December 18, 2014

Les Dispositifs Terribles: Nintendo WiiU

I was very excited when I finally picked up my Wind Waker HD limited edition WiiU, Nintendo's sixth worldwide, non-handheld console. Then it sat on my shelf for a few months and I barely touched it. Those days are over, folks! I'm now knee-deep in my relationship with my WiiU, so it's time to have a look at how it stacks up as a console. So…

The WiiU is Nintendo's eighth generation competitor and the second console under the 'Wii' brand. Consequently, the console is backwards compatible with Wii games - a welcome trait - but no longer supports Gamecube discs. No problem, 'tendo, I gots three o' thems. The console focuses less on the once spectacular sensor bar technology and more on the integration of the newly minted gamepad. The system comes in black and white, and features a standard 8GB hard drive, or you can get a 32GB "deluxe" edition.

Released a year sooner than its competitors (2012 for North Americans), the system is slightly larger than the Wii, measuring roughly 10"x7"x2" and shares most of the same ports and features: on the front you'll find the disc slot, the eject and power buttons - which are accompanied by two lights, the power light and the disc light (which just lets you know there is a disc in the WiiU so you don't sit there repeatedly pressing the eject button like an idiot), the sync button (for pairing controllers and accessories), and under the little flap you'll find a couple of USB ports and a SD card slot. On the back of the console, you'll find the AC adapter port as well as an A/V multi out port, the sensor bar port and a HDMI port followed by two additional USB ports. Port port port.
The power light turns blue when the console is on, and otherwise remains red, unless you have your console set to fetch info from the internet, in which case it may occasionally appear orange. The disc light simply lights up white when there is a disc present.

Top: WiiU Gamepad; Middle: I'm poor; Bottom: WiiU Pro Controller
I can sum up my first impression of the WiiU in one overused catch phrase: holy large gamepad, Batman! Yeah, simply put, I was shocked by the size of the default controller for the WiiU when I first saw it on display in stores. The gamepad measures 10"x5"x1"-ish and features a 6" screen between two analog sticks, four buttons, a D-pad and the +/- (start and select) buttons. Along the bottom are the home, power and tv buttons, in addition to a small light which alerts you when your gamepad is running out of charge. The gamepad also houses a camera, microphone, speakers and volume control, shoulder and trigger buttons on each side, an AC adapter port, headphone jack, a stylus, accessory sensor as well as an Amiibo sensor and finally a charge port on the bottom. That is one busy controller, friends! The gamepad is practically a console on its own, and while you can use other controllers with the WiiU (more on that later) the gamepad is a mandatory accessory.
The other noteworthy thought that arose around the time of the WiiU's announcement was the name. WiiU. "Wii" is a pretty stupid name for a console to begin with (revolution, anyone?) but Nintendo seems to have taken a liking to confusing the shit out of everybody with their console names. Not as bad as Microsoft, but still… WiiU. Obviously this caused a ton of confusion and mix ups for folks who aren't regular gamers or people simply trying to purchase the system for others. To this day I see people in stores asking to purchase a "Wii gamepad," clearly not understanding that there are two separate systems and the gamepad is not sold alone. Personally, this "controversy" doesn't affect me at all, since I've been following Nintendo for years and always look forward to a new console, but I really can't fault others for not immediately understanding this method. I don't think it would hurt Nintendo to rethink their marketing strategies.

But let's get back to the gamepad… When I first started poking around with my gamepad, I can't say I was terribly impressed with its functionality, and since then, I've heard countless stories of others struggling with the controller's durability. From my own experience, I've concluded that the quality of the touchscreen is not as good as other touch screens in my life, and my volume slider likes to stick and click. There have also been a few reports of analog sticks breaking or malfunctioning, and I've noticed that my characters aren't always properly oriented during gameplay when I use my analog stick. In NSMBU, for example, I'll often run and send off fireballs in a standard panic, but then suddenly Mario will be facing the wrong way. This gets even worse when riding Yoshi, and has caused countless deaths for me, but according to my WiiU friends, no one else has experienced this problem, which leads me to believe it must be a controller issue. I have yet to test this theory with other controllers, but I will update this section once I do. Furthermore, my pal Steve has reported extensively on an issue he's had with his gamepad being falsely sensitive and he was required to send the system in for repair. This is not the sort of stuff Nintendo fans want to hear. This controller is a necessity, and yet it seems pretty flimsy and unreliable. I fear for the future of my gamepad, and I am reluctant to use it regularly because of these occurrences.

But enough complaining, let's talk facts.
Does the systems truly come with everything you need?
Yes, on the surface anyway. The system comes with all required parts, cables and chargers, as well as some stands for your system and gamepad. However to play some titles more efficiently or comfortably, or to access the WiiU's Wii capabilities, you will have to purchase additional parts, namely controllers. And I do feel like the WiiU requires so many different controllers to fully enjoy gaming. As I've mentioned, the system comes with the standard WiiU gamepad, but to fully explore the WiiU experience you may want to consider a WiiU Pro Controller; Wii Motion Plus Remote + Nunchuck; Wii Balance Board; and possibly a Gamecube controller & adapter. Additionally, games like WiiFit U come with a unique accessory, in this case a "fit meter" which also connects to the WiiU via the gamepad.
And now, Nintendo has released a line of figurines called 'Amiibo' which take the shapes of various Nintendo stars (Mario, Kirby, Pikachu, et al.) which can also be used to enhance certain games.
On top of all of that, many gamers would recommend investing in additional storage, as any regular gamer could tell you that 32GB is not a lot, and while most games aren't much more than 1500MB (virtual console games are often a mere 10MB), it disappears fast.

I'm happy to see Nintendo finally join the world of HD. I'm not personally much of a graphics fiend, but there have been many instances in which I've found myself in awe at the updated visuals Nintendo can now produce. Since the system connects to a television, much of your graphics and sound experience are affected by your screen of choice, and I don't have any negatives to report from my camp. In most cases, a game's sounds and visuals are often mimicked on the gamepad, and so far I'm pretty impressed by the little machine. The screen is quite clear and very saturated, and the sound - while expectedly small - is concise and reliable. The gamepad is also quite loud; notifications have actually woken me. I've tested the gamepad's sound with powerful headphones, too, and remain content.
The system itself is plugged into the wall, but you may not want to depend on cables to keep your controllers powered. Unlike the Wii remotes of days past, the modern controllers, including the WiiU's gamepad come equipped with a rechargeable battery! There is a charging cradle for the gamepad, and the cradle cable doubles as a charge wire for the pad (directly) when you need to charge on the fly. Other controllers can be charged by connecting them to the WiiU using the USB ports.
Of course, my chief note here is the length of time the gamepad stays charged, and that it's not very long, in my experience. Yet another reason I don't like to depend on my gamepad, its little orange light often begins blinking at me during gameplay, and since it's not very convenient for me to play with the charge wire connected, this often means I have to stop playing and allow my gamepad to recharge. Easily one of the least enjoyable features of the WiiU. On a more positive note, my Pro Controller likes to stay changed for weeks, regardless of use.
The largest hard drive currently available for the WiiU is 32GB. As I said before, most experienced gamers will tell you that isn't a lot, and for a system that depends heavily on downloaded content (namely the Virtual Console), this isn't good news. You'll want to investigate additionally memory if you like to keep all your games in one place.
The WiiU definitely likes to make some music. I recommend sitting as far away from your WiiU as possible, since the system noise can interfere with your concentration. The gamepad, however, is perfectly silent except for the audio output which can be virtually muted with the volume controls. I can't say I've noticed much in the way of heat from the system nor the gamepad, although I don't typically handle either for long sessions.
I don't like the separation between the Wii and WiiU menus, and I REALLY dislike that you can't access both system's digital content from the eShop, nor both system's information from the WiiU settings. You have to switch system menus, and then the Wii functions just like before. Other than that, the dashboard is very straight forward; every media has its own selectable unit, and you can create folders to keep your dash organized. Common "apps" such as your friends list, the eShop and Miiverse remain permanently along the bottom, and the dash contains many pages with lots of room for things! You can change the access to your dash from the gamepad or the television by simply pressing "x", as the other screen will depict your Mii in a crowd of people discussing mainstream topics and games. The WiiU also creates a "quick start" menu when you fire up the gamepad, which will feature all your recently selected activities.
Couldn't be more simple. The game in the WiiU's disc slot will alway appear on the top left block of your dash, and other games appear in adjacent blocks unless you move them. To access Wii games, you'll have to switch to the Wii menu (which is on your WiiU dash), in which case the dash appears virtually identical to that of the Wii.
We're turning to dad for this one, the reason being, my dad actually has a Wii. He required me to set it up but managed to figure out how to use it all by himself! While the gamepad is a foreign object to him, Dad was able to set up his own Mii, start games and even access the home menu! Aww… well done, pop. Nintendo seems to design their consoles with children in mind, so navigating most of the WiiU's functions is exceedingly easy for even the most technology illiterate. The only potentially tricky part may be understanding the System Settings and how to connect your WiiU to the internet, etc..

Beyond that, prepare to do a lot of waiting. The WiiU is sloooooooow. The music that plays during your browsing of the eShop is nice, but if it would speed up the process I'd gladly go without. It's not just internet applications though, slipping between menus or loading your settings is also a slow process. It takes games a while to boot up, too.
I'm also prepared to accuse functions like spot pass of not being entirely consistent. For a while I was receiving regular notifications and spot pass content on my gamepad, and then it suddenly stopped regardless of unchanged settings. Beware of random technology things.
The WiiU can be used for online gameplay and shopping via Nintendo Network and a wi-fi connection. You can connect to friends with Miiverse! Internet also gives you access to the virtual console - essentially classic Nintendo games from past consoles, available for download at a reasonable price. This has got to be the best feature of the Wii/U.
The WiiU can be paired with your television, allowing you to use the gamepad as a tv remote. This is the purpose of the "TV" button on the gamepad, but needs to be set up in System Settings.
The system also comes with several built-in apps for non-gaming use such as the internet browser, Youtube, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix as well as WiiU Chat (similar to Skype) and parental controls… for you parents out there.
Lastly, you can purchase and install guides and other books, such as The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, which comes with Wind Waker edition! The gamepad then acts as an 'e-reader' or iPad, using the touch screen to zoom and flip through pages.
The WiiU has boasted a number of package deals to encourage gamers to own unique systems and instant collections, and I feel like this system goes on sale far more often than any other console, in spite of the already permanent price drop last summer. I personally partook in Nintendo's offering of a Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker promotion, in which you get a uniquely painted gamepad, as well as digital copies of the Wind Waker HD and Hyrule Historia. I would have much preferred physical copies - of the game at least - however what truly attracted me what the beautiful art of the gamepad. There have also been promotional bundles with Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, and New Super Mario Bros U +Luigi, all of which have ranged in price from $249 to $350 (USD), and I don't doubt there are many more limited editions on the way (Smash Bros.?). Finding the WiiU in stock can be a bit of a challenge. Regardless of the wide availability of the WiiU, I've found that many stores are often out of stock or don't have a particular bundle, so you may want to prepare yourself for an internet purchase if you're considering a WiiU.

So what's the verdict here? There has certainly been a fair bit of negativity in this blog but what I haven't mentioned at all are the games! There are now an abundance of great games available for the WiiU and many of them are unique, fun and in many cases "must haves". Just yesterday I ran out and spent a whopping $60 on Pikmin 3 after checking out a copy a few weeks earlier. I simply couldn't wait any longer. I also purchased Bayonetta 2 on day one, which is something I do... never. Furthermore, the WiiU gives you access to the virtual console which is an invaluable service to all retro gamers and any modern gamers that want to check out some otherwise impossible to acquire games. I've even discovered great games I've never heard of before on the WiiU and can't wait to dive into them, too. So is the WiiU a technically perfect machine? Hell no. But is it worth owning? The cheapest 8th generation console with amazing games, easy use, and a great deal of fun? Sign me up. The WiiU was the first console of the generation that I purchased, and I'd recommend it to any gamers that enjoy more than the first-person shooters offered by Sony and Micro, and ALL retro gamers. It has it's flaws, but they're easily overlooked when you're up to your nose in good times in Mario Kart, Smash Bros. or even Pikmin.

The proof is in the pudding:
Bayonetta 2
Game Binge - WiiU Edition!

Do you own a WiiU?

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