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Tommy's First Console: Wii U Early Impressions

Tommy and the Wii U
Tommy would like you to know those cool Spider-Man shoes light up when he walks
After weeks of unseasonably cold weather, the sun finally started warming up eastern Pennsylvania. It was a Friday morning, with barely a cloud in the sky. Birds were chirping excitedly, kids were amassing on the local playgrounds, and people were breaking out the lawn chairs and barbeque grills in anticipation of a glorious summer weekend. My four-year-old son and I had other plans, though. With a big wad of carefully squirreled away twenty dollar bills in my abnormally fat wallet, we drove to my favorite GameStop mere minutes after it opened its doors, where Tommy put his hands on the counter, pulled his nose up so that he could peek at the man behind it, and announced, "I'm getting a new Wii-box!"

Traditional fathers are supposed to long for the day they first play catch with their boys or the first time they build a treehouse together or something like that, but if there's one thing I've grown to accept over the last four and a half years, it's that I am not a traditional father. Of all the milestones my son and I have been through, few things have made me feel as close to him as the day we unpacked his brand-new Nintendo Wii U, his first real video gaming console. I've proudly owned every Nintendo console since the original NES, and despite its kiddy reputation and meager selection of quality games, I still love my Nintendo Wii. With that in mind, when I was saving up for Nintendo's latest, I thought I was buying it for me. By the time my son and I were at GameStop, however, this delusion had long since passed. The Wii U was always destined to be Tommy's, and though he lets me play it occasionally, it is, first and foremost, his game system.

If you pay attention to the ramblings of hardcore gamers on the Internet--and let's face it, why else would you be here--you probably think of the Wii U as a pathetic joke that is going to sink Nintendo once and for all. And while it is true that the Wii U did not meet its sales expectations for the start of the year, Nintendo is still turning a healthy profit, and people who have actually bothered to spend some time with the console have been nothing but impressed. Besides, as superstar gaming analyst Michael Pachter has put it, the guys who run Nintendo are so stubborn and so wealthy that Nintendo could run at a loss for fifty years and still be a viable company. No, Nintendo's not getting out of the console business just because Internet flamers think the Wii U is stupid.

Wii U guts
It's not true gadget porn until you see it naked
Besides, from a technical standpoint, the Wii U is remarkably impressive. The thing is custom-built by Nintendo from the ground up, with a patented high speed optical drive that is actually faster than the PlayStation 4's. Sure, the tri-core might not sound as impressive as Sony's 8-core system, but the Wii U, as a custom-built machine instead of a hodgepodge of outsourced pieces thrown together, has some tricks up its sleeve that defy the expectations one might have from the raw tech spec numbers. Whereas the Wii was technically inferior to both Microsoft and Sony in the last console generation, this time around, Nintendo is not quite as much of an underdog from a hardware point of view. Granted, third party developers have been pretty clear that the Wii U is harder to work off of than the PS4, but given strong support from the likes of WB Games and Ubisoft, this looks to be a minor problem, not a deal-breaker. I don't believe the Wii U will match the success of the Wii--simply because the Wii launch was a logic-defying phenomenon that can't be replicated--but I also don't think it spells doom and gloom for the oldest and most resilient console developer out there.

None of that matters, though, the first time you watch your son play Nintendo Land. I'll admit, when Reggie Fils-Aime closed out Nintendo's E3 presentation last year with Nintendo Land, I felt extremely let down. The game looks stupid. However, when you play it, it all makes sense and is incredibly fun. I bought a second game--Lego City Undercover--because I was sure I'd hate Nintendo Land, but to be honest, I've put equal amounts of time into each. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Wii U interface
The real question is, "What can't it do?"
That first day with the Wii U was a rollercoaster. We brought it in the door at roughly 10:30 a.m., but we weren't actually playing a game on it until about 1:00 p.m. Setting it up properly took a lot more time than I was anticipating. Getting it plugged in was a cinch, and I had the thing powered on and hooked up to my HD TV by 10:40. No problem so far. With Tommy eagerly bouncing around in excitement, ready to start playing with his new "Wii-box" (he thinks all game consoles should end in "box" like the Xbox; he calls my PS2 a "PS2-box"), I was sure it wouldn't be too difficult to get things going. I turned it on, watched with wonderment as the high-definition GamePad lit up in my hands, and started the basic set-up procedure: language settings, clock/time zone, WiFi connection, universal remote calibration, etc. The confusion started with the console demanding I have a "Nintendo Network" account, which can then be linked to a "Club Nintendo" account. I had neither, but still, getting setup with a free Nintendo Network account was fairly easy since I had easy access to my e-mail.

At 10:50, I was ready to finish the setup, which then launched the obligatory system update download and installation. A status bar appeared. A minute passed. Another minute passed. Worried that the Wii U had frozen up, I began to get nervous when, at roughly 10:55, the status bar went from empty to "1%." I am not exaggerating when I say that the system update took over an hour, which feels like an eternity when you've got a four-year-old waiting eagerly in the wings. I hope this isn't the norm for future system updates, that it only took so long because I was catching all the updates that have been released thus far all at once, and I know owners of Sony consoles are used to these kinds of ridiculous waits. I was willing to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt, but still, over an hour of staring at a lethargic status bar is mind-alteringly frustrating. We ate lunch.

Pikmin file movers
I've got to admit, Nintendo, that this was ingenious
At around 12:30, I decided I wanted to transfer my system info from the Wii to the Wii U, which can be done using an SD card that I was wise enough to purchase ahead of time. I still had some Wii points to spend and I wanted my Mii back because I am strangely sentimental about avatars. The process is unnecessarily complicated, but instructions for carrying it out are everywhere. Even as you go through the transfer, it forces you to read the instructions not once, not twice, but three times. I was growing annoyed and impatient, and Tommy was getting angry, but I finally reached the point where you can transfer files from the Wii to your SD card, which launched an unexpected video of dozens of little Pikmin collecting data packets (in the form of print-outs of boxes from deep inside a digital representation of the Wii) and loading them into a rocketship. Needless to say, Tommy was thoroughly amused, and I had the chance to explain to him what a Pikmin is.

The process took about ten minutes, which is really only the fault of the SD card, and the video ends with the Pikmin rocketship launching towards the sun, which also happens to be the Wii U logo. I took the SD card out of the Wii and put it into the Wii U, which launched another video, picking up right where the previous one left off. The Pikmin rocketship lands, and the Pikmin step out with the Wii data and begin marching through a much cleaner, more advanced, and more high-definition landscape. It's a simple gimmick, but a fun way to highlight the differences between Wii graphics and Wii U capabilities. Also, it kept Tommy entertained, which made the whole thing a lot easier. It was 1:00 when we finally started playing Nintendo Land, and by then, the build-up demanded that the experience be worth it. Sufficed to say, it was.

Pikmin 3
Yes, I am looking forward to this, and I don't care who knows it
How should I describe the Wii U to those who haven't played it? It's kind of like a Wii, a DS, and an iPad had a high-definition baby that can do pretty much everything. Microsoft is making a big deal out of how they want their next gen console, the Xbox One, to merge all forms of entertainment into one central hub, but really, the Wii U already does this. Want to surf the Internet on a tablet or on the TV? The Wii U does that. Want a GamePad that can control your television and cable/satellite box? The Wii U does that. Want to Facebook, Twitter, comment on specific scenes during your favorite TV show for all to see, keep tabs on the NFL or NBA? The Wii U does all of that. Want to watch Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, or YouTube on your television? The Wii U does that. Want to go to the bathroom without stopping your video? Just transfer the image to your GamePad and take it with you--the thing has remarkable range. Seriously, in the five days I've had it, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what this device is capable of.

But more importantly, as a gaming console, the thing is awesome. No, it doesn't have an achievement/trophy system, and yeah, you have to pay a little extra if you want your Virtual Console titles to be playable on the GamePad, but regardless of those nitpicks, Tommy and I have been ignoring the beautiful weather and playing with the Wii U all weekend. It hasn't stopped being impossibly fun, nor does it seem likely that it will. I may be biased by the fact that, on Saturday, Tommy and I played our first two-player video game together--it was the Pikmin mini-game in Nintendo Land--and I can't exaggerate the strength of the warm fuzzies that it put in my heart. It even made me excited for Pikmin 3, something I didn't think I'd ever get excited for. Still, from just my time with Nintendo Land and Lego City Undercover, I can honestly say that the Wii U is an amazing gaming machine that surpasses my Xbox 360 and will give my son and me years of amusement. If the haters could just get over themselves, they might see that for themselves. Yes, I will throw down the gauntlet and say that Nintendo is still at the top of its game, and if you haven't played the Wii U yet, you don't know what you're missing.


-e. magill 6/4/2013










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