A look at what Wii U reviewers are saying around the Web

This is an exciting time for Nintendo, as it has finally released the successor to its Wii console -- the Wii U -- this week. But is the new addition to the Nintendo family going to be a hot ticket item, or just another dust collector?

The reviews are in, and DailyTech has collected the opinions of three top sites for a Wii U review roundup. Featured in this roundup are CNET's Jeff Bakalar, Ars Technica's Kyle Orland and The Verge's David Pierce. 

The Specs

Let's take a quick look at what this console is packing, shall we? 
  • IBM Power-based multi-core processor
  • 1.8 inches high, 10.6 inches deep and 6.75 inches long
  • AMD Radeon-based High Definition GPU
  • 8GB/32GB storage options
  • 1080p video output
  • Supports HDMI
  • Charging Stand
  • Wii U GamePad Controller (with 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen, button controls, two analog sticks, front-facing camera, sensor bar, rumble features, stylus and NFC functionality)
  • Supports Wii Remote, Wii Remote Plus, Wii U Pro Controllers and Wii accessories like the Classic Controller, Wii Balance Board and Nunchuk
The Wii U was released on November 18, just in time for the holiday season. If you're looking to get the 8GB Basic Set, the price is $299.99. If you're up for an upgrade, the 32GB Deluxe Set is $349.99. 

The Basic Set offers a white 8GB console with all white components. It comes with a GamePad Controller, sensor bar, charger and HDMI cable. Those opting for the Deluxe Set get a black 32GB console with black components, such as a GamePad Controller, a console stand, a GamePad stand, a GamePad charging stand, an HDMI cable, a sensor bar and the game "Nintendo Land."

There has been a lot of talk about the Wii U since it was announced back in June 2011 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Many wondered if a cool new tablet-like controller would be enough to draw in competitive sales against the likes of other consoles like Xbox 360 bundles and even smartphones and tablets, which have largely crowded the gaming space with attractive features like affordable apps and mobility. 

According to Bakalar, which reviewed the Deluxe  Set, the Wii U isn't much larger than the original Wii (not enough to notice, at least). It has a wealth of ports, including HDMI, an AV port, four USB 2.0 ports and an SD card slot. However, he did have one complaint: fingerprints on the black finish. 

Both the console and GamePad are total fingerprint magnets just like most of these shiny black plastic encasings I see so often. It's one thing if the console looks like that, but after just a few days using the GamePad, it could already use a good wipe down.

Orland added that the Wii U has a nice design and is decently sized for an HD console.

It’s worth noting again how small the Wii U is compared to even the reduced-size revisions of other HD consoles. At 1.8" high and 6.8" wide, the unit is barely bigger than the minuscule Wii when viewed from the front and is only noticeably larger when extending to the 10.5" depth. If you already have a Wii in your entertainment center, the Wii U should fit in as a fine replacement with no problem. Nintendo has added a lot of nice small touches to the system, too. The power and eject buttons rest flush with the front of the system, making for a nice, smooth surface that is quite pleasing to look at. The cover that conceals the front USB ports and SD card slot retracts into the system, rather than protruding out when opened, to preserve those flush lines.

Pierce completely disagreed with the previous two, saying that the size of the Wii U is very noticeable (even "big" and "heavy") with power cables that are even too large. 

Time to clear a spot in your home theater stack. The Wii U's console is a hefty piece of machinery, a glossy black (or white) rectangle that may or may not slide neatly next to your TV.

I'm not sure I've ever written about a power cable in a review before, but the Wii U's merits a mention. Because it's massive. The power brick is almost the same size as the console itself, and it made installing the system a lot harder — hiding something that big behind your TV can be tough.


GamePad Controller

This may be one of the largest draws to the new console, and the differentiator from other major players in the space. Nintendo has created a tablet-like controller called the GamePad for a dual-screen experience. 

Bakalar specifically mentioned that the GamePad Controller is surprisingly large, where he had to stretch his thumbs to reach across the screen a few times. He wondered how children will manage to play with the monster of a controller. He also mentioned that Nintendo has failed to explain how NFC technology will be used with the controller, as well as a few other complaints. 

The GamePad can be held a number of ways to play and doesn't seem to interact with the sensor bar at all. From what I can tell, the bar's only purpose is to work with older Wii remotes, which are fully backward compatible with the Wii U. In fact, they're required for some games, so you'll need to purchase a few if you don't already have any.
Because the GamePad's touch screen is resistive -- rather than the capacitive screen found on most modern tablets and smartphones -- it requires a bit more pressure to register. The screen doesn't have as much wiggle room as the DS did, but nevertheless, a light swipe might not work. This is almost never an issue when using the included stylus, though.

Orland disagreed for the most part, saying the GamePad was easy to play with without noticing the weight after awhile. However, button positioning is a different story. 

The biggest ergonomic problem with the GamePad comes in the shoulder buttons. Two of these buttons, ZL and ZR, rest on top of the back ridge and provide a perfectly natural resting place for your index fingers. The others, labeled L and R, sit on the top edge of the GamePad, roughly an inch higher. With your middle fingers under the ridge, reaching up to hit these shoulder buttons with your index finger is an uncomfortable stretch.
Moving your index fingers quickly between the two sets of shoulder buttons is also quite a bit more awkward than doing the same on the Xbox 360 or PS3 (where the buttons are at the same vertical height). It’s possible to put your ring finger under the ridge and rest both your middle and index fingers on the shoulder buttons, but this setup felt a bit unnatural to me.

Pierce said the GamePad has a few issues, like battery life (it drained after only three hours of gameplay), but also added that it's a versatile new controller that can be used in many ways to enhance the gaming experience. 

When it's used right, the GamePad is an awesome complement to the TV interface — I loved having it as my pocket PDA of sorts during Ninja Gaiden, or using it to draw routes for Yoshi in Nintendo Land. But every game implements the GamePad differently, and most don't do it very well. Some of the games in Nintendo Land take place almost entirely on the GamePad, so all you see on your TV is "Look at the GamePad!" Others are mirrored, so you're seeing exactly the same thing on the TV and on the GamePad – it's distracting to see things happening on both screens, and I wound up constantly shifting my gaze because I'd see some movement out of the corner of my eye.


Bakalar's main concern is the battery life of the GamePad, which he says sits around 3.5 to 4 hours, and it takes another 2.5 hours for a full charge. However, a power cord can remedy that situation fairly easily. He did find one bug, though. 

So far I've run into one bug with the system. If you attempt to eject a game disc while the console is off (a handy LED glows whenever a game is inserted), the system will eject the disc, turn on, but then freeze up. The only way out of this is to actually pull the power cord out.

Orland mentioned longer load times for Wii U games, and offered a table of load times for each title. But he did say that the console was quite powerful. 

But if the Wii U is capable of generating graphics more detailed than those of other current systems, the launch games I’ve seen so far don’t do a great job showing that off. I’m willing to believe the Wii U is more powerful than the older HD consoles though, primarily because the system is also pushing a lag-free wireless image to the Wii U GamePad while it generates those HDTV graphics. Sometimes that touchscreen image is just a mirror of what’s happening on the TV, but often it’s a totally different viewpoint of the same scene, or a different scene entirely. I’d have to imagine ignoring the touchscreen altogether might actually give developers more horsepower to spend on the image being pushed to the TV.

Pierce went as far as to say that the GamePad's power left him wanting more.

The Wii U is close — tantalizingly close — to being a portable console. So close, in fact, that I found myself wondering constantly why the GamePad wasn't the console, and the TV-connected piece a peripheral. The GamePad and console connect to each other via an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection, which works absolutely seamlessly — there's no lag, and I had no connection issues whatsoever. Nintendo says the two parts will work up to 25 feet apart, but I found that it could sometimes be much farther; they stayed in touch anywhere in the Verge offices or in my apartment, even through walls. That means for games like New Super Mario Bros. U, where all the gameplay also takes place on the GamePad, you don't even need your TV anymore — just turn the console on, and play on your GamePad. That's a great way to avoid monopolizing your family's TV, and it frees you from even needing a TV. Anywhere there's a power outlet, you can play some Wii U games using the GamePad.


Bakalar had great things to say about the GamePad's gameplay, saying that it's the king of multiplayer gaming (it allows up to four other controllers in addition to the GamePad simultaneously). The problem? The launch lineup of titles, he said. 

So far, Nintendo has yet to do an overly impressive job of locking up exclusive titles only available on the Wii U. Aside from forthcoming first-party titles like Pikmin 3 and Game and Wario, Nintendo has only teased exclusives like Bayonetta 2, Lego City Undercover, and The Wonderful 101. Of course it's safe to assume the usual crop of first-party franchises will show up down the line, too: more Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, etc.

Orland seemed to be more upset about the way the games look rather than what they actually were. 

First-party titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land capture the company’s signature bright, cartoony style, but they come across as high-definition versions of games that would have been possible on the original Wii. Third-party titles like ZombiU and Tank Tank Tank! show more detail and have more moving elements than what was possible on the original Wii, but those titles are far from out-classing complex games on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Most of the other launch titles are direct ports of games actually available on those systems. These look indistinguishable on the Wii U.

Pierce had a great time playing "New Super Mario Bros. U," which he even called his favorite game out of the bunch. He said it was by far the hardest Mario game to date with many layers to each level, but there was "nothing special about how it works on the Wii U." The multiplayer format can be a little awkward, too. 

Multiplayer is actually one of the odder experiences with the Wii U. For most games, one player uses the GamePad and everyone else uses Wii remotes. That by itself creates a sort of disjointed experience, like you're all watching the same thing but you're on your phone while everyone else watches it on TV. In many games, the player with the GamePad is the only one really playing, and the other players are like supporting actors — it's less like co-op and more like hero and sidekick. The one exception I found was Metroid Blast, in which you team up to, well, kill bad guys. In that game the GamePad and Wii remote experiences aren’t better or worse, just different — you’re in a vehicle on the GamePad and on foot with the remote, but both are fun experiences geared for their hardware. Once again, the potential is there — it’s just not yet fully realized.


Bottom Line


In almost every other department, save for what Nintendo TVii is supposed to provide, the other consoles on the market have the Wii U beat: network and offline media playback, diversity of streaming services, exclusive games, and speedy operating systems.
Despite its unique dual-screen presentation, innovative GamePad controller, and ambitious Nintendo TVii service, the Wii U still has a lot to prove.


There are a lot of things I’d love to tell you about the Wii U. I’d love to tell you how the Miiverse social networking service lets you play games and exchange messages with friends. I’d love to tell you how the GamePad’s built-in camera works for video chatting with other Wii U owners all over the world. I’d love to tell you about the transfer process for content from your old Wii, or how the new system handles old Wii retail games, or how easy it is to expand the storage space with a USB hard drive, or what the sign-up process for the new Nintendo Network ID is like, or how functional the Web browser and free video apps are, or how the new eShop compares to other digital download services.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any of that. As of mid-day Saturday, mere hours from the system's North American launch, Nintendo had not yet pushed out a promised firmware update to activate all of these features (and maybe a few that I’m not aware of). 

As a result, this first review of the Wii U is going to be necessarily incomplete.


Nintendo’s facing an unfortunate chicken-and-egg problem. Developers won’t devote the time to making their Wii U games sing unless a lot of people buy the console, and plenty of shoppers will skip over the console unless the games are great. Nintendo can’t rely on its lead-in, either: Wii sales have plummetted in the last year, falling at a much faster rate than its even-older Xbox and PlayStation competitors. The novely factor of the Wii may have worn off, as customers demand more media features and a better gaming experience — Nintendo has to prove once again that it’s a real competitor.
I don't know which future awaits the Wii U. But until it's obvious, I'm not buying one.

Sources: CNET, Ars Technica, The Verge

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki
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