The Wii U is the latest games console from Nintendo and will soon lock horns with the other next-gen offerings from Sony and Microsoft.
After placing third in a console generation with the GameCube, Nintendo showed that it was no longer willing to compete strictly on software with the 2006 launch of the Wii.
The platform proved a phenomenon thanks to its motion controls, ease of use, and low price point, and while it may not have held sway with core gamers for long, the Wii showed that Nintendo could still work wonders with innovation.
The Wii U is the next step, and like its predecessor, it's something different from the pack. A brand new standalone console, the Wii U may initially offer graphics power comparable to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, both of which have been on the market for several years, but that's not its main selling point.
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What sets the platform apart is its focus on the new Wii U GamePad, a large amalgamation of a traditional controller and a tablet, featuring a 6.2-inch touchscreen display that can work in tandem with what's being shown on your TV.
It's the center of the Wii U experience – a single, wireless input device that includes a bit of everything. In addition to the large screen, it includes two analog sticks, a directional pad, eight input buttons, a front-facing camera, and an NFC (Near Field Communication) sensor. It can even control your television.
And much as the GamePad is designed to supplement your big-screen games, whether as a standard controller, a screen for map and inventory info, or one of many other inventive uses, it can also work independently from the TV. Turn on the GamePad (which likewise activates the console) and many titles can be played entirely from the small screen, even in another room – though range varies.
The Wii U ships with a single GamePad, and while future games may support two, none do as of now – and they're not sold separately. Multiplayer games still utilize the last console's wand-like Wii Remotes and Nunchuk attachments, plus the new Wii U Pro Controller bears a striking resemblance to an Xbox 360 controller.
Beyond the innovative GamePad, the Wii U in many other ways seems intent on rising to the level of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. While the Wii was a smashing success, its lack of high definition output – plus graphics technology barely above that of the previous generation of consoles – dated it quickly as HDTV sales surged and streaming media took off.
Early Wii U launch titles look very similar to current games on the other home consoles – in part because many of the launch titles are top games from other systems, albeit with modifications and enhancements. For Nintendo's part, the company has finally ushered some of its franchises into high definition with New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land.
And the Wii U is positioned as the center of your digital universe, though it's not quite ready to fill that role. Netflix is available, but apps for Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube – visible on the home screen – won't be activated for weeks, and the big Nintendo TiVii feature that lets users track and find their favorite media across services (as well as interact with TiVo boxes) won't be out until December. At least you can control your TV and cable box with the GamePad.
Considering its myriad parts, the Wii U seems to offer a mix of the new and novel and the old and familiar – but what is its worth to both owners of other current game consoles as well as those looking to upgrade from the Wii? And do its initial game offerings warrant early adoption, or should curious parties wait and see how it takes hold in the market?
The Wii U is initially available in two distinct packages. On the lower end is the Basic Set, which includes a white Wii U console with 8GB of internal flash storage, a white GamePad, separate AC adapters for the console and controller, an HDMI cable, and a sensor bar for Wii Remotes. The Basic Set is currently available on Amazon UK for £222.99.
For slab more cash, the Premium Pack serves up a black console and GamePad, the former offering 32GB of internal flash storage, and in addition to all of the accessories from the Basic Set, the bundle also features Nintendo Land, a charging cradle for the GamePad, as well as simple stands for both the GamePad and console. The Wii U Premium Pack is currently selling online for £299.
It's extremely difficult to recommend the Basic Set by comparison. Even for those uninterested in Nintendo Land, which serves as a smart tutorial for the system's various features, the huge increase in storage makes it an essential purchase – especially since only 3GB of the Basic Set's storage is usable for games, compared to 29GB on the Premium console.
The Wii U console itself looks somewhat similar to the original Wii in general build, yet features rounded edges and is notably longer – it measures 10.6 inches long and 6.75 inches wide, with a height of just 1.8 inches. While it reads and plays older Wii games on standard DVDs, the Wii U's native games run on new 25GB optical discs. GameCube discs will not run on the Wii U.
On the front of the system, you'll find power and eject buttons, each augmented by a small light. The white light by the eject button illuminates when a disc is in the system, while the power light changes from red to blue when the system is turned on. Below the disc slot is a hidden compartment with two USB ports and an SD Card slot for added storage.
Flip the system around and you'll find two more USB ports on the right, along with ports on the left for the HDMI cable, other types of AV outputs, power cable, and Wii sensor bar. External hard drives up to 2TB in size can be plugged into the system, though any hard drive will be formatted to work with the Wii U and cannot be used with other devices.
Out of the box, the Wii U only supports Wi-Fi (892.11b/g/n) connections, though a Wii LAN Adapter connected to a USB port can be used for wired Ethernet lines.
Nintendo hardware has a long history of being physically well built and reliable, and from our initial testing of the Wii U, we don't expect that to change. It seems sturdily assembled, though the glossy black plastic of the Pro unit is seriously prone to dust, fingerprints, and visible scratches.