I Spent the Night with Wii U
There’s nothing quite like your first night with a new console. Learning its nuances, acquainting yourself with the feel and weight of the new controller, setting up your profile and browsing through all the menus and apps like a greedy kid in a candy store, claiming each inch and every revelation as your own. It’s a feeling that comes but once every few years, and one I honestly didn’t think I’d experience with Wii U.
Yet as I cozied up with the shiny, black Deluxe Wii U that arrived in our office yesterday, I was surprised to find these feelings flooding through me. Despite the fact that I’ve been covering the Wii U since its announcement at E3 2011 – and have intermittently played several of the launch games at various points during their development cycle – I was still taken aback by having the system so fully in my possession for the very first time. There was no chain tethering the GamePad to the television, no crowd of impatient gamers lined up behind me, and best of all, no Wii U spokes-blonde telling me how to hold a controller like this is my first rodeo. Last night the Wii U was all mine, and for all the preview events, hands-on opportunities and early access I’ve been granted thanks to my mildly insane occupation, I wasn’t expecting what I found.
It turns out Wii U isn’t simply the over-glorified Wii accessory some cynical part of my subconscious had pre-emptively chalked it up to be. It’s the future – of Nintendo, and quite possibly of my beloved hobby as well. And while I’ve only had a taste, I was pleasantly surprised by our time together. Below you’ll find some of my initial thoughts – though keep in mind my hands are still tied in regards to certain aspects of the system and its launch software (so you’ll just have to stay tuned to IGN in the coming weeks if you want to know everything… and trust me, you do).
The Lure of Tablet Gaming
Its name invokes a blast from Nintendo’s past, yet the Wii U GamePad is anything but a relic. While good in theory, in practice using the tablet controller to so directly interact with the television screen is something of a revolution. With a tap of my finger I was selecting attractions to play in Nintendo Land, interacting with the crowd of Miis that invaded the Land plaza and scrolling my way around the various menus with ease. It feels so different from using a traditional controller or even a Wii remote to interact with the television, directly connecting you to what you’re touching rather than necessarily keeping you at a distance. It’s not like Kinect either, where there’s a sort of gray area between what you do in real life and what happens onscreen. Using the GamePad was so immediate, and so damn convenient, it made me momentarily forget my take-no-prisoners stance on the necessity of buttons (just momentarily).
Since Wii U’s day one update is not yet available, even to the press, a host of features still remain somewhat shrouded in mystery. I’m still largely in the dark in regards to Miiverse and online connectivity, and the latter prevented me from checking out Nintendo TVii, one of the features I’m most looking forward to. Still, simply exploring this new method of game and television control was just enough to exemplify the new system’s potential. After a night of dedicated gaming, I found myself impressed by the GamePad’s ease of use, as well as by the simple yet sharp graphics presented by New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land.
Say Goodbye to Universal Remotes
Another thing of note from my Wii U play time was how shockingly easy setting up the GamePad for television control is… and how very badly it made me wish I could play my Blu-ray collection on this thing. While I can’t yet detail the process, suffice to say that both times I paired the system with a television (at work and then again at home), it was quick and incredibly simple. As many of us know, setting up a universal remote is usually a nightmare of inputting long codes until you finally stumble upon the one that works. With Wii U, all you have to do is select your box’s manufacturer (which is likely emblazoned just under the screen) and the system will automatically do the rest. Both times I’ve gone through this process, the Wii U synced perfectly with my television on the first try, and within a matter of seconds. After just a few moments and a few taps, I was able to adjust the volume and channels and change the input right from my GamePad, as well as power on and off both the system and my television. I very much enjoyed using the tablet controller in this way, more so than I thought I would. Who thought upping the volume on your TV could be so exciting?
It’s a small detail, to be sure, but the fact that Wii U now offers the most seamless and convenient way to control a television is still to its credit. Just be aware of the fact that the GamePad seems to have some “people issues.” Specifically, I found it had trouble connecting with the system when buried behind my folded legs as I sat on the couch, or when hidden behind Brian Altano a few desks away. It’s a controller, in other words, and not a new portable to go slinging around the house. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata gave us some insight into the GamePad’s range last month, and his conclusion that it depends on your apartment/house layout seems quite true. But given a reasonably clear path, the lag-free, dual screen connectivity it provides is an absolute joy – though you might want to put any lingering plans of playing Mario out on the patio to bed.
Two Screens Are Better Than One
Speaking of dual screens, herein lies Wii U’s greatest draw – and it should come as no surprise. After all, the concept of dual screen gaming was first introduced and perfected by Nintendo with its DS and 3DS lines of portable systems, and the concept is alive and well with Wii U. But despite the similarities, playing with the GamePad feels very different than cuddling up with a 3DS.
We’ve already seen the GamePad’s touchscreen used for fairly standard DS/3DS fare like interactive maps and inventory, and hopefully third party developers will figure out the wide range of other cool and creative uses for the additional screen as well. But maps aside, for the most part the dual screen implementation offered by Wii U is quite distinct. The way the system blends the scope of console gaming with the convenience of dual screens makes for something entirely new. It allows for the personal experience of interacting with something in the palm of your hand without compromising the ability to enjoy a console experience on the big screen. As an ardent supporter of portable gaming, blending these two worlds is a tantalizing prospect, and from what I’ve seen it’s one Nintendo certainly delivers on.
Take Nintendo Land, for example. Moving the GamePad to examine your Land plaza is at first jolting, but once you get the hang of it it’s actually really cool. In the plaza, and during some of the games, what you see on the GamePad is essentially what other people in the room see on the big screen, whether you’re twisting the controller horizontally to examine some new plaza decoration or spinning it around like mad to make everyone’s head swim. The result is a uniquely contrasting experience that brings everyone in the room together while at the same time creating a necessary separation between what the GamePad user is experiencing and what everyone else is. It’s something that’s never really been done before, and the possibilities in regards to gaming and user interface are promising. The two separate vantage points offered by the television and the GamePad also opens the door for all manner of multiplayer experiments, which seems to be the driving idea behind this Deluxe pack-in.
The level of creativity and polish conveyed by Wii U’s various features and software offerings do well to show off Nintendo’s years of experience in developing for dual screens, though games like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U present more than their fair share of fresh ideas – and I’m only just getting started on both of them. While the concept of dual screen gaming isn’t new, it’s never been done quite like this.
These are just a few of my initial thoughts on Wii U. Pending that forthcoming software update, I’ll know more about Miiverse, Nintendo TVii, and the system’s online capabilities soon. But for now, I’m sufficiently teased by what I’ve seen. Despite my initial concerns, Wii U is very much its own system. It’s very much a step forward for the company, and unless I’m mistaken or something goes seriously wrong, for the industry as well. Needless to say, I’m quite excited to pick up my own Deluxe Wii U on November 18, and can already foresee many sleepless night at the mercy of my entertainment center’s new centerpiece.
Audrey Drake is an Associate Editor at IGN and a proud member of the IGN Nintendo team. She is also a lifelong gamer, a frequent banisher of evil and a wielder of various legendary blades. You can keep track of her wild adventures by following Aminka on IGN or @GameOnAminka on Twitter. Game on!
By Audrey Drake