Impressions of the Wii U
Nintendo launched its new Wii U system on Nov. 18, and with it, came the beginning of a new generation in gaming.
The Wii U is Nintendo’s first high-definition console. It is fully backward-compatible with the Wii and has improved online functionality, including a social hub called the Miiverse (a fusion of Mii and universe) which allows players to communicate with others using the Mii avatar characters.
Most importantly the system sports a fancy new controller that combines traditional face buttons and joysticks with an innovative built-in touch screen.
Available in two models—a base 8GB model and a deluxe 32GB model—the system is flying off store shelves and is sold out in most locations. Like the launch of the Wii in 2006, Nintendo is once again having trouble keeping up with demand.
Gamers everywhere are itching to get their hands on this new system. On Nov. 26, I had the opportunity to sit down with the system when Nintendo’s Airstream Tour made a stop at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Sacramento for a private press event.
Upon entering the Airstream trailer, Nintendo representative David Young handed me the Wii U console to look at as he got everything set up. I noticed the system is a lot longer from front to back than the Wii, but it’s also just as light and well-built.
Young then handed me the new Wii U game pad, which I had previously held at both E3 2011 and in local Target stores, but hadn’t had a chance to really look at.
In pictures, the controller appears to be large and awkward. It’s really not. It’s actually very comfortable and Nintendo did a great job keeping it ergonomic. I have fairly large hands, however, and I’m not sure how well it would fit a small child’s hands.
I also got to hold the new Pro Controller, which is Nintendo’s answer for those players who want to play their games in a more traditional fashion. Though I didn’t have time to play test it, the controller is sturdy, ergonomic, light, and all the buttons feel like they should. I was quite impressed and would recommend it for any Wii U gamer.
New Super Mario Bros. U
First, I got to play “New Super Mario Bros. U”. I won’t say too much about it because, well, it’s Mario and it’s a formula that just works. The game looks stunning in HD and the controls work well on the game pad. I only played two levels but it was enough to tell that this is a must-have title for the new system.
I did get to try the functionality that allows players to continue a game on the touch screen when someone else wants to use the TV. It works as expected and it was nice not having to grab the TV remote to use this function. There is a button on the Wii pad that allows players to pull up a virtual TV remote and change the volume, channel, or turn off the TV altogether.
Unfortunately, Young informed me that not all games will have the ability to do this, but those that do will surely keep siblings from fighting over the TV or my wife and I arguing when she wants to watch her shows about cats.
Next up was “Nintendo Land”, which is a mini-game collection that essentially serves the same purpose as “Wii Sports” did when the Wii launched: to show off all the functionality of the new system.
The first game I tried was a single-player experience called “Takamaru’s Ninja Castle”, which has the player flinging ninja stars at different colored ninjas who pop up on the screen in random locations. To flick the ninja stars, players slide their hand along the Wii pad while holding it sideways and aiming at the screen.
The blue ninjas just sort of stand there but red and black ones will throw projectiles back at the player. It’s a simple game but it showed off just how well the Wii pad can work in conjunction with the television.
I was impressed with how quickly the ninja stars showed up on screen after swiping the touch screen. There were no latency or lag issues and everything worked the way it should. In fact, the game is quite difficult because you actually have to aim at the enemy you are trying to hit and account for things like the distance the star has to travel.
The next mini-game we played was “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course”, which has players using the Wii pad’s tilt functionality to move a small cart left, right, up and down along a path on the screen, ala the original “Donkey Kong”.
This game seemed simple, but was actually quite challenging because once again the controller’s functionality worked seamlessly. This means that a slight tilt left will move the cart left, so players must be very accurate. If you move the cart too fast, it’ll smash into an obstacle and the player must start again.
The only issue I had with this particular mini-game was a part when the player has to blow into the microphone on the Wii pad to spin a fan that raises the cart to a higher level of the course. I naturally wanted to put the mic right up to my mouth, but it needed to be further back. I got the hang of it after a while, but I thought the game’s developers could have done a better job explaining how to properly use this functionality.
The final game I played in “Nintendo Land” was “Mario Chase”, which is a multiplayer game that I played against Young. The player holding the Wii pad must run through a multi-colored maze and try to survive for two minutes without being caught by the other player. Using only the screen of the Wii pad, this player has a top down view of the entire map.
The player or players (the mini-game supports up to five players, one on the Wii pad and one to four on the Wii Remotes) use a Wii Remote while looking at the TV screen to navigate the maze from a third-person perspective and try to track down the runner.
It seems like the player with the Wii pad would have the advantage, but it’s actually quite challenging because the chaser is told which colored section of the map the player on the pad is hiding in. The first time we played, Young and his two AI bots beat me pretty quickly but the second time I almost made it, with Young capturing me with just 16 seconds left on the timer.
The last game I played was “ZombiU”. I was glad I got to try this one out, despite not being that interested in it when it was announced because I got a glimpse into how well the Wii U can handle hardcore games.
One of the issues with the Wii was that it couldn’t compete very well with Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 when it came to games like “Batman”, “Mass Effect” or “Call of Duty”, but “ZombiU” convinced me that the Wii U will not have that problem.
I really wasn’t into this game much at first because the player only has a flash light and it was difficult to see where to go.
No sooner than I had mentioned this to Airstream’s truck driver Don Davis, when I received a map and was tasked with turning the lights in the underground subway on. The map being on the Wii pad was an excellent addition; no more having to pause the game to look at the map.
Young explained to me that this game plays in real time, so if the player dies, the character doesn’t come back. Instead, the player begins playing as a different survivor of the zombie outbreak and to recollect anything the previous character had collected, the player must find the dead body of the previous character and collect his backpack.
Also, when digging through your backpack, which is done by using the touch screen on the Wii pad and dragging and dropping items in or out of your backpack to or from your active inventory, the character is not paused in the game world like in most games. So players must be careful where and when they stop to find something in their backpack because they can still be attacked or killed.
The best part of “ZombiU” was probably the shooting, which is done by holding up the Wii pad and moving it around the room to aim while shooting at the zombies. This makes the player feel like the world around them is part of the game world and the level of immersion is intensified 10-fold. I could imagine how creepy this could be sitting on the couch at night with all the lights off.
Overall, though I had a short time with the new system, I was very impressed and will be adding this console to my entertainment center in the future. I think there is a plethora of potential with all of the ways the Wii pad can be used and I feel the best is still to come. I think Nintendo has once again hit the ball out of the park and gamers will be playing Wii U for a long time.