The Good and Bad about U
It’s been two months since the launch of Nintendo’s new system and now that we’re approaching the end of the launch period I thought I would give my impressions on the system while outlining the good and the bad things about it.
1. The Game Pad controller is awesome.
It’s comfortable to hold, surprisingly lighter than it looks, has a great d-pad, twin analog sticks that are actually clickable, standard diamond shape face button configuration as well as two L/R shoulder buttons and Z-triggers. Oh, and don’t forget motion gyro’s, which supposedly this has even more of than the Wii remotes did. There’s also infared to let you control your television, a somewhat convenient feature. This is in addition to the giant touch screen in the middle of it all, which looks pretty good and is highly accurate with the stylus but still useable even with your fingers. Built-in speakers with volume control and an audio port for headphones and you have a controller that can do a ton of things. The Game Pad also has NFC (near-field communication) built in but nothing has even utilized that yet.
2. Off-screen remote play is amazing.
This is a feature that hasn’t been too heavily advertised or talked about much by most people but I think it will become one of the greatest features for the system. Being able to start a game on your television and seamlessly send the signal output to the Game Pad is just fantastic. People who have a family, significant other or roommates can put it to good use by being able to allow them to watch something on the television (or play another gaming system altogether) while you continue your game of New Super Mario Bros U or Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition on the Game Pad and allowing everyone to do what they want. I know there are more than a few guys out there who will enjoy being able to play Call of Duty Black Ops 2 on the Game Pad while letting the girlfriend or wife enjoy having the television for a show she wants to watch without a fight.
3. Miiverse is fun
When Nintendo first unveiled Miiverse I was a little skeptical. With so many different social media entities like Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, etc. it just seemed like it would be another hassle. But surprisingly after getting my hands on it and putting in more time than I would’ve thought prior to the release I’m having fun with it. Every game and application has a community where Wii U owners can post short 100-character messages or a picture they can draw in the application itself. Want to brag about a score you got? Gloat with a taunting message while posting a screenshot to the Wii U community about it. Stuck on beating a level? Post a question asking for tips or help and you’ll be surprised at how quick other users are to assist you. The drawings that people can do in a simple black and white image will also surprise you. Each post is like a mini sub-forum where you can “Yeah!” something, which is the equivalent of Facebook’s “Like” feature and can generate some friendly environments for players. Supposedly Nintendo in the coming months will make a Miiverse application for iOS and Android devices for users to access these features on their smart devices which can only benefit everyone involved.
4. Backwards compatibility with Wii software and hardware
Something which I think some people take for granted is the ability to play your old games on new hardware. Like the Game Boy and Playstation popularized, the Wii U offers 100% backwards compatibility with both software and hardware. Still want to be able to play Mario Kart Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl? You can do that. Purchased and Virtual Console games? No problem. Your old Wii remotes, nunchuks and other accessories you might have acquired over the years are still usable, meaning you can cut down the costs of playing locally with friends by not having to purchase extra controllers if you already had them. In addition to that, the Wii mode also makes the games look a little bit better which is more noticeable on an HDTV. Perhaps most importantly, this allows developers to still use and offer motion controls when applicable. While the tech in the Wii Motion Plus wasn’t perfect, it’s still a solid input method combined with the pointer and it’s great to see that we may still see more support for this next generation.
5. Nintendo is evolving their online platform
Let’s start with perhaps the biggest and most annoying feature of the Wii and DS, friend codes. Remember those? Well you can kick them to the curb and forget about them as Nintendo has established Nintendo Network IDs. You create a unique NNID username like you would on any other service and attach a Mii to it and from there on you can exchange and add friends that way. On Miiverse it’s incredibly easy to add friends if you enjoy their posts or drawings and they’ll receive a request notification to inform them. What’s even better is that NNIDs will be extended to be used on the 3DS.
Games like Call of Duty Black Ops 2 support a headset and microphone and players will be able to communicate with one another, even if it happens to be in the form of juvenile cursing and slander. The Wii U also has a built in video chat application that is pretty much the equivalent of a Skype video call on the system. But now you can draw on the screen and your friend’s face while doing it. Why, you ask? Because everyone looks better with a moustache.
Lastly, the eShop on Wii U is drastically ahead of the Wii Shop. From just overall design, layout, appearance, navigation, everything is improved upon and much more streamlined. As for content, Nintendo’s own first party titles from now on are available digitally from day one and most third parties are on board as well. Wii U owners also have access to demos which is a change of pace for a Nintendo console. On the developer side, Nintendo has changed their stance regarding games on the eShop and is supposedly the most developer-friendly service available. Games no longer have to sell a minimum amount before the developer gets paid, updates to the game are free meaning game-breaking bugs can be patched in, and developers can actually discount their own offerings as they see fit. This is good news as it will certainly entice indies to the platform, especially now that Nintendo made a deal with Unity to make it available to all developers on the Wii U and the more indies that develop games, the more games there are to play.
1. The operating system is painfully slow
In a world of PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices, we’ve been trained to have instant gratification. Having to wait 30 seconds to a minute for an application to load up on the Wii U is fairly annoying, especially when it discourages people from switching between games, Miiverse, their friend list or whatever else you want to do. Nintendo has listened to criticisms over this and has promised to fix this in an upcoming firmware update but it simply can’t come soon enough.
2. A large day one patch is necessary to enable features of the system
Getting a new piece of shiny hardware is always a special, joyous occasion and especially so if it’s one you’ve been waiting for. So imagine opening up your new device and before you can use, access or play with the special features of the system you need to connect it to the internet and download a firmware update that’s over a gigabyte of hard disk space. It’s a process that takes over an hour on a decent connection and while not completely the end of the world, it’s a sour taste on the Wii U experience immediately out of the box. Hopefully in the near future new Wii U’s won’t have this problem but for now, be ready to update. To be fair, I don’t expect any of the upcoming video game systems to not have a mandatory update on launch either but that doesn’t earn them a pass here.
3. The Game Pad battery is tiny and weak
The entire experience of the Wii U is centered around the Game Pad and it’s a great controller and one of the most interesting pieces of tech to have come out. Unfortunately the stock battery that comes included with the Wii U is smaller than the compartment space it has available to use and is just not very strong. On the middle screen brightness setting and Power-saving mode on you’ll get maybe 3 to 4 hours of play time with the Game Pad before you need to recharge it. Although most people probably don’t have game sessions of that length very often, it’s really disheartening to have to constantly charge it when not in use. Although Nyko is coming out with an extended battery pack that promises to give you 3x the battery life of the stock unit, that’s more money you’ll have to spend but at least there’s an option out there.
4. Where’s the Virtual Console?
Okay, I know I just praised Nintendo’s evolution of their online strategy but it seems that it can be two steps forward and one step back in that regard. One of the best features of the Wii was the Virtual Console and having access to past video game hits on almost all the great gaming platforms, ranging from the original NES to Nintendo 64 and even Sega Master System and Genesis, with some Arcade titles to boot. Games that are rare in cartridge form can be had for the price of lunch in digital form and it was something that the competition couldn’t match. So why is it that the newest Nintendo console launched without this feature? It’s somewhat baffling as it would be easy money for them to make. Expanding upon the original Wii’s Virtual Console, being able to do off-screen remote play of something like Super Mario Bros 3. or Chrono Trigger should be a selling point of the system. But as of right now it’s not to be found on the Wii U system and it’s unfortunate. With the added horsepower of a high-definition system like the Wii U, having Gamecube games being downloadable on the Wii U is a realistic and alluring possibility. Once again, Nintendo has said that Wii U Virtual Console is coming but it needs to be prioritized. Give gamers the opportunity to purchase the games they enjoy and the money will follow.
Edit: In today’s Nintendo Direct conference we have details of the Wii U Virtual Console service being available after the Spring system update.
5. No metagame system
While I’m no diehard for achievements on the Xbox 360 and even less of a trophy hunter on the Playstation 3, it was still a cool feature to have implemented during the last console generation. When designed and used correctly it extends the life and length of a game by giving people extra incentive to go back through the game on a harder difficulty or trying to beat a certain score. There are also some hardcore gamers who will pursue a perfect Gamer Score or Platinum Trophy and purchase and play games just to earn them. While they may be in a minority, why not give people more reasons to want to play video games on your system? It was also a useful feature to be able to compare your own accomplishments to your friends, whether it was for bragging purposes or to see what games they’ve played. Developers have the capability on the Wii U to let their individual games have an associated achievement/unlock system but without a uniform account for the entire ordeal it loses a lot of its appeal. Sony managed to implement their own trophy system well after the launch of the Playstation 3 and I hope that Nintendo follows suit.
System launches, like puberty, are always rough, awkward periods for all parties involved. There has never been a system launch that didn’t have a hiccup or setback and the Wii U is no different. Despite these issues, none of them are dealbreakers and I don’t see any of them being on a level of the infamous 360 “Red Ring of Death” fiasco nor the PSN hack. If those two systems could survive despite those massive setbacks, the Wii U is looking just fine. Fortunately for Nintendo and consumers, most of the problems that plagued the Wii U launch are fixable and have already been acknowledged by President Satoru Iwata, it’s just a matter of time until they’re addressed.