Monday, 3 December 2012

Nintendo Wii U

Can you believe it’s been nearly 6 years since the release of the Nintendo Wii? Since December 2006 we have seen the iconic gaming company re-invent how video games can be viewed and played. With motion sensing and 3D all elements expertly intertwined into gaming by Nintendo, what more could they possibly offer? The answer is Wii U. Whilst this new console doesn’t pack powerful processing punch one might expect from the ‘next generation’ of gaming, it does once again, provide a unique gaming experience. Is this new way of playing in the form of the intriguing Wii U GamePad enough to once again change how we perceive games? Read on to find out!

The Wii U console provides a gaming experience that finally compares with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which is a good and bad thing. It’s good because now cross-platform games like Batman: Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed III and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will all make their way to Nintendo’s new hardware. The bad news is unfortunately due to a new form of development and certain limitations; these games still play better on Sony and Microsoft’s consoles. The bad news doesn’t stop there – if Nintendo’s next generation machine just peaks over their rivals’ current generation devices, imagine the comparison when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox ‘Next / 720’ surface, they’ll simply blow the Wii U out of the water in terms of pure hardware power.

Fortunately for Nintendo however, they have never been in the business of building powerhouse machines. Rather it is the unique experience of the Wii U GamePad and Nintendo exclusive titles that bring gamers to Nintendo’s consoles.

The GamePad offers some exciting ways to experience games, but these don’t come without a price. It feels nice on the touch, is light and despite some critics labeling it as ‘cheap’, I think it’s a sturdy device that warrants praise. A 6”2 inch screen joins the Pad making this large tablet / controller hybrid a force to be reckoned with. The GamePad provides you with the opportunity to play full console games on the small screen if your big screen needs to be used for something else – an excellent way to continue gaming even if the scenario doesn’t call for it. The GamePad’s wireless connectivity stretches to approximately 10 – 15 meters, so you can even go to another room and play with the GamePad if required. On top of this awesome functionality, a gyroscope, camera, touch-screen capabilities and a microphone gives the GamePad Nintendo DS like presence with all the gaming possibilities you’d expect from a Nintendo console.

Unfortunately these nifty ways to play games are currently still being phased in, with only a handful of launch titles using the GamePad in ways that one would describe as unique rather than gimmicky. This is perhaps due to developers’ limited time with the device and can be overlooked for now. With reviews coming soon that detail these mechanics two quick examples would be ZombiU using the GamePad brilliantly while games like New Super Mario Bros. U will allow you to play the full game on both TV and GamePad screens. It’s also worth noting that the GamePad streams data from the Wii U, so there’s no using this device without the console. The battery is also something of a worry – with the GamePad not able to charge from the console itself, one requires a 2.5-hour charge from a dock using a separate outlet for roughly 3.5 – 4 hours of usage. This is by no means terrible considering what the GamePad has to perform, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on the battery life because once it goes you won’t have a spare Pad lying around while the other reloads.

The Wii U console itself, resembling it’s older brother in looks, certainly has a lot more to offer underneath the exterior. For the tech junkies out there, the Wii U is packing an IBM Power multi-core processor, an AMD Radeon HD GPU with 8GB or 32GB or storage, which can be expanded by using SD cards of external hard drives. This isn’t what Nintendo are trying to impress you with however, the new interface and attention to media tools makes the Wii U a rival to Sony and Microsoft’s multimedia consoles.

The Wii U’s interface resembles that of the Wii, with channels available to view either on your TV or GamePad. The brilliant new addition of Miiverse however, is what makes the WiiU stand out. Miiverse is your central hub for all of the Wii U’s new features. Here you will find that each game has its own page similar to that of a Facebook page, where players all over the world can get together and talk about that game. Players can write comments, hints, tips or just general chit-chat about the games they are currently playing. This mechanic can be filtered to show just what your friends are saying, or you can go by region or get everyone in on the act. Speaking of friends, Friend’s Codes are no more! The Wii U allows you to have up to 100 friends via a friend request system and it’s honestly about time. The Wii U also has a Wii mode that essentially turns your machine into a Wii, allowing you to play all your back catalogue titles.

Aesthetically these menus are a joy to look at and go through, unfortunately however the Wii U suffers from pretty horrible loading times. Accessing the Wii U menu without any exaggeration takes roughly 20 seconds and this happens each and every time the system loads. Loading issues plague the machine all over and it’s in these moments you feel how slow the machine really is. Issues persist to the Wii U’s online functionality that while in principle looks great, still suffers from frustrating navigation issues, especially in the eShop. Bizarrely Friend Requests don’t actually pop up, there’s no dedicated voice-chat in place and there’s no headset jack on the pro-controller – all of which beg the question “how are core gamers going to play their core online games?”

Ultimately there are niggling issues that the Wii U will have to overcome but that’s exactly what they are niggles. The only key issue here is the hardware’s power. The Wii U will 100% struggle against next year’s inevitable competition. If power isn’t what sells a game console for you, then it’s absolutely worth taking an interest in the Wii U because let’s be honest, it’s Nintendo’s magical games that make or break their machines, not the console itself. If Nintendo release a wonderful Zelda, Mario Kart, Super Mario and perhaps something like a new IP or a re-imagining of a current one (Free-Roaming Pokemon Adventure anyone?!) then the Wii U will succeed. Unfortunately this time round inevitable third-party support is absolutely required on top of Nintendo’s magic. If we’ve learned anything from gaming history is that consoles have a habit of dying out if the third party support isn’t there. Will developers take a liking to the Wii U? Only time will tell. Like a young child teething, the Wii U will have plenty of time to mature but needs both parents, Nintendo and the third-party developer to hold its hand while it learns to stand tall.

8.0 | The Hardware |
The Wii U as a console is certainly a step in the right direction from Nintendo. It’s clear that the core gamer is once again important and this can be seen with the cross-platform titles coming to Nintendo’s powered up Wii. The GamePad is absolutely the highlight here and despite some battery issues, is a fantastic device that has the potential to offer gaming experiences unlike no other. There are clear deficiencies however, with long loading times and an upcoming disadvantage to what will undoubtedly be a very strong pair of consoles from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo will have to rely on their unique way of gaming and exclusive Nintendo titles to win this battle.

7.0 | The Software |
The Wii U provides some pretty menus and finally revamps their online infrastructure for the better. On release unfortunately, it’s not good enough. Loading issues, convoluted problems across the entire system and an immediate update that’s required before you can play a single game really leaves little room for praise when you pull it out of the box. Once it’s up and running and in full flow however, the system grows on you and the updates will eventually streamline this experience. 

8.0 | The Games |
The launch line up isn’t fantastic but does have some big titles available. ZombiU in particular is the most impressive of the bunch. Providing an old school survival horror feel and truly using the GamePad in unique and interesting ways, this is the one you must grab on launch day. On top of that NintendoLand is a lot of fun, New Super Mario Bros. U while not unique, is vibrant and entertaining and the cross-platform titles like Ninja Gaiden and Batman: Arkham City show off that the Wii U is here to do battle.

7.5 | The Verdict |

Just like with any launch, there are expected issues. That being said, apart from the required update, the console is for the most part, very impressive. It’s a lot of fun to get your hands on the GamePad and providing developers take a liking to Nintendo’s new device, we could see some very interesting and fun games on this console. A few teething issues are apparent, but nothing that’s broken or unfixable via updates. The Wii U should definitely be on your radar this Christmas period.

Igor Kharin.

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