Sunday
Dec022012

The Wii U: Two Weeks Later

Well known freelance artist and internet color commentator Bill Mudron recently stated that “Nintendo is making silent film-era games in a stereo/Technicolor world.” It got me thinking; just how much weight does this analogy hold? Today marks the fourteenth day since North America was introduced to the Wii U, Nintendo’s new hope that represents so many different factors for both the Big N and a reflection of the video game industry as of late; a desire to possibly experience the prospect of playing video games with the ideals of the next generation.

The stalwart box of fun also symbolizes Nintendo’s intent to embrace the age of tech and online functionality, an exploit they’ve neglected for so long from within the very industry they once helped pioneer back into relevance.  The last two weeks with the machine has given me ample opportunity to get an impression of what was delivered to us and to analyze the end result of what pushed me and so many others to plunk down over $350 and some change.

As mentioned, I was able to secure a deluxe model (for obvious reasons that are a bit moot to go over at this point), taking the shiny machine out of its retail prison and freeing it of the cardboard restraints that finalized the last step of the process of official ownership for yours truly. I won’t prattle on about the infamous firmware update for initial use because that’s not the intent of this entry. The console that many (myself included) have adopted now rests atop a lofty platform of expectations, and whether or not the experience behind the unique use of a tablet-like controller will be the mind-blowing affair of lasting innovative play beyond that new toy glow that emits from all new system launches remains to be seen.

For the first couple of days in, the Wii U had begun to get cozy and settled itself right in. A complaint that I have synonymously encountered from everyone is the sluggish load times when doing anything with the system. I, uhh, didn’t really encounter this? Honestly, I’ll admit that ten to fifteen seconds is still a bit much to endure considering the processing power that the hardware is capable of but all things considered I’ve never once seen the outlandish allotments of 25-45 seconds that everyone is coming across. It raises the question of just how dependent the Wii U actually is to having an online connection. Considering that, like the PS3, every game that you load into its slot requires an update and installation of its system data on the hard drive, it makes you wonder how much data is actually located on the disc that you’re spinning within the console. The inconsistencies from all of the excerpts given about it question whether or not additional processing is being streamed through the connection to keep up play.

The biggest concern that’s been shared about the Wii U is just how impressive can applying the unique features of the Wii U gamepad be? In addition, just how open IS it to the prospect of original gaming? Consider the Dreamcast as a very loose example, and I mean loose, but some the concepts and principles with the VMU - while incredibly primitive in contrast to what the Wii U has done with them - remain similar, so stick with me. The Dreamcast controller, with the VMU, offered additional information unique to the game being played and added to the experience to some extent. Of course this is if the developer chose to include the feature in the first place.

The novelty of this idea, however, waned over the short time the Dreamcast was available and it didn’t really impress to the degree that it did when it was first launched. Take this particular set of circumstances and then apply the base consensus to that of the Wii U gamepad. Another contrast, and a more relevant one is the original Wii itself. Exhilarating thrusts of motion quickly devolved to mundane swipes to “waggle our way through the affair." What’s not to say this is the fate of the Wii U Gamepad? If the last two weeks have done anything, they've definitely put this forecast of doom to rest. The Wii U Gamepad has more life to it in a generation and age of development that needs it the most.

Well, I’d be hard pressed to admit that some of the applications seen so far haven’t been a bit on the shallow side, but beyond some of the gimmicky approaches that have been displayed in ventures like Nintendoland and Batman Arkham City, the Gamepad is nonetheless a natural extension of you television that can enhance every gameplay experience you throw onto it. If applied with care, the early glow and elation of these features will endure and can continue throughout the passage of time. It’s doubtful at this point that the Gamepad will burn out in the same manner that motion control did with the Wii.

One of the key improvements explored that was MiiVerse, the other heavily touted feature with the Wii U that focuses on applying the same attitude towards online utility that would match that of current contemporary services of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. MiiVerse offers this completely new sense of interaction with an online community that rivals that of its peers, and yet feels incredibly disjointed at the same time. The main issue mostly derides from the user interface and the choices made with the setup. In other words, navigation is nowhere near as seamless when compared to the standards that an online network should strive for. For example, here's a kick in the ass that just might leave its sanctimoniously complicated footprint in your derriere: adding another friend on MiiVerse.

I started a friend request from the Wii U Gamepad. Seeing as how I had to set up the feature of owning friends to begin with from the damn thing, I had assumed sending out my plea for companionship would be just as effective…it’s not. Not in the slightest. I never received a reply from these individuals whom I was certain would have accepted my request the moment the they were notified back home on their Wii U. Turns out the request didn’t notify them; requesting a friend from the Home Menu of your Gamepad works just like the friend request system on the 3DS. A process in which, in case you're unfamiliar with the method, you have to actively check your inbox with no prior indication unless you’re using an exterior network like Twitter or Facebook to notify them that way. This sort of thing would normally be unforgivable except for the fact that if you enter MiiVerse and locate the page of the individual you want to befriend and send the request, an appropriate notification will be promptly sent to the awaiting party. A feature that essentially represents the same purpose carries it out in a completely different fashion. Many of the features behave in this manner. MiiVerse is a bit of a sordid affair to plod through, but if we all can remember some of the changes the 360 dashboard has gone through, updates are sure to follow sooner or later.

Providing digital content is a mission that Nintendo has taken to heart, and the result surprisingly put the eShop on the path to improvement but not without a few hiccups along the way. The structure behind the eShop is a bit surprising considering that Nintendo has always positioned themselves to be in the niche of delivering completely different experiences from that of their peers. That being said, it’s a bit shocking that the Wii U version of the 3DS shopping outlet takes a lot of familiar cues (cues being a GENEROUS way to look at it) from that one incredibly popular digital market, you know, the one with over half a million apps on it? Yeah, you know the one. This isn’t really a bad thing; the model works for what it does and streamlines the navigation unlike the obtuse nature of MiiVerse.  Browsing through the eShop is done completely from the Gamepad and none of it requires any attention to the television screen. As you scroll through the main page you’ll be greeted to the featured title brandished upon the top with the other titles in a separate section. The top display also allows filters through the use of allocated chart data that pulls from both sales and user rating, again, a very uncanny resemblance. The most exciting factor of the eShop is the indie section. Unlike the display on the PSN store, and most notoriously the 360 market place, the Indie section is right there, ripe for the tapping and eager to take your space bucks.

The most offensive flaw of the eShop is the lack of integration with the 3DS' very own shop. It may not seem like much but look at the relationship[p between the Vita and the PS3: the cross play mechanic of being able to play certain PS3 games on the Vita, like Guacamelee for example. What’s not to say that the 3DS couldn’t be used in such a way? Well, currently there’s nothing from Nintendo that does this and it’s unlikely that there will be anything like this for a while unless they update their firmware. They could at least unify the currency points; those are even different. Why? It’s just another way to confuse the casual public and convolute the spending for any consumer who doesn’t have the luxury of a credit or debit card.

Aside from the potential generation gap that may present itself in the coming years and the shoddy execution of the online features and dashboard interface, this is still one of the most forward thinking efforts ever achieved by Nintendo. After spending two weeks with the system, I’m confident to say that the next couple of years bring hope that Nintendo may just be relevant in the living room again and go a step further to substantially change the way we play video games.

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