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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wii U: Impressions

On Sunday, my girlfriend and I made a decision about how long we would be willing to wait outside our local Target for a Wii U, and ended up in line about five minutes before the tickets were handed out, and we ended up a ticket good for the second-to-last deluxe model. I won't call our timing anything other than fabulous luck, but it does mean that I get to come to you all the day after release with my first impressions of the device and a couple of its games.
The Deluxe one is also prettier.

First: There is a system update at the beginning that takes in the neighborhood of an hour. This is a very frustrating thing to deal with out-of-the-box, and I've heard reports that if you shut the system off during that update, you can brick it. So, don't do that.

This was the least fun part.

Once our update finished we played a bit of Nintendo Land, by which I mean several hours' worth. This game itself is reason enough to spring for the deluxe model, and does a fabulous job of displaying some of the new capabilities and possibilities the console offers. In case you haven't heard of it, it's a virtual theme park-styled game that offers "attractions" (mini-games) based on various Nintendo properties from Game-And-Watch to Metroid to F-Zero to Animal Crossing. Some are single-player, but many offer some form of multiplayer that makes some use of the WiiU GamePad and the traditional Wii remotes. There are a few things we noticed about how the experience played out:

-The graphics are gorgeous. The game itself doesn't push too many boundaries technologically, but the technology amply supports the game's art style, which is beautiful. Each attraction has its own theme, but they share common style elements; in most, the scenery looks constructed, so even though the robotic goblins in the Zelda-themed attraction and the quiltwork backgrounds in the Balloon Trip Breeze attraction look substantially different they feel thematically similar. In all the attractions, too, you'll be controlling Miis dressed up like characters from the games. In one you might be dressed as Mario, or as a Pikmin. Every attraction feels like it captures a little bit of the essence of the game it's based on while still blending into the theme park aesthetic. It's a great feel.

It's just so fun to look at!
-The GamePad feels good. The screen looks great, and is responsive to touch. It's very lightweight, and holding it with both hands I found it rarely got too heavy (in some attractions where you hold it with one hand, it can start to be a little heavy). I never had any technical difficulty with the screen being unresponsive. More importantly, the GamePad is getting used in interesting ways; it's fun throwing stars with it in the ninja attraction, it's fun using it to evade your captors in the hide-and-seek-like Mario attraction, and it's fun using it as a kind of 360-degree viewfinder in the Zelda attraction, where you'll be firing at enemies on all sides. It makes me very, very optimistic about what might be possible with this in the future.

-It's really fun to watch. In general, I do like watching people play video games, but only occasionally can I convince my girlfriend to watch me play. With Nintendo Land, we both had a lot of fun both playing and watching. For a number of the events, the camera on the game pad is used to highlight whoever's playing, and it's a lot of fun to see the silly faces people make as they play. It doesn't hurt at all that the game itself is fun to look at, either. The idea of games as a spectator sport has been explored before, but in this case it's just fun to watch your friends and family play. It definitely reminds me of some of what was cool about Wii Sports when it first came out.

We've still got a lot of playing around with the Wii U itself to do - we haven't yet explored much of the online functionality, including the Miiverse - but in general it's hard not to love it. We've been mostly playing Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U, and they do feel very casual. Both have drop-in, drop-out multiplayer that's incredibly easy to do, and switching roles can keep things exciting, too. As busy as we often feel, it's really nice to feel like we can get ten or fifteen minutes of gameplay in and really still experience a meaningful chunk of the game; when you're used to playing games like Starcraft 2 or Skyrim, which unfold a lot more slowly, it's nice to have a slightly more casual option.

I should also mention that we picked up Assassin's Creed 3, in part at least because we live in Boston and we've always wanted to climb on Faneuil Hall and jump on people and all that. (You know, just startle the people coming out of the Urban Outfitters and then blend in with the performance artists and stuff and maybe have some clam chowder. I'm pretty sure that's in the game.) I haven't played AC3 on any other platform so I'm not really in a good place to make comparisons, but I can say that it looks stunning - leaps and bounds above what the Wii could do, obviously. Shimmering polygons flying around the loading screens reflecting everything are more than I think my brain knows how to handle. And it looks every bit as beautiful on the GamePad screen, too. Nothing about how the game uses the GamePad makes me think the experience is any better on the Wii U than it would be on another console. But for someone like me, who doesn't have another HD gaming console, it's a really nice claim for the Wii U to be able to make - though especially since HD consoles are so common, it's more of a prerequisite than a selling point. It seems as though it'll be able to hold its own in the high-end, AAA gaming market for a few years at least, though, which is an important step up over its predecessor.

If you're not sold on the Wii U, I might say wait until you see something that really catches your eye before you buy one. But I'd also say to try out some of the games that might not have immediately impressed you. I didn't really think Nintendo Land or New Super Mario Bros. U would hook me as much as they did, but the uses of the GamePad and the technology are really clever and fun, and hold a lot of promise. For me, the eventual purchase was inevitable; there will almost certainly be a Zelda or a Metroid for this console, and I will have them. If there's a similar inevitability for you right now, then you probably won't regret picking one up as soon as you can; there will be plenty to hold your interest. If not, then try one out and see how it feels to you; you might find there's something more than you expected there.

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying to decide when I want to get one. Do I be good and wait because I already have a bunch of games at my apartment I'm interested in playing, or do I get one now because I want to get one eventually and I'd like to play around with it? There's also securing the Nintendo Network ID I want - yay no more friend codes!