The other night, I noticed that I had two weird looking lines on the sides of my face that hadn’t been there that morning, and their presence left me feeling slightly confused, and more than a little freaked out. Searching “weird face diseases” on WebMD had left me none the wiser, and it was only later, when I’d been asked why I was ‘grinning like a simpleton’ that I finally figured it out!
As somebody who usually smiles, on average, three, maybe four times a year, it was understandable that I’d not considered this, but suddenly it all made sense. You see, dear reader, I’d recently bought myself a Wii U, and, it turns out, had spent two full days in a permanent state of unadulterated gaming joy – complete with massive grin plastered across my big stupid face. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy gaming, and I love my other consoles and handhelds, but with the Wii U, I seemed to have tapped into something that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid: hours of pure game-playing fun.
On reflection, and rather bizarrely, it was exactly this element that had made me reluctant to even consider the Wii U in the first place; or to be more specific, I’d dismissed the console because I thought it was “immature”, or that it, and its games, were mostly for kids. Doing a quick (and wholly unscientific) poll, I discovered that I wasn’t entirely alone in this either – it seems a fair amount of gamers, particularly slightly older ones, have dismissed the Wii U for similar reasons, and of those who did own one, the majority had primarily bought it for their kids, but fell in love with it themselves in the evenings, after they’d put their offspring to bed (sometimes early, specifically so they could play on it). To be fair, Nintendo themselves certainly haven’t done much to counteract this perception, and much like the Wii before it, the U has attempted to fill a ‘console for the whole family’ niche, but it’s highly possible that this has done the console something of a disservice.
Anyways, as a recent convert to the Wii U, and as someone who was in many ways typical of gamers who avoided it, I thought I’d take the liberty of making a case for what is, on many levels, a genuinely brilliant console, both for the whole family, but also for the more mature, “serious” gamer too. Furthermore, a couple of console exclusives aside, the PS4 and the Xbox One are both very similar, so there’s a very strong argument that the Wii U is the natural choice as a second console, regardless of which one of the above you may have opted for.
The first thing that’s immediately obvious about the Wii U is the controller, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take a *bit* of getting used to, both in terms of physically holding it, and adjusting to the whole second screen thing. But it was only a bit, and within about 30 minutes, my stumpy sausage fingers had made their peace with it, and I’d just about taught my tiny brain how to multitask using the second screen. And, importantly, once I had mastered it, I loved it. For a while now, Nintendo have been genuinely revolutionising how we play games, from the touchscreen of the DS, through to the motion-control of the Wii (and the fact that both Sony and Microsoft have, to some extent, copied Nintendo is a factor that tends to be overlooked, but speaks volumes), and in combining these things, the controller of the Wii U represents yet another excellent innovation (or “consolidation of innovations”, if you like).
Of course, quite how it functions depends on the game you’re playing; sometimes it’s just a map, sometimes a genuine mirror of the game you’re playing (thus allowing ‘remote play’ etc), and sometimes it genuinely augments the game you’re playing. The first two are useful, for sure, but for me, it’s the latter thing that really brings home the awesome!!
In (the really rather good) ZombiU, for example, your second screen becomes (amongst other things) a map, a radar, a scanner, and your backpack, and learning how to use it properly is often the difference between getting your brains munched on, or surviving (for instance, the game doesn’t pause when you access your inventory, so in order to avoid zombies suddenly being all “up in your face” and whatnot, you need to have one eye on your ‘backpack’, and one on the screen as you organise your inventory etc). Similarly, learning how to quickly scan the surroundings with it, or use it as a scope for some weapons can give you distinct advantages, and, in general, it feels like a really useful tool, rather than a gimmick. In fact, in most games, I genuinely felt like the Wii U pad was a great addition to my game-playing experience, and upon returning to my PS4 for a bit, I was left genuinely missing it (FYI – if you attempt to scan your surroundings with a PS4 controller, nothing happens, and you’ll probably get shot in the face while you’re trying!).
There are a few (mostly) minor issues. There’s the fact that it’s not the most responsive or dazzling touchscreen (Nintendo went with a resistive screen, that is significantly less responsive and sharp than, say, a retina-type display, probably to keep costs down), and I’ve found the charge generally lasts 3-5 hours, meaning you’ll spend some time playing with extensions and adaptors strewn across the floor, but, on the whole, they don’t detract from its utility.
In terms of the console itself, there’s been a bit of debate about whether it can truly be called a Next-Gen console. The Wii U came out a good year before the PS4 and Xbox One remember, so it’s understandable that it’s not up to the spec of the latter two, given how fast technology advances (as anybody who’s ever spent money on a top-of-the-line phone/computer/tablet only to watch it become “old” very quickly can testify to). If you compare the Wii U to the PS4/Xbox One, on paper at least, it falls significantly short, boasting a tri-core CPU (to the PS4/Xbox One’s 8-core AMD APUs), whilst the 2GB DDR3 RAM looks quite puny compared to the 8 GB of the Sony and Microsoft consoles. That said, though, it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re playing on an outdated, or even under-performing machine, particularly when you’re watching your favourite Nintendo characters explore beautifully rendered, colourful HD environments. Yes, if you were choosing just one next-gen console to play new, next gen games, or epic online First-Person-Shooters on, I probably wouldn’t recommend the Wii U, because that’s not, nor was ever going to be, its forte. For true Next Gen titles, the pure power of the PS4/Xbox One will beat the Wii U any day of the week.
However, where the Wii U truly does come into its own is with the games, and more specifically, the Nintendo/console exclusives ones that, to use the technical term, are all different kinds of freakin’, shit-kickingly awesome. I haven’t had a Nintendo console since the GameCube but I really, really loved that because it, and its games, were brilliant (a big part of the reason I got the Wii U in the first place is because, on a recent trip back home, I wanted to play Zelda: The Wind Waker but couldn’t because my Mum had “accidentally lost it” when she was moving house) and the Wii U maintains that pedigree with gusto. There are newer versions of Mario, Donkey Kong, Mario Kart, and HD remastered versions of much loved classics (The Wind Waker being one of them), as well as some of the bigger cross-console releases if, for whatever reason, these kind of titles aren’t entirely your thang.
I often feel like the majority of PlayStation and Xbox games are variations around a few key themes (mainly shooting people in the face, it has to be said), and in this respect, the Wii U offers a definite and distinct alternative. Personally, I didn’t even realise how much I was missing that alternative until I started playing them again, and I’ve been reminded that great computer games can be about something other than FPSing, or big budget narrative fiction. Even if you are a more mature gamer, there’s a fairly big chance that you were first hooked by a Mario, or Sonic, and the core reasons for that still exist, and still apply, even if there are other gameplay/narrative options now.
And, as I discovered, playing a great Mario game is still hugely addictive, challenging, and mahoosively enjoyable, simply because they’re great games. The fact that they’re more cartoony than other games doesn’t make them bad, and it certainly doesn’t instantly put them in the “for kids” category either (the Mario games, for example, are still pretty bloody hard)! There’s even an argument that they’re fundamentally better games, precisely because they don’t rely on bells and whistles, gadgets etc to set themselves apart; instead relying on solid fundamentals and foundations, which remain as great today as they ever were. In many ways, the recent resurgence of Indie-type-titles is testament to this, and it’s often quite obvious that many of them have taken a fair bit of inspiration from the Nintendo/Sega school of game development.
Nintendo often get (sort of) overlooked nowadays, especially in the kerfuffle that is the ‘Next-Gen War’, but they’ve been happy to just quietly focus on what they do well; making great games, and intuitive, innovative machines to play them on. And, because a lot of these games are made ‘in house’, they really work well, and have a quintessential Nintendo greatness about them that has kept fans happy for a generation, instalment after instalment. Not for nothing, there’s also quite a lot to choose from, which particularly appealed to me, given I seem to have spent a lot of time since getting my PS4 waiting for games to come out. The Wii U is also back-compatible, meaning you can play your old Wii games on it, and, quite coolly, you can also use your Wii controllers and nunchuck whatsits too.
All-in-all, the Wii U is an excellent little machine, with some awesome titles that will fill you with joy, and easily provide you with almost limitless amusement. It’s not cheap (in an absolute sense), but I think it does represent pretty good value for money, particularly compared to the Sony/Microsoft prices. Moreover, given the number of great games available right now (and reasonably cheaply if you’re prepared to hunt around for second-hand ones), and given that PS4/Xbox One are so similar (price, games, power, experience, etc) the Wii U is an attractive prospect on many, many levels.
And I’m not necessarily saying you should definitely get one, but you should definitely consider it, or more accurately, you definitely shouldn’t rule it out like I did. I was an idiot, and my preconceived prejudices meant I missed out on the best part of two years of Nintendo-flavoured goodness. Still, if my being an idiot goes some way to help stop you being one, and I’ve learned a valuable lesson which I can pass on to you, it might just have been worth it in the end.