I bought a Wii U yesterday. I didn’t really mean to, it just sort of happened.
My Ex, Nintendo
Nobody was as surprised as me. When the Wii came out in 2006, I rabidly attempted to get one at launch. I rabidly continued to wait until April, at which time there was a period of furious and ecstatic bowling. I’m not exactly sure what happened after that. I played a dozen or so of the bigger titles like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and (my personal favorite) Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, but on the whole my Wii console has not seen as much love as its predecessors. That seemed very strange to me, as I grew up a dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fanboy. The old number for the Nintendo Hotline has been etched into my memory since I was 11 (206–885-7529). Every birthday and every Christmas was hoping for a new game. Every summer was spent at the video rental store, trying madly to complete each game on the shelf before I had to return it. Nintendo was an indelible part of my childhood.
I’m not going to lie. Part of what drove me from the Wii was that I felt like the direction Nintendo started going toward the late 90’s was geared towards kids. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but the games I grew up with didn’t feel like they were targeted at kids. They were just good games. Charles Martinet’s treatment of Mario was a major contributing factor to my feelings about this; too much stereotype and too many “WAH-HA”s for my taste. The Mario of my youth spoke with his feet and the occasional giant radish, and that’s the way I liked him. I can’t really say I thought the new stuff was bad. It just wasn’t my thing anymore, and I found myself primarily on the Xbox.
Half Ass, Full Impulse
When I first heard about the Wii U, it was about the giant weird controller-tablet hybrid (what they’re calling a GamePad). I thought they’d lost their minds, and that the thing would induce a repetitive stress injury inside of a week. Then I heard they were going to have better 3rd party games, and more for adults and “hardcore” gamers. I heard they’d finally decided to use HDMI like every other electronic device since 2005. I heard friends and relatives growing increasingly more excited about preordering one.
I still didn’t care. I thought maybe I’d get one later. I definitely wasn’t going to wait in line for one. It seemed like it was still going to be geared more towards kids, or maybe that was just the general feeling I had about Nintendo for the last half-decade.
Then I went shopping. Not for anything in particular, mind you. I had gift certificates from my recent birthday, and I was wandering about the Xbox 360 aisle looking for something cool I might blow them on. If it wasn’t for the random and half-assed sales pitch on the part of an extremely teenage Best Buy employee, I would have left empty-handed. As I walked past, he mumbled “The Wii U’s are in.” and started to shamble off in the other direction.
Several things hit me at once. I remembered the five-month wait for my Wii. I didn’t honestly think I was going to see one of these on shelves until February or March at least. My 4 year old’s bright little eyes stared up longingly at me. Brief and intense panic hit me as to whether my wife was going to kill me for buying something expensive before talking to her first (as is our custom). I had the chance to get this brand new console before Christmas. Of course, it’s not like I could really have it as a surprise for Sam, who was already yelling “WE GET TO PLAY SUPER MARIO BROTHERS!!!” before I even got the credit card out. But there are plenty of games that would fit that bill nicely.
It felt like an eternity before I said “I’ll take one”, but it was really more like five or ten nanoseconds. I guess, with the right bait, half an ass is as good as a whole one.
I haven’t had my Wii U long, but here’s my initial impressions:
In many respects, I feel like this is the console that Nintendo should have released in 2006. The hardware has finally caught up to current gen standards, and Friend Codes have finally gone away in favor of *gasp* an online service. It can even use your old Wiimotes and Sensor Bar, and play all your old Wii games (albeit in a sandboxed mode that acts as though you have booted up an old Wii). I’m not blown away or anything, but I suspect Nintendo is playing the game they tried last time where they don’t spend as much on the shiniest new hardware as their competitors. Last time, I think, the baseline was set too low.
The GamePad controller is neat. The concept of a second screen for each player has been around forever — the Gamecube used the Gameboy Advance handheld for this purpose, and the Dreamcast had a little LED doohickey called a VMU that could do it too — but nobody’s done it this well before. Its resolution is only 854×480, which is significantly less than the 1920×1080 the console can put out, but it still looks good. It has surprisingly good speakers in it, and a little camera. Sometimes it mirrors what’s on the TV screen, and can even show what’s happening in games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii U without lagging. That’s not what really has me excited, though. I want good board and card games. I really want to play Duels Of The Planeswalkers on this thing locally. We’ve finally got the tools to do second screen gaming right, and I hope they do. (I understand Xbox’s SmartGlass is going to do a lot of this too. I just wish I could get it to work right.)
Surprisingly, one of my favorite features is that the GamePad can act as a remote for your TV and cable box. The latter’s functionality is limited until the release of TVii, which (among a great many other things) will let you access your cable DVR. To watch Transformers with my son on Netflix each morning, I usually have to groggily figure out where 3 remotes are. Couple that with the Wii U implementation of Netflix being the best I’ve seen so far on any console (the controls are always up on the GamePad and don’t obscure the video ever), and I’m a happy dude. Hulu+ and Amazon Instant Video support are coming in December. Here’s hoping for HBO Go.
The onboard storage capacity of the Wii U is, well, kind of pathetic. Even on the black deluxe model, you only get 32GB of storage. My white basic one has 8. I’m told 4 of that goes to system usage, which doesn’t leave me room to download some of the larger games. The good news is, Nintendo has finally come to their senses and allows you to hook up an external USB hard drive to store your stuff. By that, I don’t mean a proprietary weird hard drive that costs 3x more than normal. I had an old 200GB lying around, as old as my Wii and doing nothing, and it is now the home of New Super Mario Bros. Wii U Ye Gods I Hate That Name. The bad news is, it is nearly as large as my Wii U. Not a particularly elegant solution, but it works. SD and SDHC cards work, as they did on the Wii. I’ve heard tales USB flash drives can store save data, but not games. I don’t know why.
I only have one game, the aforementioned New Super Mario Bros. So You Think Wii U Can Dance, so I can’t speak much to the titles available. I’ll say this: they’ve executed this game very well and it shows off what this thing can do. Players of the previous iteration on the Wii will find familiar territory here, albeit with a big graphics upgrade. The second screen allows something called “Boost Mode” where you don’t play as Mario or Luigi but instead add platforms for the active players, bop enemies on the head to stun them, or interact with the environment (in the case of my son, an opportunity to laugh maniacally as he repeatedly crushes Mom and Dad in the giant clock gears). Graphics and sound synced perfectly on both screens, which impressed me a lot. They’ve also dialed Martinet down a few notches in the New Super Mario Bros. series, which is a balm for my soul. I like the game. I suck at it, but I like it.
There’s a part of me that worries the Wii U will suffer the same fate as its predecessor. Ultimately, I suspect this is going to be a much better purchase.
As before, I think many of the games are going to be more kid-oriented than I like. The main difference between then and now is simple: in 2007, I didn’t have a kid. I want stuff we can play together as a family, and I could really care less what platform it’s on.
It feels strange to say, but the fantastic Netflix support (and soon, other media stuff) on the Wii U is huge for me. One large reason for this is my kid. We watch an enormous amount of cartoons and re-enact epic battles based on the events of those cartoons.
What I’m looking for is something that gives me opportunities and makes it easier to spend quality time with my family.
I don’t think 2007 pre-Dad me was ready for this. I think I am now.