Wii U Review
I’ve owned a Wii U since launch and feel that it’s a great console. But why doesn’t everyone else feel that way? Let’s do a retrospective review and see what the console is like.
The WiiU is a console which is delivering on the dreams of many Nintendo fans but needs some serious updates if it’s to appeal to gamers more broadly and stay in the game for the long haul.
I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first.
When Daniel Vuckovic of the excellent Aussie Nintendo site Vooks wrote an article a few months before the release of the WiiU criticising Wii Mode, I didn’t understand what his problem with it was. Frankly, the idea of backwards compatibility with the entire Wii catalogue of games seemed like something to be celebrated, not criticised. Not long after unboxing my shiny black console I came to agree with his article, and had a few more complaints of my own.
Vook is right. A lack of access to Miiverse, which is an awesome feature of the WiiU that can’t really be appreciated until you use it, is one of the key reasons Wii Mode is terrible. A Miiverse community chatting about Zelda: Skyward Sword would be great as I work my way through that game. But it’s also the fact that Wii software isn’t directly loadable from the WiiU main menu. Compare this to the original Wii, with backwards compatability for the GameCube, which could load GC games direct from the Wii menu wothout the need to boot into a whole seperate mode.
It’s also the fact that software purchased through the Wii Shop is only payable in this mode (see below). It’s the fact that many of the quirky Wii Channels that made the Wii fun aren’t available to WiiU owners. It’s the lack of up-resing for WiiU software, something even the Dolphin Wii emulator on PC is able to do. It’s the overwhelming feeling that Wii Mode is redundant, a stop-gap solution until Nintendo can work out how to do it better and stop it being an actual hinderance to accessing the back catalogue of Wii software that makes me dislike Wii Mode so much.
In short, while backwards compatibility with Wii software needs to be retained, Wii Mode needs to go.
The eShop & The Wii Shop
Nobody expected the WiiU eShop to be full of amazing HD, WiiU specific content on the first day. Even the iOS App Store took some time to become the app filled paradise it is today. But the disappointment I felt when I learned content from the Wii Shop (the old digital storefront for the original Wii) wouldn’t be available in the new eShop was palpable.
Instead of WiiU owners being able to buy WiiWare and Virtual Console titles that have been available for years in the Wii Shop, you need to boot into Wii Mode (see above), enter the Wii Shop channel and buy the software there. This software is then only playable in Wii Mode. Like Wii disc software, you can’t launch it straight from the WiiU menu.
Imagine if you’d been able to play SNES, Megadrive, NEO-GEO and NES Virtual console games on your WiiU Gamepad, in bed or on the toilet. But you can’t. It’s wasted potential.
The Wii eShop is facing criticisms for not having enough content. This could have been easily mitigated by Nintendo if they’d merged Wii Shop content with the WiiU eShop. I’m not sure why they didn’t do it. It seems like a no brainer.
WiiU Virtual Console
Put simply, there is none. It’s widely assumed that Nintendo will eventually make Gamecube games available through the WiiU eShop, but the fact I can’t go and purchase those games now is beyond comprehension. What’s the delay?
Menu Load Times
This has been canvassed by many other sites and blogs. Simply put, switching between menus in the WiiU is a lengthy process, sometimes taking 15 to 30 seconds. For a system that’s so powerful and has so much RAM, it boggles the mind to think of what the WiiU could be doing. Stopping for a coffee and a danish?
TVii in Australia
Simply put, we don’t have TVii in Australia. And as far as I’m aware, we haven’t been told that we ever will. A shame given those countries currently enjoying it are calling it a killer app.
This is, of course, a long standing problem for Australian consumers. While the US enjoys the likes of Hulu and Netflix streaming for free and a la carte, we’re geo-blocked from accessing content rich sites like these. But there’s got to be a work around. How about letting us access catch-up services like ABC iView, SBS On Demand, nineMSN Video or Channel 10 On Demand through TVii? Hopefully the boffins at Nintendo are thinking along similar lines.
The Fingerprint Magnet
Why did Nintendo think shiny black plastic was preferable to a matte finish? I’m imagining it was to keep costs down, but I’d gladly have payed a little extra to stop my WiiU from being constantly smudged by fingerprints. This is a real case of #firstworldproblems, I know, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
The WiiU Pro Controller
Maybe I just haven’t spent enough time with it. Maybe I’m just used to the PS3 DualShock controllers. But using the WiiU Pro Controller feels weird. Whereas on the PS3 I might have sped my way through a mission in Call of Duty, here I kept dying as a result of making the wrong move or not pressing a button quick enough. I eventually realised that the buttons being below the thumbsticks (as opposed to above the thumbstick as on the PS3 DualShock) was what was putting me off my game. When you spend five years or so subconsciously moving your thumb from a thumbstick to a button a certain way, doing it another way feels foreign.
I eventually plan to return to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 as part of my personal challenge to complete a bunch of games in 2013. At that time I suspect I’ll be able to reevaluate my stance on the Pro Controller. What I can tell you right now is that80 hour charge or not, this controller just feels weird.
Capacitive Touch Screen Vs. Resistive
The Gamepad screen is a touch screen, but instead of using a capacative touch screen, such as the iPhone or iPad, it used a resistive screen (such as on the DS). Put simply, capacative allows for multitouch input and resistive allows for only a single touch input on any part of the screen. Obviously the reason for this was cost. Capacative screens cost far more and putting one of these in the WiiU gamepad would have meant a higher cost for consumers (and a possible repeat of the 3DS’ launch problems). But I can’t help think of how Shigeru Miyamoto and the other brilliant designers of Nintendo would have been able to enhance the gaming experience with multitouch input. It seems like a missed opportunity.
So What’s Good Then?
So much. High definition Mario, even if it’s not in 3D, is beautiful. The Gamepad let’s you play your home console games in your bedroom or your toilet (depending on how your house is set up), realising a dream of all Nintendo fans who held off on sleep or relieving themselves longer than they should have during their formative years to complete just one more level of Super Mario World. And being able to grab the Gamepad and start playing a game while your partner watches some boring TV show, without negotiating TV usage rights, is a boon too.
Miiverse, pictured above, is amazing. On paper, it sounds pretty lame. It’s a social network exclusively for the WiiU; a hybrid cross between Facebook and Twitter. So what, right? But it’s only once you use it when you realise it’s potential. Especially when it’s integrated directly into into WiiU games like New Super Mario Brothers U, as seen below.
Like Twitter, your Miiverse posts must be short, sharp and to the point. Like Facebook, you can Like posts (a Like is a “Yeah” in Miiverse). But you can draw your status updates and draw replies too. And because Miiverse posts are ordered by game communities, you can ask for help on how to get past a difficult part of a game, or just praise or bitch about it if you want. Really good Miiverse posts are included in the game itself (where supported) and automatically pushed to the WiiU main menu, called Wara Wara Plaza, so the whole world of WiiU owning gamers can see them (see below). Frankly, Miiverse is so good, and yet so simple a concept, I’m amazed Apple couldn’t have implemented a similar idea to save Ping from its untimely death.
The launch games I’ve tried are uniformly great, too. New Super Mario Brothers U is a Mario game. Enough said. NintendoLand is deceptively incredible. As in, I ignored it completely until I finished NSMBU, only to discover how great a game it actually is. It’s a game that defies description and belies its silly sounding name. Getting it for free as part of the deluxe WiiU set seems almost criminal.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is great (as long as you don’t use the Pro controller) and has revived my interest in the COD franchise after the debacle that was COD: Modern Warfare 2. And Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed is a better kart racing game thanMario Kart. For a massive Mario Kart fan like me to say that, it really means something.
The WiiU is a console that holds plenty of promise, but like many Nintendo consoles, has come out half baked. And yet it speaks volumes that despite the many problems I listed above, I still got a great deal of enjoyment out of the WiiU. Like the 3DS, which had its fair share of problems at launch, I’m confident Nintendo will improve the WiiU firmware and release its usual slew of amazing first party software to realise the potential that the console offers. And with strong third party support, especially from indie developers, the catalogue of excellent software titles will only continue to grow.
If you’re a hardcore Nintendo fan, don’t hesitate to get a WiiU now. If you’re not, it might be best to wait, but if and when you do get one, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.