Podzilla 1985

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hands on with the Wii U

Remember that craziness when the original Wii hit the scene? Owning it, at first anyway, certainly gave you a special status. It was new and funky and fresh and the gimmick made people stab their own mothers just to get their hands on one.

To hell with your "common sense," get me my Nintendo!
I was working at Steve and Barry's when the Wii launched, and I wouldn't have even gotten one if it weren't for my good friends at EB Games. I got a call while I was working and they told me if I wanted one to get to their store immediately because they had one they could sell. I didn't even know I wanted a Wii until one became available, and then it was the only thing I had ever wanted in my life.

Of course there were the naysayers who claimed it was just a gimmick, but I managed to look past both facts and reality and buy a shiny new Wii anyway. I also picked up one or two games, although if my memory serves me correctly there wasn't a whole lot to be proud of at launch.

I enjoyed the Wii for what it was, but the image of what it could never be always lay in the back of my mind. Save for a few games it wasn't a very attractive system, and that motion control gimmick was either under utilized or poorly implemented in most games. I, like so many other Wii owners, waited and waited for our killer app to shut up everyone who called us morons for picking up the flavor of the week.

I'm still waiting.

I personally believe the Wii was a good system, but not a great one. It had some true classics on it, but most of those were first party titles because a lot of third party developers wouldn't touch the Wii. You wouldn't find a lot of the big name titles on the Wii, and the ones you did find were usually watered down ports. Of course, the trade off was you could play Nintendo exclusive titles you couldn't find anywhere else. That, combined with the good price, made the Wii an attractive system to parents and I do believe that the Wii saved Nintendo after the hits it took on previous consoles.

That didn't change the fact that, at the end of the day, the Wii really was a gimmick with a landfill full of shovelware games that appealed to the very cheap and the very stupid.

Grand Theft What? God of Who?
When the Wii U was announced I didn't feel excitement. My body and soul had suffered so many first degree burns from the original Wii that it couldn't feel much of anything else. It looked prettier, but I wondered how support for the system would pan out considered just how much of a joke the Wii became in its later years. Would they finally get the big titles? Or would they just have prettier versions of Calvin Tuckers Redneck Jamboree?

I never intended on buying the Wii U, but once I found out it had been released I knew I had to have it. Why, you ask, after being so disappointed in Nintendo and also for having a more limited income since my fall from GraceStop? Because, it was shiny and new, you idjit! I'm a tech whore and I have to have all the newest gadgets. It's the only thing that completes my life!

And my fiance of course.

I managed to find a Wii U at Best Buy thanks to a couple of friends (a shout out to Will and Melody from Lindsey for helping me spend $350), and even though I didn't get the deluxe version that I had originally wanted I was more than satisfied with the basic plus Super Mario Brothers Wii U. I read a review on Joystiq for the game and once they said it was the best Mario since the SNES I was sold.

After doing our usual Sunday night pizza and Call of Duty, we huddled around the awesome looking Gamepad as I booted the new system up for the first time. That excitement would have to tide me over for the next few hours, because out of the box there was a FIVE GIG UPDATE.

You read that right. Nowhere did it say I would have to download such a huge update, and suddenly I'm having nightmarish flashbacks of trying to patch the original Everquest on a 56k modem.

It's bad enough that now I have to wait an hour or two to download this big bastard just to show off my new toy to my friends. What's even worse is that I just filled five of the eight gigs on the hard drive that the basic edition comes with. I didn't know how much I would be using that space to begin with, but the fact that it was already over half gone was a real onion in the ointment. I also heard how many users bricked their system by unplugging or otherwise losing power during this huge download.

By this point I'm nervous. I spent a lot of money on a system I'm not sure about, and my first impression of it is having to wait for a huge unannounced download that is going to eat up over half of my hard drive space.

Thankfully, my soul rested easier once it was finally done and I booted up Mario for the first time. It looked fantastic and played even better. I had enjoyed the New Super Mario series for DS and Wii, but never felt overly attached to it. It never captured my imagination like the original series did. Well I'm happy to say that all the reviews were right and this game made me feel like I did that Christmas many moons ago when my parents got me that SNES bundled with Super Mario World.

I fell in love with the Wii U very quickly. Mario was awesome, but the entire concept just seemed very progressive and fresh. The way the Gamepad interacts with the system is ingenius, whether it be streaming video to the smaller screen when someone else needs the TV or enhancing the gameplay by eliminating the need for a cluttered HUD. It felt user friendly and inviting, unlike the paid ad zone that is the XBox 360 dashboard or the stale crossbar system of the PS3.

The Gamepad is almost as epic as my poet shirt.
In fact, and I hope this doesn't come back to haunt me later, it feels like the Wii U does everything better. Netflix seems to run smoother than the other consoles, and unlike the 360 you can actually pick episodes before you start streaming them. Revolutionary! Youtube functions much like the PS3 version, but the Gamepad makes searching easier and more relaxing. Even the internet browser works like a dream. I found myself laying on my couch just doing basic things and having a blast.

The Miiverse, a sort of Facebook for Nintendo gamers, felt unnecessary until I tried it out for the first time. It has communities for every game, and people can post screenshots, draw, or just chat back and forth about their favorite games. It sounds simple, and it is, but it is a great way to connect with other players and share stories. I will not be surprised if one of the other Big Two steals the idea and comes out with their own bastardized versions.

The most important thing I can say about the Wii U is it makes console gaming feel fun again. It is everything the original Wii should have been and more.

I tried Black Ops 2 out on the Wii U and became so enamored with it that I traded in my 360 copy and went with Nintendo. Ninja Gaiden 3 was a huge disappointment on other consoles but is one of the best launch titles for the Wii U. Tekken Tag has more modes and better functionality, and Zombi U is probably the most realistic and frightening horror game I've ever played.

If Nintendo can keep up this pace, and gamers forgive them for the Wii (which ironically brought them back to relevance), the Wii U is poised to be the console of choice until Microsoft and Sony come out with their next generation. And even then I might stick with Nintendo, as for the first time in a long time I feel like they've done something right.

Not everything is perfect though. There are some issues which I think can be resolved as more people get the system. Online play works well, but the lack of Wii U owners makes Black Ops 2 hard to play unless you're doing team deathmatch.  The Gamepad and Pro controllers are both nice, but bigger than anything I'm used to and made my hands a little stiff from playing them so much. I drop connection occasionally, but usually only when in video streaming as I've had no gameplay hiccups. And even though there are some big titles already out for the Wii U, there are already games like Bass Pro Fishing and Game Party on the horizon. I wonder how long before that damn Calvin Tucker and his shovelware ilk threaten my new favorite console...

The biggest problem is with gamers themselves, though. I mentioned this on my Facebook, but as I read reviews of Wii U games the reviewers can't seem to say anything nice about the system without insulting it at the same time. Games like Tekken Tag and Ninja Gaiden 3 are superior on the Wii U, but the first thing reviewers like IGN points out is that somehow, as if it were a miracle, the Wii U version feels the same as the other consoles. And they don't mean that in a positive way, they mean it as a subtle jab at the Wii's technical power. At what point will they stop treating this console like the retarded step child that managed to tie his shoes right just like his "normal" siblings?

Monster Hunter in glorious hi res
I didn't believe the hype. I got the Wii U because I'm a long time Nintendo fan, but I did not go into this purchase with a clear conscience. It wasn't until I played, tested, and explored that I can say in honesty that the Wii U is a fantastic console and the most fun I've had with video games in years. It will be hard to convince others to give it a chance considering the abomination that the Wii was, but I will keep trying. The Wii U, in my opinion, is that good.

And the future looks bright for it. Aliens will be out soon, as will the first HD Monster Hunter game in history. You can also expect new Pokemon, Zelda's, Metroids, and third party support equal to or even superior than the other systems.

And there is always that new Smash Brothers they're working on...
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