Wii U Launches in the US: reviews, impressions, details

Monday, 19 November 2012 01:34 GMT By Brenna Hillier

A massive day-one patch, a pile of eShop games, graphical doubts and mixed hardware reviews. Everything you need to know from the Wii U’s first day is here.

The Wii U launched in the US at midnight on Sunday November 18. Pre-launch, Nintendo maintained a tight control on information regarding the console, but the floodgates have well and truly opened now. You’re drowning in the torrent, so let’s start with the most important question: is it any good?

Wii hardware reviews and impressions

Everyone seems to agree that there’s plenty of fun to be had with the Wii U, but after that, things get messy. 1UP praised the console for its USB and SD card compatibility, while criticising the lack of video and audio out options and expressing doubts regarding the memory allowances – and said the modest, current-generation hardware won’t blow you away.

The Penny Arcade Report showed a lot of enthusiasm for the console, but bemoaned the sluggishness of its system menus and cumbersome game swapping process. The report concludes by calling the current firmware “half-baked”, but editor Ben Kuchera says he ‘adores’ the system and its games regardless.

GameInformer called a day one firmware update a “beast” and “excruciating”, but noted that the system is almost useless without it. The site seemed unimpressed with the Wii U’s video and browser functions; called MiiVerse “creepy”; and criticised the GamePad’s signal range and battery life.

MTV Multiplayer also had issues with charging the GamePad but otherwise was all praise for the new console, noting that “all signs point to a reality where Nintendo has learned from a lot of their mistakes with the Wii”.

The gamepad’s battery was an issue for Destructoid too, but the site called the controller “inherently superior” to the Wii’s even as it bemoaned the “simplistic” touchscreen.

Over on RipTen, criticism of the Wii U’s lack of audio out options was repeated, but the site also noted that the “lengthy” set up process was “painless”, and that the GamePad screen is “really lovely”.

The Wii U “doesn’t feel exactly like the next generation”, Joystiq said in its own review, but noted that the gamePad does feel futuristic and seemed impressed with the semi-portable tech.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Wii U graphics
comparison.

In a lengthy, detailed report, Kotaku concluded that it couldn’t whole-heartedly recommend the Wii U as it would have the Wii. That said, despite not committing to a “must-buy” status, the site did say the Wii U “is a good machine that makes one’s console gaming life surprisingly more convenient and luxurious”.

Polygon was one of the few outlets to give the hardware a score, and went for an alarmingly low 6.5. The review was written before the day-one patch, and makes note of the total lack of online features – as well as Nintendo’s inconsistent messaging in this regard. The site is “cautious and indeed, somewhat pessimistic” about the Wii U’s chances against next-generation hardware and cast doubts on the likelihood of decent third-party support.

Gamasutra also took a somewhat negative tone, saying the console just doesn’t “sing” to the consumer straight out the box, and may be “half-baked”.

On a more positive note, Shack News made mention of the system’s “seamless integration of TV and second screen” which “must be commended”. The site said it’s “clear the tech works”, but did wonder whether the Wii U will stand up, graphically, to next-generation hardware.

One criticism repeated on multiplate sites is that the console has launched without TVii. Speaking to MTV Multiplayer Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime discussed the delay.

“One of the things that we were criticized for yesterday was for the lack of some of the video on demand content, but I can tell you that when consumers buy their system, Netflix will be live,” he said.

Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition
graphics comparison

“I share that because it really reflects how this is a living and breathing system. In the days and weeks ahead, the other three video services will be up and running. We’ve said that Nintendo TVii is coming in December, and so it truly is a living, breathing system that will bring more and more elements to bear over the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.”

One user has already taken a Wii U apart to find out what makes it tick, and according to a report on Kotaku, the answer is 2GB of Samsung-manufactured DDR3 RAM. Critics say this RAM runs at 17 GB per second, which is slower than alleged PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 speeds of 22-25 GB per second. The figures are a little meaningless at this point however as we don’t yet know how much eDRAM the console has, which could significantly impact performance.

Wii U’s huge day-one firmware update

As many reviews noted, it was difficult to judge the Wii U pre-launch because so many of its online features – Miiverse, the eShop, the Internet browser and backwards compatibility – are not bundled in, but instead delivered by day one firmware update.

Wii U eShop catalogue

Assassin’s Creed 3 – $59.99
Darksiders 2 – $59.99
Epic Mickey 2 – $59.99
ESPN Sports Connection – $49.99
FIFA 13 – $59.99
Game Party Champions – $49.99
Just Dance 4 – $49.99
Madden NFL 13 – $59.99
New Super Mario Bros. U – $59.99
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge – $59.99
Nintendo Land – $59.99
Rabbids Lands – $49.99
Scribblenauts Unlimited – $59.99
Sing Party – $49.99
Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed – $39.99
Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper – $59.99
Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013 – $49.99
ZombiU – $59.99
Chasing Aurora – $14.99
Little Inferno – $14.99
Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition – $9.99
Nano Assault Neo – $9.99
Trine 2: Director’s Cut – $19.99

This patch has raised ire among early adopters thanks to its heft; Siliconera noted with displeasure that the update took almost a full hour to download, and then half an hour to install.

Speaking to Polygon, Nintendo of America’s director of product marketing Bill Trinen said a firmware patch was necessary to give Nintendo’s engineers time to make specific features as perfect as possible.

“They’re craftsmen. And as craftsmen, they want to use every last possible moment to continue to make things the best that they can possibly be,” he said.

“If it’s live the moment [consumers] bring the system home, that’s what really matters,” he added when asked about press frustration with missing features pre-launch.

Multiple reports suggest powering off the Wii U during this huge system update can cause serious technical issues – “bricked” consoles – but none have been verified yet. Best to play it safe and ensure your console is powered during any download or install process.

Setting up your Wii U

Of course, you won’t be able to get this update at all if you can’t get your Wii U online, and this is something users have reported difficulties with. If you have a reasonable understanding of networking you can probably sort it out on your own, but if you’re a bit baffled by IP addresses and subnet masks, here’s a solution provided by a Nintendo forum user.

After install, reports suggest a Wii U Premium’s available system memory will drop from 32GB to 25GB; the 8GB model has only 3GB of usable space. Apparently alert to complaints about both the 8GB and 32GB consoles’ memory limits, Nintendo has provided a hefty FAQ on how to get the most out of it – one notable point is that Nintendo Land cannot be downloaded and installed on an 8GB system, but must be purchased at retail. Nintendo recommends padding out your console with USB storage devices if you intend to use the eShop a lot.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge Wii U
launch trailer

Once the patch is installed, you’ll have access to backwards compatibility, and will want to transfer your Wii profile across. We’ve touched on this before, but Kotaku has a visual guide now. GoNintendo reports not everything can be copied over – you’ll lose your Wii system settings, pre-installed WiiWare and Virtual Console games, GameCube save files, software already present on both consoles and content which is prohibited from transfer.

Nintendo’s hated friend codes have been overhauled for the Wii U but reception of the new system has been mixed. IGN has full details of how and when you can make friend requests, either in MiiVerse or from the Home menu, and notes that both areas use a different system, which seems complicated.

One last interesting little note about setting up your console: registering a user profile for a minor costs 50¢, charged to a parent or guardian’s credit card. The restriction only applies to children aged under 13, and exists so Nintendo can verify an adult is actually making the registration in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act; hopefully this will result in caregivers learning about and utilising parental control systems, too.

Wii U launch software impressions, details and complaints

Impressions on the Wii U’s launch software – especially of ported games – have been mixed. 1UP seems unhappy with Mass Effect 3, while IGN isn’t impressed by Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge (although Kotaku says it “sucks less” than previous versions). Questions have been raised regarding the console’s graphical capabilities; a number of videos are available throughout this feature showing side-by-side comparisons.

ZombiU is also getting a bit of a beating from some quarters.

Wii U launch titles on Metacritic

New Super Mario Bros U – 84

Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition – 84

Nintendo Land – 75

Scribblenauts Unlimited – 75

ZombiU – 70

Darksiders 2 – TBD (75-90)

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge – TBD (50-76)

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two – TBD (58)

Meta-game MiiVerse went down on day one, according to Kotaku, which hasn’t impressed users (and may be related to NeoGAF‘s discovery of a rumoured debug mode).

As for eShop games, post-patch the storefront is live and well populated; see the list in the sidebar. GoNintendo reports games must be downloaded and installed in a two-step process, as with the PlayStation 3, which has disappointed some users who just want to get on with the game. Trine 2, for example, apparently takes 17 minutes to install after downloading. On top of that, some games – like ZombiU – require day-one patches, proving Nintendo really has joined the connected age.

There are plenty of games on the eShop worth checking out, especially thanks to the Virtual Console archives, but note – the Pro Controller isn’t compatible with Virtual Console games. Purchasing from the eShop seems a relatively painless affair; it saves your credit card details for use in future transactions.

One game which surprised users is Trine 2: Director’s Cut, which was expected during the launch window but managed to hit release day. Joystiq reports the $20 game is a 2GB download, includes 20 levels, and boasts a special new multiplayer mode called Magic Mayhem, exclusive to the Wii U version.

Launch and supply issues

The console’s performance and software probably isn’t the motivation for it, but as Kotaku notes, the on-sell market for Wii U hardware, games and accessories is already booming. The site found well over 600 consoles on eBay for $520 or more, with premium bundles going for as much as $800. Nintendo isn’t expecting the kind of supply issues it had when the Wii launched, but bids on these grey market consoles are only rising, and the general social media noise suggests supplies are limited.

“Our goal, of course, is to manufacture as many as we can as quickly as we can,” Trinen said when asked about hardware shortages, saying Nintendo hoped to match the Wii’s sales performance.

“I think it’s gonna be a strong first year and I think there’ll be more to come after that as well.”

Trine 2: Director’s Cut Wii U launch trailer.

As Gematsu‘s photo coverage of the New York Wii U launch shows, Isaiah Triforce Jones was once again first in line to grab the latest Nintendo console.

Fils-Aime turned up at the New York event to surprise those in queue 24 hours before launch; Kotaku has video of the visit.

Finally, Nintendo’s promotional efforts are full of information and deals for fans looking to pick up the new console.

The Wii U released in the US on November 18, as a $300 white 8GB basic bundle, and a $350 black 32GB premium bundle. The new console arrives in Europe and Australia on November 30. It hits Japan on December 8.

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