Just ahead of its UK Launch, Mark Botwright gives us the low-down on the Wii U
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626It’s not just an updated Wii .It was mooted for some time that a Wii HD would be coming for those loyal gamers who’ve flown the Nintendo flag but were feeling held back in a high def age by the Wii’s 480p graphics; but the Wii U isn’t it. Nitpickers will quibble over the vague specs and question just how cutting edge it is, but it is more than a Wii with a hard drive and an HDMI out, it has its own unique features.
As ever, console manufacturers are desperate to migrate their current user-base onto their next product, hence the use of familiar names and motifs. Some make the progression clear by way of a simple number (who couldn’t work out a PS3 is more up to date than a PS2?), but Nintendo, as ever, go their own way. Much confusion surrounded their latest handheld, the 3DS, with many not-in-the-know assuming it was nothing more than a slightly updated DS (not an entirely unfounded view given the DSi was just that), so the naming of the Wii U has thrown up similar issues, hence the Adam Buxton voiced UK ads that’ve tried to make it plainly clear to the huge swathes of casual gamers who’ll inevitably become the core audience.Your Wii bits and bobs aren’t obsolete.Progression’s all well and good, but the Big-N aficionados won’t want to say goodbye to their collection of Wii Games just yet.
Fret not, all those Wiimotes collected for family party sessions won’t become a timely reminder of the cost of a gaming obsession. The Wii U will feature full backwards compatibility for Wii games, peripherals and will allow you to transfer data from your old console, meaning those Wiiware titles won’t be lost in the ether.It comes in two flavours.So, once the punters come to realise it isn’t just a Wii with some tassels, they arrive at the choice of which version of the console to opt for. Nintendo are releasing two SKUs from day one: basic and premium.
The more modestly priced basic edition - a mere snip at £249.99 - will be available in white only and houses an 8GB Flash Memory hard drive, whereas the more expensive premium console - anywhere from £299 to £329 depending on whether you choose Nintendo Land or Zombi U as your bundled game - will be jet black in appearance and boasts quadruple the storage with 32Gb on tap. The differences aren’t major, especially when you consider the standard included feature that’s likely to sell the console is the controller.The GamePad is a veritable box of tricks.
This tablet-cum-controlpad has all the hallmarks of the think-outside-the-box approach that has defined modern Nintendo hardware strategy. Motion control was the trail blazed by the Wii and followed by the other big guns in the console manufacturing world; with Microsoft already testing the waters of this integration of tactile control with their SmartGlass functionality tacked onto the Xbox 360, the new frontier is tablet shaped.
Nintendo, as with the Wiimote for the Wii, have stolen a march though, primarily because the controller is at the core of the experience and not an addition. So, what makes the GamePad such a box of tricks?
Well, the obvious place to start would be the hard-to-miss screen sitting in the middle of the more traditional - and now standard - dual thumbsticks, D-Pad and four face buttons. The key feature touted by the marketing campaign is the ability to switch gaming between your TV and the GamePad’s screen in an instant, a subtle way for Nintendo to keep the console as a mainstay of the living room in keeping with the mainstream crowd.
The controller is not a portable console though, it relies on the Wii U to be running the game and the range stipulated is vague; the best guess puts a maximum optimal distance between the two bodies at around the 8 metre mark, though like any wireless device the barriers the signal has to pass through could potentially have a major effect in curtailing that range.
When used as it’s intended, in tandem with the TV it creates a dual screen set-up not dissimilar to the DS Handheld. Nintendo will be hoping this 6 inch touch-enabled 16:9 display will offer a wealth of options to developers to take advantage of and emulate the success of its multi-million selling portable.
It houses a gyroscope and accelerometer for motion-based control features (such as shaking off zombies in Ubisoft’s Zombi U launch game), a camera and a near field communicator which can be utilised to scan game-related objects in an augmented reality twist.
The bad news? Well this Swiss army knife of a pad won’t come cheap, with the price likely to be around the £100 mark, and the potentially prohibitive cost is one of the reasons behind the lack of multi-touch functionality and the resistive rather than capacitive screen (though it could be argued such hyper-sensitivity is fine for smartphones, but doesn’t always aid gaming).
So, at such a high price local multi-player sessions will leave your piggy bank in a sorry state. Not that you’ll need to fork out for four-player gaming as the Wii U can only cope with two GamePads being connected at a time. Luckily that may not be as serious a hurdle as it first appears.There’s a Pro controller.No, it’s not a cop out, nor a sign the GamePad won’t cut it for general gaming. It makes sense that when the use of dual screen isn’t necessary, such as for multi-player session of arcadey titles, a standard pad with greater battery life and, more importantly, at a lower price is a wise option to offer the public.It’ll make use of the tools of the digital age.It looks like the Big N is finally moving into the twenty first (or should that be late twentieth?) century by putting in place a proper online strategy....in parts.
There’s the requisite browser, of course, which apparently scores high in benchmarks and is all HTML-5ed up. But in more interesting news there’s going to be a push for a fully fleshed out online marketplace, dubbed the eShop which’ll offer launch titles for download from day one, and with the back catalogue of titles Nintendo has to draw from - and the storage options and broadband speeds making the possibility of seeing GameCube classics appearing one day - this can only be a good thing.
For multi-player gaming, gone are the friend codes - the laborious to type and instantly forgettable string of digits required to identify you - and in their stead are the obvious choice of network IDs. The hope is that Nintendo will at long last grasp the reality of an easily accessible global multi-player community that the other console manufacturers have already taken to with aplomb. After all, the more Mario Karters the better.Voice chat isn’t straightforward.Issues abound though, and old habits die hard, once again the lack of clear and universal in-game voice-chat functionality has left the door open to criticism from the dedicated gaming crowd. Voice chat isn’t mandatory, it is down to the developers to implement it, and even if we suppose all the major games will have it (as the big early games indicate - CoD: Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3), getting connected isn’t quite as simple as you’d expect.
Although the GamePad houses a mic, in order to chat in-game you’ll have to plug in a licensed third party headset into the tablet. The extra expense is annoying, but consider the users of the Pro pad, who’ll find there is no audio input on their controller, so they’ll have to keep the GamePad nearby. Keep Skype at the ready people.
You can, however, use the GamePad and its mic to utilise Wii U Chat - the Skype-esque voice/video call facility for the console - to connect to people, but that too has limitations. If you’re mid-game, you have to quit your session in order to take the call, so there’s no quick suspension of software to find out what someone wants; see who’s calling and weigh up whether you want to answer. Or tell them to call your mobile in future.Accomplishments aren’t universal.Nintendo’s answer to Microsoft’s Achievements and Sony’s Trophies was/is to be dubbed “accomplishments”, however with the revelation that they are going to be created on a voluntary basis by developers, and not mandatory, the danger that they could be forgotten altogether looms large.
The causal crowd care little for these scores, seeing them as mere ego-boosts, but for a core of gamers they have become part of the scenery, at best a subtle hint at what a game has to show beyond the main campaign for example and at worst a desperate plea for longevity from a game that lacks the quality for repeat play-throughs.The Miiverse.
The big ace up their sleeve is the Miiverse, a sort-of meta-layer of interconnectedness that’ll remain permanently running whilst you’re playing; think Twitter for gaming and you’re nearing the vision. It has been hypothesised that the Miiverse is one of the reasons behind in-game chat not being at the forefront of Nintendo’s strategy and the revelation that accomplishments (their answer to achievements/trophies) will not be compulsory for developers to implement (a mistake Sony also made in the early days); the theory being that gamers will create their own list of merits and find new ways of communicating by leaving messages and the like, removing the need to gain an arbitrary score for the sake of it.
It’s a big gamble, but like everything else about the Wii U, there may be method in the madness.It’s almost here.If the above has piqued your interest, the console lands on UK shores November 30th. But clear a few extra minutes as the console will require a day one update to take advantage of all the network based features.
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