After a few days of playing with the Wii-U (once I managed to pry it out of the hands of my 14-year-old) I thought I’d post my thoughts. An HD Nintendo console has been overdue for quite some time, so it’s a relief to finally see them catching up (somewhat) to the “big boys”–PS3 and X-Box 360–though new consoles from both of those companies are now in the works as well. But Nintendo reminds me a lot of Apple in the way they evolve. They’re slower in movement, but over time they do get it right for their particular audience. Anyway, the Wii-U is an excellent replacement for the Wii. I am very relieved to see that we can still play our old Wii games on it, so we can get rid of the old thing completely. It was a pain to have to bring the TV down to a standard definition video image to use the Wii. Now everything can remain in full 1080p HD.
The Wii-U comes with a huge “GamePad” controller, which is much like a small tablet combined with a Wii controller. It has a decent-sized touchscreen–at least it’s bigger than the Nintendo DS screen–and feels very comfortable in the hands. It’s nice and light, with nice finger grooves in the right places underneath and a stick on both the left and right sides. Many games allow their gameplay to run on either the Gamepad screen or the TV screen, and some allow both simultaneously. Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to all games–and doesn’t apply to the old Wii games at all–but hopefully this will change in the near future with an update. Being able to play on just the gamepad–even if you can only go up to 40 feet away from the console–is HUGE for our household. To Kevin, it means being able to still play the console games he wants when he has time, while we can still watch the TV shows we want. If Nintendo adds this feature into the classic Wii software, I think this feature alone could justify its price for a lot of families!
The good ole “Mii” universe is alive and well on the Wii-U, and there are always hundreds, if not thousands, of other users visiting our system and posting comments about all of the games. We even see posts from others as we finish levels of some of the games, and I’m always wondering if the comments are actually directed toward OUR game or just generic comments… Can other users watch our gameplay?? Can we watch theirs?? I haven’t found this out yet.
For the old Wii games, there’s a “Wii” option provided as a separate app, which takes you to the classic “Wii Menu” and provides the exact same interface as the old Wii system. In fact, you have to put down the Gamepad and pick up a standard Wii controller to play any of the Wii games and use the Wii menu interface. We did the “Wii system transfer” before completely taking our old Wii out of service, and that was pretty flawless, once we got it going. This was a lengthy process though, probably because we had accumulated a lot of game save data, Mii’s, and games from the Wii Store over the years. The process is fully animated once you start it, and kind of plays out like a little cartoon, with “Pikmin” characters (from what Kevin says they are) carrying your data through the old Wii systems, out to a rocket ship and loading them up for the transfer. One little pikmin character almost gets left behind, ala “E.T”, but they realize it before blastoff, and re-open the ship’s bay door and let him in at the last second. Once the data is saved to your SD card, the ship takes off and your’re ready to insert it into the Wii-U, switch to that system and continue the process where the ship then lands and the pikmin unload the data into the new system and setup the icons. It’s an amusing little cartoon, but pretty monotonous if you have a lot of data like we did.
The Wii-U also has “TVii”, which I originally thought would be a streaming TV service from Nintendo, but unfortunately it’s not. All it is, is a “remote” for your existing TV and cable box. You select your TV remote by answering a few simple questions based on whether the TV responds to the signals the Wii-U sends, and it sets up the remote for it. This is definitely the simplest “universal remote control” setup I’ve ever seen, by far. Totally painless. Then it does the same for your cable box and cable provider. Once that’s done you can completely control your cable box and TV with just the GamePad, replacing your two remotes. Unfortunately, WE have much more than that to control, including our stereo, PS3, X-Box, etc., and the Wii-U doesn’t go any further than the two devices. If someone could just make a 15-device universal remote app for the Wii-U, I’d gladly pay for it…that would be bliss!
Other apps included with the Wii-U are Netflix and HuluPlus, which both work great. I’m currently using both services and comparing them. Using the Wii-U interface, Netflix easily outshines HuluPlus, in my opinion. In the Netflix app the interface on the Gamepad screen matches the TV interface, so you can use either one to select a movie or TV show and watch it on either the TV or the GamePad. Excellent! But in HuluPlus on the GamePad, it only shows you the currently-selected option, very large, in the middle of the GamePad screen. You have to look at the TV to scroll and select what you’re looking for. Unless you memorize the layout of the menus, you can’t use just the GamePad to find a movie or TV show to watch, so it’s rather limited. I’m guessing Hulu will fix this in an update though. In comparing the Netflix and Hulu services themselves, it’s pretty much a draw. They both offer little of the same content. They seem to each have their own contracts for the content they offer, and both have good solid YV series offerings and movies. It’s a tough split. One minus on Hulu is the fact that its TV shows include “limited commercial interruptions” throughout its TV shows. Sometimes this seems like a bit much, with hour-long TV shows sometimes having numerous 3-commercial breaks. And there’s no fast-forwarding through the commercials either–you’re stuck with them. I did find, several times, when I did several fast-forwards and rewinds to rewatch a part of an episode, that it can get confused and then lets you fast-forward through commercials, but then thinks a later section of the actual TV show is the commercial block! Then later it seemed to realize it was messed up, and when I went to fast-forward or rewind the show it reset it back to the beginning again. Pretty irritating, but it didn’t happen often and I couldn’t repeat the glitch at will. Most of the time it worked fine. Both Netflix and HuluPlus also have an autoplay feature for TV series playing, so you can seamlessly watch a series without manually having to start each episode. But since HuluPlus has a commercial block before every episode and after, you have to site through a huge block of commercials (usually 6) between each episode. A big PLUS with Hulu, however, is with current TV series playing. Hulu gives you the current episodes of TV shows, while Netflix only provides you with previous seasons, only releasing new seasons of a show long after the next season is airing or long after the series is completed. I guess you have to weigh the value of this with whether you watch a lot of currently-airing series’ or not. Both services are $7.99 a month, so it makes me wonder if Hulu is worth it for all the ads when Netflix is ad-free. But, like I said, there are enough differences between the two services to warrant having both of them, for those who can afford it and are avid movie and TV buffs.
But back to the Wii-U: The Wii-U store currently offers a very small selection, but that’s just because it’s new. They haven’t added any of the classic Wii games to the store yet, so only Wii-U games are there at the moment. When they finally get the games from the old Wii store into the new one, there will be a much better selection. And it’d be even more awesome if they also add all of their classic “boxed” Wii games as digital downloads as well! They would certainly make a fortune, especially on those hard-to-find classics. I know they can do it–they already offer most of their new “boxed” Wii-U games as digital downloads, and the classic Wii games are much smaller in size, I’m sure.
We played a bit of Mario & Nintendoland for the Wii-U as well as a couple of the new downloadable Wii-U games that were on sale this week in the Wii-U store, and what does Kevin come back to the most?…. wait for it…. a cheap download called “Little Inferno”! This game is just plain “WRONG”. It teaches kids how to burn their toys. It’s aimed at older teens, obviously, and always warns you not to play with fire, but it provides you with a safe environment to do so, allowing you to burn everything from all kinds of toys imaginable, to batteries, to a school bus full of screaming children, or an angry elf (yes, Jay–an Angry Elf) who has a belt of dynamite strapped around his waist. It’s totally wrong, but I must admit it’s very addicting to but everything and see the way each item responds to a flame. How this game got past the Nintendo approval process I have no idea–I guess it’s a good test of the parental controls on the Wii-U–you can block your kids from playing it if you want. But, if they gotta play with fire, I guess doing it on the Wii-U is tons better than anywhere else!
I think Nintento has a great start here. As long as they get busy with updating and keeping on top of the issues in a timely manner, this will turn out to be an awesome Wii system. The GamePad features alone can make it almost as useful as a full tablet, if they make the right improvements. We’ll see what happens.