Wii U: Launch Day Impressions



Filed under : Consoles, Gadgets, Nintendo

mgwii

As someone fortunate enough to be enjoying my Wii U on launch day, I feel it is my responsibility to tender my experience here for my fellow Review Lagooners since I know a lot of people are taking a “wait and see” approach to Nintendo’s new console.

Therefore, I’ll take a very quick look at the entire system and give you some initial feedback – hopefully enough that will help the “swing gamers” to decide whether they want to track one down before the holidays hit (believe me, these things will be NOWHERE to be found in a couple of days) or wait until the crazy shopping season is over.

Note: Due to the time sensitive nature of getting a Wii U before the holidays, this article doesn’t yet have assets and may contain editing mistakes.  It will clean up over time.  Thank you.  Look for updates in a blue color.

This article will be looking at the Deluxe Edition – black with 32GB of internal storage; comes with premium charging stand, Wii U stand legs, NintendoLand and a 10% loyalty bonus program for online purchases in the eShop.

We’ll be looking at the system with the included GamePad controller and standard Wii controllers; the ProPad will not be considered.

Opening the Box

You’ve seen a hundred videos of this already.  In the box is: Wii U system and it’s power brick, Gamepad controller, charging stand for the controller along with ITS power brick, two little feet stands for the Wii U, a sensor bar, NintendoLand (in an ACTUAL retail case – no cardboard sleeve this time), a real-live HDMI cable (looks like a 6 footer) and a package of documentation that none of you will actually open and read.

Lots of plastic to peel off, lots of tie wraps to undo.  Well packaged system.

First Impressions (Set Up)

Setting this thing up was a breeze (once I carved a niche in my entertainment center).  The unit is longer than the Wii, so you might have to compensate for that.  The stand with GamePad has a small footprint, but takes up a lot of vertical space, requiring me to move stuff around to put it in a safe place.  The GamePad came precharged a little, so I was able to do a power up test without having to charge the thing.

The controller feels very sturdy in the stand as it charges – no clicking in or out – making the unit easy to use, but still safe.  Well done there.

While the Wii U can use the same sensor bar as the Wii, I replaced mine with the new one.

I flipped open the little door on the front of the Wii U – and extra thanks to Nintendo for putting USBs on the FRONT of the unit; makes Skylanders Giants a lot easier 🙂

I noticed, too, that while there are legs to “stand it up” vertically, the labeling and such on the face leans toward horizontal placement.  I’m not one to buck the system – so I installed it “laying down” horizontally.

I also noticed the fan slots this time around – meaning we’re probably going to have some noise coming out of the thing.

First Impressions (Power Up)

The Wii U is very elegant.  You can see Nintendo worked hard to drag their SD asses into the 20th century with clean, HD menus and screens.  Using a clever combination of TV and GamePad – it will take you intelligently through the initial setup process – including setting up your TV to work with the GamePad’s remote functions.

Let me tell you something.  I own a LOT of remote controls.  I own a lot of UNIVERSAL and “smart” remotes.  NEVER have any of them been so easy to set up and just plain WORK.  They asked me to type the first letter of my TV’s manufacturer (I have a couple year old LG) – and they brought up a list – of which LG was on the first screen without scrolling (Nintendo has a good UI team).  I pointed the GamePad  (yes, of course it is IR) toward the TV and hit the test button and POOF – the TV worked! Power and input, channel changing … VERY NICE and far more useful than you would think – if nothing else but to allow you to change the input on the TV to the Wii U from the couch.

Everything oozes that Nintendo quality you’ve grown accustomed to.

I’ve been asked about noise; both that of the newly added fans and the drive itself while reading discs.  I can honestly say, I can’t tell when the unit is on or off based on sound.  And that’s good.

First Impressions (Getting Around)

As mentioned in numerous articles, there is a day one update needed for the system.  As you can imagine, the slamming of the server made it next to impossible to get updated right away.  Even when you could stay connected, it was taking anywhere from one to six (!) hours to get the update.

Nintendo should have beefed up the WOPR to send out that update – or even FedEx’ed a box of update DVDs to major retailers before launch day.

It has been reported that the update is a whopping 1GB in size!

The first thing to report here is – yeah, it’s a bit slow getting around the Wii U’s operating system.  The reports of 10 seconds “between features” is true.  Now, this could be launch day blues or some poor optimization on Nintendo’s part – all of which can be fixed with a patch.  But for now, expect to wait longer than you would expect to get around.

Nintendo has acknowledged the load times and are looking for ways to improve it.

Personally?  I think it has a lot to do with server load currently but time will tell.  Even if it doesn’t get any better?  I’m ok with it.  At least the UI isn’t covered in ads 🙂

The marriage of UI between the TV and GamePad is VERY WELL thought out and executed as we’ll talk about shortly.

I found the disc loading mechanism to be remarkably smooth.  There is something about it that is … different than other slot loaders.  Not sure what it is…

The GamePad (Overview)

You all have seen pictures and know the specs.  Let’s talk instead about how the GamePad integrates into the experience of using the Wii U.

Oddly enough, most things you’ll do on the Wii U (outside of gaming) are GamePad-centric.  In fact, it is totally possible to sit on your couch with the TV off, and do a considerable amount with just the GamePad.

Upon a normal power up, you’ll see all the users registered on your system (not Miis, but users) and you can password protect yours (even bypass this screen altogether and use a default user) to keep Little Johnny from screwing up your profile.  Everything is isolated; game saves, Friends, etc.  It’s a lot like Windows; when you “login” with your user?  The Wii U is “yours”.

Next you’ll get the Wii U “channel screen” on the GamePad, much like the old Wii’s TV display; only a LOT cleaner.  On the TV, you’ll see the Plaza (more on that in a minute).

You can swap the menu and Plaza between screens with a single button press.

From the Wii U Channel menu, you can “launch” channels (apps/games) much like you did on the old Wii.  Initially, you’ll have things like the Health and Warning screen, settings, a Daily Log, the Wii Channel (used to play old Wii games), yourTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Watch as well as anything you have purchased from the eShop.

Along the bottom (not as intuitive) are buttons for Miiverse, eShop, the Internet Browser, TVii and Notifications.  Unfortunately, while the channels allow you to click once to see what it is, then click a second time to launch – these immediately launch the app; if you’re wrong in your selection, you’re a good 20 seconds getting back to the Wii U menu.

What you will have to get used to is the fact that the GamePad has it’s own “menu”; gleaned from hitting the HOME button on the bottom of the controller.  Here is where a lot of magic happens.

From the GamePad Home menu, you access your Friends list, can launch the browser (useful for finding that hint or walkthrough), hit the Miiverse or eShop or TVii – and this is also where you will find out how your background downloads are doing.  This screen also shows connected controllers, battery life and more.  It is available pretty much ANY time you want – even during game play.

The GamePad (Hardware Considerations)

I’ve had a couple of questions surrounding the GamePad.

First – the screen.  Yes, the touch screen is very sensitive despite being resistant vice capacitive.  Even with the GameStop “write and protect” screen protector on (I have kids).

I haven’t been able to test how long it lasts on a single charge.  Reports are 3-5 hours which is probably about right. The good news is that MANY games (more in a bit) allow you to play with just Wii controllers (or a ProController) so that you could drop the GamePad on the charger for awhile.

There is always the option of plugging the GamePad into power too and using it “tethered” so to speak, but you’re going to have to cannibalize the brick from the charger to do that.  There is no “usb” or over the counter solution I’ve seen yet to do this function.

As everyone else is reporting, the effective distance of the GamePad is COMPLETELY variable.  I was able to sit on my kid’s bed – I’d say WELL over 30 feet in line of sight – and only get an occasional frame drop; TOTALLY playable.

If I stepped into the bathroom (actually CLOSER by a good 10 feet; but has an internal wall between the GamePad and Wii U) performance got a lot worse.  Your mileage is going to vary based on a lot of variables.  My guess is that the Wii U menu system, Miiverse, etc. are going to be FINE at greater distances and with more obstructions – than say New Super Mario Bros. U.

The GamePad is light enough for regular use – but for LONG TIME gaming, you’re going to want to use it on the lap or at least with your arms propped up on something.  It’s perfect to lay on the couch with and have sitting on your chest.  All things considered?  It is far lighter than you think it is.

The controls are laid out a bit odd for anyone coming from say an Xbox or PS3 controller.  However, I’ll cover more about this in the Call of Duty Black Ops 2 write up below.

I was able to use a cell phone headset with the GamePad, but the mic always seemed “open” – and others on the game sounded the same way.  Hopefully a real headset will solve that. 

Friend Codes

Yes, they are really gone.  You create a Nintendo Network ID (which is actually a name YOU select – not some 16 digit number) and it can be tied to your Club Nintendo account.

You can add people you’ve recently played online with or type in a name yourself of a friend you want to register.  Until you’re approved by the other user, you are “provisionally” friends.

Hidden DEEP in the system is a way of seeing “who added you” that  you haven’t approved yet.  It is one of the more poor choices Nintendo has made in this – but again – this is fixable with a software update.  We’ll tell you were to find this later.

If you were worried, like me – that there was going to be some secret ax that fell about Friend codes at the zero hour – relax.  It is as it should be.  We’ll talk more about this later.

Playing Old Wii Games

As promised, old Wii games will indeed work on the Wii U with a bunch of caveats (and dare I say shortcomings) that seem puzzling.

First off, you have to essentially launch the “old Wii” from the Wii U menu.  Would have been nice to have it like the old Apple IIgs or Commodore 128 days where you just held down a button while booting and had the unit just power up to the “Old Wii” channel.

What you end up with is literally a Wii.  Just like they took the insides of an old Wii and threw them in the box.  You gain ZERO advantage by playing Wii games on the Wii U.  You cannot play them on the Gamepad.  You cannot use the new ProController to play them.  They are not upscaled or “smoothed” like other console’s backward compatibility.

There are many videos circulating about “upscaled” Wii games on Wii U.  But if you look at the videos yourself, I think  you’ll agree there is nothing going on here other than a better cable.

You CAN take heart in the fact that you’re playing these old games for the first time via HDMI – which oddly enough – DOES make some improvements.  Colors appear just a bit richer.  Some of the muddiness of composite cables is gone.  The sound seems better.  Of course, this could all just be wishful thinking on my part, but others have confirmed that putting the games up side by side definitely reveal an improvement; even if subtle.

Using the Built-In Apps

As you probably know, several items on the menu simply don’t work yet; Amazon, youTube, Hulu and TVii being the big ones.  So, let’s take a look at what DOES work.

Before getting into Nintendo apps, let’s look at one that is hot on everyone’s lips … Netflix.

NetFlix

You’ll be pleased to know that Netflix on Wii U is excellent.  The UI is crisp, clean and easy to use.  Easily the best Netflix implementation on a console yet.  Looks gorgeous in HD, too.  Even the movie covers look to pop more.  Included is NetFlix Kids recently introduced and you can watch your shows on the TV or the GamePad.  The app takes a bit to load – I’m not going to lie – but once it, everything zooms right along.

If I had any complaints (and I’ve spoken with others that agree) it would seem the gamma settings on the picture are a bit high – give it an almost over-bright look.  Some material looks worse than others – and oddly enough – some stuff looks better on the TV and others look better on the GamePad.  Still, this is a minor nitpick and most people probably wouldn’t notice – or even care if they did.

If Netflix is a big selling point to you?  This delivers.

MiiVerse

At the time of writing, MiiVerse was rather in a crippled state.  MiiVerse promises connectivity with friends and communities (on a per game basis), letting you exchange text and comments – sometimes right from the game itself as you play it.

You can also launch Wii Chat with one of your friends.  I got to try this out – and it works remarkably well.  It’s one on one (no Google Hangout replacement here) and uses the camera on the front of the GamePad.  You see your own video as well as the person you’re chatting with – and you see it on both screens.  You can change around who is shown primarily and secondary.  The quality is quite decent and we didn’t have any drop outs or connection issues – even during high bandwidth usage on our networks – or the apparent overloading of Nintendo’s servers which leads me to believe this is peer to peer technology at work.

This is also where you find out what friends you have “pending”; that is – they have added you, but you haven’t accepted them yet.

I’m afraid I cannot comment much more as so much wasn’t working on launch day.

The next day, Miiverse was in full swing.  Gone were the Nintendo reps and here were hundreds of Miis playing games and commenting.  You can put your friends in the Plaza, too.  This is done on the Friends screen, selecting their IDs and choosing Show In Mii Plaza.

Internet Browser

It’s a browser … not much to say.  It is speedy and renders quickly and clean – with zooming and such.  No, no Flash – but enough HTML5 to allow you to watch youTube videos.  I haven’t tried HTML5 gaming on it, but for what you need it for (like looking up cheats and walkthroughs) I think it will make everyone pretty happy.

The eShop

Nintendo isn’t kidding around with online commerce anymore.  While they showed great strides forward, the Wii U eShop is definitely two steps forward and no steps back.  While launch day showed the shop fairly barren (a few retail titles, no demos and a smattering of indie games) – I did make a purchase of Nano Assault NEO (see below) and the process was smooth and easy.

What WAS nice was that there were videos to be had in great numbers and they played back smooth and easy; making my decision on what to buy very easy.

Mii Creator

Not really much new here.  Same sort of deal as before.  If you’ve done it on the Wii and more recently on the 3DS?  You’re right at home  here.  Start with a blank, a look-alike or your own picture and build your on-screen persona.  You can also import from the Wii and 3DS if you like.

The Plaza

Unfortunately, like MiiVerse, the Plaza didn’t have much to offer up.  The major “channels” all have “stations” in the Plaza where you can see other people involved in it (preferably your friends). It’s too bad that it was filled with robot Nintendo Miis giving you hints about the Wii U interface – and NOT loaded with your friends.  Trying to add your friends to the Plaza resulted in various communication errors; probably as a result of the exploit that someone found only a few hours after going on line.

Once it is up and working?  It’s going to be fun to hang out.

As mentioned above – it is up and working as advertised.

Friends

The friends manager is straight forward; allowing you to add friends from recently played games or entering your friends by their Nintendo Network ID (I’m “Darkuni”, btw).  There is nothing extraordinary here; it gets the job done as it should.

Pending friends ARE popped up when you go into Friends – so you can take action.  Overall, it feels a lot more like “friends” than any Nintendo system before.

That about wraps up the built-in apps.  Let’s move on to games.

The Games

For a launch day, there was a considerable amount of interesting software available; some rehash releases of older console games – some brand new IPs and of course venerable “expected” first party titles like New Super Mario Bros. U.  I managed to get my hands on a number of titles – some preordered, some I snagged on Toys ‘R Us’ deal of Buy 1 Get 1 40% off.

NintendoLand

This title has been talked about to death, but I’ll give you my impressions.  Think of this as a super charged version of Wii Play, Wii Motion – all rolled into one.  Twelve mini games are available after you take the tutorial, and the more you play, the more stuff unlocks within the “carnival” atmosphere of the title.

This title comes as a pack in with the deluxe model; $60 for those getting the cheaper white basic unit.  Fuzzy math shows that if you want NintendoLand, you’re getting a cost break plus TONS of extras if you go with the +$50 premium bundle.

My six year old son and I took a couple of games for a spin; the Ninja game and the Mario Chase game.  The Ninja game was a single player experience (the Moose out front should have told you) – and quite fun in its own right; being a lot like a Link Crossbow Training type scenario.  Score attack title for sure.

The Mario Chase game is really the first taste of Nintendo’s new buzz phrase; “Asymmetric Game Play”.  This game has you playing tag; one person on the GamePad as the runner – and the other on the big screen as the chaser.  To help out, two Yoshi carts run around trying to find you too – and if they spot you, they will radio back hints as to what colored “zone” the runner is in.  It is great fun – with new levels bringing more fun (like mud – which not only slows you down, but leaves tell-tale tracks).

The more you play in NintendoLand, the more stuff shows up.  You earn coins for playing, letting you spend it on prizes – stuff that improves the look and pleasure of your park like a tour train, mini-attractions, etc.

It really is a whole world to explore – and while $60 is a bit spendy (it’s a pack in folks, keep an eye on the used game shelves and you’ll get it for a good price before the year is out) there is a LOT to see and do.

If I had any complaints it would be the weird “virtual look” system (requiring a one time calibration when entering the park; just set the controller on a flat surface for a few seconds – yeah, just like Wii Motion+) doesn’t … quite .. work.  Still, it’s fairly optional to use and doesn’t get in the way of the fun.

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed

The big wildcard in my preorder line up was this Sega kart-like racer.  Early reviews mentioned some frame drops and some issues – but for $39.99 (one of the cheapest launch day games) it seemed like it would be a worthy risk; plus even if the issued bothered me – my six year old son would STILL love it.

Turns out to be one of my favorite launch titles.  Fully playable on the GamePad, no TV is required – and you can play local multiplayer with one on the GamePad and one on the TV.  Throw in online play?  Even with a couple of issues, it’s still a great buy.

Impressive, morphing tracks  … attention to detail … fast action and a cast of characters really make this worth playing.  It is true there is an occasional hit on the framerate but no deal breakers.  Time will tell if there are any other glitches – but remember; we have a patch system now – so if anything ugly arises, it should get swatted.

New Super Mario Bros. U

Did you play this on the Wii?  The 3DS?  Then  you’ve played this core game.  But what you haven’t played is the special Asymmetrical “boost” mode for multiple players.  In this mode, one player watches the fun on the GamePad while up to four people play the game with Wii controllers.

The passive player with the GamePad can “assist” the players in various ways; mostly with the well-publicized “platforms”  you can tap and add to the screen in real time; helping the boys get to high, inaccessible places.

What you don’t see on most of the ads is the fact that the “boost” player can also STUN enemies by tapping them and uncover “hidden” powerups like moons and acorns as well as special touch stars.  The platforms  you put out also work with the environment; blocking enemies, redirecting koopa shells and more.  It let’s someone “play” with others without actually being a platform junkie but more about solving issues.  Plus, you can save the boys from a mis-calculated jump by dropping a platform during their death fall.  It’s TONS more fun than it sounds (or looks) and it really helps drive home the concept of Asymmetrical Gameplay that Nintendo is looking for.

Call of Duty Black Ops 2

I wish I had more to report on this – but I’ve only played the solo campaign for a couple of missions – but what I see impresses the hell out of me.  If you look around, you’ll find direct comparison videos that show BO2 for the Wii U as the best looking version of the game – and they aren’t kidding.

Those that are worried about migrating from an Xbox or PS controller to the Wii U’s GamePad (sure, you can use a ProController, but part of what makes this great is what you can do with the touch screen), don’t worry.  Yes, it will indeed take you some time to get up to speed with the control changes, but you’ll be killing the enemy like a champ in under an hour.

Easily a recommended purchase and THE way I’m playing COD this generation.

I put a good four hours into this game last night.  I’m finally feeling comfortable completely with the controller and I’m back to my normal “even” kill/death ratio.  I also had a chance to try the game proper on the GamePad while sitting on the couch.  Even though the controls are the same, and it’s really fun – you’ll find yourself missing the big screen using your GamePad to call out kill strikes and change classes during the match.

Skylanders Giants

Did you play the first one?  Then you  know exactly what to expect.  It’s more of the same – but this time playable on the GamePad – sans TV (if you like; solo play).  You have to buy a new Portal/starter pack (there are deals abound if you look for them) and get ready to shell out even more for the figures – but if you love Skylanders?  Here it is in GLORIOUS HD – without a doubt competing or exceeding the 360/PS3 versions.  If you’re not playing on the GamePad, your stats and missions appear on the touch screen – telling you what you got and what you’re still missing.

No, the NFC in the GamePad is not used at all.  Apparently it was a bit too late in the dev cycle to get that in … besides, the portal would be a lot easier despite being “yet another peripheral”.

Nano Assault NEO

Did you like Super Stardust on the PS3?  Well, you’ll love this twin stick shooter.  For only $10 (only in the eShop) you can own this action adventure.  Simply gorgeous and FULLY playable on the GamePad (Nintendo is working on phasing out your TV; at least making it optional).

Zombie U, Batman Arkham Asylum Armored Edition

Unfortunately I haven’t had time to play either one of these supposedly excellent games.  I’ll fill in the blanks later when I have.

 Summary

The Wii U is a solid entry by Nintendo – finally delivering on some of the things people hated about the original Wii.  Even first generation games like COD BO2 are (if only marginally) better than the current generation stuff and it’s just going to get better.  Good online (so far; if you discount the slow update servers) support, leaderboards (Nano Assault even had’em), a new “TV is optional” attitude – along with a great new way to think about and play games with your local family and friends.
Are there some launch day blues?  Absolutely.  But at the same time, if this review has swung you toward the Dark Side (maybe you can only get it in White; that’s ok) – you will want to pounce on one before the holiday lunacy makes these things $600 on eBay.  Your kids are going to start hearing about it at school and Santa is on backorder with these things.
Can the Wii U deliver on BOTH fronts?  Providing for both “the hardcore” and “the casual” alike?  No doubt in my mind, whatsoever.  I believe the TVii is going to actually be this machine’s “Wii Sports” – driving the non-game players to the console for what is promised to be near-ubiquitous digital delivery of content (we only have to wait for December to find out).  The Asymmetrical Gameplay will hook families together who are willing to give it a chance.  The insane graphics and (so far) third party support will keep the local hardcore systems in line.
Those of you embarrassed to admit to your friends that you liked the Wii?  You are vindicated; you will NOT be ashamed anymore.  It you moved away from Nintendo because of the kid friendly nature of the IPs?  Welcome back to Nintendo.  You can get your first party Mario fix while cutting heads off in Ninja Gaiden.
If you’re waiting for a price drop, you might want to reconsider.  My guess is that we won’t see one until roughly summer 2013 (there won’t be an E3 announcement, I’m guessing) and general purchase of the system is going to be a pain until after the holidays.
If you’re going to do it – pull the trigger on the Deluxe Model.  The NintendoLand (you WILL want it) at $60 and the charging stand (you WILL want this, too) at $20 along with the loyalty 10% back for online purchases makes the extra $50 completely palatable – and that isn’t even taking into consideration the double internal memory.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

1 comment to “Wii U: Launch Day Impressions”

  1. gus says:

    your awesome shane, thanks for this.

Leave a reply


You must be logged in to post a comment.