The Wii U Review, Part 1: The Good Stuff

So, my birthday was this weekend, and much to my surprise I received a shiny new Wii U as a gift. Wait, I take it back — what I meant to say was Nintendo sent me one because I’m a respected and influential video game journalist. Yeah, that’s it.

What do I think of Nintendo’s latest console creation? Hit the jump for the first part of my review…

Note – This is just a general review of the hardware. I won’t be delving into specific games to any great degree.

Stuff I like

The GamePad is Beautiful

I…I’ve never felt this way about a video game controller before. The Wii U deluxe bundle comes with a little plastic cradle you can stand your GamePad in — it doesn’t serve any real purpose, and yet I still find myself putting the GamePad in the cradle just so I can gaze at it.

The GamePad is a shiny, surprisingly comfortable thing of beauty. If it were a full-fledged handheld it might be the nicest looking and feeling one Nintendo has ever made. Online video and images don’t do justice to how much you’ll love this thing.

Hello there sexy…

Dual Screen Gaming Works

Anyone who’s owned a DS already knows this, but if you aren’t a handheld gamer, trust me — gaming across two screens may not sound particularly exciting, but it’s a sound concept and it’s cool that it’s now a part of the console experience.

“Oh great” you say “so I’m just paying 300 bucks for a not-fully-portable DS?”

You could think of it that way, but I prefer to think of it this way — with the Wii U you’re getting the best of both worlds. You’re getting the powerful hardware, big screen and more elaborate games of consoles and the immediacy and intimacy of handheld gaming. There’s just something cool and immersive about a game like Nintendo Land sending all sorts of extra information right to your hands or drawing doodles on your GamePad and seeing them show up on your 40-inch TV. At it’s best the Wii U is connectivity done right — the handheld and console experiences finally brought together as one.

Asymmetric Gameplay Works

So, “asymmetric gameplay” — it’s Nintendo’s new favorite invented term, but it’s just a case of trying to take lemons and make lemonade, right? Nintendo can’t afford to pack more than one GamePad in with each Wii U, and they’d have to charge well over $100 to sell them separately, so they’re trying to sell us on the idea that players having different experiences as they play the same game is cool.

Here’s the thing though — yes, if Nintendo could afford to give everyone a full compliment of four GamePads they probably wouldn’t be talking about asymmetric gameplay, but that doesn’t mean asymmetric gameplay isn’t fun.

I think many are making the mistake of assuming asymmetric gameplay means whoever gets the GamePad always gets the better experience, but that’s not necessarily the case. For instance, in Nintendo Land’s Metroid attraction Wiimote players control Samus clones while the GamePad holder controls her gunship. Both options have their pros and cons — the gunship can fly over an arena and score the best vantage points, but it’s harder to control and an easier target to shoot, meanwhile playing as Samus means you’re more maneuverable and can more easily find places to hide. It’s two different, but ultimately fairly equal experiences, and the fun comes from using your unique abilities to either outwit or help your fellow players.

As long as you’re not playing with an a-hole who hogs the GamePad, asymmetrical gameplay means more variety, more ways to play — every multiplayer mode can be essentially two games in one. Sounds good to me.

Real, non-PR shots of Miiverse are lot funnier and more creative than this.

Miiverse is Actually Pretty Cool

Yet another thing cynical gamer types mostly sneered at…

“Oh great, Nintendo’s making it’s own social media platform? Wonder how long the friend codes are going to be? LOL.”

…but lo and behold, Miiverse is actually pretty neat. Yeah, it’s not going to replace Facebook in your social media dependent life or anything, but it’s good for what it is.

Miiverse being Nintendo’s own creation means it can be integrated into Wii U games in a way Facebook or Twitter can’t. The fact that, for instance, your plaza in Nintendo Land is filled with Miis delivering all manner of, usually humorous, messages is actually pretty charming.

There’s plenty of that unique Nintendo quirk in Miiverse too. For instance, you can hand-draw your messages if you want, and Wii U owners are stepping up and creating some pretty cool stuff. I’ve laughed out loud at least a dozen times at some of the doodles that have popped up on my screen (and I haven’t been subjected to a single cock picture yet).

Which brings me to my last Miiverse point — there already seems to be a solid little community forming here. Who knows what Miiverse will become, but for right now it’s a pretty cool group of funny, polite (nothing non-polite gets through Nintendo’s moderators) Nintendo fans. Beats the racial and homophobic slur-fest that is Xbox Live.

You Now Have Another Good Reason To Cancel Your Cable

Right out of the box the Wii U comes with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and YouTube channels, all of which work well and will soon be tied fairly seamlessly together when Nintendo TVii comes out in a few weeks. Yeah, it’s not quite as many services as the Xbox 360 has, but between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube you can pretty much find whatever show/movie you want to watch. Nintendo has joined the media center game, and you now have yet another reason to cancel your “100 bucks a month for s–t” cable package.

Nintendo Games Are Now In HD

Yeah, this is an obvious one, but I have to say, it’s nice to see Nintendo games in HD. Nintendo sat the graphics race out this past generation, and everyone ran blindly down the grey, brown and gritty alley. Grey, brown and gritty is fine sometimes, but thankfully Nintendo is now here to provide some colorful, cartoony alternatives.

Nintendo is taking it’s  own quirky approach to HD. Good on ’em for it. 

So, those are a few of the things I like about the Wii U. Tomorrow, a few of the things I don’t find so appealing, as well as a summation of my thoughts on the system…