Amazing how time flies isn’t it? It’s been six long years since the Wii first brought motion control to the masses.
The likes of Wii Sport’s tennis and bowling transcending stereotypes and opinion to make it socially acceptable for huge sections of society to create Mii characters and swing their Wiimotes at imaginary tennis balls.
The Wii successfully tapped into several revenue streams never before in reach of games console developers, and it’s to these same sources that Nintendo is hoping to benefit again in the Wii’s successor, Wii U.
Don’t be confused by the name either, the Wii U is a completely new console to lay down on your TV stand. It comes in two flavours, the ‘Basic’ and Premium’ packages. The former includes the console with 8GB internal memory, its GamePad controller (more on that later) and a HD cable. The latter sports everything above but with the 8GB storage upped the 32GB, comes with a stand and charging cradle for the GamePad, a Wii U sensor bar and a copy of launch title Nintendo Land.
Questions that might immediately spring to mind are: Why do we need internal memory and what is this GamePad you keep mentioning?
To tackle memory issue first, you’ll be needing internal storage to save your games and install demos and digital releases via Nintendo’s online eShop. The 32GB should see you able to keep on downloading for a while, 8GB purchasers however might want to think about investing in an external hard disk drive.
It sounds needlessly complicated and strictly speaking it is (the latest PS3 model has a 500GB option by way of comparison). However, as long as you look for a HDD with that’s USB 2.0 compliant and has its own power cable, you shouldn’t be able to go far wrong.
Storage solved it’s on to the GamePad. Essentially a tablet device, the GamePad comes equipped with touchscreen, stylus, camera, microphone, gyroscope and accelerometer. It can also access the internet, and its screen can even be used as a surrogate TV screen so that you can change channel and continue to play.
Also central to Wii U is what Nintendo has dubbed ‘asymmetric’ gameplay. Buzz word yes, but it describes a new way to interact within games. The GamePad playerable to see the action from an altered perspective, interact with the world in a different way and work towards other objectives that those using the traditional Wii controller.
The best way to explain is by way of example and Nintendo Land’s ‘Metroid Blast’ mini-game is as good a place to begin as any other. Here up to five players must combat wave-after-wave of encroaching aliens from Nintendo’s famous Metroid franchise.
Four traditional Wii controller players patrol the ground, using the wiimote to aim and shoot, and the nunchuk to move. So far so standard, but the it’s the fifth player using the GamePad that’s of interest, as he or she pilots the spaceship of Metroid heroine Samus Aran.
Here the GamePad’s screen allows the user to see the stage from a completely different vantage point from the other players, poses a completely different challenge in piloting the ship and tasks you with providing covering fire to protect your friends on the ground. It’s a watershed moment which is made all the easier to get to grips with via a generous tutorial which should have the whole family up-and-running in no time.
Indeed, I was surprised to discover how quickly my non-games playing friends were able to master the new control options; the family friendly presentation seemingly dispelling the barrier that games are just too complicated to come to terms with unless you’ve played them over many years.
Game-changing claims of asymmetric gameplay proven then, it’s on to the rest of the console. Alas for those looking for a console with Blu-Ray option, the Wii U, despite using discs with as much capacity as Blu-Ray discs doesn’t support the movie industry technology.
It does however allow for backwards compatibility for your Wii games and gadgets, so that your balance board, wiimotes and nunchuks will all work once synchronised. It will even let you transfer all of your Wii save games and digital downloads to your new console.
There is a slight stipulation: in order to access your Wii content you have to reset the Wii U in Wii mode which forces the Wii U back to standard resolution. But still, it’s good to know Nintendo are happy to admit their customers own the games they buy, unlike other companies in the film and music industries.
Sound geeks will find equal reasons to be delighted and disappointed. The Wii U does support lossless 5.1 audio but only via the LPCM 5.1 format over HDMI cable. The Wii U doesn’t have an optical output for sound, nor does it support Dolby 5.1, meaning surround sound will only be in the domain of the best equipped.
There’s the question of processor speeds and graphic chips to answer too and so far Nintendo have been vague on the specifics. We know that the Wii U has an IBM Power multi-core processor, 2GBs of DDR3 SDRAM and an AMD Radeon-based High Definition GPU but no real clock speeds nor specifics.
Whether the device will be left behind once the PS4 and Xbox 360’s successor come to market can only be speculated at, but, so far, none of the Wii U’s games look any more advanced than what we’re used to seeing on PS3 and Xbox 360. That’s not to say the Wii U isn’t capable of more – indeed never has a console’s full potential been tapped in its first wave of titles – but so far we’ve not been witness to anything mind blowing.
Nintendo isn’t about pushing the boundaries of visuals and sound however, instead content to concentrate on improving how we interact with videogames. The Wii U GamePad and its asymmetric gameplay proves that the past masters are at it again. Certainly if the reaction of my friends on first contact with the device is anything to go by.
What can’t be predicted is if Nintendo will be able to tap into the ‘lightening in a bottle’ effect that took hold after the launch of the Wii. Suddenly the Wii was the most demanded piece of technology on the market causing Nintendo’s share prices to rocket.
Surely the same can be expected of Wii U, but its technology and launch games are enough to indicate there’s plenty of fight left in the Japanese giant yet, and early adopters won’t be disappointed.