Another big change from the last generation to this one: a renewed focus on hardcore video games.
Nintendo spent the last year talking up the Wii U’s vast third-party support — games developed by companies other than Nintendo. That means a lot more content for your console, but it’s content designed more for the Call of Duty-class of gamers than people who enjoyed Wii Sports six years ago. Those brilliantly lightweight games have largely taken a back seat. As such, the Wii U has a very broad, very impressive lineup of games available right at launch, featuring some of the biggest and best franchises around: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3, and Batman: Arkham City, among others. Several of these released earlier this year on other consoles, but now they’re available to Nintendo customers as well.
A lot of these games hold up well against the versions seen on other consoles, and exclusives like the ever-cheerful New Super Mario Bros. U and the pitch-black ZombiU provide solid entertainment. But if you fell in love with the motion-controlled playground the Wii gave you, odds are you won’t be smitten this time.
Indeed, neither Wii U package even includes those Wii Remotes or Nunchucks even though several games in Nintendo Land require them to play with your friends.
More than a game console
Above and beyond the games, Nintendo wants the Wii U to be your all-in-one home entertainment device. You can read our detailed analysis of its online services, but its Miiverse social network skews almost entirely toward gamers, with message-board communities built around specific games … and one Netflix community. It carries a sturdy Internet browser (called “Internet Browser,” just to drive home its generic nature) and Skype-quality video conferencing as well, limited to your Miiverse connections.
Not only can you stream Netflix but now Hulu and Amazon Prime as well. I’m also very excited to see more of Nintendo TVii, a service that allows you to stream and digitally record live television à la TiVo, but while its icon already lives on the Wii U’s main page, TVii itself won’t launch until sometime in December. If you’re basing your purchasing decision on what you can watch on the Wii U, I’d recommend holding off until we see the whole picture.
In fact, that’s the best advice I can offer almost across the board: Wait.
It’s easier to recommend the Wii U for someone who wants to either dive head-first into the deep end of modern video games or dip a toe into the shallows while keeping one eye firmly fixed on the far end of the pool. For established gamers, the non-standard controllers and their layouts will feel counter-intuitive at best, particularly when playing well-worn franchises … something newcomers won’t notice or mind.
Whether to trade up from the first Wii represents a much stickier question. Wii games will play on the newer console (not vice-versa), and the feature set expands in important ways, but the Wii U takes perhaps a step too far away from the active play that won so many people over. You won’t ever swing the GamePad around to pick up a spare, smash a tennis ball, or nail a line drive to center field. At present, the Wii U must import those experiences from the Wii. Or you can do all that on your current Nintendo console without spending the extra $300.
That might very well change as more games release in the next six months to 12 months. As-is, the Wii U offers a different kind of gameplay — it’s still social-based, still focused on enjoying time with the people around you, and very compelling in its own way. If that’s the interaction you bought the Wii for, the Wii U truly is a worthy successor. It does everything the first did and more, but casual, family-oriented games are thin on the ground, and in light of the shift to hardcore (and Nintendo’s own assertion that it will continue to support the Wii), I can’t say how much that might change.
I see great potential for the system, but in a lot of ways, it hasn’t figured out which direction it really wants to travel in yet. So take a page from the Wii U’s own gentle, unhurried vibe. Sit back, wait, and see.
Click here for all of GamesBeat’s Wii U launch coverage.