Wii U : The Voxel Arcade Review
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – the name is bloody awful. I was never a fan of the original ‘Wii’ name, but it has no doubt established itself as a brand in its own right in a way that only the PlayStation and Xbox names have done, although it has to be said that the Wii name is not necessarily as associated with the Nintendo name as the Japanese giant would like.
The name ‘Wii U’, however, suggests that this is merely an add-on for the original Wii- a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the big N’s marketing team. When you have to make it clear that this is ‘a brand new console!’, you have a naming issue.
Now I have that minor rant out of the way, I can get on with actually reviewing Nintendo’s new baby. The first thing that strikes you when opening up the box and pulling both the console and the new controller out of their plastic bags, is how console like these new toys are. These are not glass and metal encased works of art like many new smartphones are, and I wouldn’t want them to be for a minute.
The new console is happily plastic, with the black premium version used for this review having a shiny veneer that is pleasing to the touch, and a look that is surprisingly classy. Many other reviews have mentioned that this looks a lot like the original Wii. It doesn’t. At all.
Aside from the fact that both have a front loading drive and similar ports at the rear, they share little else. The new console is far more rounded compared to the original’s stark corners, and thankfully looks a lot less ‘Apple-lite’, although that feeling may be helped by the fact that this is the black version.
The new controller is similar in style, and has a nice heft to it. It isn’t too heavy for extended gaming sessions, although for games where you have to hold it vertically, such as several of the Nintendoland mini-games, the weight does become more of an issue. I would say however, that if you plan on long sessions with New Super Mario Bros U and Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the weight of the new controller really isn’t a problem.
The new OS is a bit like a mix between the original Wii’s channels and the offering of the 3DS. Using the two screens well, one screen can have all your apps and games, while the other hosts an element of the new Miiverse, with various Miis, both from your system and your friend’s, gathering around a circle of games and apps, letting you know what they have been playing and offering some advice. The OS works well, aside from the fact that everything takes far too long to boot up, with most of the system apps taking a baffling amount of time to load up.
Deleting content is also a chore, as you have to go several screens into the settings to do it. Nintendo, you borrowed the ability to tap and hold to move icons from Apple, so why not go the whole hog and add a little delete button at the same time?
That odd difference also extends to Nintendo’s answer to Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, Miiverse. Only here, the difference makes for an online offering that is brilliant, brilliant fun and makes you glad that a company like Nintendo still makes console systems.
You can boot up Miiverse from the main screen, or access it during a game by pressing the Wii U button on the controller. Miiverse takes over both screens here, but you can return to your game, which is kept in a frozen state, with ease.
Miiverse is like a social network for videogames. Each game released for the system has its own community, and it is here that you can share tips and hints, draw pictures and even take your own screenshots of your game and share them. You can add anyone as a friend (no more friend codes!), and like, exchange messages and comment on posts.
Some of the pictures and screenshots are hilarious, and many of the conversations on there are interesting and unique. When this functionality is added to the free online play, the ability to add anyone as a friend and voice chat within games(although, like the PS3 you will have to buy a headset separately), this gaming network is already turning into something special.
Chatting to someone in the Call of Duty community, adding them as a friend and then giving them a game a few minutes later is a great part of the Miiverse experience.
Purists may complain about the lack of party/cross game chat and the like, but ask yourself this: would you really want Nintendo to simply emulate Microsoft and do an Xbox Live 2.0? Do you really want all online functionality to be the same? Can’t you see how fucking boring that would be?
If memory issues mean that it is a choice between Miiverse and cross game chat, I pick Miiverse. Even if a million ‘Daves’ won’t agree with me.
Now, onto the actual games and how they look and play. The starting point is Nintendoland, which has to go down as one of the best minigame compilations ever. Each of the 14 games uses the two controller aspect well, and it all looks pretty decent, although there is nothing to shout about here graphically. Five player Metroid, Zelda and Pikmin action is excellent in three of the beefier offerings, although they do also highlight a big potential negative with the Wii U- you need old Wii controllers, or a Pro controller, to play any of these games in multiplayer.
Now, you do need to buy more controllers with any console to play local multiplayer, but I really feel that Nintendo should have put a Wii controller in the box, especially the Premium pack. If it means I don’t get all those plastic stands then so be it, I would rather be able to play two player games out of the box. Not everyone has a Wii, Nintendo.
The other Nintendo-created game, New Super Mario Bros U, is great fun. It is wildly inventive, especially later on, on the Miiverse integration, where you get help and advice from other players on the SMB 3 alike map screen, is very clever. I like the fact that we can now play a Mario game in HD, but I have never been a fan of the style of the ‘New’ Super Mario games. They all look too plastic and soulless, and the same can be said of the new one, although the animation is superb and the game keeps a rock solid 60fps.
I do have one big problem with the game, however, and that is the controller options. You can play in one player mode with the new controller just fine, but if you want to play in multiplayer, then one player must use the new controller for boost mode, which is where you can place platforms and tap enemies with the stylus. There is no way of directly controlling a character with the pad in multiplayer mode. So, if you want to play ‘proper’ two player, and you only have one Wii remote, you are stuck and must go out and buy another. You then use the two Wii remotes to play while the main controller sits there, unused. Odd.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II makes great use of the two screens. You can play local multiplayer, with one player on the TV and one player on the pad. Each player gets their own screen, and you can play all the modes like this, with co-op being especially fun. The game looks just as good as it does on other consoles, although I did notice some loss of frame rate in busier scenes, especially if using both screens.
Overall, the impression you get from the Wii U is that this is something a little bit different. With a unique online system that I think is fantastic(although I am guessing that few will agree with me), a decent launch line up with a couple of gems, and a new controller that revolutionises local multiplayer gaming, the Wii U will please many, although the lack of a true killer app hurts.
I want a game to showcase what the console can do. It doesn’t have to be a Zelda or 3D Mario game, but something like a new F-Zero or StarFox, or a new Metroid from Retro, or maybe a brand new franchise, would go a long way to proving the Wii U’s real gaming credentials to the unconvinced Xbox and PlayStation masses – a crowd that Nintendo has to start wooing over, as I am guessing that the casual crowd will be slightly confused and lukewarm to the new concept.
The Wii U may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those that do take a chance on it will be glad they did.
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Editor and founder of VoxelArcade and The Smartphone App Review. Favourite games: Uridium 2, Frontier: Elite II, Sensible World of Soccer, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Ocarina, Metroid Prime, Solar Quest, F-Zero GX, Monkey Island 2 and Tetris.