarks well (though it’s not the quickest). It can handle any web browsing task that you’d expect of a modern tablet.
Nintendo also has some tricks up its sleeve. YouTube videos, for example, seamlessly display full-screen when played. Once the video is on your television you can hide it on the gamepad and browser other sites. And you can do this without exiting a game session.
The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 take a closed approach to storage. Each system ships with a hard drive that should be enough, but if it runs out or it kicks the bucket you’ll have to buy a ridiculously expensive replacement. The upgraded Xbox 360 drive, which has only 320GB of storage, typically sells for $130.
Nintendo has a different approach. They don’t sell hard drives or even place one in the system (the Wii U comes with flash memory instead). If you need more storage you can use any USB hard drive.
This includes internal drives converted via an enclosure and solid state drives converted in the same way. You can even use a USB flash drive, though Nintendo advises against it due to the limited read/write cycles on such hardware.
Letting users bring their own hardware is a less expensive and more flexible option. Nintendo could have easily gone with a proprietary drive. No one would have questioned it. But they didn’t, and I appreciate that.
The Wii U is typical Nintendo. It’s a bit different from everything else on the market. Instead of focusing on voice chat it offers a moderated web forum. Rather than bundling the browser as an afterthought, it’s built to work well with the Wii U’s unique interface. And gamers can use their own storage instead of picking from a handful of expensive console-only drives.
Graphics are important. Games are important. But features like these help make a console stand out from the crowd. The upcoming consoles from Microsoft and Sony will be quicker, it’s true. That doesn’t mean the Wii U won’t remain unique.