Disclosure: My impressions of the Wii U are entirely based on my own user experience as a long-time gamer. I am working on a game that will come to the Wii U in 2013, but I have no insights on Nintendo’s Wii U plans or insider knowledge of its technical capabilities. And for the love of Pete if you’re a blogger, don’t pull quotes out of this as anything but “Craig Harris says…”
The Wii U is out in North America. My fears of not being able to secure a launch system in the first few weeks – justified after the 360 and original Wii launches of 2006 – were squashed with painless online-to-store pre-order on Best Buy.
My knee-jerk first impressions of Wii U: I’m a huge fan of this system’s potential. We’ll just have to wade through the launch jitters to get there.
It’s pretty clear to me that the Wii U hardware a hugely capable piece of kit. Yep, it’s an HD system, and yep, New Super Mario Bros. U looks fab, even if the visuals play it conservatively. The other Nintendo release, the Mii-styled Nintendo Land, is sharp, colorful, smooth and fits decently as a “current generation” videogame release. Of course, it helps that Nintendo spent the last six years on the original Wii culling gamer’s expectations of what a Nintendo game SHOULD look like in the current generation…
But the Wii U’s capabilities go far beyond the HD visuals, and in fact, the HD-ness of the system is at the bottom of my list of WHY I think the Wii U is a great foundation to a videogame success.
I very much love the GamePad controller. This is the reason for the Wii U’s being and it’s worth all the credit Nintendo’s been giving it. Obviously to make things more affortable expected niceties had to be nixed, like a long-life battery and multi-touch sensitivity, but the fact that this thing is a flawless extension of the TV experience makes you quickly ignore the differences and limitations it has to the versatile iPad device.
I love the way the GamePad feels, the way it handles, and the way it seamlessly streams console quality visuals through the air from the comfort of my couch that sits 10 feet away from the television. This controller changes the dynamics of console gaming with its ability to give players the option of playing select titles right from the screen. Parents want to watch the news? Roomies want to play 360? Beam that Wii U game straight to the built-in screen. Besides a slight drop in HD resolution there’s seemingly no downside to playing this way.
The GamePad is the champion here. It changes the dynamics of the gaming environment Nintendo created with its last generation console: the Wii got gamers up off the couch – the Wii U plants them firmly back down.
That is not an exaggeration. The Wii U does everything it possibly can to keep you seated in the living room. With the GamePad, you play your game while everyone else watches television. You can switch games on the fly. You can buy your games from the eShop. You can surf the web. You can watch Netflix. You can communicate with your friends. And you can do all without getting up off your ass.
There’s also the additional element of innovative two-screen gaming, but when people get a feel for playing for their console game on the controller, I’ve a feeling developers will lighten up their focus on the second screen in favor of giving gamers a more convenient and social way of playing their console.
In fact, that might be the real hook in third-party support. Where multi-console gamers may buy into a Ubisoft game because of their Trophy collection on PlayStation 3, or the multiplayer mob on Xbox 360, people may buy into the Wii U version simply because they can play from the GamePad. It’s a unique feature that might sell people on the Nintendo version over the other two.
As innovative and evolutionary as the controller is, Wii U is not just about the GamePad. This is the first real “social” gaming system that brings Facebook and Twitter habits to console gaming. The system lacks the Achievement and Trophy systems of the 360 and PS3, but its Miiverse integration enables that same sense of community. Years ago I wrote an IGN article that talked about how the Wii needed an Achievement system, but I need to backtrack: it’s not Achievements that the Wii needed, it was the sense of isolation that a lack of Achievement system applied. When I play a Wii game it’s a lonely experience – the achievements and trophies let me broadcast my accomplishments to those that are close to me.
Miiverse isn’t an achievement system but it applies the same feel and social functionality. New Super Mario Bros. U enables players to doodle up pictures and type up messages after certain spectacular (or unspectacular) level play, and these will be broadcast both in-game as well as in the external Miiverse “wall”. It really is wonderfully Twitter-like in its consumption, and obviously its usefulness is only through which game playing friends decide to take the extra five minutes to write up a picture or sketch up a note.
I’m reluctant to say that the Wii is “awesome” or “brilliant” or a “must-have” because out of the gate we’ve got issues. The system’s OS – mirroring the functionality of the 3DS’ clean-and-underwhelming user interface – is a sloppy mess that navigates between apps with the sluggish pace of a dial-up America Online account.
This sluggishness is the system’s biggest flaw because it severely discourages the use of all that is great about Wii U. Miiverse is “OS-level” but it takes at least 20-30 seconds to jump to this message system from anywhere else on the system. The touch-screen sensitivity wildly fluctuates from the quick and snappy main menu to the horribly clunky Internet browser – while browsing is fast, navigating with a finger is slow and clunky with clicks that sometimes register and other times do not. The built-in video chat feature is entirely useless right now because I couldn’t imagine any online buddies wanting to go through all the hoops necessary – save game, quit game, jump to home menu, boot Video Chat, wait for connection — to simply answer a random call from a player in their Friends List.
The download and install speed of digital files also needs to be worked on. Nintendo is doing everything it can to encourage gamers to make the leap from retail purchases to digital ones, but the fact that the system is entirely unusable during the lengthy installation process (nearly a half hour after a full retail download) makes it tough to encourage the move.
Then there are the not-ready-for-Prime-Time omissions with You Tube, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Nintendo TVii failing to meet the Day One firmware update. The weird Nintendo Network ID system may remove awkward friend codes but it enables some other DRM issues that need to be worked on — I’m screwed if I want to buy a second Wii U for my house because my purchases AND my Nintendo Network ID are locked to my original console.
These are all criticisms that I’m sure will be ironed out over the course of the system’s first year, and when they are, we’ll have ourselves one hell of a game system. Just as it took the 3DS a good 6 months after launch to show its full potential, I truly believe that by E3 2013 we’ll get the full-fledged Wii U experience. And by that time I’m willing to bet the fence sitter launch hold-outs will finally “get” what Nintendo’s trying to accomplish.
Oh, and my Nintendo Network ID is CrankyRoo. I only have 100 slots in my Friends List, but you can follow me on Miiverse.