By SithLibrarian 5 Comments
Another repost from my blog
The Wii U finally happened. After months of speculation and a few odd showings for Nintendo's latest console venture, gamers the world over have gotten their hands on the device - assuming they had a pre-order. I picked up the Deluxe Edition on Sunday, giving me a black console with 32GB of memory, and raced home after work to get the thing set up. Opening up the box, I received a free copy of Nintendo Land (to go with ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros. U), one gamepad, an HDMI cable, a console stand and two gamepad stands. This was the product's first oddity. Why Nintendo included two stands for the gamepad is a mystery to me. Only one of them is truly useful because it has a jack for the charger while the other is a fairly cheap and unexciting piece of plastic.
The Console/First Time Setup
The hardware setup was simple enough (plug in the AC brick, attach a Wii sensor bar to the TV, plug in HDMI) but I wouldn't have my chance to play games until the gamepad reached full charge. While Nintendo's new fangled controller juiced up on my shelf, I perused the games I bought and signed up with Club Nintendo (something I've been meaning to do for awhile now). After about thirty minutes, I turned on the gamepad and began my long journey down the road of system configuration. The initial setup elements were simple enough, plug in the current date, create a user profile, set timezone, etc etc, while others - specifically getting the Wii U to connect to my router - were unfathomably difficult.
Between my girlfriend and I, there are a great number of Wi-Fi enabled devices in our home. Cell phones, Xbox 360, PS3, iPad, Vita, 3DS, each of these gadgets have absolutely no problem connecting to my router except for the off chance of a downed network. For reasons unknown to me, the Wii U simply couldn't connect despite the number of different security settings I tried to no avail. Thankfully, I had heard of the issue earlier in the day and used a solution from a Nintendo Support Forum and by following their setup procedure the machine was finally up and running.
With the console connected to the Internet, I had the pleasure of sitting through an 11th hour firmware update of indeterminate size. It turns out that the 5GB update unlocked a host of online features that were thought to be absent on launch day. What was irritating about the process was not knowing how long the update was going to take to download and install. At no point did the onscreen prompt give any sort of percentage complete or expected time of completion so I was forced to wait until it was done. I had a minor heart attack during the download process as the machine lost my Internet connection. Once I got it reconnected the download picked up right where it left off. After about an hour and a half, the download and installation finished and I was then asked to create my Nintendo Network ID (which replaces the dreaded Friend Codes).
It only took about two and a half hours but I was now ready to experience the future of gaming through the eyes of Nintendo.
The Wii UI
The original Wii used a grid based menu setup that contained all the games and Nintendo apps downloaded from the store. This is the screen that displays on the gamepad's touch screen. The image on the television screen is a bit more substantial as it lists a number of games and apps that, I assume, are currently being used by other players. What's nifty about this screen is how it uses Miis to give a visual representation of how many people are using that software at that moment. For the first few days, the largest crowd seemed to be hanging out under the Super Mario Bros. U banner (not so surprising) while the second largest grouping fell under Netflix. You can explore the individual communities by switching screens and interacting with the touch pad. From the community screens, you can view posts left by other gamers and send out friend requests.
There isn't much to the Wii U's front end and that's probably for the best as the "no fuss no muss" design is suitable for gamers of every skill level. The only real oddity is Wii emulation as it exists separately from the Wii U's interface. In order to play original Wii and WiiShop titles, you'll have to tap open the Wii icon and break out a Wii-mote (I no longer had mind so I couldn't test it out properly). According to the Giant Bombcast a week back, the Wii U and Wii software suite do not interact with each other at all. So if you buy a Wii Points card and activate it, those points will only show within the Wii emulation software rather than the Wii U's eShop. A very particular solution but I'll withhold judgement until I can try it myself.
My Wii U launch titles ended being Nintendo Land (came with the Deluxe Edition), ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros. U (because why the fuck not). The real reason I wanted a Wii U, Rayman Legends, got pushed back so I used Mario as a plan B. The only letdown with the games were the day one patches for each and while they did include estimated completion times, they were useless. "Less than 1 minute" often meant two minutes in reality. Still, the nice thing is that games can still be played while the update is downloading.
I have to admit, I'm noticeably more impressed with the game than I was during its weak showing at E3. A glorified tech demo, Nintendo Land excels beyond Wii Sports because it doesn't feel dumbed down and obviously packaged for the casual crowd. There are games in Nintendo Land that are legitimately fun. A fair share of the mini-games, modeled after famous Nintendo properties, are designed for two or more players but the single player content can be pretty enjoyable. Playing through the Metroid-themed game has me pining for more Metroid. Why is it Mario gets game after game after game while Samus languishes under the gaze of men who tell her when to use a bomb.
New Super Mario Bros. U
It's Super Mario 3D Land. Only with a "U" at the end of the title.
I know I'm overgeneralizing but to be completely honest, this is the same game I played on the 3DS earlier in the year. The game is as challenging and some of the level designs are pretty cool but there's nothing really "fresh" and "new" here. The new flying squirrel costume is interesting and that's about it. Where is Super Mario Galaxy 3? Where's Super Mario Sunshine 2? Those are Mario games I really want to play right now instead of a rehash of previous 2D titles.
Ubisoft's survival horror game is clearly the winner of the pack. Sporting the same punishing difficulty we've all grown to love from Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, ZombiU makes the best use of the gamepad's various features and is really fun to play. Traversing a zombie infected London is pretty harrowing knowing that zombies can kill you in three hits and the risk of losing your gear is dependent on how wreckless you choose to play. It has been a long time since I've been happy with a console launch title. It's received the most play time out of my current stack of Wii U games and I have to admit, I feel pretty good about giving it an honor at the end of the year.
That's been my first week with the Nintendo Wii U and the best praise I can give at the moment is that I don't regret spending the money. ZombiU (and Rayman Legends) give me hope for the future and it has the potential to be something fun and interesting. My hope is that Nintendo learned its lesson from the Wii and won't let the new machine suffer under the weight of terrible shovelware games and inferior ports. If Nintendo wants to attract the hardcore crowd, they've got to make titles worth playing. How hard can that be?