Nintendo is having a hard time with their console right now, and for anyone asking himself or herself if they should buy a Wii U you should first ask yourself this simple question. How much am I willing to pay to play Nintendo’s 1st party games? That simple question will determine when you should buy a Wii U.
Games and Promises
Nintendo‘s main goal for the Wii U was to move away from the stigma of being a casual gaming console and get back the core gamer. Unfortunately Nintendo has failed on that front and lost the casual gamer leaving them with a less than 5% of the audience they once had with the Wii. If you love Nintendo’s first party exclusives then you have no choice but to buy the Wii U. For those expecting Nintendo to finally get 3rd party parity with the PlayStation and Xbox consoles your hopes have been unheard for the most part. The Wii U does have a bit of 3rd party muscle to flex, but compared to the PS3 and 360 there’s no need in moving on as those consoles continue to receive all 3rd party support while Nintendo gets leftovers.
It’s not an awful scenario, as it helps Nintendo keep it’s family friendly image with 3rd party games like Sonic, Rayman, and Batman showing up, but also sports a small core selection of the biggest titles like Call of Duty, Need for Speed, and Assassin’s Creed for Nintendo gamers looking for “Mature Content”. So while full 3rd party parity isn’t there, it’s enough for Wii gamers who missed out in the last generation. How well it holds up once PS4 and XBO development takes over is unknown, but for now it’s decent.
Out of the box the Wii U comes with the console, a tablet controller, HDMI cable, Sensor Bar, Power Supply Brick, and a few other things depending on if you purchased the 8GB Basic or 32GB Deluxe model (Neither 8GB nor 32GB of storage is enough to save much of anything, but thankfully you can use external HDD’s for storage and game files are usually around 1GB - 2GB.). The grey cables are so Nintendo, making them standout from the normal black, and makes it easier to find the cables if needed. However, setting up the Wii U is so...freakin’...tedious. You’re constantly entering information over and over again. First you enter information, then the console must update, then the console must reset, then you enter information, then you have to sign-up for a Nintendo account, it’s just too much entering and validating. Ultimately this might seem like the norm for any console, but what makes the Wii U worse is that the Wii U loads.....a lot. It literally takes over an hour to completely set the Wii U up and download the updates.
This is not a good way to get someone to think of the Wii U as a joy to play, and harkens back to the Nintendo being a kids consoles with so many security checks. Having strong security is great because of incidents like the PSN hack, and I’ve personally been hacked on XBL, but the Wii U is Windows Vista levels of annoying, and it really shows who the Wii U target audience is.
OS and more
Once you finally make it through the loading and updating you’re ready to use your new console. The Operating System is instantly familiar to anyone who has used or owned the original Wii or 3DS. It uses the same mini channel layout that fills each channel with the content you download, similar to mobile phones. It’s simple, smooth, and efficient what more can you ask for.
E-shop is your go to place for downloading content for your Wii U, and it’s bad.....like new PSN bad. Just like the console the eShop has a lot of loading issues. It’s not as long as the PS3’s PSN, but it’s noticeable. The organization is weird sporting a layout similar to the Top 10 section from PSN. However, instead of seeing the top 10, EVERYTHING is displayed and users have to constantly scroll down to find whatever they’re looking for. Using the gamepad is no help since the overall store is a cluttered mess. The search options and its filter layout are your best bet at finding things on eShop, but once again the loading rears it ugly head here as well. Overall it just makes the E-shop bothersome to navigate, and as a company you don’t want a bothersome experience for consumer who are trying to spend money.
The console itself isn’t winning any beauty pageants, which is a shame considering the original Wii was in my opinion the best looking console of the last generation (in it’s stand). The Wii U is just a long oval-like rectangular box. It looks awkward, but the look of the box isn’t a deal breaker for me. What matters the most to me are it’s innards and unfortunately I’ve been very vocal about my distaste for the hardware Nintendo decided to go with for the Wii U. The CPU + GPU + RAM combo in theory should offer performance above what the PS3 and 360, but not a big enough leap to call it a next-generation console technologically speaking.
The Wii U features a 3-core CPU based on the Wii’s and GameCube’s CPU technology. However, it features faster Clock speeds, more cache, and Out of Order Executions (OOE) making it more contemporary and significantly smarter, but it’s still low end (as are all 3 consoles CPU’s). The Wii U also sports 2GB of RAM with 1GB dedicated to graphics and 1GB dedicated to the system, and is by far the biggest disappointment in the console. The problem is a combination of the amount of RAM, but more so the low bandwidth of 12.8 GB/s. Fortunately the console also has 32MB of eDRAM, which should be able to consistently boost the performance of the consoles RAM bandwidth by 2x or 25.6 GB/s or more. The final piece of the Wii U puzzle is the GPU. There are still some unknowns to be found in the GPU, but considering all the information revealed thus far it’s widely believed to be an AMD HD 4650, or an under-clocked HD 4670.
As many of us say let the games do the talking, and with a year under its belt, the Wii U games are saying 2 things to me. The first of those things is that the Wii U is about what I expected hardware-wise with games running insignificantly above, or in most cases on par with the PS3 and 360. The games that take advantage of the hardware are a bit cleaner and crisper than their PS3 and 360 counterparts, and benefit from having PC textures vs. Console textures (for example, Need for Speed). The hardware shows a slight boost, but nothing that would make you leave your current PS3 or 360.
The second thing I learned is that art-style can be just as important as processing power, and Nintendo should focus all its efforts on art-style. Games like Nintendo Land, Pikmin 3, Wind Waker HD, and Super Mario 3D World show off just how important a good art-style is. These games show the Wii U’s next-gen muscle with beautiful popping HD colors, smart use of textures, and simple geometry. The Wii U isn’t running Killzone: Shadow Fall or Ryse: Son of Rome quality games, but with the right art-style games on the platform can hold their own.
The gamepad is surprising light for it’s size, and can be used effortlessly for extended gaming sessions even by a child, which is due to smart weight distribution. That being said it feels like a Fisher Price toy, and the battery life is disappointing lasting only a few hours. But the major concern is functionality, and the good news is that it works just like you‘d expect.
One thing’s for sure, second screen gameplay should be standardized going forward with every console. The ability to use a single TV for multiple uses is truly an amazing gift for those in shared living spaces. Being able to play Wii U, and watch whatever you want on the actual TV is a godsend for kids sharing rooms who both have to occupy the same TV or a family all wanting to use the living room theatre experience. It’s unlikely to be of any use for myself in my home, but I can see the benefit for families. The stream from TV to tablet controller is near 1:1, with such an insignificant amount of lag that you literally have to slow down the image to less than 5% of it’s actual speed to see the most minute amount of lag. To put it simple Second Screen works best on Wii U.
Nintendo’s efforts of making a splash into Online gaming, have not improved much if at all. There are a few games that feature online modes such as Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and the usual suspects. The communities for these games are extremely small compared to the PS3 and 360 which is understandable considering the Wii U is only a year old and has a much smaller install base, but it’s to the point where I played multiple matches of Black Ops 2 and literally ran into the same group of people multiple times with Need for Speed showing similar results. It just goes to show that Nintendo, Wii U, and their audience simply don’t share the mindset of making online gaming a huge focus like their rivals. It’s even more apparent by developers dropping online multiplayer modes from Wii U versions of their games all together. Nintendo themselves seem to be pushing local co-op with friends on games like New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Luigi U, and Super Mario World 3D, and while it’s best to play with your real friends the facts are you can’t always be with them, so if there was any focus on online gaming online co-op should have been it.
There is one thing I will say about the online community. It’s SIGNIFICANTLY more pleasant to play with Nintendo owners then it is on Xbox 360, or even PSN. The groups of random people I played with were competitive yet friendly in which is a rare feat on XBL and PSN. And that same friendliness transferred over the Nintendo Message Forums Miiverse. Miiverse is a brilliant idea and allows fans to jump into forums of their favorite Nintendo game or service and be among their fellow fans. It’s really a great idea, and if there’s anything to copy from Nintendo it’s definitely Miiverse. Overall online gaming isn’t a big push for Nintendo, but the fact that it’s free and having Miiverse almost makes up for it…ALMOST.
But there is no making up for a lack of services and expected features for what is supposed to be a next-gen console. The Wii U still doesn’t play DVD’s (or Blu Ray for that matter), it has no video player, and no music player. This is literally a game console that lets you download a few entertainment apps. There’s nothing wrong with putting gaming first, but come on Nintendo this is 2013, somethings just need to be there. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 laid out a template for what all should be included in a console, and Nintendo just doesn’t seem to get it or frankly don’t care. Basic apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are there, but it’s just not up to par with the PS3 and 360 or even the XBO and PS4 at this point.
Overall the Wii U is a solid console, not good, solid. Its overall design is evidence that Nintendo really needs to work on upgrading their COMPANY mindset before they can ever make a great console again. The ideas that went into the Wii U are great, but the lack of total execution on things that should be standard in a console. The Wii U seems to be some crazy mix of their 6th-gen + 7th-gen + 8th-gen consoles which sounds cool, but ends up being a mixed pot of unique highs, and frustrating lows. The constant loading even after the update is a big an annoyance, and the lack of simplicity in getting online and finding friends is a borderline death sentence for many PS3 and 360 gamers.
As a standalone platform, the Wii U offers a satisfying experience. Nintendo’s first party is starting to flex their muscle, and while they may not be the best versions out there 3rd party games are a bit more common than on previous Nintendo consoles. The gamepad is a nice addition, and the Wii U offers a familiar experience and interface to the original Wii. Those gamers moving for the Wii to the Wii U will love the natural evolution of the console, and especially love seeing all their games in HD backed by better hardware.
That being said for every positive for the Wii U there is a negative, and it’s biggest negative is that there is competition out there, and the Wii U can’t keep pace with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on services and hardware. At the same time the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, offer a hard sell for the Wii U by having a much larger libraries (thanks to 7+ years on the market), a lower asking price, better online connectivity, more multimedia capabilities, free PS+ and XBL games for gold with a subscription, cloud storage, downloading your profile to other consoles, and more all at the cost of slightly lower performance. Basically the Wii U is still outperformed in many areas by more than 7-year-old hardware, which is not a good look. Add to that list the new features the PS4 and XBO bring like play as you download, remote download, voice commands, and streaming, and the Wii U begins to like archaic.
I’m hopeful that the Wii U of today will evolve into a better console in the coming years, especially since most of the features it’s missing can be implemented in future hardware revisions and software updates. But as of now it’s just not where it needs to be with it’s library of games, it’s online and multimedia, its OS and loading times, and most importantly perceived value. Nintendo wants their platforms to be whimsical masterpieces, but they missed the mark with the Wii U thus far. But, anyone in the market for a Wii U should not let the poor sales and badmouthing sway you out of buying the console. The Wii U offers a fun and satisfying experience for gamers of all ages with “Mature Franchises” finally giving the console a bit of adulthood Nintendo desperately needed. My advice would be to wait just a little while longer (holiday 2014) for a potential price drop down to $199 - $249, the huge wave of games scheduled for 2014 (Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Bayonetta 2, Watch Dogs, and “X: Xeno”), and hopefully a system update that brings new feature and reduced load times.
Final Score: 7.6 / 10
Super Mario 3D World
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Need for Speed: Most Wanted