The Wii U’s crowning feature is—not the HD—but the gamepad. No other system has such a feature like Nintendo. The 6.2 inch touch-screen includes motion sensitivity, a camera, stereo speakers, and two clickable analog sticks. The gamepad knows when you have it pointed at the screen or when it’s parallel to the floor. This comes in handy for games like in Wii Fit U where you use the controller like it’s a tray of food—you must balance the items on the screen (and TV) by the way you hold it. It’s also useful for asymmetrical gaming. In Nintendo Land, one player has an individualized experience on the gamepad while the other players play on the TV.
One great feature is that the system can play all the old Wii titles. You can even play them through the gamepad (used only as a screen). The gamepad has a Wii remote bar built into is to you can even point at the gamepad, just as if it were your TV screen.
For single players, the gamepad can often be used for off-TV gaming. This means that you can continue the game even when others want to watch TV. However, it must stay within range of the system. Depending on how thick the walls are in your house, you may be able to play in a different room.
But what if you don’t like the gamepad? Owners can buy a special Pro-controller designed with core gamers in mind. Its button interface is just like the gamepad but without the screen. However, games have to support this controller. The Wii U also uses the old Wiimotes from the previous console—a little too much if you ask me, as I never did care for them. I like a solid controller and the gamepad helps bring that back.
The Wii U also supports several new things. MiiVerse is an interactive online community where you can post screenshots of games, ask questions, draw, and flaunt achievements. One app, called Art Academy: Sketchpad, allows users to create masterpieces that resemble just about any type of medium: chalk, pencil, paint, etc. Nintendo TVii uses a feature called TV Tag, where you can follow along with a show and comment with other users. The eShop allows users to download games and includes the Virtual Console, a place where users can buy NES and SNES titles. Nintendo has such a great back-catalogue of games it’s odd that this feature hasn’t been focused on more. It could easily attract buyers if it became a main selling point.
Although the system cannot play DVDs or blu-rays, it’s really not necessary as most homeowners can access that through other devices. The system does include the usual for video applications: Youtube, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus. Using the internet through the gamepad is really easy and enjoyable.
Setup and User Interface
The Wii U is easy to set up right out of the box. Back in 2013, it required a long download upon starting the machine for the first time. I suspect this is now already completed in systems today. Turning on the system each time is a little slower than expected. Nintendo has improved the start-up and promise to make a quick start in the summer of 2014. This will allow users to skip the main menu and go directly to their favorite apps and games.
The menu sports a communal area of Miis congregating around game titles. Messages from them pop up and you can interact with them through MiiVerse if you like. The apps are all located on the gamepad but can be toggled up to the TV if you’d rather use the Wiimote to point at them. Otherwise, using the touch screen to navigate through games and apps is easy and intuitive.
The Wii U has been criticized in the past for not being “next gen” enough. It’s true that the power seems to be lacking a bit in the performance department and that might be in part why 3rd party companies have snubbed the system. But the games that I have seen all run excellently on the system—I really couldn’t ask for more. At times the gamepad does get confused and loses signal but usually it’s when the battery is too low. Probably what’s the most amazing is that the gamepad is in sync with the TV. At times you can notice a slight lag on the gamepad but it’s usually not there.
Overall, this is a great system for old and new alike. It brought me back after taking a break during the Wii years—I just didn’t like it. But the Wii U offers so much uniqueness and clever games that it shouldn’t be forgotten. You just have to try it out.