Wii U review: a week with Nintendo's new console

I've been lucky enough to have the Wii U for over a week now. Here's what's thrilled me about the system and what's surprised me.

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Nintendo is never happy with maintaining the status quo. Like Wii before it, Nintendo's latest home console pivots away from what gamers would expect out of a traditional system. Yeah, Wii U can do motion controls like Nintendo's last-gen system--but the GamePad tablet introduces a whole new way to play. I've been lucky enough to have the Wii U for over a week now. Here's what's thrilled me about the system and what's surprised me. GamePad With a six-inch screen and weighing just a pound, the Wii U GamePad is a surprisingly comfortable device to use. While it lacks the high-tech sheen of say, an iPad, the controller is clearly designed to be played for hours on end. With terrific analog sticks (that click in) and a full suite of buttons, the GamePad perfectly accommodates the "core" games that comprise much of the Wii U launch lineup. While the tablet may look more like a 3DS or Vita, I found it far more comfortable to use over hours of gameplay. There's been some hubbub over the GamePad's use of a resistive screen instead of a capacitive one. What that essentially means is that you won't be able to perform multi-touch gestures on the touch screen. However, there hasn't been a single moment where I've lamented the antiquated touch screen tech. The GamePad does a remarkable job responding to touch, whether you're navigating the OS or having to swipe through a game page. Being able to use the stylus for certain games is also a nice touch--a feature that many capacitive screens don't allow.

The GamePad's resistive screen has never been problematic

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the GamePad is its battery life. Nintendo estimates a 3- to 5-hour battery life for the tablet, and that's simply not enough for hardcore gamers that like to binge-game. From my experience, it appears battery life is closer to 3 hours than 5, but do note that the screen brightness is set to near-maximum by default. (You can change the brightness by hitting the Home button during a game and selecting Controller Settings.) It's happened to me countless times, where I'll be in the middle of a game and the flashing red indicator will pop up on the bottom of my GamePad. You will be able to plug the system into an AC adapter and continue playing, but the lackluster battery life is definitely a nuisance. The short battery life also interfered with one of my favorite features of playing with the GamePad: being able to play away from the television. While you won't be able to take the GamePad more than one room away from the base unit, there's something truly remarkable about playing PS3-quality games on a handheld. The fact that there's no latency whatsoever, even when 20 feet away from the device, is nothing short of a technical marvel. Being able to lie down in bed and play Mass Effect 3 is something that even the Vita can't do. While not every game supports this feature, it's an added convenience that I'm sure everyone will take advantage of--even if they don't plan to. TV Remote Another feature that I didn't expect to love was the GamePad's TV remote functionality. However, I use this feature every time I play Wii U. When you first start the console, you'll be able to register your TV in the easiest process I have ever seen for a universal remote. You simply type in your TV manufacturer's name, and you'll be done, pretty much. Then, when you hit the TV button on the bottom of the GamePad, you'll bring up a very rudimentary menu. Oddly, while it may not have many bells and whistles, I find myself using it all the time. Why bother reaching for the remote when I can change my TV's volume directly from the GamePad? Smartly, Nintendo has made it so that you can use the TV remote features without turning on the Wii U console. By hitting TV, you'll be able to just use the GamePad as a remote. When you're ready to play Wii U, turn on the power and switch to the correct TV input--all from one device. Thanks to the rather unique nature of the GamePad, I doubt this is a feature that Microsoft or Sony will be able to match ever. Here's hoping that Nintendo continues expanding this functionality in future system updates.

This is a surprisingly useful feature

Wii U OS Speaking of updates, you'll need to endure quite a large day-one patch in order to access most of the system's functionality. Out of the box, the Wii U can create Miis and play Wii U games... and that's it. Online features, such as Nintendo Network, access to video apps, and even the ability to play original Wii games are all locked out without the update. Oddly, all of these icons will appear on the menu--you just won't be able to access any of this content. It took me over two hours to download the update. According to Geoff Keighley, the patch comes in at around 5GB. Do keep that in mind if you have bandwidth limits, or if you planned on enjoying your system right away. With the update downloaded, I found myself enjoying how well Wii U handles multitasking. When you hit the Home button during a game, you'll be able to access your Friends List, Miiverse, and even the excellent Internet Browser while having the game paused. Apparently, you'll also be able to use Nintendo TVii while the game is suspended. That's extraordinary.

This is probably more important than the launch of new hardware

Nintendo Network Perhaps more meaningful than the launch of Nintendo's new hardware is the fact that Wii U ships with Nintendo Network, the platform holder's first attempt at a comprehensive online experience. That means you'll be able to have a persistent user ID to connect with online friends. Being able to throw away Friend Codes is incredibly liberating. And adding friends is so incredibly easy now. You'll be able to find players you've recently played with in online games, and you'll be able to manually enter friend requests. Nintendo may be playing catch-up here, but Nintendo Network is living proof that it truly is better late than never. Miiverse is an interesting part of Nintendo Network, letting you post status updates to your connected friends. It's essentially Facebook or Twitter of just your Nintendo friends. Intriguingly, Nintendo has promised to open up Miiverse to other platforms, including smartphones and the web. One aspect of Miiverse that clearly trumps Xbox Live and PlayStation Network is the "Communities" feature. Each game can have a dedicated wall, letting users share tips and tricks. Being able to so easily engage in a community directly from your console is quite extraordinary, and makes competing networks seem insular in comparison. Miiverse shows huge potential, especially as it becomes deeply integrated into later Wii U titles. While Nintendo's social approach to Nintendo Network is a winner, their eShop is a total disaster. It is pretty much impossible to navigate. Want to know what retail games are available to download? Sorry, you can't do that. Want to know what indie games are available to download? You can't do that either. The eShop does do one thing right, however. When you launch it while playing the game, you'll go to a page specifically designed for that title. Theoretically, all DLC will be viewable from here. Perhaps most distressingly, the eShop doesn't even offer you file sizes of downloads. For example, Assassin's Creed 3 is downloadable. But instead of telling you how large the file is, there's only a warning: "Wii U Basic Set owners must have an external hard drive to download this software." (The PlayStation Store marks the downloadable version of the game at 11GB.) Media One of the biggest shortcomings of Nintendo's system is how poorly it handles media. While there's promise in the upcoming TVii feature, and the system will eventually support video apps from Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon, it's still quite lacking compared to what PS3 and Xbox 360 offer. Like Wii before it, Wii U does not support DVD or Blu-ray playback. And once again, the system does not support playback of locally stored media.

Don't throw these away, you'll need them

Backwards Compatibility You'll be able to play most of your original Wii games on Wii U. In fact, you'll be able to transfer content from your old console to your new, provided you follow these rather cumbersome steps. To play original Wii discs, you'll have to launch an emulated Wii menu. It's odd, especially as you'll need to "quit" using the Wii in order to return to the Wii U. Disappointingly, Wii U offers no upscaling of last-gen Wii games. While backwards-compatible PS3 systems offer scaling options for PS2 and PSone games, Wii U offers nothing of the sort. Those hoping to have a Dolphin experience on Wii U will have to dash those hopes. Thankfully, Wii U does support every peripheral from the Wii era. That means you won't have to throw out your Wii Remotes, Nunchucks, MotionPlus attachments, etc. In fact, many multiplayer games require these accessories, meaning your investment in the Wii ecosystem will carry over into the new generation. Given titles like Nintendo Land require Wii MotionPlus and Nunchucks for multiplayer, you could be saving hundreds of dollars over new purchasers of the Wii U.
Read our guide on how to transfer Wii games to Wii U!
Game Reviews (last updated 12/6) This list will be constantly updated with more launch window games. Conclusion Although many will read this looking for the answer to the question "should I buy this?," it's a bit too early to answer that right now. (And given the system's short supply, something we don't have to answer quite yet.) Wii U makes good on the promise of offering a very different experience than that of its competitors. However, the games will ultimately determine if Nintendo's GamePad experiment pays off. It's clear the tech works. The seamless integration of TV and second screen must be commended. Nintendo Network, specifically Miiverse, must be applauded. And Wii U's multitasking capabilities put other consoles to shame. However, many should be (rightfully) worried about the system's graphical prowess. Being able to play Nintendo first-party games in HD for the first time is wonderful--but one wonders if only being able to slightly best current-gen specs will be enough on the precipice of a new console generation. But given the runaway success of the original Wii, perhaps there's no need to worry about that.
This Wii U review was based on a 32GB Pro system provided by the publisher. Nintendo also provided Shacknews a Wii U Pro Controller.

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From The Chatty

  • reply
    November 17, 2012 9:01 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Wii U review: a week with Nintendo's new console.

    I've been lucky enough to have the Wii U for over a week now. Here's what's thrilled me about the system and what's surprised me.

    • reply
      November 17, 2012 10:56 PM

      learn hardware. this is not just slightly better.

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        November 17, 2012 11:17 PM

        Do you honestly believe that most consumers give a damn about actual numbers? They go by what they can see and compare. If it only looks slightly better than the Wii then they may not see a reason to go purchase it.

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        November 18, 2012 3:43 AM

        learn social skills. you're not just slightly an ass.

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        November 18, 2012 5:36 AM

        lolz

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        November 18, 2012 9:13 AM

        The original article is comparing it to the Xbox 360 and PS3. It is several generations better than the Wii but only slightly better than those two(at best).

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          November 18, 2012 8:03 PM

          if slightly means more then 2 times stronger

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      November 17, 2012 11:03 PM

      So why on earth are the face buttons on the pro gamepad below the right analog? WTF.

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      November 17, 2012 11:04 PM

      Wow.. I knew about the Wii U not doing much beyond playing Wii U games without the update, but 5GB?! Holy shit Nintendo. There's gonna be tons of bitching about that. Supposedly it doesn't even play Wii games without the update. What were they thinking on that one...

      I could warm up to this system if it just had some must-have games. Right now, the launch lineup seems worse than GameCube. At least Wii had Zelda. GameCube had Rogue Squadron. Holy shit... we need another Rogue Squadron game. Factor 5... :(

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      November 17, 2012 11:10 PM

      holy carp. a 5GB day one patch for the system. thats nuts!

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        November 17, 2012 11:32 PM

        That's insane. The raging that will take place Christmas morning when thousands of people try to download it will be comical.

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          November 18, 2012 2:22 PM

          I bet future manufactured will have the data included.

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        November 18, 2012 6:26 AM

        Yeah, that's really bad. A lot of people just don't have the bandwidth for that kind of download... or any Internet connection at all. It might have been better if they divided it up into chunks and rolled it over the first few weeks.

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          November 18, 2012 8:54 AM

          Steam is going well, I wouldn't worry

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            November 18, 2012 9:24 AM

            What does Steam have to do with it?

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              November 18, 2012 10:13 AM

              5 gig ain't much these days.

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                November 18, 2012 10:30 AM

                For an 8 year old kid, I'd argue it's a hell of a lot. Especially on Christmas morning, which is arguably when this is really going to get hit hard with everyone trying to update at almost the exact same time.

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                  November 18, 2012 10:33 AM

                  Kid can still play some games without a system update.

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                    November 18, 2012 11:09 AM

                    While Mom and Dad buy a system that has half of its advertised functionality. Good idea!

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                November 18, 2012 11:36 AM

                I disagree. It's not a lot when you set up a game to download over night or something. But when you plug in a new system and it can't do half the things it says on the box. Or connect it to the Internet and say "yes" to an update not knowing it will be unusable for the next hour or so (counting on Internet BW and load on the servers). There are still plenty of people out there with 512Kbps DSL etc in this country. And not all of them are as technically savvy as people on this forum. Some of these people might not even know what download means.

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      November 17, 2012 11:10 PM

      Too many killer negatives with this platform to offset the yawning excitement of "wow, it can be my TV remote" or "wow, I can play games on a tiny tablet."

      2 hours for a day 1 Update? What's the point for those of us who actually have spiffy fast FIOS internet speeds? Thanks for tapping into it, console manufacturers! Good job!

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        November 17, 2012 11:48 PM

        sorry but i dont hear any killer negatives. second its a 5 gig update that adds a majority of the system functions that could not be introduced to system storage due to manufacture time


        and theres more to updating a system then just downloading it and saying it will work.

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          November 17, 2012 11:59 PM

          Some of the features missing without it are pretty ridiculous though. You can't even play Wii games without it from what I've heard.

          I bet Nintendo will offer a disc at some point. Or maybe not. Christmas day is gonna be ridiculous though.

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            November 18, 2012 12:41 AM

            not at all. you are downloading emulation software, and said software is very complex

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              November 18, 2012 6:24 AM

              Dude, you really have no idea what you're talking about. I love Nintendo as well, but it's obvious you're making shit up now.

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                November 18, 2012 8:58 AM

                and people complaining about downloading an update are fucking stupid

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                  November 18, 2012 12:09 PM

                  And the winner in the "who missed the forest for the trees" contest is....You!

                  Congrats!

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                November 18, 2012 10:21 AM

                .... no the wii u emulates wii games. you cant emulate something without emulation software, and emulation software is complex. its pretty much a second OS

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                November 18, 2012 12:09 PM

                Exactly. LOL

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        November 18, 2012 2:06 AM

        For what it's worth, my update took maybe 40 minutes. I'm surprised to hear it was 5GB.

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          November 18, 2012 12:13 PM

          1 gig is believable.

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            November 18, 2012 12:53 PM

            My connection could do 5GB in that time, but it'd be the rare CDN that actually saturates my connection. A lower number seems more believable.

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      November 18, 2012 1:42 AM

      5 GB day one patch? WTF? That's just horribly irresponsible.

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        November 18, 2012 1:46 AM

        How on earth,...? That's madness - PS3 updates I think are 128mb (?) 360 much smaller again. I could understand like 512mb for a console OS but 5gb.

        What about users who have 3G wifi at home (it's becoming common here) - that's like, very very bad.

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          November 18, 2012 2:11 AM

          Does anyone with 3g wifi expect to use you it for a gaming console anyway?

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            November 18, 2012 2:32 AM

            No one smart no, however for just getting patches and stuff - I can imagine 'normal' dummy users it's definitely possible.

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            November 18, 2012 3:49 PM

            Well that's the thing, some people don't have any other Internet available. I was in this situation over the summer and know many others who do it on a permanent basis, and with AT&T data raping you you only get 5 GB per month.

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        November 18, 2012 6:50 AM

        How does that work? Doesn't the "standard" WiiU only have 3 gigs usable space out of the box or am I remembering incorrectly?

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      November 18, 2012 3:26 AM

      Resistive? Interesting. I would've assumed multitouch (capacitive) was the way forward. Sure, it's not as accurate and wouldn't allow for a stylus, but I guess it was both cheaper and they think the buttons should supplement any gestures needed for actions.

      Polygon was particularly critical of the screen though, saying it required too much force and was disappointingly inexact for a resistive screen.

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        November 18, 2012 5:07 AM

        I'm going so assume it's on par with the DS/3DS. I have no problems with those.

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        November 18, 2012 6:49 AM

        What weirds me out is that different people at various outlets say completely different things. One says the screen is super responsive, then you hear others saying it isn't.

        Tells you what? Ignore everything and try it for yourself lol.

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          November 18, 2012 6:51 AM

          It could vary from game to game maybe?

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            November 18, 2012 8:18 AM

            Maybe. More likely its person to person though.

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              November 19, 2012 8:05 AM

              For me personally, typing things in on that little pad has been easier than any other touch screen I've used, Capacitive or Resistive alike. It's way better then my 3DS screen. It's the fastest I've entered CC info. outside of a full keyboard.

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                November 19, 2012 9:31 AM

                It only works for CC info man.

                They want your money!

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      November 18, 2012 4:41 AM

      My local best buy got 1 pre order. ONE. With the Wii the line was well over 100 deep.

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        November 18, 2012 5:37 AM

        Wait you preordered and still didn't get it? Or you couldn't preorder because it sold out instantly?

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          November 18, 2012 5:55 AM

          I just asked how many pre orders they took. I didn't pre order but will try and buy one later

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            November 18, 2012 8:14 AM

            Got the last deluxe! Woot

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      November 18, 2012 5:36 AM

      For all you complaining about a 5GB patch, remember that this is for day 1 units. I am certain they will have it installed on any new units coming from the factory.

      Still sucks but this is not likely to be present in any shipments past the first week or so.

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        November 18, 2012 5:41 PM

        I agree that the update sucks. It's going to be difficult for consumers who have a really shitty internet. I work at an ISP so I know how badly iinfrastructure sucks in some areas.

        While it is a significant misstep on Nintendo's part, some people are really making it overblown. No, Nintendo didn't kill some puppies or beat up your grandma. i don't get this irrational Nintendo hate sometimes. I'm expecting that follow up production units will have this updated already installed on future system, but like what you said.

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      November 18, 2012 6:10 AM

      The lack of any tangible improvements to wii games (even added sharpness would have been something...!), the strange emulation rep and the fact you can't play your wii games over the control pad mean I've cancelled my preorder,

      There simply is nothing at launch at all interesting (to a 360,pc and ps3 owner) to make it worthwhile.

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        November 18, 2012 6:20 AM

        I can't defend the lack of games, but honestly I can't believe anyone cares about Wii emulation. The second they said Wii games wouldn't run at 1080p or even 720p I was completely uninterested in doing that with the console. That didn't stop me from preordering it though, but I do think there is going to be a lack of games for awhile.

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        November 18, 2012 10:05 AM

        New Super Mario is pretty much the best thing ever.

        If Mario isn't your thing, then you would be correct.

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        November 18, 2012 11:00 AM

        I own a PS3 and I'm interested, so speak for yourself.

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      November 18, 2012 6:47 AM

      You might want to fix the second GamePad picture ...that's the completely different prototype from 2011.

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      November 18, 2012 9:53 AM

      The only reason I would consider this console would be the up-scaling which is offered in Dolphin - an unsupported and community driven feature which works wonderfully. Why Nintendo dropped the ball on up-scaling is beyond me. I won't buy this without that.

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        November 18, 2012 5:45 PM

        I bummed about that. But, honestly, while the launch library isn't the most amazing, it's still a great system so far from what I've used.

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        November 19, 2012 8:01 AM

        There are specific technical reasons why Nintendo would avoid up-scaling. While the Dolphin Emulator looks great, it either doesn't support every game or actively prohibits some from working properly because of the extra processing, which can be prohibitive depending on how other companies made use of the hardware. So either they can say it's 100% backwards compatible or that it upscales but it could break games. They're damned if they do, damned if they don't in that situation.

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      November 18, 2012 9:55 AM

      Patch is around 1 gig and apparently self deletes when applied.

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      November 18, 2012 11:08 AM

      It's unfortunate to see Nintendo doing to consoles what they've been doing to GameBoys for the last decade or so.

      The backwards compatibility is a bit upsetting, but either way, most of us are probably better off waiting for the next (post PS4, etc.) version. You know, the now inevitable WiiUi3DXL or something to that effect.

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        November 18, 2012 11:39 AM

        That could be years away.

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      November 18, 2012 11:34 AM

      better then i expected but still waiting for pikmin 3 before i buy.

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      November 18, 2012 11:42 AM

      The gamepad is seriously fucking cool. Image quality is brilliant. Nintendo innovates again with their controller. MS and Sony will surely rip them off. LMAO.

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        November 18, 2012 12:11 PM

        Its possible. :). I love Nintendo "gimmicks"

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          November 18, 2012 5:52 PM

          LOL. What funny is that these gamers all whine about these Nintendo "gimmicks" but have heaps of praise when these feature hit the other system. Don't get me wrong, Kinect is pretty awesome, but Nintendo is the small game company caught between 2 giants and they are the ones primarily pushing the bounderies while the other two are just reactionary.

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            November 19, 2012 12:56 PM

            I think it's strange to call Nintendo the small gaming company when they've been doing consoles and handhelds longer than both Microsoft and Sony put together. Not only that, but how many other competitors have they dusted along the way?

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              November 19, 2012 4:00 PM

              All Nintendo does is games. While Microsoft and Sony have more that that under their umbrella. Nintendo doesn't have any other businesses to fall back on. Xbox survived until the brand established itself because other divisions made up for the losses. Nintendo doesn't have the resources that the other 2 have but is still trying to compete.

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        November 18, 2012 12:15 PM

        MS announced SmartGlass before the Wii U launched. I don't see it as having the same impact as an integrated controller like Nintendo's. I've also heard the Wii U controller maintains 60 FPS with a 1 frame delay, which isn't shabby.

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          November 18, 2012 12:44 PM

          I'm super impressed by how well it all works, the sound, the timing without hitching between it and the TV, it's all very well put together.

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          November 18, 2012 2:29 PM

          They announced SmartGlass a year after Wii U was announced.

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            November 18, 2012 5:49 PM

            Smart Glass is really cool but I don't see it being a major factor in games. It's not a fully integrated feature so I don't see it being a major function for games. Maybe a supplemental way like Halo Waypoint. At the same time, I hope developer take advantage of what's being offered here with the Wii U. It has some great potential, but I can see this great feature only turning into a "gimmick" if developer lack the creativity to properly utilize it.

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        November 18, 2012 1:16 PM

        I'm thinking they could use the controller similar to how the Dreamcast used the VMU, particularly with sports games like Football and calling plays.

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      November 18, 2012 2:19 PM

      Specifications. Why u no give.

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      November 18, 2012 4:01 PM

      I hope Nintendo folds and its assets are sold off, there I said it. No HD wii games, and the worst software launch lineup. Does Shigero Miyamoto even work there anymore, they used to innovate now they just take a dump.

      Oh and I would like to add this review felt like the person was typing on eggshells, way to candy coat it. Not sure why I even read your reviews, so shallow and unexciting. Mediocre Shacknews :I(

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        November 18, 2012 4:21 PM

        nerrrrd

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          November 19, 2012 11:12 AM

          Says the person on shacknews, kettle is black correct?

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        November 18, 2012 5:58 PM

        How is taking a risk on a new way to interface with games not innovative. While I also enjoy the other consoles, they seem to be reactionary with ideas. Microsoft and Sony are mega corporations and Nintendo is a small gaming company, so who should have the better resources to innovate? While each system has some great features that were added over time, they're still reactionary.

        While I agree with your sentiments about the lack of Wii HD upscaling and a decent launch line up that unfortunately lacks the killer app, I don't wish ill upon Nintendo. I hope they stick around, not just because I love their game, but they're still the one to take initiative with ideas.

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          November 19, 2012 11:17 AM

          When you make the controller so big that a small child cannot play it how is that good? But for real in terms of ergonomics how is holding that behemoth a good thing? I get it I can play on the screen without a tv, why the hell would I want that? Every Nintendo had at least one "killer app" this time its just rehash after rehash. As much as I like 2d mario it's sort of played out, the nostalgia has waned for me.

          I am sure there will be some nifty uses of the screen but other than play calling in sports games I cannot see a benefit to me taking my eyes off the screen.

          Sorry to come off harsh but I like Nintendo we have a bit of history. But its ok for me to go call a Sega on them for such a shitty launch and such a incremental jump in graphics.

          Not buying it until the price hits the floor or the truly innovate again.

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            November 19, 2012 4:16 PM

            Dint get me wrong, I'm not giving them a free pass. This was an average launch. Even the X360 and PS3 both lacked killer apps during launch. I don't recall wanting to play a game on either until they were out for 6 months.

            I can appreciate, though, that Nintendo is taking a risk to put a innovative way to interface with games to the table. Have you actually used the controller for any more than 15 mins at a kiosk? Its actually surprisingly light and very comfortable to use. The Wii U is the first console I've bought at launch since the N64. I was really skeptical at first, but after spending a couple of hours with it last night, I was pleasantly surprised. Graphically, Im not totally blown away, but the games look great. If I really wanted bad ass graphic, I can play on my PC anyways. It sounds to me that you've not really given it a chance, but that's all you.

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      November 19, 2012 4:59 AM

      Kind of sad that half the article doesn't even have to do with gaming.

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      November 19, 2012 11:48 AM

      I know it has the "tv remote" feature, but can that be used to control a receiver instead of a tv? I have my games hooked into a home theater type speaker system and the only button I ever need for the actual TV is the power button. The receiver is where I control my volume and inputs and the cable box changes channels. If the Wii U only controls a TV then it's a useless feature for me.