84 hours ago, Wii Us made their way out of factory-sealed boxes, finding comfortable resting places atop consumers' TV stands.  The release of the first next-generation console generated a great deal of pre-release buzz.  Proponents praised the idea of mixing tablet gaming with standard consoles and lauded Nintendo for the promised innovations of a GamePad.  Skeptics questioned whether this really was worthy of "next-generation" status, as this is the first High Definition console produced by Nintendo, which competitors Sony and Microsoft have had for six years.

So who's right?  Do the GamePad and other Wii U offerings deliver an unparalleled gaming experience?  Or will this console go the way of the Dreamcast?

The short answer - With the release of the Wii U, Nintendo has delivered a console worthy of next-generation status.

There is plenty to discuss in regard to how I reached this assessment, but I hope by the end of this review that this conclusion is fitting.  I will go through the setup process and discuss my experience with Nintendo Land.  While I have not played other Wii U software, the purpose of this overview is to assess the proven potential of this console from an initial experience.


Upon arriving home, I unpacked my 32 GB Deluxe Wii U ($349.99).  This model, which costs $50 more than the 8 GB Basic Wii U, includes not only an HDMI cable, GamePad, console, and charger for the GamePad, but it also featured a copy of NintendoLand and various stands for the console and GamePad.  A sensor bar is included, in case the owner does not have a Wii.

After plugging everything in (and realizing I could benefit from another extension cord) I powered the system on.  I answered a few standard questions, such as my date of birth, location and wireless internet settings.  After I created my Mii, the system downloaded a 5 GB firmware update.  If you buy the Wii U after the next few weeks, you likely will not need to perform this update, as it will be included with future shipped units.  However, as this was a Day One update, early owners need to devote an hour to get the online features up and running.


Nintendo's social hub is referred to as the Miiverse, and it's clear the company is focused on making this concept last.  Your experience may change slightly based on how you identify yourself as a gamer, as the system prompts you to indicate if you are a Beginner, Intermediate or Expert.  Users are able to ask questions and share art that is created using the stylus on the GamePad.  I was impressed by the level of detail of what several other Wii U owners drew and shared.

While I am not certain that I will be spending much time there, the Nintendo Miiverse allows for easy interaction with fellow, unknown gamers.  I hope that Nintendo can come up with gaming events or exclusive content that encourages frequent use of the Miiverse.  As clean and (mostly) user-friendly as it is, I do not see much need for me to visit it frequently.

Make a Friend (if you can)

Wii owners will remember the usage of friend codes, which were required in order to register buddies on a console.  The Wii U has improved on this, but unfortunately, it was not user-friendly enough for me to figure out.  In the Miiverse, you can look up a person by their Nintendo Network ID (which you will create after setting up the Wii U).  There's a button labeled along the lines of "Request Friend", which you would think you could use.  However, whenever I tried that, I was prompted to setup my friend settings, or something of that nature, but was not told where to go.  After searching for five minutes, I looked this up online, and found many other users had this issue.  I eventually came across a system setting that explained how making friends worked.  After watching that, I was able to make a friend request.

This system is still cumbersome and is something that should not be a problem in 2012.  Microsoft and Sony have simplified the friend-making experience, and the Wii U does not seem to have a simple Friends hub I can quickly jump into (without making my way to the Miiverse).  Let's hope future updates address this.

Nintendo Land

Popping in a game for the first time is always an exciting experience.  It was less exciting when the Wii U had to download and install more updates for it, but after 10-15 more minutes, I was in Nintendo Land!

I sure hope you don't like to skip text boxes during multiple tutorials, because you are about to get hit over the head with them.  Having a narrator speak like she's reading English for the first time doesn't help, either.  However, once you understand the basics of moving and jumping, you are free to head into any attraction.  Some are exclusively one-player attractions, while others have compatibility of up to five people and require at least two participants.  Only one person at a time can operate a GamePad - other users will need to use Wii Remotes.

I dipped into a few of the single-player titles.  My first experience was "Pikmin Adventure."  This title features multiple levels and puts you in the role of Captain Olimar.  Your main purpose is to use the GamePad's stylus to tap enemies, effectively throwing your arsenal of Pikmin at them.  You have a whistle on the GamePad, which can be tapped to call your Pikmin.  All in all, this was a cute mini-game with catchy music, but did not encourage much replay.

Donkey Kong's Crash Course was my next mini-game.  In this, a version of your Mii is transformed into a very fragile car, which does not take kindly to running into walls or falling from platforms at high velocity.  The world you are put in is reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg contraption, and your ultimate goal is to roll your way to Princess Peach as safely and quickly as possible.  This is a difficult challenge.  The player only controls the Mii by tilting the GamePad.  Occasionally, you must press L or R to lower platforms.  If you burn through your five lives by either falling or hitting an object too quickly, you're out.  This obstacle course can be frustrating and challenging, but also a ton of fun.  I can see the GamePad being passed around at parties.

Finally, as a long-time Zelda fan, I tried "The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest."  This game puts your Mii on rails, requiring you only to shoot with a bow and arrow as you travel through familiar Zelda settings.  This was a great, nostalgic experience.  My Mii traveled through the Lost Woods as I listened to the Kokiri theme.  This game also has multiple levels and always ends with a boss fight, which can be more challenging and creative than one would expect from a mini-game collection.

What impressed me so much after playing these games was the variety of play styles I needed to adopt.  The Pikmin game had me using the stylus and, like a DS, viciously tap the enemies that appeared on my touchscreen.  The Donkey Kong game took advantage of the GamePad's built-in accelerometer as I guided my Mii to Princess Peach (or tried to - I never got there successfully).  Finally, the Zelda title had me physically moving the GamePad to aim at the approaching enemies.  If I ran out of arrows, I would simply point the GamePad to the floor and automatically refill my quiver.

My main concern from these experiences is that I felt like I was relying too heavily on what was on the GamePad than what was on the TV screen, and in the future I would prefer looking at the TV and have the GamePad's screen take a supplemental role.  I'm sure this will be the case for many games as the months go by, as the Wii U has certainly proved that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to game design.

From the get-go, it's clear that Nintendo Land is no Wii Sports.  Nintendo is making an earnest effort at attracting hard-core gamers, even in a family-friendly title.  Some of these challenges are not easy and will require much practice before a user can earn an in-game gold trophy.  After you complete mini-games, Nintendo Land awards you with coins based on your performance.  You can use these coins to play an addicting and incredibly charming Plinko-esque game to earn collectibles.  Completionists will have a compelling reason not to treat Nintendo Land as nothing more than a game demo.


Have I spent enough time with the Wii U to give it a comprehensive review?  No.  But I have learned some important things from my few hours with the system:

  • The GamePad is not a gimmick.  There is real potential and variety with how gameplay can be designed and applied.  Where you point the controller can matter.  How you tilt the controller can matter.  Where you touch the built-in touchscreen can matter.  And of course, the buttons you push will matter.  With the GamePad, Nintendo is looking to test the skills of hard-core gamers in a fun, creative and varied way.
  • Furthermore, the GamePad can really increase the difficulty of general gameplay for any platforming fan.  On the Donkey Kong stage, I had to lean in to blow into the mic in order to raise a platform.  I then had to tilt the GamePad (but not too fast) to move my character, all the while rotating the right stick in a clockwise direction, which kept my next platform moving.  The entire experience felt a bit like the first time you try to rub your belly and pat your head.  My brain was challenged to trigger inputs that I was not accustomed to triggering.
  • Nintendo needs to bring some serious improvements to its dashboard.  Laggy load times are common and the system of adding friends is not intuitive, which is almost unforgivable in this day and age.  Not everyone is a big fan of the Xbox Dashboard, but it successfully serves as a one-stop entertainment hub.  The Wii U is getting there, but software improvements are in order.
  • Frankly, the launch day game lineup is abysmal.  The only other game I will be purchasing for the moment is New Super Mario Bros. U.  One only needs to look at Metacritic to see how once-promising titles like ZombiU have fared.  Because Nintendo is opting not to have an achievements/trophies feature, I am not compelled to buy third party games on the Wii U when I can earn achievements on my Xbox.  If you are not a fan of platforming games, you really do not have a need for a Wii U at this time.  This frustration is common in any launch-day lineup, and I am sure we will see compelling titles announced in the near future.

The Wii U will be a family-friendly console, but Nintendo now has the processing power and HD capabilities to attract and strengthen a community of hard-core gamers.  To what extent it takes advantage of this market remains to be seen, but if there was ever a time to strike, this is it.  Nintendo is in a unique position to win over these gamers before Microsoft and Sony can make their pitches, so this next year needs to offer gamers a few mature, well-rated and exclusive offerings.  I believe if Nintendo can succeed in this approach (which appears to be a serious approach after the announcement of Bayonetta 2 as a Wii U exclusive), I will not be surprised if the Wii U becomes the go-to platform for third-party publishers.