Okay, first a little background, and then I'll get to the review: I'm not a Nintendo fan. Yes, I'm in my 40s, and I owned a Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the 80s and 90s. I enjoyed both quite a lot, but then, didn't everybody? Nintendo really had it going back then.
When they introduced the N64, however, I was nonplussed. Mostly, I was ticked that they stuck with cartridges in an era when CDs were king. This choice limited what they could do with the N64, and I still cringe when I think about how much more awesome games like Mario 64, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and WWF No Mercy would have been if they had a little more room for data on a CD. Still, I did enjoy those few games, and a couple others got my attention. Ultimately, though, the N64 was a flop for me. I was unimpressed with the game lineup.
When Nintendo threw the GameCube at the public, I held off. It seemed like it was "too little, too late" and for the most part, I was right. The games didn't impress me all that much. The forced jump to 3D for Metroid didn't make me happy. The lack of third party titles was glaring. The choice to use proprietary discs made me wonder what could have been if they'd used DVDs instead, like the PS2 and Dreamcast. Eventually I picked one up, used, and played with it for a while, but ultimately sold it because there were no games I wanted to play.
And then, finally, the Wii arrived and I totally skipped it. I wasn't into the gimmick, and I was really not interested in another standard definition console after shelling out the big bucks for an HDTV when they were first out, and still quite expensive. As the years went by, a few games piqued my curiosity, but I still never jumped at the Wii.
In-between all this, I enjoyed the original Game Boy, the Gameboy Advance, and even the Virtual Boy. I messed around with the DS, but didn't keep it, and didn't transition to the DSi or 3DS.
So basically, I bailed on Nintendo in the late 90s because I felt that they were losing touch with what I wanted as a gamer. They always seemed late to the party with new technology, or if they were first with something, it was kind of gimmicky and I just didn't see the appeal. When they announced the Wii U, I said pretty much the same thing: "A gimmick controller, and they're release all the same games again. I really don't want to play another Mario, Zelda, or Metroid title."
Boy, was I wrong!
I got a Wii U because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and figured that if I could decide later whether to keep it, or sell it. Eventually, being the gadget freak I am, I had to hook it up and give it a try, and I was pleasantly surprised.
The first pleasant surprise was that the box contained some nice things. This was just the Basic Set-- The white one-- And it was still packed with an HDMI cord, a nice, low-profile Wii sensor bar, and of course the GamePad and console along with all the necessary cords. It's packaged smartly, with everything neatly wrapped and in its place. It reminded me a bit of a 1990s Apple product in this regard-- Simple, elegant packaging with everything you'll need to get started. The HDMI cable was almost like a little apology from Nintendo for making us wait for an HD console.
There are two AC adapters with the Wii U. One is for the console, and the other is for charging the GamePad. The Deluxe Set comes with a charging cradle, too, but in the Basic Set the charging cable is plenty to keep you gaming, and if you want the cradle I'm sure there will be tons of them on the market soon (aside from the first-party version that's already out there, I mean.)
Once everything was connected, I powered on and was taken through a very simple start-up procedure which included a system update after establishing an Internet connection. On the screen (despite what some "journalists" might have told you) is a message telling you not to remove the power supply while the system updates. Even if you do, though, the system is dummy-proof. You'll get a black screen while it finishes the update (in a "recovery" mode) and then it will apply the update and come back to the Wii U menu. If you see the black screen (if you're stupid enough to unplug the device while it's doing a system update, that is) then don't panic. Your console is not "bricked"-- It's just fixing your mistake.
For most of us, this will not be a big problem.
After the update (1GB, not 5GB as some people are reporting) the system is ready to go. You're encouraged to make a Mii, which is pretty easy and done on the GamePad, and then you're let free in the Wii U menu to start playing. You'll be greeted by a screen full of Mii characters, all popping up little messages and drawings. Oh, yes... you can send drawings done on the GamePad's touch screen as messages in the Miiverse. Kinda nifty.
THE ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE
As I have the Basic Set, I do not have NintendoLand. It sounds cool, but I'll wait for that one. Instead, being a big fan of zombies, I picked up ZombiU. I also picked up Super Mario Bros U because I was told it's fantastic. Without getting into game reviews here, I'll just say that I'm very pleased with both games-- Especially with the integration of the GamePad's touch screen into regular gameplay. It's very cool. Nintendo has lots of practice doing this sort of thing, too, with the Nintendo DS systems.
Rather than talking about individual games here, I'll talk about the other things that impressed me about the Wii U. Namely, the Web Browser, Netflix, and TV Remote functions.
The Wii U has one of the best TV Web browsing interfaces ever. Via the GamePad, you can surf the web seamlessly. You have a keyboard on the touchscreen for when you need it. You have the ability to smoothly zoom web pages in and out and pan them left and right via the analog sticks, as well as handling basic up/down scrolling the same way. You can save bookmarks, open multiple tabs, and do anything on the Web that doesn't require Flash. Apple fans will feel at home, and really, anybody still reliant on Flash these days (as opposed to HTML 5) is just dragging their heels.
The Web Browser interface of the Wii U simply shines. I've used Web TV, MSN TV, PS3, Dreamcast, and a variety of other methods to access the Web on my television (including an HTPC with a standard web browser), and by far the Wii U outstrips them all in ease of use. Some have a bonus mark due to Flash compatibility, but the Wii U's GamePad interface makes up for that omission in a big way. I didn't expect to use the Wii U as a web browsing device, but now I could see skipping the HTPC or PS3, and going straight to the Wii U if I need to get online on the TV.
And here's the kicker: You can also access the Web on the GamePad screen itself. You don't need to rely on the TV at all. If you want to walk away (to within about 25 feet of the console, anyway), the GamePad will act like a tablet and let you get online via the wireless connection with the console. Very cool.
Again, the Wii U beats the pants off other devices. I have a PS3, HTPC, Sony Set-top "Smart TV" box, and have used several other Netflix devices (Roku, WDTV, Xbox 360, etc.) and I'm here to tell you that the Wii U's Netflix integration is beautifully done. You can scroll through titles on the GamePad, control movie functions on the GamePad, and even have the video transferred to display on the GamePad so you can watch as if it's a tablet. When watching a movie on the TV screen, the GamePad provides information about the film you're watching (cover art, title, length, summary, scrubber/time bar, controls, etc.) -- It's the best way to watch Netflix, hands down. The only negative-- one I hope will be fixed in a future update-- is that the GamePad screen does not shut off after a while, so you're burning a couple hours of battery if you watch a movie with it unplugged, even if it's displaying the movie on the TV. I suspect this was an oversight, and that future versions will offer a "turn off GamePad screen" option due to popular demand. Right now you can turn off the GamePad screen, but when you tap a button to bring back your movie, the GamePad screen wakes up.
Still, this is the best Netflix device out there. I stand by that. I'm not the only one saying it, either. Go ahead and look it up. I'll wait. . .
See? Pretty cool, huh?
TV REMOTE FUNCTIONS
Right now, this is very basic, but it's just so easy to use! You pick your TV's manufacturer from a list, and test the settings until it works. For my Zenith TV, it worked on the second try. Once you do this, hitting the "TV" button on the GamePad turns it into a TV remote. You can change channels, adjust volume, and change inputs (to switch between Wii U and TV shows, I'd suppose!) all from the GamePad screen. No more juggling two remotes to jump between console and TV!
Here's a tip: The "A" button on the GamePad works as the "Enter" button for the TV Remote functions.
In the future this mode will be made even more useful with Nintendo's TVii service. We won't know what's up with that until December, but Nintendo seems pretty stoked about it.
[*] The Stylus: It's cool that they have a nice little stylus built into the GamePad, much like on the DS.
[*] Rearranged Buttons: It takes some getting used to, but the four buttons on the right side don't respond in American style, with the bottom button as "Yes/Enter" and the right button as "No/Back". Instead, they're Japanese/European style, with the right button (A) being "Yes/Enter" and the bottom button being "No/Back". At first this seems an odd choice for a market that Nintendo themselves spoiled with the rearranged American-style buttons, but it becomes obvious that they made the choice because they put their right analog stick ABOVE the buttons, instead of below or to the side of them. This means that when you reach down from the analog stick, it's easier to hit the right button than it is to hit the bottom button. Just bear in mind that you may need to get used to a change if you come from any other American console.
[*] Wii Remote: The system does not come with a Wii Remote. You need to pick one up separately. Until you have one, you can't enter the Wii Menu or play multiplayer (local) games on Wii U. Luckily, the Wii Remote is ubiquitous these days, and you can find them dirt cheap if you shop around. Once I acquired mine, I was pleased to see how easily it synced and then worked to control the Wii U's cursor in Wii U and Wii modes. I was also very pleased with the way it worked for Super Mario Bros U as an old-school NES-style controller.
[*] Nintendo's Store: The online store is frankly a little sparse right now. There's no Wii U Virtual Console at the moment, though if you go into the Wii Menu and enter the Wii shop, you'll find the Wii Virtual Console games are still available and seem to be perfectly capable of functioning on the Wii U, in Wii mode. This leads me to address the way they handle backwards compatibility... This is not like the PS3 or Xbox 360. When you inserted a legacy title into those consoles, they'd just start the game in an emulation mode. With the Wii U, you have to actually enter the Wii Menu to find the Wii games. In effect, you're switching the Wii U to Wii mode and then loading games from that mode. When in this mode, it's just a Wii, without Wii U functions. I found this to be a strange choice, and no doubt it will curtail the use of the GamePad's advanced functions for any Virtual Console titles bought from the Wii mode. Sadly, when in Wii mode, the Wii U will not do anything fancy with the GamePad. That is saved only for Wii U games and software.
[*] Storage Questions: A lot of you are saying "Why did you get the white console? The black one has more storage capacity!" and my answer is pretty simple: Because Nintendo intends for us to use external storage with the Wii U. Hooking up an external 500GB hard drive was no problem for me, and now it sits quietly in my entertainment center with the Wii U as its eternal partner, doing its thing. Why bother spending extra and getting the fingerprint-prone black version when I could have a nifty white Wii U and end up with approximately the same amount of storage space? The 32GB will be burned through quickly enough, and I suspect Deluxe Set owners will be connecting hard drives to their Wii U shortly after they buy the console. If you're worried about storage, you're fretting over nothing. Unlike Microsoft, Nintendo was kind to console owners and let us use our own hard drive to upgrade without needing a special caddy or partition. Just connect the drive, and let the Wii U format it. Voila, you're done.
[*] Disc Playback: This is my biggest gripe. Nintendo decided, once again, to use proprietary discs. What this means is that the Wii U can't play DVDs or Blu-ray Discs. While this doesn't affect me personally (I have a PS3, after all), I suspect there will be people out there who only justify having one gaming console, and it would be really nice to integrate disc playback so that the number of HDMI ports taken by hardware isn't continually expanding. I don't dock Nintendo any stars for this decision, but I do think it was a cheap choice.
[*] GamePad Concerns: The GamePad is a great controller. It's not as heavy as you'd think, and it's not what I'd consider bulky, though it is big and unusual. As a controller, I like it. However, as a tablet it suffers. The GamePad is limited by range and line-of-sight with the Wii U console. If you put a wall between the GamePad and the Wii U, the signal is in danger of dropping past about ten feet. That's unfortunate, because being able to wander all around the house with the GamePad to play SMBU or watch Netflix would be very handy. As it stands, unless you have your Wii U in a wall-less zone, your mileage (or footage, rather) may vary. The other concern is battery power. The GamePad lasts about four hours, give or take, depending on what power-saving settings you choose. Remember to dock/plug in the GamePad whenever you're done using it! Hopefully, better batteries come along in later years.
[*] Fun Factor: When it comes down to it, Nintendo knows how to make a console fun. Little touches like Miiverse really add to the experience. The fact that the console comes with a camera, motion detector, touch screen, and discrete wireless speakers is a testament to Nintendo's understanding of small things adding up. Some tiny omissions, such as the lack of a TOSlink/optical audio port (meaning you MUST be able to pass-through surround from your TV or have a surround receiver that handles HDMI if you want surround sound), are a detriment to this fun factor, but ultimately Nintendo hits most of the right highs and avoids the lows that drag a console down.
I am a former Nintendo owner who never quite became a "fan", per se, of the Nintendo brand. You could even say that I was disgruntled by the time the N64 launched. The Wii U turned that around. I may not be a "fan" yet, but I do like the hardware and the software that goes with it. So far. If third party developers continue to show up, and if Nintendo continues to do cool stuff with the GamePad and services like TVii, Amazon Video on Demand, and Hulu Plus, then the Wii U will be a must-have console for a family of gamers. Not just for the kids. Not just for grandma and grandpa. Not just for mom and dad. Not just for hardcore gamers. It will be the console for everybody in the family, no matter how seriously or flippantly they take video gaming. Even when viewed as just a Web browsing console with Smart TV functions, the Wii U is a winner.
So as it stands at the moment, Nintendo managed to turn this nay-sayer into a yeah-sayer. We'll see if they can maintain this level of happiness with future updates, software releases, and other goodies. For now, the Wii U remains in my entertainment center, and I'm certain it will get much use.