Nintendo’s Impressive, Incomplete Console - Review

Wii U Nintendo’s Impressive, Incomplete Console - Review
Nintendo’s Wii U is the company’s first high-definition game system, and its graphical power rivals that of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. But its best feature, and its big selling point, is its huge, tablet-like controller that combines physical controls with the motion controls of the original Wii and a Nintendo 3DS-style touch screen. But because some of the Wii’s key features aren’t yet enabled, it will take some time to learn whether the console’s considerable potential will be fulfilled.


First, the basics: The Wii U is available in either a $299.99 white Basic set, which comes with only the console with 8GB of memory, the gamepad, a sensor bar, and the necessary power and HDMI cables; or the black Deluxe set ($349.99 list), which includes everything in the Basic set, but ups the memory to 32GB, and adds a charging cradle, stands for the gamepad and the console, and a copy of Nintendo Land. The Deluxe version is definitely the better deal if, at the time of this writing, tougher to find at retail.

Although the Wii U looks as slender and compact as the original Wii, it’s much heftier. It weighs 3.4 pounds and measures 10.5 inches long, while keeping a relatively slim i.g-by-6.6- inch (HW) profile. Its front houses a slot-loading optical drive, Power and Eject buttons, a syncing button for the controller, and a plastic door that opens to reveal a USB port and an SD card slot (for expanding the built-in storage or, in the latter case, importing your WiiWare and Virtual Console games to the Wii U from your old console). Ports on the back of the system include IIDMI, power, sensor bar, two USB, and A/V (which uses the same component or composite video cables as the Wii).

Instead of a motion-sensing Wiimote (which the Wii U supports), the Wii U uses an ambitious gamepad as its controller. It features a 6.2-inch, 854-by-48o-pixel resistive touch screen (sorry-, no multitouch) that serves as the primary method of inputting information and navigating menus. The low-res display is fine for most activities, but pales in comparison to what you find on other touch-screen dcviccs like the PlayStation Vita or the Google Nexus 7.

The gamepad also acts as it own display either mirroring the Wii U’s picture from your TV or offering additional information and menu options. You can also bypass the console entirely and stream games directly to the gamepad. The controller also has a full selection of physical controls surrounding the screen, as well as Home, Power, and TV Remote buttons. You also get motion controls, just like with the Wiimote, so it can detect how it’s positioned and at what angle. The gamepad is comfortable to hold despite its large size of 5.3 by 10.2 by 0.9 inches (HWD) and 1.1-pound weight.

A microphone can pick up your voice, two speakers let the controller provide its own music, and with the front-facing camera you can video chat with other Wii U users and take photos (for things like making a Mii avatar based on your face for use in games; it’s not intended as a standalone camera). A headphone jack sits on the top edge of the controller, along with a volume slider, a power port, and a removable stylus. The gamepad charges through a cable that plugs into the wall with the bundled adapter, but Deluxe owners can charge the gamepad with the included cradle. (Basic owners can buy the cradle for $20.)

The gamepad will communicate with the Wii U at distances up to 30 feet. But walls, comers, and physical obstructions can interfere with the wireless signal. On a single charge, the gamepad lasted a disappointing 3 to 5 hours in my tests, though you can use it as a wired controller with the power cable plugged in. Because the gamepad battery' is removable, expect to see third-party companies selling extended batteries.

Nintendo WiiU


Setting up the console is simple, thanks to clear, easy-to-understand prompts that appear on the gamepad. The Wii U’s menu system involves two screens: the WaraWara Plaza, a social network aggregate of Wii U user activity, and the actual menu, which looks similar to the existing Nintendo 3DS and Wii menus, with icons representing the available apps and features.

The Wii U’s menu includes a row of icons for Miiverse, Nintendo’s communications network and message board for games; Nintendo eShop, for downloading games through an online store; Internet Browser, just a Web browser; Tvii, the promising streaming and broadcast TV feature intended to bring together online services, live TV, and DVR into one menu; and Notifications, for receiving messages and updates.


The Wii U is backward compatible with disc-based and downloadable Wii games, but these titles aren’t integrated into the Wii U’s menu. Instead, you need to go into a secondary Wii Menu, which effectively emulates the Wii’s interface (and disables the gamepad); these games require a Wiimote, making the Wii U think it’s a Wii. This is disappointing, because users with large Virtual Console libraries will have to stare at a Wii-like menu with no gamepad support instead of having their games collected together with their Wii U apps in a single menu. Wii users can transfer their downloaded games and save files to the Wii U, but it’s a convoluted process that requires either two Wiimotes or some Wiimote pairing juggling.

Nintendo has introduced the Nintendo Network ID, a user name that replaces the Wii and DSi’s lengthy numeric Friend Code. This is still underwhelming because of the lack of backward compatibility with the ID; you still have to deal with the bizarre system transfer process. Hopefully future implementation will offer actual account tracking of purchases, as other gaming systems do.


Although it’s the first in the next generation of game consoles, the Wii U is on a par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in terms of graphics. That said, it’s the most graphically advanced Nintendo system, and the first to output in io8op. The Wii U definitely has power behind it that the Wii lacks, and supports games like Assassin’s Creed 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Even Nintendo’s standbys have new life, with New Super Mario Bros. U as the first io8op incarnation of Mario.

The same can’t be said for the gamepad. It’s ostensibly the same game seen through the touch screen, but New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t look nearly as good on the touch screen as it does on an HDTV. Nintendo’s choice to use a resistive LCD touch screen with no multitouch support is awkward enough, but the screen itself looks pale and soft. The screen works better when used as a secondary' display for games.


Miiverse offers a Twitter-like experience, and is divided into different sections and communities based on different games. Users can post to the Miiverse while playing, include both text messages and drawings, and even tag messages with their current level so people going through the same area can discuss how to overcome obstacles. It’s not a particularly robust system, but it’s functional and entertaining.

The Wii U supports video chat, but only through Nintendo’s own online service. Players who have added each other to their friends’ lists on their Wii U can video chat using the front-facing camera on the gamepad.

Currently, several online video services are available on the Wii U, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube. Nintendo plans to integrate these into TVii, but the service was not enabled at the time of this writing. TVii could make the Wii U the most compelling media hub among game systems if it’s implemented well; it lacks the Blu-ray playback of the PlayStation 3, but its live TV and DVR integration and aggregation of content across multiple services would be unmatched.

The Wii U gamepad can work as a TV and set-top box remote, but the TV remote functions only cover Power, Input, Volume, Channel, and there’s a number pad, with no navigation pad for moving through menus. Set-top box support is better, with a Guide button and a nav pad mapped to the gamepad’s direction pad, letting you scan your channel guide like a Wii U menu. Hopefully the TVii update will improve on this remote feature.


With so many features still not implemented and only a handful of titles currently available, we’ve yet to see whether the Wii U fully lives up to its potential. Nintendo has made some crucial steps with HD video and a robust online service, but the Wii U still clings to some frustrating elements of Nintendo’s past systems. Just like the 3DS and Wii before it, the Wii U’s success will ultimately depend on how well third-party developers take advantage of its hardware.

Ambitious design. Tons of potential. Solid gaming and media feature set.

TVii feature and support for multiple gamepads not implemented at launch. WII U gamepad screen is resistive and resolution Is low. Short gamepad battery life. Software transfer process is unnecessarily convoluted.