Nintendo Wii U review
Hands-on review published 21 September 2012
With the Nintendo Wii U finally confirmed as hitting UK shops in time for Yuletide, T3 was eager to see how it was stacking up against the Sony PS3's last big push before the PS4, not to mention the incoming Xbox 360 SmartGlass from Microsoft.
Nintendo Wii U: Build
With the Wii U's housing still not final build, the elongated but pristinely finished developer kits were still to be seen in the cartoon-covered demo area. This meant most of the focus was on the 6.2-inch touch-screened GamePad, which is probably as it should be seeing this is what we'll all be interacting with.
Nintendo Wii U: Controls
As well as the GamePad and a multitude of Motion Plus-inside Wiimotes for multiplayer, we also got extended time with the Pro Controller at last and were pleasantly surprised. A fairly blatant take on the Xbox 360's hardcore favourite, the silhouette has been shaved so that it's a more comfortable fit than Microsoft's, though its inherent lightness doesn't feel cheap, surprisingly.
Nintendo Wii U: Games
Yet we've tried out the basics of the Wii U's hardware before – the priority of this trip was to get extended time on some of the final titles we're set to see. Nintendo didn't disappoint, with nearly 20 different games of varying stature, from first-party flagships to eShop curios via third-party triple-A franchises.
The latter were represented by Assassin's Creed 3, the graphical show-off of the day and really there to flaunt the Wii U's processing potential.
Nintendo Wii U: Assassin's Creed
The sea-faring, ship-shooting mission we got to try didn't so much give us a taste of the game as shouted, "Look at the amazing water effects and the spectrum of colours in its beachy landscape!".
The visuals, however, were strong and not dissimilar to the PlayStation 3 version to our eyes.
Nintendo Wii U: Mass Effect 3
Similarly, the upgraded Mass Effect 3 looks of a current next-gen standard, if you will, its complex character models and intergalactic gun battles crisp and swift, the GamePad's screen acting as an always-on weapon inventory, map and team organisational tool.
Seriously, seeing the likes of Mario and Zelda in HD is a joy in itself, and the power is there to do more, yet this was never going to be a graphical titan.
Nintendo Wii U: Gameplay
Instead, it's again the advances in how we play games that is interesting Nintendo with the Wii U. This is shown best in Nintendo Land, which is perhaps why the firm are so keen to entrench its many pleasures with a large focus on its ware on our visit.
As is co-operation over competition, a quite unnatural trait in many. Despite its "bringing the family together" ethos, the Wii did so mainly by playing on our competitive streaks – sure, there were collaborative modes, but from Gran being able to beat the grandkids at Wii Sports to losing more weight than the rest of your household on Wii Fit via family fisticuffs on Mario Party, this was every man, woman and child for himself. Wii U's whole mission is to get us to work together. We will be united, whether we like it or not.
Nintendo Wii U: Mario Chase
Mario Chase, formerly the Are You Being Served?-esque Chase Mii, is a case in point, basically giving hide and seek a modern lick of paint in the way Draw Something revived Pictionary. The GamePadded player is the hider, monitoring things on the sly with their own screen, their mischievous face beamed in real time to the telly's top corner by the controller's camera.
The initial thrust is simple: we must destroy them. Yet the game area is laid out in four colours and every Wiimoted seeker has a bar telling them how many yards away their prey is, so co-operation is vital, be it feeding back statistical location data or simply yelling, "He's in Green!" over and over.
Nintendo Wii U: Legend of Zelda Battle Quest
Elsewhere, the Fable Heroes-esque Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest combines Wiimoted swordsman and a Gamepadded archer to good team effect, the fact that you can't walk when you're engaging in combat making structured attacks essential.
Then there's Metroid Blast's take on the formula, with the sci-fi theme changing them to plasma-rifle infantry and spaceship drivers, the flying craft able to transport other players to better vantage points as well as fire laser cannon.
Nintendo Wii U: Trine 2
It's a focus on teamwork that extends beyond Nintendo's own efforts. The PC and XBLA hit Trine 2 is given a fantastic overhaul for Nintendo's eShop, its lush, layered, fantastical yet one-pane settings singing on the hardware, the three-character story offering various local and online multiplayer options, and the touch-screen additions hard to imagine not being there.
It will be interesting to see how Nintendo prices the downloadable titles, as it's a market made for the Wii U's Vita-esque small-screen ability, though the firm's record on this front isn't great. We're ready to be surprised.
Nintendo Wii U: Rayman Legends
But then the co-operative obsession peaks on the ever-gorgeous Rayman Legends, which has some truly inventive multiplayer interactions on the typically single-player story. The first player uses the Pro Controller for the beef of the game, but a GamePadded second player can interact as a Willow the Wisp-style sidekick by painting all over the touch screen in a similar way to how they could (but very rarely did) on the big screen in Super Mario Galaxy.
New Super Mario Bros U has similarly great co-operative modes, and for more people at once, but Ubisoft's effort just pips it for the wow factor.
Nintendo Wii U: ZombieU
Final mention goes to ZombiU, and not just because it's set in London – though we do like that a lot. Much more so than the visual-orientated triple-A ports, ZombiU is the clearest example yet of the new console's ability to please the hardcore through interaction.
Nintendo Wii U: Verdict
Much like the PlayStation Vita, we think people are under-estimating the Wii U's potential as a system for advancing the way we play games. The "handheld console within your house" angle appeals massively, taking proper triple-A games off the big TV to not inflict it on the rest of the family or just to relax somewhere, yet the collaborative focus and the way it challenges our pre-conceptions of play is not just a joy, but a good thing for gaming. This really does feel like progress.
It's why the graphical focus is, again, missing the point. This really is a new way to play. We just really hope that it repeats the PR gold of the Wii and somehow avoids a fate worse than the Sega Dreamcast of being utterly magical but entirely misunderstood. Stayed tuned for a full T3 review later this year.
Nintendo Wii U review
Nintendo Wii U reviewT3
The Nintendo Wii U is again trying to redefine the way we play but can the dual-screen attack really unite us all?
Nintendo Wii U review
- multi-use GamePad
- Full HD graphics at last
- Genuinely revolutionary
- Weak GamePad battery life
- No launch games for 2 GamePads
- Need More Wii-U specific games
T3 was the first UK title to get hands-on with the Nintendo Wii U a full two E3s ago when it was just a fledgling concept. We liked it a lot. However, the landscape has changed somewhat since then, with everyone from Sony to Apple having a pop at second-screen gaming. With the next gen of consoles set to launch in 2013, has Nintendo left its home reinvention too late?
Nintendo Wii U: Size and build
Well, this new console certainly sees it trying to harness the social acceptability of its staggeringly successful predecessor – all the Nintendo Wii’s peripherals are still compatible, as are the games, and the base unit even looks similar, if elongated – while returning to the company’s more high-specced, GameCube-esque past.
So yes, the graphics are HD at last and, yes, you can buy a Pro Controller (£40) with an Xbox-like grip so you won’t be excluded from full-fat Call of Duty Black Ops 2 like some pixelated pariah.
A good start, but that’s not the main event. If all you’re after is bleeding-edge tech specs, Nintendo is not your company. What it does do is innovate, and the results can be thrilling. With the Wii U it’s produced a refined system totally in balance with itself rather than just an interconnecting collection of gadgetry.
Nintendo Wii U: GamePad controller
The key part is the wireless GamePad controller. It may look odd, but it’s clearly been tweaked within an inch of its life. Originally toting Nintendo 3DS-esque circle pads, the design has been overhauled to offer full analogue controls, just like the Sony PS3 and Xbox 360.
Light at just 500g with ergonomic curves, we spent several days clutching it and not once did our hands ache or sweat. It’s also reliably chunky, made to be passed around the family, down the back of the sofa, and back again. The 6.2-inch display is only a resistive one-touch screen, so it won’t trouble the iPad or PS Vita in tech terms, but it’s implementation that counts.
The accelerometer, gyroscope and geomagnetic sensor inside the GamePad mean motion-sensing is integral and, via a sensor bar atop your TV, very accurate. Use it to aim an archery bow in Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, scan areas off of the main screen for signs of the undead in ZombiU or “sping, sping, sping” ninja stars like that game in the advert.
A TV button launches Nintendo’s remote app to turn the GamePad into an infrared telly controller
Nintendo Wii U: Camera
There’s also a front-facing camera of unquoted but clearly low meggage. Not just for video chat, it’s also used to personalise games – Mario Chase, the hide and seek homage, shows the hider’s face on your TV screen, smirking until you catch ’em.
Charged by microUSB from the console or in a dock cradle if you splash out on the Premium Pack, it gets three to five hours of gameplay out of a two and a half hour charge, depending on your preferred settings.
Similar to a 3DS's life with 3D fully enabled, it will therefore struggle with long, wireless gaming sessions, but thankfully it can be plugged in separately from the console. A plug socket by the sofa and there's still no need for wires all over your living room between unit and controller.
Nintendo Wii U: Features
As well as gaming and chat, the Wii U menu connects to the Miiverse social network, an internet browser and eShop for downloadable games, all accessed on your main telly or touchscreen. The GamePad can’t be taken out of the house, connected as it is, graphically if not umbilically, to the console, but it can be fired up exclusively from the TV for quick tablet-like gaming or web browsing bursts.
All of the processing power is in the base unit, the GamePad merely a wireless vessel with a screen that houses a beamed signal from the main unit. That we didn’t find any latency in picture or sound is incredibly impressive.
The Wii U only comes with one GamePad, but each console can support two – no launch titles take advantage of this, alas (or the NFC reader). Social gaming is still the key, though, with the ability to connect numerous Wii Remotes.
Titles like Nintendo Land are full of co-operative and collaborative challenges that use the GamePad as a second hub, away from prying eyes, whether it’s to act as dungeon master against three Remote-wielders or as captain of a ship giving the others a lift.
Initially there may be fights over who gets control of the new toy, but the challenges are compelling regardless of your weapon choice. Although, the ability to take your widescreen gaming to the small screen when someone wants to watch telly will never fail to impress.
If anything, the problem with the Wii U is that away from graphical power, which is easily up to current-gen standard but sure to pale in comparison to what Sony and Microsoft have in store, it almost does too many things.
The Wii was such a simple concept; if you could waft your arms, you could play a game. The Wii U’s “asymmetrical gameplay” is more complex, and after its initial announcement some gamers were left scratching their heads. The flip side is that if you give it a chance, the more rich and varied gameplay will have you hooked for far longer.
Nintendo Wii U: Connections
The GamePad is such a showstopper that the console itself can be overlooked. However, with HDMI, four USB 2.0 ports for peripherals and external hard drives, and an SDHC slot for further storage, it sure is connected.
The online network, eShop and TVii media streaming weren’t up and running during our tests, while the menu interface was also not finalised, but check back here for an update when these go live.
Nintendo Wii U: Games
As with all consoles it’s the games as much as the tech that attracts attention. The Wii U’s launch line-up is strong, covering everything from triple-A big-hitters to cheaper indie downloads, single-player adventures to multiplayer feasts. We’d have liked more new franchises, rather than big name games with Wii U features bolted on, but we're hopeful this will improve post-launch.
Nintendo Wii U: Launch games
Nintendo Land - A great intro to the Wii U’s inputs a la Wii Sports, this comes bundled free in most packages. Includes 12 meaty mini-games themed round Nintendo classics from Donkey Kong to Zelda.
ZombiU - Call of Duty aside, this survival horror is the Wii U’s killer app for the hardcore. Check inventory, maps and clues in real-time on the GamePad while prone to attack? Tense.
FIFA 13 - EA hasn’t quite packed in all its footie sim’s 360 and PS3 features, but stat-heavy sports games really sing on the second screen. No more pausing to make subs or tactical masterstrokes.
New Super Mario Bros U - Sure, it’s a 2D platformer (Galaxy will have to wait), but the breadth of its multi-terrained world is stunning and collaborative multiplayer engaging.
Mass Effect 3 Special Edition - You may have already completed this, but as an example of reinterpretation, it’s a blast, with ace graphics and team organisation via the touchscreen excellent.
Trine 2 Director’s Cut - Proof that Nintendo is upping its downloadable content game, this overhaul of the excellent Xbox Live Arcade fantasy is reborn in new Scribblenauts-esque touchscreen trousers.
Nintendo Wii U: Verdict
Ultimately, the Wii U is a potential-packed system that plays like a dream and at a decent, if not recession-proof, price. An obvious upgrade for Wii owners as it utilises a lot of the hardware you’ll already have, it’s the clear attempt to tempt hardcore gamers that will be intriguing to see play out.
Like Apple, Nintendo has become a conscientious objector in the tech spec wars, building fine products that you only really appreciate once they’re in your hands. The Wii U once again sees Nintendo plotting its own course and the results are as unique as they are satisfying. We just hope everyone is game.
Nintendo Wii U release date: Out now
Nintendo Wii U price: £250 (8GB basic pack), £300 (32GB premium pack), games from £40
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