Should you get a WiiU?It's taken me a while to review the Wii U, because I've tried to thrash it before giving an opinion. The last thing I wanted to do was grab the system, get overwhelmed by the sheer juicy wonder of it (which very much did happen, by the way), then write a review whilst gripped by a sort of feverish Nintendo bloodlust. So I played a bunch of games, took breaks between each one, and looked at the Wii U for it's merits. Although I am still a tad giddy over the novelty of it all.
The Wii was a fantastic little system: robust, innovative, spilling over with great titles (including ridiculously wonderful exclusives like Skyward Sword and Xenoblade Chronicles), but the other next genii consoles did vastly outmatch it in terms of graphics. The Wii U, however, is the first console from Nintendo to support HD graphics (1080p), has 2 gig of ram, and is backwards compatible with Wii titles. Graphically, it now feels on par with a PS3, which might not sound like much, but consider this: the Wii took sub par graphics and made some of the best gaming experiences of the last decade. The Wii U is capable of doing that and more.
The core of the Wii U gaming experience is the Wii U gamepad, which is sort of a mashup between a tablet and a gamepad. If the Wii controller was a sort of magic wand, this new controller for the Wii U is like a souped-up magical TV remote; you can sync it with your TV and it will literally function as a remote control. It can also utilise 'Off TV Play' functionality, meaning you can sit there and play games on the remote alone, without having to use the TV. Initially I was freaked out about having to game with something that, in terms of size, was akin to holding a book open constantly, but really it feels fine in your hands. Holding it in one hand and using a stylus isn't problematic, and once you see what Nintendo and developers like Ubisoft have done with the uniqueness of the Wii U GamePad, you'll move past the size of the controller.
The WiiU already has a bunch of pretty epic titles available, including re-tooled releases of existing games, like Arkham City, Fifa and Mass Effect 3. These games, along with totally new exclusive titles like ZombiU, take the controller and turn it into something really, really special. Let's run through a few, shall we? Spoiler alert: we shall.
Arkham City: Armored Edition
The actual game remains pretty much the same here, and the game itself is pretty much flawless. But where Rocksteady and Nintendo have made sweet sweet gaming babies is the controller. Ok. So you're heading out of Arkham and scaling a building as Bruce Wayne to get to your Batsuit, and suddenly, the controller comes to life, and Alfred is talking to you through the speaker in the GamePad. And you don't look at the TV when this happens, you look at the GamePad itself, at the exact same time that Bruce looks at his watch communicator. Alfred tells you that a new prototype armoured Batsuit is waiting for you, so you suit up. It looks awesome, sure, but on the wrist is something resembling a pip boy, that… wait. IT'S A WIIU GAMEPAD.
Or, at least, something closely resembling it. So now, you become Batman on a whole new level; you hold up the GamePad to scan your actual room whilst scanning crimescenes. You change gadgets, hack computers and communicate with allies using the stylus. And you unleash stored kinetic power to unleash your new suit's combat power using the… are you getting the idea here? The WiiU Gamepad actually adds something really cool to the already stupidly cool Arkham experience.
ZombieU is a totally different beast, in that it's only on the WiiU. It's also ruthlessly, unforgivingly difficult, which was not something I expected from a launch title. You basically wake up in an underground bunker after somehow surviving a zombie apocalypse. You're in the heart of London, you're a randomly generated British person with an actual profession and, if you're lucky, bad teeth. A voice over the intercom begins telling you how to survive, starting with grabbing a cricket bat and heading out to secure the perimeter. There's no HUD or radar on the screen, however; you have your gamepad, on which you can see a crude local area map. But you can't see zombies on the radar unless you "ping" it: tap it with your stylus. Which means you're effectively wandering, often scared and down to your last bullet, through badly lit subway tunnels and alleyways, desperately multitasking. Going through your backpack for supplies? That doesn't pause the game, oh no. It pulls out to a weirdly panic-inducing third person perspective, whilst in realtime, you have to sort through the on-screen inventory, and glance back up at the screen repeatedly to make sure you're not about to be eaten.Also, when you die (and you will die a lot), you'll come back as a new player, and when you head out to secure the perimeter, you'll be forced to kill a zombie for their supplies. Oh, look. It's you. As a zombie. And you're clubbing your ex-avatars brains out for a backpack with a candy bar and three bullets in it. Between mechanics like this, the highly innovative and stupidly atmospheric gamepad innovations and the minimal, brutal plot, ZombiU is an absolute must play. It doesn't have the most complex plot, but it makes up for that by loads of little features that add immeasurably to the overall experience. For example: WiiU has the Miiverse, which lets you interact with friends and other WiiU gamers. If Miiverse is turned on, you'll sometimes encounter other players as zombies, and can leave hints for other players on the walls of London.
New Super Mario Bros. U
I'm obsessed with asymmetric game mechanics, so New Super Mario Bros. U is like a pure hit of adrenalin to me. The game itself is a typically addictive Mario outing, with fantastic fiddly co-op and a bunch of new power-ups available (the flying squirrel suit is outstandingly fun to use), but what makes the game unique is Boost Mode. In Boost Mode, up to three players use regular Wii controllers to control characters on screen, whilst the fourth player uses the WiiU GamePad to become this kind of dungeon master/benevolent god figure. They see the same screen the players are on, but instead of actually controlling anyone, they use the stylus to manipulate the game world; spawning bouncy platforms, distracting bad guys, halting the progress of giant lethal spinning cogs; it becomes an act of spinning plates, and it's exhilarating. The closest thing I've experienced is healing in World of Warcraft; you're often the only reason people survived, but you rarely get thanked. Stupid ungrateful Luigi.
You can also access twitter and Facebook on the gamepad, and whilst I have yet to delve into it, there's going to be loads of cross-pollination with Hulu-like services. You can browse the web, access the Nintendo eShop, and generally make the GamePad into an actual tablet of sorts.
So, should you get a WiiU? Well, you now know just what the WiiU is capable of. And to put it simply, provided Nintendo keep pumping out games which take full advantage of this weird, wonderful hybrid technology, the WiiU is absolutely worth picking up; it makes a genuine run at bringing casual gaming and hardcore gaming closer together. I've enjoyed mine a great deal, and in my weaker moments, have considered proposing to it./Paul