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A Week With Wii U
The Wii U GamePad, while both light and comfortable, does feel a bit toy-like.

I’d like to preface this article by saying that I’m a lifelong fan of Nintendo, so I never really questioned whether I should/shouldn’t purchase a Wii U. But as someone who has owned all previous Nintendo systems, I thought it’d be interesting to share my thoughts on the system, its unique controller, and some of the launch titles.

Wii U hardware comes in two variants – the ‘Basic’ system includes a white console with 8GB of storage, and the ‘Premium’ system includes a black console with 32GB of storage, along with the Nintendo Land game and some extra accessories such as a charging dock for the GamePad, and a sensor bar (needed for playing Wii games, and also optional for some Wii U games). There’s also a third option, the ZombiU pack which includes the same contents as the Premium pack, but with Nintendo Land exchanged for ZombiU, and an added Pro Controller. I opted for the ZombiU pack, as that seemed the best value for money.

A Week With Wii U - n3rdabl3
Wii U vs Wii. A little bigger, but still fairly compact.

Hardware Impressions

The Wii U console is extremely compact, though not quite as impressively compact as Wii. But still, it dwarfs Xbox 360 and PS3. The console itself is heavy for its size, making it feel well built and not in any way cheap. The Wii U GamePad is another matter though, it’s both big and light, which sadly does make it feel a bit cheap and toy-like. Cheap look and feel aside, the GamePad is really comfortable to use, button and analog stick placement seems ideally suited for dual-stick First-Person Shooters. The GamePad’s screen isn’t HD, but is generally pretty decent quality.

The Pro Controller feels like it is of a much higher build quality than the GamePad. Okay, so yes it looks exactly like Nintendo have copied the design of the Xbox 360 controller, but it’s a really good copy – which, thanks to the analog stick placement feels far more comfortable.

A Week With Wii U - n3rdabl3
Separated at birth? Wii U Controller Pro side-by-side with an Xbox 360 Controller

Wii U System Software

It’s all about social media these days. When powering on, the Wii U displays a familiar grid of icons on the GamePad (launch game, settings, web browser, etc) while using the TV screen to display WaraWara Plaza, a hive of activity where Mii’s wander around discussing Wii U games (via speech bubbles and drawings). The discussions happening on WaraWara Plaza come directly from real Wii U users who have posted on Miiverse – Nintendo’s new social network.

Speaking of Miiverse, it’s pretty cool. Like a mix of Facebook, Twitter, and Xbox Live, you can add friends (who you can message, or play games online with), but you can also add followers – people who you may not know, but are interested in, such developers of a particular game. A few members of the New Super Mario Bros U development team are on Miiverse, which I think is pretty awesome.

All consoles need a marketplace/app store. And Wii U includes Nintendo eShop. eShop’s design is a HUGE improvement over the Nintendo 3DS eShop. Right now there’s not much to see, a few interesting indie games at £8-£15, along with full retail games at ridiculously inflated prices ranging from £40 to £55! Retail games from the eShop range in size from 3GB to 17GB – perhaps slightly worrying when the console is only available in 8GB and 32GB versions – however, Wii U supports USB hard drives up to 3TB in size.

Nintendo’s chosen method of enabling Wii compatibility has been to include full Wii system software. So you have an icon on your Wii U menu which will take you too the Wii menu where you can play original Wii games, and if you own an actual Wii console you can transfer all of your saved games, WiiWare, and Virtual Console purchases to the Wii menu of your new Wii U.

A Week With Wii U - n3rdabl3
The Wii U GamePad, while both light and comfortable, does feel a bit toy-like.

Wii U Games

ZombiU

I found this a bit dull. I love survival horror games, and I still miss the old days when Resident Evil was a part of that genre. ZombiU unfortunately seems a little too tough, though perhaps tough isn’t the right word, as dying is an essential part of the gameplay. Basically there are no checkpoints or lives; each time you die (it only takes one bite) you start back at the same place as a new character, though your previous characters actions still count. I understand that chances are in a zombie apocalypse very few would survive, and there wouldn’t likely be mass amounts of ammo stashed around to grab – but it’s pretty frustrating when you reach a point that obviously could not be done without sacrificing the life of your current character.

New Super Mario Bros U

This surprised me. I am a massive fan of Super Mario games, and while the New Super Mario Bros series has always been good, it’s never really matched the quality of the NES/SNES Super Mario games in my opinion. New Super Mario Bros U however is really quite brilliant. In just about every measurable way this is the best side-scrolling Super Mario platformer that Nintendo have ever produced. There is a large and connected world map with different themed areas like Super Mario World, level design is really varied, boss battles are tough and also varied, and it’s got all the usual power-ups plus the new Flying Squirrel suit – which is loads of fun! This game alone is worth buying a Wii U for, …in my crazy Mario-obsessed opinion anyway.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

I’ll get this out of the way… it’s not Mario Kart, but that’s a good thing! Actually if this game reminded me of anything, it’d be Diddy Kong Racing (N64/DS). Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes the basic kart-racer formula and extends it adding boats and planes …but this isn’t a gimmick, your vehicle transforms mid-race, as does the track itself. One moment you’ll be happily driving along in your kart, then BAM the track falls apart and you fall to the water below, your kart transforms into a boat mid-fall and you carry on toward the finish line, head over a ramp, and all of a sudden you’re in a plane! Okay, so that maybe sounds confusing, but it’s actually really refreshing. So many developers have tried to clone Mario Kart and failed, it’s great to see SEGA try something different and succeed.

 

Nintendo made a pretty big deal of the fact that Wii U allows gamers to carry on playing their games even when the TV is in use. Sadly, it seems not all developers got the memo. ZombiU for example requires a TV at all times, there’s no option to play exclusively on the GamePad screen. The other two games I mentioned above can both be played fully on the GamePad without a TV. It seems only a few games can’t be played fully on the GamePad screen, but unfortunately there’s no icon on the game packaging to let potential buyers know which games support that feature. As I mentioned earlier, the GamePad screen isn’t HD, so don’t expect it to match the quality of your HDTV, but it’s certainly good enough to be comfortable playing for a few hours. I actually found myself playing Mario on the GamePad screen more frequently than on the TV, but then I’ve always preferred handheld systems to traditional consoles.

Controllers

Wii U is compatible with a huge range of controllers. There’s the Wii U GamePad, and Pro Controller, plus original Wii controllers such as the Remote, Nunchuck, Classic Controller, Classic Controller Pro. Which controller options are available for each game varies, but thankfully the packaging of the games displays icons of compatible controllers.

A Week With Wii U - n3rdabl3
The full array of control options, though compatibility varies from game to game

Is there anything you want to know about Wii U? Ask in the comments below…