The Wii U Review, Part 2: The Bad Stuff And The Final Verdict

So, being an up-to-the-minute new games journalist (who uh, just had a birthday) I of course recently got a Wii U. Yesterday I ran down what I liked about the machine, but it’s not all roses in Nintendo’s new garden.

Hit the jump for some of my issues with the Wii U, as well as my final verdict on the new system…

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

Stuff I Don’t like

The “U” in Wii U Stands For Updates, Updates, Updates

We’ve all heard tell about the big, required operating system update new Wii U owners are hit with right off the bat, and it is big — over an hour to download, then another 20-minutes or more to install — but that’s not the half of it. Every new game you pop in, as well as pre-installed stuff like the YouTube and Netflix channels also require lengthy downloads and installations. Then there’s all the other set-up — you have to make a Mii, set up your Nintendo Network ID and on and on.

Basically, you need to set aside a solid six-hour block to set up your Wii U before you can actually start delving in. I can just imagine eight-year-olds across the world crying bitter tears on Christmas day as clueless parents fumble through dozens of menus and loading bars.

I…I’m sorry I bothered you ma’am. 

The GamePad Is Too Beautiful

Yesterday I waxed poetic about the beauty of the Wii U GamePad, but honestly it may be a little too pretty. I’m not used to actually giving a crap about a video game controller — this is not a controller you can hold in one hand as you eat fried chicken in the other then shove under the couch cushions. Every mote of dust that touches the GamePad pains me deeply. Basically if you’ve got a touch of th’ ol’ OCD like me, it might a good idea to invest in a nice electronics polishing cloth before you get a Wii U.

The GamePad Can Complicate Things

I like to think I’m a fairly tech literate guy and yet despite owning this system for four or five days now, I’m still not entirely comfortable with the Wii U’s menus. I don’t really know how to use the Wara Wara Plaza, aspects of Miiverse still confuse me and I don’t exactly know how to save or check high scores in Nintendo Land. The extreme simplicity and usability of the Wii’s “channel” layout is long gone.

A lot of the confusion arises from the fact there doesn’t yet seem to be standardized guidelines for what kind of stuff gets displayed on the GamePad and what kind of stuff gets displayed on the TV. Frequently you’ll be searching around for a menu option only to find it’s hidden away in a small button on the GamePad, or you’ll be using the GamePad only to discover one random, important scrap of info is only displayed on the TV. I’m sure this will all be sorted out eventually, but for now the Wii U has a knack for making me feel pretty tech dumb sometimes.

The GamePad Ain’t The Wiimote

As I’ve made abundantly clear, I like the Wii U GamePad, but it’s simply not the universally appealing marvel of design the Wiimote was. I’ve played several rounds of Nintendo Land with my mom, someone who definitely took easily to the original Wii, and she seemed afraid to touch the GamePad.

When the Wii U was first announced I thought the GamePad might appeal to older, more casual gamers because of its tablet-like abilities, but it seems like Nintendo has put juuuust enough buttons and thumbsticks on the GamePad to make it scary. The Wii U probably won’t be quite the family-friendly party machine the Wii was, which may be a good or bad thing depending on where on the “grumpy hardcore gamer” spectrum you fall.

There’s gotta be a Mario, but Mario isn’t what the Wii U is going to do best.

The Kind Of Games That Will Really Make The Wii U Sing Aren’t Here Yet

Most of the Wii U launch titles are action titles, which is fine, but action games aren’t what the Wii U is going to do best. The Wii U’s dual screen set-up is going to be a real boon for RPG, adventure, puzzle and strategy games (which happen to be some of my favorite genres). I think the Wii U’s library and me are going to get along just fine once developers discover what works on the system, but they aren’t quite there yet.

The Final Verdict

The Wii U isn’t perfect, no new console is, but that said, this is still one of Nintendo’s slickest, least problematic hardware launches in its long history. One of the best since the NES and SNES glory days.

The two basic mechanics the system is built around — dual screen console gaming and asymmetric multiplayer, absolutely work. Most of the other quirky miscellany like Miiverse also works well. This is a fundamentally sound, well-made machine that’s going to be the platform for some great games.

Of course the question lingers — will Microsoft and Sony now swoop in and quickly render the Wii U obsolete? Obviously I don’t know for sure, but I have my doubts. Nintendo, a master of producing hardware as cheaply as possible, is already losing money selling the Wii U at $300. If Sony and Microsoft want to blow Nintendo out of the water in terms of hardware power and deliver a GamePad-like controller their costs are going to balloon, and I don’t think Sony or Microsoft want a $600 PS3 situation on their hands.

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t Sega. They’re not going to drop out of the race if the Wii U isn’t a smash success. Long-term third party support isn’t a certainty (it never is with a Nintendo console) but the Wii U can count on a solid five years of Nintendo games. Nintendo games that are in HD and more geared to core gamers than last generation’s titles.

If you’re a Nintendo fan there’s absolutely no reason not to get this machine now. If you bought a Gamecube or Wii and enjoyed them even a little bit, get this console because it’s better and more promising in almost every way.

If you’re console agnostic, then give it a year — see what Sony and Microsoft put out. If they don’t do tablet-like controllers, then by all means get a Wii U. Nintendo’s dual-screen concept works and is going to deliver some fun, unique experiences. If Sony and Microsoft do make their own GamePads, well, then you’re going to have to let the software decide.

If you outright hate Nintendo and everything they stand for, well, what the hell are you doing reading 2000-word Wii U reviews? Get lost.

Don’t worry, you’ll almost certainly enjoy he Wii U more than Iwata.

So there you have it — the Wii U, I like it. Any of you folks manage to get your hands on one? What do you think so far?