While the rest of the Western world has had weeks of hands-on time with the Wii U, I only ever touched one once and it was in Namco Bandai headquarters in Tokyo. Since then I’ve been stuck hearing third-hand about the system, the unusual controller, the Miiverse, and the games themselves.
This past Saturday (December 8th) the system finally launched in Japan, so I have one now. Here are my initial impressions.
CONSOLE: Slick as hell. Just a box, really, but it looks cooler than all the other machines I have hooked up to my television at the moment. Very quiet. Discs slide in out in a cool fashion. I like the front panel that hides/reveals the SD card slot and two USB ports.
GAMEPAD: Lighter than it looks. Way lighter than an iPad, for sure. The shoulder/trigger buttons are a little tricky to manipulate though on account of the gamepad’s bulk.
The convenience of the gamepad, particularly its second screen, is stupendous. I can turn on the console, switch the TV input, change the volume and play Mario without searching for the remote. And if my wife or son is watching TV, I can just play on the small screen without interrupting their shows. I hope every single Wii U developer is doing everything in their power to make sure their new games work this way, because that’s the greatest feeling.
Biggest complaint: the battery life is atrocious. For all the bellyaching about the 3DS when it launched last year, I’ve rarely felt constrained by its power limitations. In the first 48 hours that I had with the Wii U, twice I was forced to put the gamepad down for recharging. Maybe this is price I pay for enjoying the second screen so much.
VIDEO APPS: All disappointments thus far. YouTube won’t let you do much with the gamepad screen except type, and even then you have to read the text on the TV. Autoplay is on, so if you search for a video and get a bunch of results, the next item on the list starts without warning the second the video you chose ends. I hope there’s an off switch, either hidden in a menu or coming in an update.
NicoNico never works. Either I get a “servers too busy” error or the console fucking FREEZES and I have to unplug it.
I haven’t tried Hulu yet, although the setup process was fast enough. Again,
I don’t believe you can watch videos on the gamepad screen so I don’t know why I’d choose the Wii U over the iPad, Xbox or PS3. Also, how funny is it that the Wii U got Hulu support faster than the Vita did?
[UPDATE] NicoNico works now thanks to a patch. It’s OK, but being NicoNico it comes with all sorts of weird baggage. You have to register to watch (most? all?) videos, and even then some videos have weird restrictions like “can’t be viewed on Wii U”. I swear I got a warning during a video that told me “This video cannot be viewed again on this device” which confused the hell out of me.
Hulu is actually very nice. Easier to navigate than the Xbox and PS3 apps, for sure. You can’t really search without using both screens, but once the video starts you can watch on either the TV or the gamepad. During playback the second screen displays a progress bar, a pause button, and a couple other shortcut keys.
MIIVERSE: Intriguing but I still don’t quite get it. The system loads and shows crowds of Miis gathering everywhere,
but they’re all bots made by Nintendo and everything they say is just pointing out what each icon does. I thought I would be stumbling onto real people?
It is possible to browse through public comments made by strangers, but it’s entirely menu-driven and not terribly exciting. Still, I’ve already managed to locate one person I’ve never met and “follow” his drawings which is cool.
[UPDATE] After a few days, the Nintendo bots in the Wara Wara Plaza have been replaced with real feedback from other Wii U users. Also, people on my friends list automatically gather in the middle of the plaza and sound off with recent comments posted to the Miiverse. It’s easy to zoom in and tap on a comment to see who wrote it and there’s a direct link to view their profile or follow their posts. [/u]
When I found myself wondering about all the balloons I saw on the New Super Mario Bros U world map, it was a lot of fun to ask that question in the Miiverse (with a drawing) and get an answer back from a stranger. I could have asked Twitter or Facebook, but that would only draw on people already following me.
The Wii U Friends List is the best Nintendo’s ever done but it still sucks. If you send a friend request using the Friend List, it doesn’t notify the other person that you’ve added them. Instead, you have to go into the Miiverse, open My Menu and then Search for a user. Once you find their profile you can send them a friend request with a message attached if you care to do that. Why the fuck isn’t that how all friend requests work?
KARAOKE: If anyone reading this was thinking about buying the mic + trial disc combo, DON’T. It’s a huge rip-off. Just buy the mic and buy a ticket (more on that in a second) so you can have access to the entire library of songs. The disc lets you sing right away without buffering, but the selection is quite limited. Total waste of money when the Wii U comes with the basic software already installed.
The entire process was ass-backwards. I put in the trial disc and selected it from the Wii U menu. It loaded to a screen of text telling me “this disc is just a sample, please use the pre-installed karaoke app.” I loaded the app and it asked me if I wanted to connect to the internet. Of course I do…right? Wrong. Doing that ignores the disc sitting inside the machine, and any song I tried to sing prompted a “go buy a ticket” command. I had to quit, restart karaoke, choose “offline” and then it asked me if I wanted to use the trial disc. MOTHERFUCKER why else would I put that disc in the tray?
Buy a ticket? Yes, in order to use karaoke you must buy a ticket from the eShop. They are crazy cheap (100 yen for an hour, 1000 yen for an entire month!) but I’m stunned that buying a microphone alone doesn’t qualify you to, say, one free hour at least.
That said, I am reasonably impressed with the basic functionality. The mic has a USB cord so it’s not wireless, but on the plus side that means you don’t need to charge its battery. The interface is very much what you’d expect from a real karaoke joint. The full song selection, from what I’ve seen, is pretty good.
Oh yeah, the games! I bought Nintendoland but haven’t tried it yet. As I said before, New Super Mario Bros U has been my initial jam thanks to its gamepad-screen capabilities. In fact, I have yet to see it on the big screen at all. It’s been entirely a handheld experience for me so far and I kind of love it.
Unlike the straight-line approach of NSMB & NSMB2, U has a world map that resembles Super Mario World - a very good sign. I have yet to encounter any significant diverging paths or secrets, but the early levels are already impressing me with tons of little things. A stash of coins here, a new powerup there. Like Eric said on Twitter, I often encounter the 100 sec warning because I spend so much time exploring.
To sum up: I like this Wii U thing a lot. The set-up process had a few hitches (yes, the initial firmware update took a solid hour) but now that it’s working I am entertained. As long as there’s a new gamepad-screen-compatible game every few months, I’ll be happy. And maybe in a year or two, my son will be able to join my wife and I in multiplayer. We have two Wiimotes, after all.