The Nintendo Wii U and its innovative motion sensitive, touch-screen GamePad controller is packed with potential. For now, however, it's a waiting game to see if that potential is fully realized.
It's not your kid's Wii anymore. Though immensely popular with kids and families, the original Nintendo Wii caught lots of flak from serious gamers for its low-resolution graphics and low-octane gaming chops. That won't happen this time around as reviewers report that the Nintendo Wii U can throw up gaming graphics every bit as detailed as its competition from Microsoft and Sony, and do so in full 1080p resolution (finally). Some reviewers complain, however, that the Wii U does not outperform the existing and notably older consoles in that regard, though that goes hand-in-hand with comments that games at launch often don't take full advantage of the capabilities of the Wii U and the GamePad controller. Some also note some operational hiccups, such as slow load times and occasional glitches during game play. We also spotted some comments complaining that the user interface is unsophisticated, and very much like the one on the original Wii.
The GamePad is the Wii U's "big thing," and most -- but not all -- reviewers are generally impressed with its usefulness and utility. The most obvious feature is the 6.2-inch touch screen. One disappointment is that the screen is resistive rather than capacitive. What that means is that multi-touch gestures are pretty much out, and that you'll need a little more pressure that what's typically required with a tablet computer -- though not so much more that it's still not usable even by kids. Like Nintendo's portable gaming systems, a stylus is included.
The screen can duplicate what's shown on the TV, provide a different perspective on game play, or be used to provide additional information and menus, depending on the design of the game and the resourcefulness of the game developer. Some games can be transferred to the controller altogether and be played without the need for a connected TV.
The GamePad is motion sensitive like the original Wiimote, but is decidedly un-Wiimote-like in its array of typical game controller buttons, joysticks and the like. This could sound like a nightmare on paper to those used to Wii gaming rather than gaming on a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, but most reviews say that it all is remarkably intuitive and easy to master, though there might be a learning curve with some games. One oft-cited negative is that the battery life is very short for the GamePad. Others say that the build quality looks a little on the cheap side.
The success of the Wii U will largely hinge on how well and how quickly developers produce games that take full advantage of the console's and GamePad's hardware. For now, the line-up of games at launch is exceptionally thin, but that's to be expected. You'll find some decidedly un-kid-like titles such as ZombiU and Mass Effect 3, along with amped up versions of traditional Nintendo fare, such as Super Mario Bros. U. The Wii U is also backwards compatible with Nintendo Wii titles and with all existing Wii peripherals and controllers.
Coming attractions. One of the big complaints regarding the Wii U was how many of its online and media features were missing at launch. That's led lots of early reviewers to give the console lower grades, or ones such as "incomplete." Some of the gaps were filled almost immediately via a day-one firmware upgrade, but others, such as access to streaming media providers, were delayed; while apps for Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus were pre-installed, the only streaming provider accessible at launch was Netflix.
The big thing missing at launch, however, was Nintendo's TVii feature. TVii creates a programming guide based on user preferences. It pulls content from live TV and streaming services, and turns the GamePad controller into an advanced TV remote. There's also compatibility with TiVo DVRs, as well as integration with social networks so you can share and comment on what you are watching via Nintendo's Miiverse as well as Twitter and Facebook.
Smaller, neater … cheaper. Though it is about the same size as the original Wii video game console, the Nintendo Wii U console is notably smaller than other current consoles. Connectivity is good, and includes both component and composite video, along with an HDMI port. There's also an SD card slot and four USB ports.
As noted above, some reviewers grouse that the shiny plastic Wii GamePad looks cheap, almost toy-like thanks to its shiny black plastic casing. The console itself is similarly housed, and likewise gives rise to some less-than complimentary comments. Reviewers also say that the both the GamePad and the console attract lots of fingerprints. A few build quality issues are also noted: For example, ArsTechnica.com finds that the face buttons on the controller are a little loose, leading to a rattling sound when the GamePad is shaken.
Not there yet. With any video gaming system, the value is in the gaming. As a brand new system, that ecosystem is limited for now. The fact that the Wii U is backward compatible with the Wii helps, but only a little. That leads lots of experts to say that those that buy the Wii U right now are doing so more on promise than what's currently in hand. "I'm going to buy the system, don't get me wrong -- it's a neat step forward and nicely, surprisingly, never felt gimmicky -- but it just feels like I'm doing it as an investment right now, covering my bases for when the Great Wii U Game--maybe Pikmin 3?--comes out," says Popular Science's Colin Lecher.
The Wii U is available in two bundles. The Wii U Basic Set (*Est. $300) comes with the console with 8 GB of storage, GamePad controller, AC adapters for the console and GamePad and an HDMI cable. Note that the 8 GB greatly limits what you can download -- even some individual game titles are too large to be accommodated. However, storage is user expandable by adding a USB flash drive or USB external hard disc drive.
Many recommend bypassing the Basic Set for the Nintendo Wii U Deluxe Set (*Est. $350). The $50 premium nets you everything in the Basic Set, plus a bump in internal storage to 32 GB, a charging cradle for the GamePad, stands for the controller and the console, a Nintendo Land game and a limited-time10 percent discount on games and products from the soon to launch Nintendo eShop.
Finally, supplies of the Wii U were tight right after its late November 2012 release. We saw vendors charging well above retail for units.
Review Credibility: Excellent CNET sees the potential in the Nintendo Wii U, and appreciates the innovative controller that creates a two-screen gaming experience unlike any other video game console. However, Jeff Bakalar says that what's missing at launch -- including the promised TVii functionality and video streaming -- as well as some performance issues "make it tough to recommend in its current state."
Review: Nintendo Wii U review, Jeff Bakalar, November 17, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent PCMag.com finds many of the same pluses and minuses as CNET, but is a touch kinder in its overall assessment. Will Greenwald call's the Wii U "an ambitious console that's brimming with potential, even if some of the most interesting features aren't available at launch."
Review: Nintendo Wii U, Will Greenwald, November 20, 2012
3. The Verge
Review Credibility: Excellent The Verge puts the Wii U through its paces, but at the end is still not quite sure what to make of it. David Pierce finds many "moments of brilliance," but those are tempered by the fact that so much of the system is still so clumsy. "This could one day be a great console, or a bad one - right now it's in no-man's-land," he says.
Review: Nintendo Wii U review, David Pierce, November 18, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent ArsTechnica.com weighs in with a weighty dissection of what's under the hood of the Nintendo Wii U. Graphics capabilities look to be on a par with other current gaming consoles (like the Sony PlayStation 3), but not clearly better despite the console's increased power. Issues noted by others, including slow load times, are noted here as well. In the end, Kyle Orland gives the Wii U a grade of "incomplete" as so much of its functionality is still to come.
Review: Wii U hardware review: Double the screens, double the fun?, Kyle Orland, November 18, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Because of missing functionality at launch, Ben Gilbert reserves judgment on the Nintendo Wii U. However, that aside, he writes that "Nintendo promised consumers a modern HD gaming console, and the Wii U -- what's there of it thus far -- delivers on that promise."
Review: Nintendo Wii U review, Ben Gilbert, November 18, 2012
6. Popular Science
Review Credibility: Very Good Colin Lecher finds lots to like with the Nintendo Wii U, though the lineup of games at launch leaves him a little disappointed. The second-screen GamePad controller is particularly praised, and does add to the game playing experience, he says.
Review: Nintendo Wii U Review: Sounds Gimmicky, But Makes Good Games More Good, Colin Lecher, November 17, 2012
7. Time magazine
Review Credibility: Very Good Matt Peckham provides one of the more positive assessments of the Nintendo Wii U that we spotted. The capabilities and potential of dual-screen gaming made possible by the GamePad controller is why, he says, adding that with it, "Wii U already has a lock on the future of big-idea gaming."
Review: Nintendo Wii U Review: A Tale of Two Screens, Matt Peckham, November 18, 2012
8. USA Today
Review Credibility: Very Good USA Today joins the chorus by saying that the GamePad controller holds the key to the success or failure of the Nintendo Wii U. Brett Molina says that for now, however, the compelling game or feature that will sell game players on the value of two screens is not in sight.
Review: Review: Nintendo's Wii U a potential dual threat, Brett Molina, November 18, 2012