So, maybe you’ve heard: the Nintendo Wii U is out! I was out of town during the past holiday week (hence no blog last week), and I spent a good chunk of that time at my brother’s apartment. The crazy guy pre-ordered a Wii U, which meant I got to spend a fair amount of quality time with the system up close and personal, and feel like I got a pretty good handle on what it’s all about thus far. I really like the controller; its comfortable and the touch screen is solid as always. So far I don't care for games that use the gyroscope though, particularly for camera controls. That shit's just annoying. The system’s interface is also super smooth, the online seems to work fine so far, and it seems technically on par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. In other words, no real surprises yet, but it’s always nice when a system feels good right out of the box.
Anyway, the games are ultimately what matter here. My brother got three of them on day one: Nintendo Land (he of course got the “Deluxe” version with the pack-in), New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU. We naturally dove into Nintendo Land first, and as all minigame collections are, I thought it was kind of hit or miss. We had enough people over to test out the multiplayer games in a proper setting, and the three “competitive” minigames (the Mario, Luigi’s Mansion and Animal Crossing ones) ended up being easily my three favorites among the entire lot. They’re all pretty similar, revolving around one player with the touch screen having more information as they face off against up to four other players. The lone player is generally either trying to catch or avoid the other players, and the extra information they have gives them that advantage compared to the advantage the others have in sheer numbers. It’s a fun idea, and it uses the touch screen controller very well. At the same time, it’s not like this idea couldn’t have been done on any other console over the past 5-6 years, especially online. So they’re fun minigames that make smart use of the Wii U gamepad without really being that revelatory in the grand scheme of things. The rest of the minigames were mildly interesting to varying degrees, though I don’t think I would spend that much time with them overall. To me, Nintendo Land is all about those three competitive games, meaning I’m not sure the game would be worth a $60 stand alone purchase, but I definitely think it’s worth getting the Deluxe Wii U for the pack-in (among other things). Also, the Nintendo Land soundtrack is boss.
After that, we played through roughly half of New Super Mario Bros. U together, which didn’t really do much for me. I thought the original New Super Mario Bros. was kind of neat on the Nintendo DS as a weird novelty, but ever since then I’ve never liked the “New” Super Mario Bros. series. While Mario’s 3D platformers are consistently inventive and creative, this 2D series has always felt stale and pandering to me. I know they sell much better than the 3D ones, so in a way I can’t really blame Nintendo for making them, but I just find them boring, and this one is no different. In fact it's even worse, because they are trying to sell a new system with a game that could have essentially been done on a Super Nintendo. Also, the fact that you can’t use the gamepad to play multiplayer is total garbage (you need even more Wii Remotes and/or Pro Controllers). When I get my Wii U, this is a game I will definitely skip.
Finally, we played a fair amount of ZombiU, which ended up being by far my favorite game of the bunch. We fiddled around with the single player some, and there are a lot of neat ideas in there. On its own, the game almost has a Demon’s/Dark Souls vibe in some ways. When you die you lose everything you had on you, but have one chance at a “corpse run” to get it all back. The game also seems pretty tough in spots, resources are scarce, and it absolutely never gives you a break. The most clever example of this is that when you need to fiddle with your inventory you have to look at the controller screen to manage stuff (as if you were looking in your backpack), and the game doesn’t pause. As such, you’re always vulnerable while messing with inventory, and that small example does a good job at describing the philosophy behind the entire game, and makes it feel like a great, modern day “survival horror” game. I probably only saw an hour or so of the single player, so I’m not knowledgeable enough to say much more about what it does. I will say that the game doesn’t look amazing, and it doesn’t feel that great as a shooter (clearly a design/programming thing, not a hardware/controller thing). Whether that was intentional or not, I couldn’t say. The game does have an effectively thick atmosphere, but most other parts of the production are pretty mundane.
More than the single player we played a fair amount of ZombiU’s multiplayer mode. Like the competitive Nintendo Land minigames it makes surprisingly clever use of the touch screen, but isn’t something that couldn’t have been done on other platforms over the years. Even past the controller setup, however, it’s a very clever mode that's surprisingly fun to play. One player, with either a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination or a Pro Controller (the latter we didn’t have) plays on the main screen first person shooter style, while the other player uses the Wii U gamepad. That player, dubbed the “King of Zombies”, controls the zombies in a pseudo RTS of sorts. They automatically gain “resources” over time, and can spend them to spawn various zombie types into the arena. They can’t control the zombies directly, but they can place them where they want, and can also choose among various upgrades as they level up. It’s an interesting idea that pits two different gameplay styles against each other, and we had a lot of fun messing around with that. It would have been better if we had a Pro Controller or if the game was simply a better feeling shooter, and I don't believe it works online which is a total bummer. But for what it was I had more fun with it than I expected.
Anyway, that’s a brief overview of my whirlwind experience with the Wii U. I think it’s a neat system, and even though the launch lineup isn’t amazing (which is true for any system), the combination of Nintendo Land and ZombiU was more than adequate for the few days I had access to the system. I’m a little worried about how the system will hold up in the long run, but I’m in no position to do anything other than speculate on that. All I can do is evaluate the tangible evidence before me, and on those grounds I think the Wii U is pretty cool. I’ll almost certainly pick one up sometime during the next few months, the ultimate target being before Pikmin 3 comes out (Pikmin 2 is an all-time favorite). Until then I’ll keep rolling along with the old guard, which at the moment means playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. I’ve played a few hours of that, and will continue to play it this coming week; so far it’s a little weird, but I’m enjoying it. I also just finished the final episode of The Walking Dead, which was fantastic. I’ll write more on that later, once I gather up my thoughts on both that episode and the season as a whole (maybe in a separate, dedicated post). That’s going to do it for now though, until next time!
Currently playing: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale