UPDATE: A firmware update that added the Wii U’s online functionality was released within a few hours of this post. We are currently looking through the system’s online features and will update this piece as needed.
The Nintendo Wii U hits the stores on Sunday, November 18. If you didn’t preorder, you might be out of luck: The system’s basically already sold out everywhere. (Of course, you might be out of luck even if you did preorder: Polygon reports that Toys R Us has notified some customers that preorders may not be available at launch.) Still, if you’re wondering what Nintendo’s up to with its new console, Paste can help you out. We’ve had a review unit for a couple of weeks now and can give you a quick overview of what to expect from the Wii U.
1. It’s an entirely new console, and not an add-on for the Wii.
Considering the similarities between the names and the fact that the Wii U supports the same Wii Remotes and Nunchuks used by the Wii, many wonder if the Wii U is just a peripheral for the Wii. It’s not. It’s an entirely new home console that plugs into your television. Wii U games will not play on the Wii, although Wii games will eventually be playable on the Wii U after a system firmware update.
2. The primary controller is a handheld touch-screen called the GamePad.
The GamePad looks like an iPad Mini squeezed into a standard videogame controller. It has a 6.2 inch touch-screen in the center, with dual joysticks, face buttons and four shoulder buttons up top. This is the main controller you’ll use to interface with the Wii U, from turning it on, to navigating its menus and playing most of its games. You can also set it up as a universal TV remote. It sounds awkward, but you’ll get used to it faster than you might expect—it’s surprisingly light and the second screen nicely complements many of the games we’ve played for the system. And thankfully it comes with a charger instead of running on batteries, as it runs out of juice after four or five hours. As mentioned above, though, the Wii U also supports the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the Wii MotionPlus add-on, and also supports the new Pro Controller, which is a traditional controller in the style of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
3. The Wii U displays in HD and is considerably more powerful than the Wii.
Unlike the Wii, the Wii U supports high-definition graphics, up to 1080P. It’s also at least roughly comparable in power to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, making it far easier for third-party publishers to release Wii U versions of games that never would’ve appeared on the Wii. For instance, the first batch of Wii U games include updated versions of Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City, along with such brand new hits as Assassin’s Creed III and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. None of these games could have run on the Wii without severe downgrades from the Xbox, PlayStation or PC versions.
4. The GamePad screen can stream games and video from the main unit.
Certain games, including such launch titles as New Super Mario Bros. U and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, can be played entirely on the GamePad. The main console has to be turned on, though, and you have to stay within close range to the Wii U. I was able to switch seamlessly over to the GamePad and blitz through a few Mario levels while my wife watched TV. I had to stay in the living room, though—two steps down the hallway and my connection to the console dropped. Eventually Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, TiVo and Nintendo’s proprietary DVR-controlling program TVii will be available for the GamePad—they were expected at launch but have been pushed back to December.
5. Only the Deluxe bundle comes with a pack-in game.
Nintendo Land, a set of minigames geared to introduce you to the GamePad and its many uses, is included with the $350 Deluxe bundle. That also comes with 32 GB of internal memory and a free subscription to Nintendo’s Premium Network. The basic model arrives with 8 GB of memory and no game. Both boxes come with a GamePad and an HDMI cable.
6. The standard Wii U game price will be $60.
With the upgrade to HD, Nintendo game prices will rise from the traditional Wii price point of $50 to an industry-standard $60. Not every game will cost $60 at launch, but most probably will. This makes the Deluxe bundle a no-brainer: For less than the cost of a single game you get both a game and four times as much memory.
7. The Wii U will be more online-friendly than the Wii…supposedly.
Nintendo has repeatedly said that the WiFi-enabled Wii U will support a far more robust online network than the Wii, one which scraps the much-reviled Friend Code system. Several third-party multiplatform launch titles promise the full multiplayer experience found in their 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. The press units shipped without online capabilities, though, and Nintendo still hasn’t said when the firmware patch that will add those features will be available. The midnight launch is just six hours away for the East Coast, so it’s entirely possible that the Wii U will officially launch without any of its multiplayer functionality. That includes the eShop, which is supposed to launch with five downloadable games and a demo for Rayman Legends.
8. Miis return.
Of course the Mii isn’t going anywhere. If you have a 3DS, you can easily transport your Mii to the Wii U. You can also quickly create a new Mii by taking a photo with the GamePad. Once more the avatars will appear as playable characters in certain games, including Nintendo Land, and the as-yet-unreleased MiiVerse social network promises to simplify online interactions with your friends and their Miis.
Paste isn’t done talking about the Wii U. In next week’s issue we’ll take a deeper look at the Wii U and what it means for the future of Nintendo. We’ll also have a brief run-down of the launch titles and full-length reviews of Nintendo Land, ZombiU and other games.