Though the fledgling Wii U hasn’t quite reached the astronomical success its predecessor enjoyed, I still think it’s a very cool system with a lot of promise. Still, as a semi-late adopter to the system (I purchased mine three weeks ago), I can already see a lot of areas for improvement, especially if Nintendo wants to be competitive to even this generation of consoles. I decided to write this review as sort of a buyer’s guide to people still on the fence with buying the system, coinciding with the big spring firmware update that addressed most users’ stability and content concerns. Instead of ascribing numerical scores for arbitrary attributes as we usually do for reviews, I decided to conduct the review on a sliding scale, with letter grades assigned to various tangential aspects of the system.
Hardware/Build Quality: B
Nintendo has always been known for its hardware’s ability to withstand being run over by a small truck. While usually being behind the curve with regards to design aesthetics (except for the GameCube; that thing is and will always be a sexy beast), Nintendo’s hardware being reliable, usable, and rock-solid was always an unquestionable fact. Despite this history, the sleek plastic build of the Wii U sadly leaves me with a very bad first impression. It simply looks cheap and dated.
I believe this is where most of the consumer confusion comes from. Instead of creating a radically different shell for its Wii successor, we have this evened-out version of the Wii’s plasticky console casing that screams 2006. I’m not sure what consumer base this look appeals to; Apple’s moved to brushed aluminum now, so I don’t think the glossy plastic look is very vogue nowadays.
The Game Pad thankfully alleviates most of these concerns by providing a comfortable, solid controller that seems easy enough to grip no matter what size hands you’re packing. I believe the last time I physically gripped a Game Pad prior to actually buying a Wii U was E3 2011, where I found it a little awkward to hold overall. Maybe it was the fact that it was physically strapped on to a booth attendant back then, but now that I’m actually getting some good time on using the pad I think the ergonomics are absolutely fine.
And while people might scoff at the Game Pad’s miniscule 854×480 resolution and resistive, single-point touch panel, I’m of the opinion that the pad’s technical limitations aren’t due to Nintendo’s standard cheapness, but rather to address durability and latency concerns. Having beamed games throughout my Wireless-N network from my computer to my iPad via Splashtop, I understand that the more pixels you have to push to a screen wirelessly would equate to either lag or image compression. The Wii U’s off-screen play implementation isn’t perfect—there’s a smidgen of noticeable lag and some artifacting during more intense screen transitions—but it’s very much acceptable given the technology at hand, not discounting possible RF interference inside peoples’ homes.
Software Library: D
The Wii U’s software lineup is one that I would call a library of diminishing returns. If the Wii’s overall market performance is any indication, the Wii U’s third-party output will sadly consist of either afterthought hand-me-downs from its more powerful competitors, or quirky afterthought games that could not be done anywhere else. I don’t see the Wii U being a massive shovelware magnet like the Wii was, gauging from its unimpressive mainstream adoption which is a good thing and helps the system’s awareness with core gamers somewhat.
It’s far too early to grade the Wii U’s overall software library given that we’re not even a year into the system’s lifespan, but present and near-future prospects look bleak. Apart from some key Holiday games that are six months off, the Wii U truly doesn’t have anything going on. Most of the third-party efforts are games that I’ve already played months before on other systems, and Nintendo’s own efforts seem to be few and far between. Heck, I’ve been forced to buy Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate—a game in a series that I loathe—just to have something to play on the damn thing. Tack on a half-hearted Virtual Console launch, and that’s just insult added to injury.
I guess the best way to describe the current software situation is that if you’ve only had a Wii the past console generation (bless your heart), then all of these fancy HD games will probably blow your mind. If you’re a videogame enthusiast with poor impulse control (read: me), then there’s absolutely nothing impressive on the system apart from New Super Mario Bros.
Firmware Updates: B+
Much better. I’ll have to say, Nintendo is finally listening to their hardcore fanbase; possibly the only consumer group that will actually put up with their bullshit at this point in time. Apart from all of the fan-pleasing software announcements we’ve been hearing about the past few weeks, the spring firmware update—which addresses various software issues that fans and pundits alike have pointed out—was a welcome gesture from the company.
The highlight of the update is that it doesn’t quite take forever to switch back to the Wii U Menu after quitting a game or an app. Coming from the tail end of users that had to sit through 30-40 seconds of loading to switch to a new game, the system’s new-found snappiness is much obliged. Another personal high spot is being able to boot directly into Virtual Wii mode instead of having to sit through the boot process. I bought this thing primarily to serve as a Wii HD, and I love that I can just boot straight into Wii Mode (which is an emulated/VM-ized version of the Wii system software you boot to play your Wii titles and old WiiWare/Virtual Console content) by a button combination on startup. Pretty convenient!
That’s not a serious score, but if it were possible to dock points for a piece of hardware by virtue of having an insufferable fanbase, this would what I would give the Wii U. As someone who’s helped run a Nintendo fansite for the past eight years, I don’t think the (very vocal) Nintendo fanbase has been this annoying, ever. The apologist nonsense and the hilariously awkward and contorted interpretation of facts/figures is what really irks me. I cannot process why a group of people would continuously tow the company line for an organization they have zero financial stake with.
Basically a Wii U thread on this any other messageboard consists of: (1) reporting some outlet’s criticism of the system, (2) looking for a narrative to spin Nintendo criticism that is plausible speculation at best, and (3) attempting to mask what is an otherwise shallow and largely unsupported thesis by writing ten meandering paragraphs that never really reach a satisfying conclusion. It’s soured me on participating in any Nintendo-related discussion on the internet, and the persecution complex Nintendo fans seem to have are at par with the worst bullshit I’ve seen spewing from privileged militant atheists. And that’s a pretty damn high bar.
Overall, I would give the Nintendo Wii U, as it stands a solid C. The system’s overall concept and value proposition isn’t novel enough to prop the whole system up, unfortunately—unlike the Wii, the Wii U is reactionary, not revolutionary. It seems like a cobbled-up way to alleviate both domestic (Japan’s small living spaces only having one TV as well as a growing reliance on handheld/multiplayer titles like Monster Hunter) and international concerns (tablets taking away the focus from the traditional gaming market, core gamers wanting HD games). The lack of any significant killer apps during its release window didn’t help the public’s tepid perception towards the system. No matter how you spin it, Nintendo Land is no Wii Sports.
However, the system still holds promise. As someone who’s gaming habits are slowly gravitating away from the living room and back into the bedroom, the Game Pad’s ability to mirror games from the system to its built-in display is a pretty damn useful feature. From what I’ve played so far, however, I haven’t seen anything that truly justifies the Game Pad’s ancillary screen other than a place to put macros or menu items when not used in that capacity. Bottom line, we need to see more killer apps that substantiate Nintendo’s gimmick, something the system sorely misses.