Nintendo Wii U: Prior to this console, the Wii was a radically different machine than those which had gone before, in some respects, most notably with the Wii remote and how it detected movement within three dimensions, simply by placing a sensor bar on, or in front of, the TV. This element has since been adapted by Sony with the Playstation Move controllers, which I haven’t tried, and by Microsoft with the Xbox Kinect, which I have tried and it’s a great device but the games are thin on the ground.
There’s many aspects to cover with the Wii U console, so its equivalent controller is as good a place to start as any, and while the Wii remotes are backwards compatible with the Wii U, this new unit comes complete with not only a standard joypad (the Pro Controller), which looks similar to one that would accompany the Xbox 360, but also the rather fantastic Wii U GamePad, a device that may look to have too much going on at first glance, but which is very easy to get used to, especially if you’re a bit of a Billy Big-Hands like me.
As well as the two joysticks, a D-pad on the left, traditional X, Y, A and B buttons on the right, plus one to allow its use as a TV remote, it also has a revolutionary feature in that you can play a game while just using the gamepad, rather than viewing it on the TV screen. Obviously, the TV would be better, but if you’re mid-game and someone else wants to use the TV, then, in a number of cases, you can still continue with the gamepad on its wonderful 6.2″ (16 cm) touchscreen display. (The resolution is FWVGA 854×480), which is quite something given that it can be used wirelessly, although it’ll need plugging into its own separate power cord every now and again to charge it up.
If you’re into video chatting, you can use the Gamepad’s built-in video camera for communicating over the Nintendo Network.
The Wii U also brings 1080p HD gaming to a Nintendo console for the first time, something that was long-required but sadly wasn’t made part of the spec for its predecessor. Audio-wise, you’ll only get 5.1 surround sound if you connect the HDMI output direct to an amplifier, whereas I’ve got it going via my PC which captures the footage. Despite HDMI coming out of that, and into my plasma TV which can also output 5.1 signals, I’m only able to hear the console’s sound in stereo. I’m not sure if this is something to do with the fact that the Wii U outputs LCPM uncompressed 5.1 surround sound and not Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
As for how games are supplied, a 5″ Wii U optical disc can contain up to 25Gb of storage per layer, the same as a Blu-ray disc, although, one of the games I’ve received for review, New Super Mario Bros U, only takes up 1.73Gb of space. It’ll take a hell of a lot of programming to fill a disc and, no doubt, push the price up if that was to happen, but at least the option’s there.
A few issues with the console, which I noted upon using it for the first time, it takes a fair while to change between menus and the downloadable Youtube app is slow to bring up and use. Also, there are not many Nintendo launch titles available at present. There are many available from third-party suppliers and a number of classics in development such as new entries in the Pikmin and Zelda franchises, but I would’ve thought more should be available from day one. Forthcoming titles this spring, however, include Monster Hunter Ultimate 3 (March 22nd, below), Lego City Undercover (March 28th) and then Game & Wario, Wii Fit U, Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101.
And while we wait for an all-new Zelda title on the Wii U, they will be re-releasing The Wind Waker with upgraded graphics, a tune-up of the overall game experience and the ability to play it off-tv on the Gamepad, as well as it being Miiverse-compatible.
In addition, sadly, there’s no Blu-ray playback facility on the console, which is a glaring omission these days, especially considering you’re spending around £299 retail for the Premium Pack. Also, it doesn’t even play DVDs, which is a really quite baffling. The long-standing Playstation 3 can already play Blu-ray discs (2D and 3D), and the forthcoming Xbox 720 is also rumoured to have this facility. Of course, the Wii couldn’t play DVDs or CDs either, so the lack of Blu-ray will come as no surprise for regular Nintendo users, but these days it’s something that really should come as standard. The only plus with this is that, for Nintendo, they avoid paying licensing fees to the DVD Forum in denying us such a facility.
One games aspect I am particularly looking forward to, which we’re still to experience properly on the Wii U, is the Virtual Console. Again, it’s early days for this, but as a massive fan of retro gaming, this is fantastic news. Last month, Nintendo announced that a native version of Virtual Console would be launched on Wii U in the second quarter of 2013 and that is something for which I can’t wait. While the initial titles will include NES, Super Nintendo and, shortly after, Game Boy Advance titles, they will also include the option to play them on the Wii U Gamepad.
In fact, at present, only Balloon Fight* appears to be available, and it charges 30p for the privilige, although it’d be nice to have a sample free game or two to see just how reliable or well-programmed the games are. (screenshot below is from Nintendo Land)
Other elements to the Wii U include:
- The MiiVerse, an integrated social network system which allows you to participate in video chat with others – as mentioned earlier – or text, as well as it being featured within games, Nintendo Land being a case in point, as other users appear before you and can be invited to take part in the mini-games within. Similarly, within a game, if you get stuck, you can ask for help in the MiiVerse Community and other users will respond. The same can be said for any forum, really, but you know in this case that you’ll have a solid userbase upon which to ask questions.
- The gamepad contains a Near Field Commnication (NFC) chip, which in time will allow for contactless payments from credit cards, as well as importing content from other devices that have this facility.
- An Internet Browser, which is a standard on many consoles these days, but does anyone really use them? You really need a proper keyboard, which no console ever has, to get the most out of any browser and I’ve only ever given these a brief try before going back to using my PC instead.
- There’s also the forthcoming Nintendo TVii, which will allow streaming of programmes and films on demand, but in Europe that won’t happen until later this year.
Later this year, there will also be firmware updates from Nintendo, in the spring and summer, which will address the Wii U menu slowness issues as well as making software launch faster. A smartphone app will also be released to browse the Miiverse on there.
For more info on forthcoming Wii U developments, check out the latest Wii U Direct Presentation below.