It’s a bit of a rarity when the United States gets a Nintendo console before Japan. When Nintendo head honcho Saturo Iwata announced the launch dates for the Wii U at this past E3, people were taken aback a bit. Why would a Japanese company launch their bread and butter – the very thing they are banking on – to silence the market pundits who are championing the eventual death of traditional console gaming?

Sure, one can cite that Black Friday was abound and it “made sense” for Nintendo to launch the console prior to the consumer hysteria–this is the most likely case – but America doesn’t seem to be “in love” with Nintendo like they were during the NES and Super NES days. They want big beefy Call of Duty machines, rather than the fanciful adventures of the timeless overalled plumber. The Wii (at least with Wii Sports) gave a bit of a different experience.

Can the Wii U capture the same lightning in a bottle?

We’ll be looking at the four key aspects of the console – from initial impressions (design, ergonomics), through the new App set-up, a games test and an overall verdict, including network analysis.

A note: We’ll be reviewing the Wii U Deluxe Set that was purchased from a US-based retailer. 

1.Initial Impressions: System+Controller

One thing you’ll notice when you take the Wii U out of the box is the overall heft of the console, at least in comparison to the Wii: it’s a bit top heavy, oblong almost. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing per say as I’m sure Nintendo engineers and designers have a much better knack for design than I do, and Nintendo also made it clear at the past two E3s that the console aesthetics weren’t the focal point–rather the controller, the gimmick that Nintendo was marketing, is what users should be focusing on.

And yes, the controller is a sight to behold. Holding it in your hand is a bit puzzling – while the controller “feels” good in your hand button placement wise, I desire just a little more weight to my controllers: the plastics are quite cheap, and I’ve been unknowingly handling the controller with kid gloves. Whereas with my Xbox 360 controllers, I’ll haphazardly toss the controller onto a chair or the bed, I am forced to be much more gentle with this. The screen is bright and colors are rich–at times more than my own Samsung television and I enjoyed playing the Nintendoland mini-games on the touchscreen – and much preferred it to using the television -although I think this may turn into a bit of a conundrum for developers down the road in how to utilize this.

That bright and lush screen is unfortunately a pain to use on the Wii U’s menu, which overall is a bit of a headache – I might even venture to say that WaraWara plaza is a bit “busy.” And while the menu isn’t difficult to use, the touchscreen makes it frustrating for key inputs, and thus, any sort of typing takes a few extra steps – even with the included stylus. Perhaps looking into a capacitive touchscreen, rather than a resistive would’ve helped with this, but surely would’ve made the cost more of an issue.

Overall, the main focus should remain on the controller, and rightly so. Nintendo has taken many of the frustrating points of the Wii (syncing controllers, particularly) and really improved them. We’ve started to move away from most of the waggle, which I’ll touch on in a bit in after the Apps section, but I can’t shake (excuse the pun) that Wiimotes are still part of this ecosystem, which I think is confusing a great number of consumers when going out to make a purchase. Parents are surely asking GameStop employees “is this an add-on for my current Wii,” while GameStop has to explain to parents that this was entirely new system, which is something Nintendo needs to be doing.

Next up, the Apps…

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This article was first posted on November 29, 2012