With Nintendo’s next home console, Wii U, the gaming giant is taking major steps to ensure that the Wii U is a device people interact with daily and a device that keeps up with today’s hot trends. While the Wii introduced video games to millions of people who never considered playing video games before, the Wii failed in making video games a regular part of life for most of these people. The Wii U’s new controller combined with the ability to play today’s powerful HD games and stream HD movies ensures that the Wii U will stay relevant to any kind of person that owns one. Back in January, I checked out the Wii U for the first time. You can read what I thought at the time here, but to sum it up, I was impressed, especially by the new controller.
Since then, the prototype controller I saw went through a serious makeover and was granted a name: the Wii U GamePad. Since I last saw the Wii U GamePad, it has gained analog sticks that click (replacing the circle pads), the TV button which can make the GamePad act as a TV remote, and NFC capabilities. In terms of games, what I played in January were only technology demos showcasing different things the new controller and system can do. Recently, I went to the Wii U Experience event in New York City where I went hands on with actual Wii U games as well as the near final version of the Wii U GamePad. I have been posting hands on impressions of various games I played throughout the week. But now, here are my updated thoughts as a whole about the Wii U itself.
The biggest change when it comes to Wii U is the Wii U GamePad. A 6.2 inch touch screen is slabbed right in the middle of this controller with the usual buttons surrounding the sides. The Wii U GamePad also has a built in accelerometer and gyroscope, making its motion controls as accurate as the Wii Remote with MotionPlus. While not HD, the screen on the GamePad looks insanely nice. Looking at similar images from both a TV and the GamePad, there was a clear difference with the TV’s HD visuals looking better, but the GamePad screen still looked great nonetheless. I wouldn’t mind playing games on the small screen at all, especially since the Wii U GamePad is extremely light and comfortable to hold. Games like Just Dance 4 and New Super Mario Bros. U will allow you to take your game off of the TV in order to play exclusively on the GamePad. This is nice when someone in your house wants to use the TV, but you don’t want to stop playing.
The screen on the GamePad goes beyond just beaming your games to the controller. Your games can interact with your TV and GamePad in different ways. For example, in Assassin’s Creed III, the GamePad’s screen will display a larger version of the map that you see in the bottom left corner of the screen. Additionally, the GamePad’s screen also includes your inventory, so choosing a new weapon to use is as simple as touching one. The Wii U GamePad will allow video games to become more accessible than ever before. And because all the clutter of maps and stats are displayed on the GamePad, games could become more cinematic. In a survival horror game I played called ZombiU, the GamePad was my bug out bag. All of my items were on the touch screen as well as a scanner I could use to get more information about the game environment. Additionally, if I needed to pick a lock in the game, all of it was done on the GamePad. As I was picking the lock though, I needed to keep checking up on the TV screen. If I kept looking at the GamePad, a zombie could have sneaked up behind me and could have killed me. This is something that cannot be done with a standard game controller. For more hardcore games, I think it is easy to see how the Wii U GamePad can help simplify the experience while providing more immersion than ever before.
Multiplayer games will also change thanks the Wii U GamePad. The GamePad allows for a type of play style called asymmetric gameplay. With asymmetric gameplay, two players could be playing the same game, but each player is having a different experience. The game that best demonstrated this was the Wii U’s flagship title, NintendoLand. NintendoLand looks to do for the Wii U GamePad as what Wii Sports did for the Wii Remote. In one of NintendoLand’s twelve attractions, four players using Wii Remotes were playing as Miis on the TV. Their goal was to hunt a ghost that only their flashlights could spot. A fifth player on the Wii U GamePad plays as the ghost the other four players are searching for. If the ghost sneaks up and knocks down all four players, the ghost wins. The four players playing on the TV must cooperate to defeat the fifth player who has the advantage of being able to see where the other four players are on the GamePad’s screen. The four players on the TV using Wii Remotes have a different goal than the fifth player on the GamePad. This type of experience is once again only possible on the Wii U thanks to the Wii U GamePad.
So what else does the Wii U offer? To start, the Wii U system and Wii U games are backwards compatible with plenty of existing Wii accessories such as the Wii Remote Plus, the Nunchuck attachment, and the Wii Balance Board. You can also play all of your existing Wii games on Wii U. The Wii U GamePad even has a sensor bar built in to the controller so you can use the GamePad’s screen to play your old Wii games if you so desire. The Wii U GamePad will not stream games or movies to the controller’s screen unless the Wii U system is on. This is a controller, not a portable system. The range of the Wii U GamePad for streaming should be long enough to reach any point in the average household. The Wii U also has:
- A built in camera and microphone on the Wii U GamePad for video chat and voice chat
- Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube available from day one
- A built in web browser
- An online store for buying new games, from cheaper download only titles to full fledged games that can be bought at a retail store
- An online social network called Miiverse which will start on Wii U, but will also be accessible on Nintendo 3DS, smartphones, and PCs starting in 2013
So after learning many of these facts and getting my hands on the Wii U, I have to say that I still feel the same way I have since last trying out the Wii U in January. Nintendo once again has proven that the power of a console does not matter. The gameplay experience is the most important factor of all. The Wii U GamePad is not a revolution, but more so an evolution of the game controller. The GamePad is clearly a step above standard controllers, possibly making the Wii U GamePad the best game controller ever created. Not only does it have all of the buttons one would want on a controller, but it also has a touch screen, accurate motion controls, NFC capabilities for scanning cards, toys, and more to enhance your game, a camera and microphone, and the TV button which makes your GamePad turn into a TV remote for your TV. Every other controller out there can only do two of these things at most. Not only that, but as I said, the Wii U GamePad felt incredibly comfortable in my hands, so much so I did not notice its weight while playing with it, even while holding it with only one hand. It also just feels really good in the hands.
You might not fully understand everything I was talking about, but there is a clear reason why. You cannot really understand how much of a game changer the Wii U is until you wrap your hands around the GamePad and give it a whirl. If I had never tried out the Wii U, I would have no idea how this can potentially change the way games are played. With Wii U, games will provide more immersion while being more accessible than ever before. With the possibility of asymmetric gameplay, the Wii U GamePad will offer new experiences that could not be done before without buying extra accessories. The Wii U will also appeal to people who love their Wii and want this new system with more processing power and HD games. And for these people, the Wii U will have one of the best launch lineups in video game history. During the first two or three months of the Wii U’s life, players will get NintendoLand, New Super Mario Bros. U, Wii Fit U, Pikmin 3, and more from Nintendo. Titles from third party companies such as ZombiU, Rayman Legends, and Assassin’s Creed III from Ubisoft, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition and Scribblenauts Unlimited from WB Games, Mass Effect 3 from EA Games, and more will make a big splash on Wii U with enhanced controls for the GamePad. There is a lot to look forward to.
I don’t think as many people will buy the Wii U as the Wii, but I have high hopes that the Wii U can introduce or reintroduce people to the great entertainment medium that is video games. The Wii U is a game changer and it is absolutely impossible to understand its potential without getting your hands on it. While Sony and Microsoft prepare their next generation consoles to release within the next two or three years, the Wii U will gain a very strong games library that will grow over six to seven years at minimum. Developers will no doubt keep supporting Wii U as the next generation consoles release. I encourage all of you to at least give the Wii U a try before doubting it. It really is something unique and incredible. Nintendo has yet to announce a release date or price, but the system will be out before the Holiday season at a fair price. Keep checking back for more news on Wii U as it arrives.
Also check out what I thought of the Wii U games I played while at the event: