Maybe you’ve heard about the Nintendo Wii U.
After a major marketing push and a torrential amount of Internet buzz, the successor to Nintendo’s wildly successful Wii video game console finally arrived in stores last Sunday. The gaming industry and the consumer base that feeds it have largely passed judgment already. But if you bought one of the 97 million Wii units solid in the last six years, and you consider yourself a casual user, you might wonder whether it’s worth your time and money to upgrade to the latest model.
Naturally, the answer depends on what you want it for.
Which model to get
This marks Nintendo’s attempt to catch up to its competitors on multiple fronts. We’ve covered the basics before, but the Wii U comes in two different packages — a white Basic Set retailing at $299.99 featuring an 8GB hard drive, and a black, 32GB Deluxe Set for $349.99 that includes a copy of Nintendo Land, a party-game compilation (read our full review here). That’s a significant increase from the Wii’s original $249.99 price back in 2006. Unlike its predecessor, the Wii U comes HD-ready, albeit at the lower end of the high-definition scale: 720p rather than 1080p.
Here’s a rundown of everything that comes in the box:
The back of the box ... right before you destroy it to get at the goodies inside.
And here's the complete contents! Notice anything missing? Yep: no Wiimote/Nunchuck. Nintendo apparently believes we've got those already.
The glossy black finish instantly attracts all the dust in your home, and it can pick up fingerprints from people you haven't seen in years.
The front hatch flips down and retracts. Inside, you've got your SD card slot and two USB ports. That panel on the side houses the battery. Ben Heck will tear this sucker apart in two minutes flat.
Its lovely behind. From left to right: AC adapter connector, AV multi-out connector, sensor-bar connector, HDMI port (finally!), and two more USB ports.
Why, hello there, Mr. WiiPad. Let's have a look at you.
It can't be a Nintendo controller without the joypad, right? The white box is the near-field communication (NFC) point. The tiny hole underneath is one of two speakers.
On the other side, all the face buttons below the stick, and yes, that feels odd and counter-intuitive. The camera sits center-top. The "TV" button lets you use your WiiPad as a remote control.
Down in front. Don't ask me why the volume slider's here (on the left, to the right of the stylus), or the audio jack -- hey, just be happy it has them. That's a power cord port on the right, too, but you don't have to use it, because....
...peek underneath, and you'll find two charging terminals for when you put the WiiPad in its charging cradle. That's the "accessory connector" between them. The button for synching to your Wii U is under here, too.
Stylus. Yep. Nintendo.
A better look at the trigger and shoulder buttons. They feel exactly like the trigger and shoulder buttons on the Wiimote/Nunchuck ... a bit short and lacking action. Overall, the WiiPad feels a bit plasticy and light (but not slight), but it fits in your hands nicely.
Stands. The two in front are for the Wii U. The two in back are for the WiiPad.
The WiiPad's charging stand close up. When that center plunger goes down, two contacts rise up, and the magic happens. Only it's done with science.
Cradled. The power cord connects to the stand underneath and trails out the back.
And now, the non-charging cradle. Why would you use this? No idea. The Wii U only comes with one WiiPad, and Nintendo doesn't plan to sell them separately anytime soon. So guard that WiiPad with your life, soldier.
Yes, the Wii U's stand comes in two pieces. Yes, that's strange. They feel very snug and secure though ... even if they partially cover one of the air vents. Or maybe I'm supposed to flip this so the power/eject buttons are at the bottom?
Did you think we were done with the sensor bar and its wee little cord? DID YOU THINK THAT?
And of course, the Deluxe Edition comes bundled with Nintendo Land. What, you didn't get the Deluxe? No game for you!
Your friendly neighborhood power adapter.
The WiiPad's even-more-friendly power adapter. This can plug into both the charging station and the WiiPad itself.
And one for the environmentalists. Here's all the stuff you'll throw away!
And now, the Nintendo Pro Controller. It comes in the same glossy black finish, but it's much easier to lick your fingerprints off this than it is with the Wii U.
Everything that comes in the box (which you must destroy to open). Puny box!
The face buttons are slightly more offset (towards the center) from the right stick than their arrangement over on the WiiPad, but going for that A button still feels odd so far.
It looks very familiar, but that joypad cradles the thumb nicely and has a pleasing roll to it.
The Pro Controller feels very light indeed, particularly compared to its obvious inspiration, the Xbox 360 controller. Thank the rechargeable batteries for that. The grip also feels a bit deeper.
Triggers and shoulder buttons. These feel more responsive that the WiiPad and roughly on par with the PlayStation 3's controller.
Closeup of the back, just to prove Nintendo made it. Those are the blue controller lights you know and love.
Yes, you're seeing double. The Pro Controller looks all shiny and new compared to the old Xbox 360 controller (because it is), but the sticks high/buttons low configuration might be a cause for concern. We'll see how the games treat it.
The Pro Controller is noticeably wider, but just a hair taller. Ergonomically, it rests nicely in the hands.
USB power cord. No word yet on the Pro Controller's battery life, but Nintendo loves long battery life, so fingers crossed.
- Previous Slides
- Next Slides
If you don’t plan to download a lot of games or apps, you might not need the bigger 32GB system. That said, the Deluxe set does include Nintendo Land, one of its best — and one of the few — casual gameplay titles at $10 off MSRP.
The big difference
The centerpiece of the Wii U is the GamePad, a handheld controller with a 6.2-inch touchscreen that combines a video game feel with tablet functions.
A nonstandard button layout presents a few problems for gamers, as we’ve pointed out already, but that won’t bother anyone coming off the Wii’s two-controller approach. In fact, I’ve already seen many clever applications for the GamePad’s capabilities — holding it up for “augmented reality” simulations, for example. But the Wii U’s not-so-secret weapon, asymmetrical gameplay, offers amazing possibilities by letting two or more players (one on the GamePad screen, the rest using the ubiquitous Wii Remotes or the Wii U Pro controller) experience the same game in very different ways, frequently with very different goals.
More often than not, you can also transfer what you’re doing to the GamePad’s screen entirely, freeing up the television for someone else to use while you continue your game or movie in peace. It’s a very liberating option, though at only 480p, the picture likely won’t be as sharp, and I frequently had to crank the Pad’s volume to maximum to hear Netflix films from its tinny little speakers. Plugging in a pair of earbuds only helps slightly.
Games, however, come through clear and strong. And the it’s games you play on the Game Pad that really show you the imagination and potential of the Wii U.