The Wii U Review: System and GamePad

In many ways, it’s odd that Nintendo have chosen to keep the “Wii” brand for their next console. From a business perspective of course, it makes perfect sense; the Wii was the best-selling console of all time, so the “Wii U” is clearly going to gain some attention. It’s strange because “Wii U” suggests that the console is a continuance of the Wii. When in fact, it feels far from it.

If anything, the system feels more like a loose successor to the DS, and yet it still feels completely new. By now we’re all used to touch screens, be it from the aforementioned Nintendo handheld, smartphones or  iPads. While the GamePad is a tablet in appearance, it compliments gaming, navigation, applications and the experience as a whole better than you can imagine. Factor in a more mature Nintendo who have proved they have listened to all the complaints about the Wii and addressed them here, and you have one amazing package.

The Box

The Wii U console is, simply put, a beauty. The black premium model is shiny and sleek, with a sexy curved appearance as opposed to the Wii’s box-like appearance and sharp edges. Speaking of the Wii, the Wii U is similar in size. Brackets are included in the box to support your Wii U if, like me, you prefer the console standing upright. When upright, the Wii U shares the same height as the Wii and slightly longer in width.

More similarities with the original Wii design include the placement in the wire sockets at the back and how it “sucks” in your discs – there is no disc tray.  The sensor bar is exactly the same as the Wii’s, so I literally unplugged my old one from my Wii and into my Wii U. This is only required if you plan on using the Wii Remote, however (which is a requirement for multiplayer for the time being).

Pulling a flap on the front reveals two USB ports and an SD card slot. With the former, you can expand your memory with a flash drive, and the latter allows you to access/transfer your old Wii saves and downloads. The flap folds inwards into the system (unlike the Wii’s detachable, protruding plastic), which is a nice touch. The sync button is outside of the flap this time, making it helpfully more accessible than before. There are also two additional USB slots at the back, if you like to keep your external hard drive cable wires nice and tidy.

The power and eject buttons are small and flat, running evenly with the surface of the console. While this serves to enhance the system’s appearance, providing no visual distractions, they can be a slight pain to find and press. This is a minor gripe though, and the corresponding lights act as decent indicators. A HDMI cable is also included, making the set up of the console very quick and easy and prevents the annoyance of SCART leads.

GamePad

Now, onto the real game changer: the GamePad. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up this shiny beauty for the first time is how surprisingly light it feels. While it is as big as you might expect, the weight feels perfect in your hands, especially for something with a huge touchscreen in the middle. It is incredibly comfortable, with grooves on the back to curl your fingers around and dual analogue sticks in just the right place for your thumbs. The sticks feel very smooth in their movement and are clickable, just like their PS3 and 360 cousins.

The placement of the face buttons takes a little while to get used to at first if, like me, you have become very accustomed to having them right where your thumb naturally rests on traditional controllers. Because the right analogue stick takes this place instead, you must lower your thumb a little to reach the Y, X, A and B buttons, but the initial abnormality quickly wears off. The buttons are slightly small for a big controller but feel satisfying to press, as do the four trigger buttons. The Start and Select buttons are also placed conveniently just below the face buttons.

The touchscreen is just as responsive as you might expect if you’ve ever played a DS, and is again accompanied by a stylus. While this stylus could have been made bigger considering the amount of potential slot space on the large GamePad, playing, browsing and drawing is a cosy experience. As for what appears on the screen itself, the HD visuals translate beautifully onto the GamePad.

Which leads me to what you’re all wondering about: playing Wii U in your bathroom! I enjoyed a lag-free, semi-portable version of New Super Mario Bros. U without issues on the couch downstairs, with the Wii U console upstairs. While a reasonable wireless range of 8 meters is promised, this may be further limited if you have multiple walls, objects or radio signals obstructing you. I noticed a brief disconnect while going downstairs, but it quickly reconnected as I entered the living room right under the Wii U console. As long as it is only a single wall or roof between you and offer console, you should experience little interference.

The GamePad’s biggest downfall is its battery life. As you’d expect, the lit touchscreen consumes a lot of the GamePad’s power and unfortunately the battery only lasts around 3-5 hours. Thankfully, a GamePad charger is bundled with the console, but this may still be an issue for players looking for lengthy play sessions without a nearby free plug socket.

The TV remote integration is a simple yet brilliant addition. No longer do you need to scramble around the sofa to turn down the volume, or get up to switch your TV to HDMI mode. Just hit the TV button and all the vital TV button controls you’d find on your actual TV remote will appear on the touchscreen. It’s pleasantly easy to set up, too; just type in the name of your TV manufacturer and let the GamePad do the rest.

It’s too early to say how well the Wii U will fare against Nintendo’s previous systems, but I’d go as far as to say that the GamePad may be a contender for the greatest move in innovation that Nintendo have created. In terms of fun, convenience, comfort and potential, words cannot express how impressed I am with the controller.

While a little lacking in vibrancy compared to the 1080p output on the TV, the GamePad screen is capable of showing impressive graphics in your hands, wherever you’re looking down on the screen or playing a full game off-TV. The gyroscope allows for very responsive tilt control, in my experience requiring only subtle movements as opposed to exaggerated gestures. That said, if you’re still uncomfortable with using the tilt sensitivity, it seems that the right stick can be used as an alternative most of the time. The variation of control options is very considerate and doesn’t force players into using “gimmicky” mechanics.

Stay tuned, as in the next part of our Wii U review guide, we’ll be looking at the internal apps, interface and browser!