Nintendo Wii U Box Art(http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu)  Price: $299.99 (8GB White) or $349.99 (32GB Black).  If you are not expressly invested in the video game world, you may not have known that Nintendo just released their new home console, Wii U, on Nov. 18. For whatever reason, Nintendo avoided aggressively marketing this hardware, past a few strangely non-informational commercials and a vague press release here and there. The demand is nowhere near 2005’s Wii levels, but for several reasons it should be. For other reasons, purchasers should be cautious and guarded. Your $350 will get you quite a bit, if the investment is right for you.

Nintendo Wii U Box ArtNintendo Wii U Logo(http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu) Price: $299.99 (8GB White) or $349.99 (32GB Black).  If you are not expressly invested in the video game world, you may not have known that Nintendo just released their new home console on Nov. 18. For whatever reason, Nintendo avoided aggressively marketing this hardware, past a few strangely non-informational commercials and a vague press release here and there. The demand is nowhere near 2005’s Wii levels, but for several reasons it should be. For other reasons, purchasers should be cautious and guarded. Your $350 will get you quite a bit, if the investment is right for you. 



Presentation:
On the surface, and based on commercials, no one really knows what the hell the Wii U is. Most casual observers seem to believe the console is an accessory for their current seven-year-old system, or a new handheld. Based on its design, this is a very understandable misunderstanding. On the outside, the white or black box is nothing particularly interesting, but the controller, a ten-inch tablet like brick with buttons and a seven-inch touch screen is the major draw. The Wii U is essentially a big HD console version of the DS. This is where the confusion comes in, many think that the wireless tablet controller is stand alone or travel ready, which it is not. But Nintendo hasn’t really explained that to anyone outside of the “know”(sadly they apparently need to). Beyond the confusion, the Wii U is a pretty machine. Its core looks nice under your TV and the controller can be placed anywhere in your entertainment center without a problem, if not creating a good conversation piece at your next gathering.

Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Wii U

Hardware Performance:
I cannot stress enough that the Wii U is a capable machine, and at launch few new systems will “Wow” right out of the gate, but the lack of horsepower is a bit disappointing. Much like its predecessor, this new console is really a “slightly better than current generation but not next gen” box. Based on what extremely limited information Nintendo released, a relatively firm argument could be made that the WiiU is better than the Xbox or PS3. It would be a bit shaky, but the argument is possible given its processors and RAM allotment. The problem comes not from the promises, but the practice. The Wii U does some things like particle effects and lighting beautifully, other things like texturing, shaders, and complex rendering are handled rather poorly from the looks of the first batch of games. These results vary game by game of course, but after playing nearly every launch title, the general output was nothing mind blowing, sometimes underwhelming, other times disappointing, and absolutely not a good jump to the “next-gen” consoles. Given that many of the titles at launch are ports of games almost or more than a year old, the fact that the machine doesn’t seem to run them very well at all is disconcerting. Nintendo has been very tight lipped on the numbers and specs of the machine, merely promising “its more powerful”, however, when put to the test the Wii U doesn’t really tread water well. The fact is, the Wii U’s tech looks to be out dated, and may even be six years late to the table when the PS4(Orbis) and Xbox 720(Durango) finally hit shelves next holiday season. Amazingly, the Wii U is able to stream everything to the gamepad completely lag free. A dedicated portion of RAM is set aside solely for this purpose to amazing effect.

Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Wii U

Graphics:
With all that hardware jargon out of the way, what exactly does it mean? The problems I experienced are found throughout every single title I played. Basically, the WiiU is able to show off some very pretty moments, but those pretty moments are nothing the other two current gen consoles cannot do, and often times much better. The first party Nintendo titles are the real treats; Nintendo Land looks gorgeous even as a minigame collection, Mario is no different, though the simplicity helps that effect greatly. The problem areas come down to the handling of textures in all forms. Alpha textures (those with transparent parts) are very pixilated and have very low resolution. Standard texturing (the kind that makes everything have colors and texture) likewise is extremely muddy and very often has problems with “pop in” or loading the files late which makes everything look blurry for a few seconds. For some reason, the Wii U’s pop in issue is exemplified by the longest texture loading I’ve ever seen, sometimes taking up to 15 seconds for everything to fully load.

More problems arise with frame rate drops when the system is forced to process a lot at once. Having more than seven or eight enemies on screen in games like Ninja Gaiden or Darksiders caused significant problems with lag. Screen tearing also showed up, although rarely, with Zombi U and Tekken during more cinematic moments. 

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Launch Line Up:
The WiiU’s strongest feature is its list of titles to play at launch. From fighters, FPSs, and racers, to sports and family games; the WiiU has it all. Everyone who buys the console will find something exciting to play no matter what his or her genre of choice is. Call Of Duty Black Ops2, Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition, Assassin’s Creed III, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge shine very brightly as representatives of the 3rd party title list. Hard hitting “Grown up” action games that, unlike the last gen Wii, assure support for those among us that don’t enjoy kindergarten aged mini-games or yet another Mario title. For young families or casual gamers Nintendo’s bread and butter is hard at work, New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Tank! Tank!Tank!, and Scribblenauts Unlimited make for great all-ages fun.

The downside to the library of games is the sheer number of ports or re-releases. Mass Effect 3, Batman, Madden, and FIFA are all several months to over a year old. Though Many of the re-releases ala Batman and Ninja Gaiden have extra content making them worthwhile purchases, the cost of a new system to experience the additions is a little steep. Other titles like Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect 3 have minor control alterations and something less. Mass Effect 3 does not have the most recent DLC chapter for the Wii U edition. If you had missed out on any of the titles, now is a great time to pick them up, with few exceptions.   Features

The Wii U does quite a lot. Beyond games, TV, and video services, the console actually has its own web browser and its own social network called the Miiverse. While TVii is not yet released the promise of a streaming television network is enticing indeed. The Netflix, Hulu plus, and Amazon instant video apps work well and are what you could expect from the services on any gaming or mobile platform. Though the Wii U lacks DVD or Blu-ray support, the ability to stream movies and even Youtube very quickly more than makes up for it. The web browser is surprisingly functional, a first for consoles, and musters up quite a bit of muscle in comparison to its competition. The browser is lightning fast in most cases and has few restrictions or hindrances. The real non-gaming treat is in fact the Miiverse, a highly active forum and image-board where you can freely chat, post screen grabs, or doodle in communities built for each of the WiiU’s software applications. Whether you are seeking help, providing answers for others, or just discussing how much you love Zombi U so far, the Miiverse is an absolutely brilliant addition to the console concept, and in my opinion the “killer app” feature of the system.

Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Wii U

Verdict:
While the hardware of the WiiU may, at the moment, feel outdated, only time and developer savvy will unlock the consoles full potential. Even with the initial graphical disappointments, the console is a beefy machine capable of giving us beloved Nintendo franchises and heavy hitting third party behemoths. The alternative uses for the WiiU, like social networking and home entertainment only drive the value of the console further up. Nintendo may not have broken the bank or innovated in many areas this time around, but what they did bring to the table is a very capable hardware that has some growth potential. The real test for Nintendo will be keeping third party support as Sony and Microsoft come up to bat next holiday season. The Wii has a lot of promise in its tiny box, and for the time being a brilliantly fun edge on its competition. If you are a hardcore gamer, it may benefit you to wait and see as new 3rd party IP and games hit shelves, but for families looking to upgrade from their Wiis Nintendo should have your support, they have earned it. I am a happy first day purchaser of the Wii U, while I was let down in some technical respects, Nintendo more than made up for its failings with a solid library of games and the miiverse. The Wii U deserves a spot in your living room, if you can find one at your local retailer. 

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