Yesterday I mentioned how I've had a Nintendo Wii U sitting in my closet for over two years. Last night I pre-ordered all the LEGO Dimensions sets for it, which seemed incentive enough for me to finally unbox my Wii U and get it hooked up.
And so I did. And I've been goofing around with it ever since.
When compared to the PS4 and the XBOX One, the Wii U comes up short. The processing power... the graphics... all the specs, really... everything is a step down. A noticeable step down. But that's par for the course for Nintendo, who has always put the gaming experience above specs... doing far more than the competition with less. Even so, while you're never going to mistake a PS4 game for the Wii U equivalent, that's not saying Nintendo's graphics are ugly or the games are slow and dated... far from it. Everything I've looked at has been beautiful and fluid on the Wii U. Nintendo's programmers are absolutely getting the most out of what they have to work with.
So... if the Wii U can't compete with modern gaming consoles on specs, what does the hardware offer that's worth investing in?
Just like the Wii before it, the Wii U breaks some new ground in gameplay with its controllers. This time with their "Game Pad," which is a massive tablet-esque controller with standard game controls around the edges...
At approximately 5.25 x 1 x 10.25 inches, it's even bigger than I remember it being.
And yet... not entirely uncomfortable for me to hold (don't know about kids). Its lightweight, the buttons and sticks are well-placed, and the on-board touch-screen actually seems useful. The only big negatives are A) poor battery life is 3 hours max, and B) the screen is fairly low-resolution. After becoming accustomed to the Retina Display on my iPhone and iPad, it's almost painful to look at. Otherwise, pretty cool... assuming the game you're playing takes advantage of it.
Which it can in two ways. The first is that it can display supplemental information or additional controls past what you see on screen. The second is that most games actually let you transfer the display from your television to the Game Pad so you can play games while somebody else watches the television. This is nice... but only half as cool as it could be when you realize you have to stay in the same room and fairly close to the console in order for the Game Pad to maintain its connection. Bummer. I want to Wii U from bed.
The weird thing about the Game Pad is that you can't connect more than one to the system. Players 2-5 have to use Wii wand controllers or Wii nunchuck controllers or Wii U Pro Controllers (none of which are included). I guess I get it... streaming live video takes processing power and the console doesn't have a lot to spare, but still... I can't believe that you can't connect at least two Game Pads to a Wii U so that you can go head-to-head with somebody using the same controls.
Oh... one last word on the Game Pad... you can use it to control your television. Namely, use it to turn the thing off and on plus select the video source, meaning you don't have to go scrambling for the TV remote to play. Nice.
The system I got was the "pro" version that comes with a pathetic 32GB of storage... only 25GB of which is available. Which means I am almost out of space and all I have is two games and a demo onboard. I have no clue how those with the "non-pro" 8GB version manage at all. The solution is to purchase an external USB hard disk or thumb drive or something. There's an SD card slot, but that seems to be exclusively for backwards compatibility with Wii games, as I've found no way to access it from the Wii U side.
When it comes to actually navigating the system, I find it surprisingly similar to the Nintendo 3DS. You can run one application/game at a time, and that application/game goes into suspension so you can access system controls mid-game. It's not as elegant as the XBOX One and PS4 menuing system, but it's perfectly serviceable. About the only negative I've found so far? No universal in-game chat system, which is a pretty big oversight in modern gaming. For multiplayer online games, you just have to hope that the game has its own chat system built-in or else there will be no in-game chat for you.
I'm just going to get this out of the way... NINTENDO-DEVELOPED WII U GAMES DO NOT COME WITH INSTRUCTION BOOKLETS! Not even a single-page pamphlet to give you an overview of the controls! Nope, everything is done with the online help system, which works okay, but is pretty lame. Nothing like having to pause the game so you can look up something that should have been shared on a hardcopy.
Obviously I haven't had a chance to play with a lot of games yet, but here's a quick sampling of what I've been up to so far...
LEGO City Undercover... The game that made me purchase the Nintendo Wii U in the first place, this is one of the best LEGO minifig games to date. As police officer Chase McCain, you scour LEGO City for criminals using brilliant disguises that endow you with new abilities. In many ways, this is the LEGO version of Grand Theft Auto but in reverse. I absolutely love it, of course... despite some agonizingly long load times and no ability for multi-player (which is kind of a staple with these games). The sandbox you're in seems vast and affords a lot of freedom, but is ultimately part of a fairly linear gaming experience. Since the Wii U seems to be picking up steam, I'm hopeful we may get a sequel one day. I've barely begun playing, but already know I'm going to be wanting more.
Super Mario 3D World... As with all Nintendo gaming systems, I figure that the biggest development effort is always going to go into their signature Mario title, so I always buy it and have never been disappointed. Like Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario Galaxy before it, the title is exceptionally imaginative and fun to play. In the few hours I've been playing it, I've seen all kinds of cool things... including Mario putting on a cat outfit so he has cat powers to play with. Epic.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham... I had already started this game on XBOX 360, but it was so cheap I decided to grab it for Wii U so I can have a consistent experience when LEGO Dimensions arrives in September. So far, it feels exactly the same. I think the XBOX 360 controller is a bit better for this title than Nintendo's Game Pad, but I'm not having any trouble. The game itself is amazing... though it doesn't reach the heights that LEGO Batman 2 did... feeling more confined and less open despite taking place on multiple planets in space. Still... LEGO Batman. UPDATE: Went to purchase some of the cool downloadable content for this game only to find out it isn't available for the Wii U... WTF Warner Interactive? Guess I go back to the XBOX 360.
Bayonetta 2... I bought this game for the specific purpose of seeing what a non-cutesy Nintendo and non-cutesy LEGO game would be like on the Wii U, and this one was the highest rated I could find. And for very good reason... it's utterly amazing. Far from being over-hyped, you just can't believe how beautiful, fluid, and fun it is to play. I had a really tough time putting it down long enough to write this blog entry. Basically, you play a witch with lethal fighting abilities... plus guns. She's kind of like Neo from The Matrix in that she can slow time and gain a distinct advantage over her enemies. As this is a Nintendo Wii U exclusive title, it's almost worth buying the system just to play it. Yes... it's that good.
I have to say... if these four titles are indicative of the quality that goes into Wii U titles, it's very easy to see how the system is one to be reckoned with. No, the visuals are not as tight as what you'll find on XBOX One or PS4, but Wii U excels in entertainment value, which is all that really matter, isn't it?
And that's the Wii U as I know it right now.
Kind of regretting that I waited two years to discover it.