The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; the full Wii U review wrap

29 mins read

It’s not every day that a new console is launched. In fact, it’s been years since the last new TV console, the PlayStation 3, hit the market.

And with that in mind, we’ve gone all out to be comprehensive with the Digitally Downloaded review of the console. Read on for the thoughts of three of the team of the console and its hardware, as well as its future potential.

Clark A
Find Mii on MiiVerse: Midori

I’ll be honest – the Wii U is not a console that ever really impressed me. I began gaming with Nintendo and have always made it something of a habit to pick up the latest gadgets, but I did not bother pre-ordering a Wii U. The tablet controller did not come off as particularly ground-breaking and the internals seemed middling. Nintendo reps were changing details to the point where it seemed like people in the company didn’t know what they were actually producing. After going hands-on, I am cautiously optimistic but convinced there is a market for this new system. If Nintendo can tap into that, this console has a bright future ahead.

The Hardware

The Wii U’s resemblance to the original Wii is uncanny, but a few tweaks help set it apart from its older brother. Even though the console is about as tall as its predecessor, it’s quite a bit deeper. You may want to take this into account if your entertainment unit is lacking in depth. Additionally, since there’s no stand included with the either the basic or deluxe model, you’ll have to display it flat on its side. The text on the system is only readable in horizontal position, so this appears to be by design.
Most other details such as the rounded design, SD card slot, and USB ports are negligible at best. One rather welcome change, though, is the placement of the sync button besidethe frontal flap. No longer will your ill-informed grandmother have to search for it under the console.
The tablet (officially christened “Game Pad”) is a lot more exciting. It has a relatively standard set of buttons including one to control the TV itself mid-game. Still, I must use the term “relatively” since the triggers lack pressure sensitivity unlike the Dualshock 3, the 360 controller, or even Nintendo’s own Game Cube controller. This could make ports something of a challenge. Some will also bemoan the tablet controller for its juvenile, unsophisticated look but at least it can’t be faulted for being lightweight and ergonomic.  
We can’t overlook the giant touch screen smack dab in the middle of the controller. While it technically has nothing on, say, the Vita’s OLED screen, it’s so good looking you won’t really care. The colour palette is vibrant and is largely able to imitate the action on your HD TV set. In terms of touch control, it functions as well as any of the DS line (which is to say just fine). The lack of a multi-touch capactive screen does not seem to dampen the tablet’s versatility either. With some practice, you’ll be typing lengthy messages on the virtual keyboard in seconds.
The Software

As soon as you turn on the console, you’ll go through the course of setting up the internet and the date. Pretty standard stuff. What is less standard is having to wait an hour to download a 1GB system update so you can access many of the console’s selling points. Such is life in the era of updates, but I’d like to think future system updates will come faster. I was able to download more than 3GB on a PS3 in half the time, so I suspect this has to do with Nintendo servers or some such.
When you finally get started, you’ll be greeted by one of the most compelling systems menus to date. Taking after the 3DS, it features a group of square icons that can be dragged and reordered to your heart’s content. On the other screen lies a quick window into Nintendo’s new Miiverse service. You’re able to see images and text updates from players regarding the games you play and the ones you’re interested in. This makes the main menu seem more like a community hub than any other before it – no other console offers this level of user engagement. Obviously this is subject to change when the system garners more users and the moderators grow lax, but you should enjoy simply having the Wii U running.
As of this writing, though, the OS is decidedly plagued by slowdown and bugs. It’s nothing too terrible, but 10-20 seconds to come back from a game or app is a bit demanding. I also encountered many crashes in both the games I played and the apps I ran (YouTube and Nintendo Land were especially guilty). The only solution for getting out of those was to unplug the power from the unit (hardly the safest measure, methinks).
Broadly speaking, there are some very nice improvements over the current HD twins. For one thing, you can update games in the background. Many users are vocal about having to download gigabytes of updates before being able to play a PS3 game, but you won’t run into that here. In other ways, Nintendo seems to ignore the rest of the industry. There’s still no achievement system in place, which means owners with multiple consoles will probably be more inclined to purchase multiplatform titles on those unless a Wii U game has exciting exclusive content.  
The Wii U also comes loaded with several third party video applications. While Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu Plus are all fine and dandy, it would be nice to have a traditional music and video player implemented somehow. Even though these functions can be reached (to an extent) through the Wii mode, it’s an inconvenient method to access a less than thrilling interface.
The lack of regular multimedia options is made up for with the best browser I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. Websites load fast and efficiently, HTML5 is supported, videos can be played directly in the browser, typing is effortless, the interface is straightforward, and you can boot it up while a game runs in the background. Perhaps most importantly, you can lie in bed or sit on the john with the premier browsing experience at your fingertips. If you’re reasonably tech savvy, you can even run a media server through it to stream videos from your computer. Seriously, kudos to whoever was involved in making this.
In terms of launch software, the selection is about as good as it gets for such a low-key period. You’ve got a new Mario platformer, a showcase for the console’s features in Nintendo Land, the mature-magnet ZombiU, and several Xbox/PlayStation ports. Most of these games are available or will be available for download on the eShop, which makes us rather cheerful here at Digitally Downloaded.
Speaking of which, the Wii U’s eShop is Nintendo’s best effort at a digital storefront so far. Most of the important buttons are there on the main menu and the front page highlights items in a less roundabout manner than the 3DS. It’s also nice being able to see 3DS download software in the Wii U’s shop. This goes a long way toward making the Nintendo Network feel like a centralized network ala PSN. Once Nintendo implements the account system properly, things will be even more exciting.
The Experience

Despite comparisons to the DS prior to launch, the process of shuffling your eyes between both screens simultaneously is somewhat taxing. It does make sense, since one does not naturally hold the Game Pad in line with the TV screen. Thankfully your eyes do adjust, but I reckon the most successful implementation of the Game Pad will be in games that do not require simultaneous viewing of both screens.  
Another one of the console’s selling points is the ability to play without having a TV in the room. We’ll see in time how much this feature gets used in games, but as of launch, this is sublime. Indeed, you can finally take the full Super Mario Bros. with you while unclog (or clog, depending on your habits) the toilet. The range is not too bad either – mine seemed to go further than the advertised 25 ft estimation. If you have got the premium bundle, you can set up a stand for the Game Pad and play on the tablet with a Wii remote. It’s a very simple addition that won’t set the gaming world on fire, but it’s doubtlessly gratifying.
With online interactions, it seems Nintendo has finally done it. Friends can be added with ease and messages between friends can include text, drawings, and screenshots. Miiverse opens the door further, allowing you to communicate in a forum-like environment. If we can get some Facebook or Twitter integration (because let’s be honest, people aren’t going to use a Nintendo-oriented social network currently only available on proprietary technology nearly as much as those), the platform could well be a success. 
Clark’s Verdict

Wii U probably won’t convince 360 or PS3 owners to join in until some worthwhile exclusives come around, but the current system setup is mostly there. It’s not terribly fresh or innovative as a whole, but several smaller aspects make the console feel like a premium HD gaming experience.

Jason M
Find Mii on MiiVerse: TSlade

I honestly (really) wasn’t sold on the Wii U at all. In fact, right up to the console’s launch date, I wasn’t all that interested in the Wii successor and didn’t see why anyone should be. After all, a console that was described as being ‘as powerful’ as the current PlayStation and Xbox doesn’t sound all that appealing at first mention. And the fact that the controller has a screen just looked to me to be another gimmick like the Wiimote and ‘motion controls’.

Apologies if you’re in the camp that actually liked waving your arms around like a lunatic to play a game. If you liked it, you liked it- I didn’t. Kind of the exact opposite way I felt about the Wii U was how I felt about the Wii. I really thought I’d dig the extra functionality of the Wiimote and snapped up a console at launch. I was as wrong about that as I’m fast finding I was about the Wii U though, because (so far at least) it’s a fantastic little console and has seriously blown away my expectations.

This is the first time since the Nintendo 64 that I’m legitimately excited about actually playing games on a Nintendo console and as an old school Nintendo fan, that’s a pretty exciting prospect.

Visually the Wii U looks a lot like the Wii at first glance. It’s similar in size and shape, and even the dashboard has a somewhat Wii-esque look to it.. well, the on screen dash anyway, as the controller displays something all together different and you can swap the functions at will between the two displays. More on that later though because I want to make sure I get across that even though some things may look similar (and you can still use a Wiimote for some things), this is an evolution of the form and function- not a stagnation or a retread.

For starters, the GamePad is cooler and already does more for games on the console than the Wiimote ever could have hoped to. The addition of a second screen experience means that the game you’re playing can now expand it’s borders and offer even more functionality than ever before on a home console.

I have yet to play something that offers ‘second screen’ expansion, but even playing games that don’t is a great time unto itself as you can play full-on games on the GamePad. I can’t express how great it is to play New Super Mario Bros U on the GamePad (and get the full console experience while doing so) while someone else gets to use the TV for an entirely different purpose- even playing another console.

And the GamePad offers pretty much the full range of options that you’d expect to get from a fully fledged portable like the 3DS too. It offers a camera (not 3D), independent volume control that actually does a reasonable job at surrounding you with audio, a headphone jack and more. It’s a great device that would be a solid ‘console’ even without the Wii U and its television displaying HD visuals behind it.

On those HD visuals- Mario, by the way, looks fantastic in HD. It’s really terrific that Nintendo finally embraced the technology of the day and added that beautiful HDMI port in the back of the Wii U because the Mushroom Kingdom never looked so good as it does now on the big screen, in all its 1080p glory.

A little note about the cables in the box since we’re on the subject of displays- there’s only an HDMI hookup included with the Deluxe set. If you’re going to be looking to use anything else, make sure you pick up what you need when you bring your console home because that’s all that’s in the box.

Now, a slight caveat: as great as I think the Wii U is at the moment, there are still some (more than likely) very powerful new consoles coming in either 2013 or 2014 courtesy of Sony and Microsoft. That’s something that might once again might spell a bit of trouble for Nintendo.

Releasing a console this early (which seems strange to say since this is the longest console life cycle… maybe ever) in the game and this far ahead of the competition definitely has both its advantages and its drawbacks.

The bottom line is that we just don’t know what the specs are going to look like for the consoles that the remaining two-thirds of the big three will be bringing to market. If they’re drastically more powerful than the Wii U, it could be a problem for Nintendo once more. History may repeat and developers might again find themselves working on beastly-looking games for the neXtbox and PS4- then porting them to the Wii U with less than top-flight, stunted versions.

Hopefully not though. Hopefully the Wii U can at least remain competitive in the specs department with the rest of the ‘next gen’ and keep rolling along. The launch alone was definitely a step in the right direction as Nintendo hit all it’s marks and had the Wii U’s catalog loaded with digital and retail offerings, a Super Mario title on the shelves, and plenty of ‘Mature’ rated games for older audiences available.

Yes, I know a lot of the third-party titles are just ports of games that are out now (some that have been out for a while) but it still says a lot about where Nintendo’s collective head is and what the company is thinking. They covered all their bases- even the online ones -and didn’t just play to the core fan base. That’s not something you usually see from them and it’s a very welcome sight.

Everything’s looking good right now. With guys like Gearbox’ Randy Pitchford saying things like the version of the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines to get will be the Wii U edition (thanks to the motion detector being mapped to the GamePad), things certainly seem more evenly rounded than they have in years for Nintendo. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next, and that feels good to say.

Keep it up guys.

Matt S
Find Mii on MiiVerse: WaltzIT

I’m going to be that guy – the one that ruins the party. While my colleagues above are positive in their impressions of the Wii U, I’m going to have to say that I still have some grave reservations about the console. 
I do love it – don’t get me wrong there. I actually think, as a piece of technology, it’s an amazing achievement by Nintendo. The “it’s not all that powerful’ brigade don’t seem to realise that a dual-screen set-up is a technical marvel and there are experiences, especially the kind of multiplayer that NintendoLand demonstrates, that will likely never be possible on the next-gen Sony and Microsoft consoles. 
So, on a technical level, I remain confident that the Wii U will succeed. My concerns with the device are far more philosophical in nature. To make it clear: my problem with the Wii U is that it’s only possible to enjoy the console the way Nintendo wants you to enjoy it. 
Running through some examples – Nintendo went to all this effort to create MiiVerse, and then proceeded to lock the community down. There’s plenty of reports of people having comments deleted for all kinds of crazy reasons, and there is no real way to engage with the community except to share random comments about games. A social network that doesn’t let you socialise is what exactly? The other gaming-focused social networks understand that sometimes people want to communicate with one another about stuff outside of games. The result of the direction Nintendo has taken with MiiVerse is that, yes, it’s a “safe” community (though I feel sorry for the people that enjoy the “shovelware,” as the Nintendo fans seem to have no qualms mocking those games without having played them, and Nintendo doesn’t sensor that negativity), but it’s also a community that is so limited that I find it difficult to see it really taking off. The fact is, I can check my Twitter anywhere I like, so having to log in to my MiiVerse from my home console to check messages is downright antiquated. 
Then there’s the lack of achievements. Nintendo didn’t want people to enjoy their games that way, so there goes that option. As a result, games like Mass Effect 3 have shoved in an in-game achievement system which doesn’t do anything and, in fact, is very difficult to even find in the game. It’s poor form from a company that should have realised that achievements are popular for a reason – for a large community of gamers they help deepen the engagement with the game. With the 3DS Nintendo had an adequate alternative to the achievements system – an in-depth activity log. On the Wii U the activity log is stripped right back to the bare essentials, and is no longer as enjoyable to play with as a result.
And perhaps the single greatest example of Nintendo’s utmost commitment to dictating to people how to play their games is the Wii transfer service. Yes, you can transfer your Wii data to the Wii U, along with your WiiWare and Virtual Console games. But once it’s there you’ll discover that you can no longer play games off the SD card and the amount of memory partitioned off for the Wii game data is exactly the same as with the Wii. The games might be upscaled visually (and with some, such as Xenoblade, this is a nice bonus), but if you were a regular user of WiiWare/ Virtual Console, prepare to be doing a lot of deleting and redownloading. 
There’s all kinds of little signs with the Wii U that Nintendo has taken a couple of steps forwards in terms of making the console far more modern, feature-rich and online-enabled experience. And then there are all kinds of little signs that Nintendo is also so committed to telling people how to have fun that the Wii U is a surprisingly restrictive console. For all the joys of being able to play full, HD games on the gamepad and downloading retail games off the eShop come the sheer disappointments of region locking, a stifled community and the single worst case of backwards compatibility I have ever seen. 
I’m certain some of these issues will be resolved into the future – I strongly suspect that the Wii U was rushed to market for Christmas as the loading times are uncharteristically long for Nintendo, there are regular game freezes, and there is that 1GB mammoth day 1 patch to consider. I certainly hope they are fixed sooner rather than later, though, because while I don’t think any of these issues are a long-term problem from the consumer end, I can only imagine the frustration developers would feel in wanting to engage with the toys Nintendo has put into this console, and then discovering that there are textbooks of rules on how players are allowed to have fun with these toys. 
Of course, a console is all about the games that you can play on it, and as you’ll see in the game reviews that will start to appear on Digitally Downloaded in the coming days and weeks, the Wii U is off to a cracker start. 

We’d love to hear from our readers and their first impressions of the Wii U! Sound out below, and add the Digitally Downloaded team to your friends list!

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

  • Well, I hope to get one soon. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts guys! it'd be nice to know how long you guys spent your times with the new console, if possible.

  • It's a great console – you'll love it!

    As for how long I have played it, in addition to the two preview events, my Activity Log is currently saying around 30 hours across three solid days of play since it launched in Australia.

  • There are several things Nintendo needs to fix asap:

    1. The lock-ups. I've had about 10 lock-ups since Thursday, all in different applications.

    2. The constantly spinning disc. Even when I'm not playing the game on the disc, it constantly spins, kind of annoying.

    3. Letting one choose a different resolution for Wii mode, because I can't change my monitor to 4:3 when using 1080p, which is necessary for Virtual Console games.

    Some things nice to have would be:

    1. Being able to control Miiverse and eShop with the remote..I don't understand why they don't let you do that.

    2. A user-programmable remote. I'm using an Eizo monitor which uses a remote to switch inputs, adjust volume, etc. But it isn't listed as a manufacturer, so I can't use the GamePad to replace the remote.

    Also have a question:

    'play on the tablet with a Wii remote'

    How did you do that? And in which software? I don't seem to get it to work.

  • Yeah, yikes on those major UX bugs…got to agree with Matt that the console had to be rushed a bit (or, rather, the OS UX development went over schedule surprise surprise :p). That chunky Day 1 patch is a dead giveaway as was Iwata's sheepishness when he addressed it several days after launch.
    That big TVii update seemes scheduled to drop in a couple weeks. Hopefully Ninty will address a bunch of things.
    While a tad disappointed that they could not get the UX smoother out the gate, what with all their years to study the competition and plenty of resources to acquire the talent to build it, it will be the part of the console that evolves. Looking at the 1 gb they have tucked away for system processes, Nintendo may have quite a bit planned…

  • Appreciate the thoughts, guys. You really make it sound like you are having a blast with it and turning me a bit green (with envy that is) as a result.
    I am fascinated with their mii-verse experiment and will be closely watching how it evolves. I too shake my head at the excessive censorship, but I applaud their attempt to build something unique and tailored to this platform. It does not have to be facebook. It does not have to be twitter…those two already do a great job being themselves. It does need to deliver exactly what was promised…a common thread to link together game players in a useful, playful and seamless way.
    They have also promised that a future smart phone app will allow customers to check their feed anytime. I am so skeptical they will be able to get this out in any kind of decent timeframe, but oh man I applaud the ambition.

    Looking forward to the future DD article "Wii U vs 3DS – Does the majority still NEED need a dedicated handheld?" 🙂

  • I've heard about the lockups, but I haven't seen it personally. If that's seriously widespread, that's gotta be fixed asap. Almost as unacceptable as the beast of a day one download…

  • I do agree that MiiVerse doesn't need to be Twitter – and shouldn't try to be. However, it needs to be a service that people want to use, even though they already have 2, 3 or more social networks that they actively use.

    Until MiiVerse is a permanent part of our lives – i.e. it's on our phones as well – I can't see that happening. Already I'm logging in each day after work to find I am well and truly behind the conversation. It then becomes hard to be a part of the conversation.

    But it's a lovely interface and the ability to post screenshots is great. I have my fingers crossed this develops quickly.

  • That's funny, because I've never had a lock-up IN a game. Sometimes when starting a game, but mostly in Home-Menu applications and when switching between them.

  • Hi NoodleSnack,

    I'm sorry you lost your post – it does happen from time to time with Disqus. 🙁

    If you'd like to post your thoughts again I'd love to read them!

  • Well I try again, hope this time my comment does not disappear.

    I personally like that certain offensive words are being blocked and post being rude/offensive removed. There is already enough stuff going on on the Internet and I do not really always enjoy that. I personally love Miiverse. It is easy to come in contact with other users for game advice and a chat in a friendly way. The only thing I must agree on is that it is indeed limited. The fact that you can't post anywhere else but the game communities. I'd for instance would like to be able to post on my profile, so only my friends can see it, also other none gaming communities would be welcome in my opinion. Overall I very much like Miiverse, but It could use some upgrades.

    The gamepad I LOVE! I love how it looks, feels, works and weights. I've been using it for a while now and the (apple) Ipad I got now feels like complete crap. Ok, not complete, some stuff runs better on a Ipad, and other stuff can be used. But the typing is so much easier with the little pen included and the build in stand like curve on the back is a real outcome to hold up the gamepad with just one hand without getting cramps after a while. I always get to struggle after a while using the Ipad.

    Also the browser I love. It is fast and again easy to use. A small disappointment is the fact that you can no longer watch youtube video's from the browser since the last update of youtube. But there is a easy work around which is to replace "watch?=v" with "embed/" then the video will open up full screen and can be watched. I hope this will be fixed in the future, but then again look how often youtube changes their website.
    A other small disappointment is that the browser does not support hotmail, which I personally use. Also facebook doesn't look that stunning. If there would be made apps for that I would be happy.

    Personally I deeply hate the youtube app. It looks so different then what we are used to so I just can't get used to it. I also hate that it just plays all the video's it found on the list that came up from your word search. Maybe there is a way to turn it off, but still I won't be using it. Also the design got something from the PS3 and does not really harmonize with the rest of the WiiU design in my opinion.

    For the games I've played so far, which is not much. I've fully played one Ubisoft game. It was full of little bugs. They where not that annoying, but they where there so… that was kinda… well not a turn off but they just shouldn't be there. I also saw that other users where having way more dramatic bugs, some that if they accrued to me I would consider the game unplayable. I think that Ubisoft just quickly threw in the game for WiiU release and hope that in the future they will be paying more attention to it.
    Once the WiiU froze, but again this was with a Ubisoft, a app to be precise. I had to take the power of the console to be able to turn it off and start again.

    The home screen of the WiiU I again love, haha. All apps can be easily found and look quite stunning. I also like that you can see the other users Mii's walking around and shouting out their posts. It really gives you the feeling that you are out there, not alone at home.

    I do agree with you guys that the waiting time between the home menu and apps/Miiverse is to long. If they could chop it down to a half it would be perfect. For games I understand it takes a while to start, also I am used to get 2/3 logo's thrown at my face before the game starts, not to forget the often included intro's.

    Overall I really like the WiiU but hope they will be improving Miiverse and their games.
    Btw, for the notice. I only have experience with pc's, the old Xbox and PS3.

  • It worked this time! Thank you very much for taking the time to leave us your in-depth response.

    I agree with you regarding YouTube. On the Wii U YouTube is a natural fit and should be a lot of fun, but that application is very poor. I'm sure it will be updated at some stage though!

    Glad to hear you're enjoying your time with the console overall though – it's a great little piece of tech.

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