The Wii U certainly is an interesting console, to say the least. Like the Wii Remote before it, the GamePad is a real innovation in the home console space, though here it's in many ways more a complementary feature to traditional games, rather than a dramatic, experience-shifting mode of input.
As an network-enabled device, the Wii U is leaps and bounds ahead of the Wii, but it should be after six years; whether it's as fully-featured as competing consoles is a different story, and initial online hiccups and broken promises regarding video streaming options show a lot of work to be done in that area.
All told, does the Wii U warrant your $350 right now?
The GamePad is indeed a unique addition, bringing a DS-like dual-screen experience to the living room. The controller itself is well designed and comfortable, and includes a wide array of features for developers to mix, match, and create games around.
Asymmetric gaming – where one player with a GamePad faces off against those with Wii Remotes – is a neat twist that we're excited to see develop further over time. Nintendo Land gives a taste of what's possible, but future games should spotlight it.
Seeing Nintendo finally embrace HD gaming is a wonderful thing. New Super Mario Bros. U might be familiar overall, but playing Mario in high definition is a wonderful thing, It's long overdue, and also makes the platform more attractive to multiplatform developers.
Being able to play games without the television on is a fantastic perk, though the trade-off is the lower-resolution GamePad display. And depending on your setup, you may be able to play multiple rooms away from the console.
Considering everything that comes with the bundle, including a $60 game, charging dock, HDMI cable, and a fair amount of Flash storage, the $350 Pro bundle feels appropriately priced – especially when compared to the Basic set.
GamePad battery life is very weak, coming in around 3 hours for us on a full charge with maximum brightness. It can't be plugged into the hardware, either, which seems an odd oversight for something you'll be using constantly.
Sluggish menus make getting around a hassle. A giant online patch is required to access many features, and even then some – like Miiverse and Wii U Chat – are struggling to work properly due to initial demand.
There's nothing really mind-blowing in the launch lineup. No doubt, there are some great games to explore, and it's a large day-one spread – but many of these games are already on other platforms, with enhancements here being generally minor.
The Basic set feels seriously gimped for just $50 less. Only having 8GB of storage (3GB available for games) with no pack-in game just isn't worth the small savings.
Promised features like non-Netflix video streaming services and the Nintendo TiVii functionality were delayed just before launch. It's potentially misleading for those expecting such features out of the box.
For Nintendo fans looking to finally enter the HD era, the Wii U may seem like a beacon of light in an endless downpour – and if you're coming from the Wii, it will be quite impressive, indeed. Not only are the publisher's own properties sleeker than ever before, but third-parties can finally deliver the great games they've been making for other systems in recent years.
But gamers who already have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 may struggle to see much of the appeal for now. Many of the Wii U games are lightly enhanced ports, with just a few noteworthy originals. And the online interface and streaming media options aren't quite as polished or robust as what's seen elsewhere.
for many, an early system purchase hangs on the quality of Nintendo's own offerings and the handful of other unique experiences, but it's difficult to point to a brilliant, system-selling game that justifies a new console purchase. There's great fun to be had on the Wii U right away, but we struggle to call it an essential purchase for those still enjoying games on other platforms.
As with all console purchases, a look ahead is necessary. No doubt, developers will find exciting ways to harness the GamePad and the system's other unique options to deliver one-of-a-kind experiences in the years ahead. But with the hardware performance seemingly only meeting that of several-year-old competitors, it may well feel outdated in many ways if other new hardware rolls out in a year or two.
That's a concern, as well as a risk. But Nintendo's modern mandate is providing something different instead of simply replicating others' plans, and however the industry and the platform itself evolve in the coming years, the Wii U is sure to provide experiences like no other along the way.