Despite the increasing shift to mobile gaming with devices like the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS XL, consoles are still very popular devices for playing immersive, graphics-intensive games; and that won’t change anytime soon as long as the major console makers continue to improve with newer generations. Nintendo has been the first console maker to update its last-generation console, the Wii. As a result, we’re now greeted with the Wii U, ahead of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox (720). Luckily for us, we get to review this next-generation console; and for you, since you’ll have a chance to win one at the end of the review!
The original Nintendo Wii brought plenty of new ideas to console gaming. It focused on the movement of the unique Wiimote controllers in order to control gameplay. It enabled some popular, even iconic, titles such as Wii Sports that offered plenty of fun for everyone of all ages. However, the Wii wasn’t perfect, and the Wii U tries to address this as well as add more to the unique gameplay. These improvements, along with other details, are reviewed in detail below.
We’ve got ourselves the $350 Nintendo Wii U Deluxe, which includes 32GB of storage instead of just 8GB offered by the $300 Basic version. Plus, the Deluxe version offers several other goodies, so the additional $50 is worth paying.
The most important addition to the Wii U over the Wii is the GamePad. This device is basically an entirely separate computer that you can hold in your hands, except that it’s a highly advanced controller. Nintendo probably took inspiration from the DS portable console (read our review of the Nintendo 3DS XL) and its dual-screen configuration, then created the GamePad to be used with the Wii U. However, the GamePad has its complexities and therefore, Wiimote controllers are still required for multiplayer gaming on the Wii U. We’ll get into that a bit later.
Now, gameplay with the Wii U isn’t entirely on your TV — the player using the GamePad controller will also be told to look down on their GamePad’s screen for additional gameplay features. This can be useful for a number of different purposes, such as:
- mirroring gameplay onto the device so the player doesn’t constantly have to look at the TV
- additional gameplay information which can be displayed on the GamePad’s screen so that the TV’s display is less cluttered
- additional modes of gameplay, such as hide-and-seek type games where one person hides (the user with the GamePad) and everyone else seeks (who use the TV screen). This type of gameplay would otherwise be impossible as the “sensitive” information would be displayed for all to see.
- the ability for the GamePad user to play his/her own mini-games while the TV isn’t set to accept the Wii U’s video input
The GamePad is loaded with functionality which makes it extremely capable. It includes a 6.2-inch, 158 ppi touchscreen display, along with a camera, microphone, home button, dual analog sticks, a directional-pad, gameplay buttons and triggers, and TV remote functionality. It even comes with a stylus in order to keep the touchscreen fingerprint-free. It is powered by its own Li-ion battery, which you can charge via the included micro-USB charger.
Packaging and First Thoughts
There’s plenty of stuff that comes with the Wii U. When you open the main box, you’ll find that you can pull out two individual compartments, each containing different items. Within the two compartments you’ll find:
- the Wii U console (32GB of storage with deluxe, 8GB otherwise)
- the GamePad
- the power supply
- the sensor bar
- an HDMI cable
- manuals for the Wii U
- Nintendo Land video game (deluxe only)
- a cradle for the GamePad (deluxe only)
- stands for the GamePad and console unit (deluxe only)
It’s all nicely organized, so you’ll easily find everything as long as you open up all the compartments. The rather compact sensor bar is only needed whenever you use a regular Wiimote controller. Also, although a sensor bar is included, Wii controllers aren’t and must be purchased separately. This is crucial if you wish to play with friends. It’s also important to note that only one GamePad can be connected to a Wii U at any time. Although you can have up to a maximum of 5 simultaneous players, only one person can use the GamePad; the others will have to use regular Wiimote controllers.
When I first took the Wii U out of its wrapping, I noticed that it’s rather small for a full-fledged console. The original Wii had this property as well, and Nintendo didn’t change the size but they did pack better hardware into the same amount of space. The front of the unit is rather simple — there’s the power and eject buttons, a slot to insert the game disc, and a compartment to swap out the hard drive if you choose to do so.
The backside of the unit has connections to support different devices, including the sensor bar, a TV via either HDMI or AV Multi Out, and two USB ports. There are plenty of ventilation ports along the sides, and a lone fan in the back to push out hot air. The risk of overheating is minimal as long as the console unit is sitting in a generously open space with good air movement.
Playing with the Wii U
It’s a blast to use the GamePad. You feel like you have a lot of control in your hands — and you certainly do. While it might not be the best controller to use for Wii Sports or Just Dance, it’s perfect for practically any other title. I would say that the controls are placed very well on the device so that all buttons can be easily accessible.
The GamePad is a bit on the heavy side, so while it is possible, it’s a bit hard to hold the device with just one hand. Children may have to hold it with both of their hands — especially because it’s best not to drop it. However, the build quality of the console as well as the GamePad are excellent, as you would expect from Nintendo. The GamePad is a bit more robust, however, simply because of how much it will be handled.
The GamePad brings a slightly different aspect to gameplay from the original Wii. The focus is now not entirely on movement, but more on traditional console gameplay as the Wii U borrows some ideas from the Nintendo DS. The GamePad still incorporates movement via the built-in accelerometer, which is why the Wii U doesn’t need the sensor bar unless you’re also using Wiimote controllers. While you can play all games with the GamePad, it may still be ideal to use the regular Wiimote controller and nunchuck for some titles such as Wii Sports.
Wii or Wii U?
The Wii U offers plenty of gameplay improvements that make it worthwhile to buy or upgrade from the Wii. First, an upgraded graphics processing unit from AMD allows for higher-resolution gameplay with fantastic 3D rendering, which addresses one of the main gripes about the original Wii. The addition of the GamePad also offers plenty of new options for game developers to tap into. While the higher-resolution graphics and GamePad can only be used with newer, Wii U titles; the Wii U is still very capable of playing all your favorite Wii titles using the standard Wiimote controllers. My college dormitory has a Wii U in its lobby for residents to play on, and it’s used daily with a number of fun titles.
The Mii framework allows multiple people to play on the Wii U and have data associated with them across multiple games. You need to create a Mii in order to play on the Wii U, and doing so is pretty fun. The GamePad can snap a picture of you and have the console create a Mii character that looks very similar to you. Of course, you can always fine tune the Mii before finalizing its look.
While the Wii U is plenty of fun, and the new features keep the console very interesting, there are still a few downsides to consider. Firstly, the GamePad is so feature-loaded — it has to communicate wirelessly with the console in order to send control data and receive a video stream for its touchscreen — it’s essentially a computer in your hands. As such, the battery life of the GamePad is relatively low at just three and a half hours. This may not be ideal for hardcore gamers who have day-long gaming sessions, but other people may find the battery life to be decent enough — three and a half hours of gaming is still a good while. Although it’s not an ideal solution, it’s also possible to use the GamePad while charging it with the micro-USB cable. It’ll limit your mobility, but at least you’ll be able to use it for as long as you please.
Additionally, as the Wii U is still a Nintendo product, don’t expect to get many highly popular titles on the console that can otherwise be found on Sony or Microsoft consoles. Instead, many of the games that will be available are oriented towards children or families, or otherwise include iconic Nintendo characters. The Wii U is still better off in this regard than the original Wii, as there are titles available such as ZombiU.
Should you buy the Nintendo Wii U?
All things considered, the Wii U is still an impressive console that is capable of entertaining gameplay. It’s also great that the Wii U is among the more affordable consoles of the Big Three. I highly value the ability for the Wii U to play the older Wii games, as there are some titles that I wouldn’t quite want to give up. So whether you have yet to own a Wii console, or if you’re looking at upgrading from your original Wii, I would definitely recommend the new system.
How do I win the Nintendo Wii U?
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