The long-awaited and much-anticipated Nintendo Wii U,the company's newest version of its Wii gaming console, finally became available on November 18 in the U.S., and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one. After playing pretty much non-stop for a couple days, I can say the Wii U is a big improvement over the original Wii.
It adds high-definition graphics to the Wii platform, bringing it up to the visual level of competing consoles. And the tablet-like GamePad controller brings additional functions and controls to your gaming. On the downside, at $300 to $350, the new Wii is at least twice as expensive as the original Wii (which is still available). Even so, after just a couple of days, the Wii U is widely sold out.
New design. The Wii U is deeper than the original Wii, but it's fairly thin, so it won't take up too much room in your entertainment center. You load discs into the front of the console, as you did with the original Wii. The Wii U has two USB ports on the front and two more on the back of the console, as well as ports for HDMI and AV connections. (Only an HDMI cable is included.)
The GamePad, the Wii U's tablet-like controller, has a 6.2-inch touch screen, which looks good when you're gaming or watching movies. It comes with a stylus and dual joysticks, two shoulder buttons and triggers, and four face buttons for gaming. It also has a Power and Home button and a separate volume control (while the sound on the GamePad is adequate for quick gaming sessions, I recommend using headphones for longer periods of gaming and for watching movies). More interesting is the TV button: Since the GamePad can also control your TV and cable box, the TV button brings up the onscreen controls for those devices.
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Upon plugging in the Wii U, you're guided through a simple setup for syncing the GamePad to the console, along with date and time settings. Next comes the setup for the universal remote feature, which I found was particularly helpful and easy. While setting up the Internet connection is easy enough, I did encounter an update that took just under an hour to complete on my system. (I'm sure the kids will love waiting for that on Christmas morning!)
Next you're guided through setting up a user ID, either by creating a Mii (an onscreen avatar) or importing one wirelessly from a Nintendo 3DS. I imported my Mii with no difficulty. You can also transfer save files and game purchases from the original Wii to the Wii U.
Once I finished setting up, a home screen displaying floating icons and groups of Mii characters appeared, with an occasional pop-up message showing helpful tips. The GamePad is where the menu navigation takes place, though: It displays a grid of boxes with different apps inside, much like the home screen on the original Wii. You can navigate the screen with the joysticks or simply by tapping on the screen. You can also swap the images back and forth between both screens by pushing the X button.
But how are the games? After popping in the New Super Mario Bros. U game, I was happy to finally see Mario in HD. The GamePad screen mirrored the TV screen during the story mode of the game, so I could freely choose which screen was more convenient to look at. There are also multiplayer modes for up to five players—four onscreen and one on the GamePad.
The GamePad was a little awkward to hold at first, but once I was used to the button layout, I didn't find it to be uncomfortable. To change things up, I switched over to Mass Effect 3: Special Edition. This game is also available on the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, and it looks every bit as good on the Wii U as it does on those systems.
In Mass Effect, the GamePad served as a map and menu display: This is helpful and keeps the screen free of clutter. Also, by holding the select button, I could switch the game from the TV screen to the GamePad screen, a huge advantage for anyone who is married and/or has kids. (I can play a full console game on my GamePad screen while my wife is watching "Glee.") I hope to see this feature included on more Wii U games.
The Wii U is fully backward-compatible with all Wii games. You can also download games from the Nintendo eShop, as you can on the original Wii.
What else can it do? The Wii U can access streaming-video services such as Netflix; you can view video either on the TV or the GamePad screen.
Another interesting application is Wii U chat, which lets you video-chat with other Wii U users. Nintendo has also created its own social networking feature for the console, called Miiverse. Here you can socialize with friends and post public messages for the world to see. You can use the GamePad touch screen to write and draw messages.
Some additional features were not available when I tested; for example, I am really looking forward to trying out Nintendo TVii, the company's own video-streaming service, when it's available in December.
Bottom line. I've really enjoyed playing on the Wii U and look forward to more fun gaming. So far, I've found the GamePad to be a very intuitive addition to the game play. I definitely recommend the Wii U to anyone looking to upgrade from an original Wii console.
That doesn't mean you should shy away from this console if you don't currently own a Wii: Considering its HD visuals and a collection of more mature titles, hardcore gamers shouldn't overlook the Wii U. There really is something for gamers of all ages on this console.
The Wii U comes in two versions: The white Basic Set ($300) comes with the console, GamePad, and connection and charging cables. The black Deluxe Set ($350) adds a console and GamePad stand to that bundle, as well as a game, Nintendo Land. I'd recommend springing for the Deluxe Set, because you're getting so much extra value for the additional $50. Nintendo Land as a standalone game is $60 dollars, for example.
Just bear in mind that supplies of the Wii U look to be pretty scarce, for now; hopefully, that will change as the shopping season goes on.
Source: Gamers scoop up almost every available Wii U console [VentureBeat]
Related: Nintendo's new Wii U comes to gamers November 18 along with TVii
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