Monday, December 10, 2012

Wii U First Impressions

So, I honestly had no idea if I was going to bother getting a Wii U anytime soon, or at all really.  I was never wowed by it and the most tempting games to me are Scribblenauts Unlimited and Super Smash Bros. "Universe"; both of which are or are going to be 3DS titles as well.  However, a few days ago, after receiving some Christmas money from my parents and checking my bank account to see that my last pay was really quite nice, I decided to treat myself to Nintendo's new toy.
Now, when I moved to Vancouver, I didn't bring any of my Wii stuff with me (console, games, controllers) so that does stifle the Wii U experience a bit, particularly because the only game I have at the moment is Nintendo Land.  I have since sent for my things so hopefully I'll have a more complete experience soon enough.
You may wonder why I used a picture of the Basic Set and not the considerably superior Deluxe Set.  That's because I didn't get a Deluxe one, somewhat to my disappointment, as the Best Buy (3 blocks from where I live, which is awesome by the way) was out of them and I didn't want to wait a week and a half for them to restock.  So, rather than go with the package that came with Nintendo Land, I bought the bare bones set and bought the game on top of it.
Also, I bought a TV to go with it, which is a moderately amusing story on its own.*
So, let's just get Nintendo Land out of the way first.  As I am hundreds of thousands of miles away from the vast majority of my friends, I've only played single-player ventures so far and only on the Gamepad.  Unfortunately, some of the attractions in the virtual theme park are multiplayer-only.  Some others, like The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest, have alternate methods of play depending on whether you use a Gamepad or a Wii Remote.  For that particular attraction, I wish I had my Wii Remotes here since I'd rather play as the swordsman Link than the archer Link.
I'm not sure what game it's based on, if it even is based on a previous game, but the ninja star throwing game is a lot of fun.
All in all, what I've played of Nintendo Land is not exactly impressive.  It's not a bad game by any means but it's not a standout.  It's certainly a much nicer tech demo than Wii Sports was, and that's not to say I didn't like Wii Sports (because I did); Nintendo Land is just much more heavily featured.  Additionally, I absolutely love the concept of a video game being a virtual theme park with attractions based on its own developer's franchises.  I especially like that concept being the premise of a tech demo for a new system, it's just a brilliant idea.

Now onto the beef of this post:  The nightmare that was getting the day one update installed.
If you've paid attention to news on the Wii U, chances are good you already know that there is a mandatory firmware update which the console asks you to download and install right out of the box.  What you may not know is that you can skip it during the initial setup, but you'll still need to get it sooner or later.
I skipped it, preferring to play some Nintendo Land before I worried about all the connectivity and bells and whistles and such.
For most people, this update takes about an hour to download, and you can't do anything with the console while it's downloading it.  For me, the update took an approximate and an accumulative 8 friggin' hours, spanned over 3 days (thankfully the download progress remains when you turn off the console).  I'm honestly not sure what's to blame; whether it's the Wii U's wireless hardware or my landlord's router or something else.  I know I'm not alone but that I'm also in a minority.  Every time I attempted the download, I would get an error message at some point.  More often than not, the error would occur before the console had the chance to download any data.
After exploring dozens of potential solutions through Google to no avail, my only option was to manually resume the download each and every time I got an error.  You know how sometimes you can look at a shadow cast by a static object on a sunny day, not actually notice the shadow moving because of how slow it is but still notice that it has moved because of outside reference points?  That's what watching the progress bar on my Gamepad screen was like.  It moved so slowly, when it wasn't being interrupted, that I could not tell when it was and wasn't making progress.
This equated to very considerable amounts of my free time spent keeping a close watch on my Gamepad screen so as to be able to resume the download ASAP every time it failed to hold a connection.
Basically, prior to the update and speaking strictly in terms of user convenience, my Wii U was a pile of crap.
The happy ending:  Once the update finally finishes, it addresses all of these issues.  Following the initial update, the Wii U can download software in the background allowing you to continue on with whatever else (welcome to 2005, Nintendo).  The downloads will also automatically resume after connection breaks.  And, as a bonus, there's also an option that tells the Wii U to turn off once all downloads are finished, meaning you can comfortably go to work/sleep while leaving it on to finish.

Alright, now let's do some bullet points.
Things I like:
-The Gamepad is very light-weight.  Maybe slightly heavier than a DS and it feels good to hold.
-The Gamepad's camera is not completely abysmal in quality like those of the DSi and 3DS.
-The Gamepad has a headphone jack.  This is sort of a personal perk because I just hate having sound leaking out of my room, especially when my roommates are around.  Having a headphone jack right on the controller is of great convenience to me.
-The touch screen is super responsive.
-The Gamepad can be configured to be used as a remote for your TV.  It's a pretty basic remote setup, featuring number buttons, channel up/down buttons, volume control and input selection, but it's a very nice feature to have all the same.
-There are a lot of things you can do without having the TV on or at the Wii U's input since a lot of the menu navigation and main action happens on the Gamepad's screen.  This means I could be playing some of the Nintendo Land attractions while someone else could be playing, say, Mario All-Stars (as I have both my Wii U and Retro Duo hooked up to the same TV) in the same room.
-The system comes preloaded with placeholders for some useful applications like YouTube, Netflix and the like.
-In addition to move convenient download management, the system update includes a surprisingly fast web browser.
-The web browser has tabbed browsing.  The web browser has tabbed browsing!
-The Gamepad's battery charger has a very long cord so you shouldn't have any trouble getting continued playtime while charging.
-I have not actually tested this but I can only assume it's true based on hearsay from people who would have no reason to lie about the matter:  No more Friend Codes!

Things I don't like:
-The Gamepad's battery life isn't the greatest.
-The aforementioned hell of getting the system update.
-The very fact that there even was a 5 GB system update to download at launch is also pretty damned irritating.  The console should have come with that firmware installed if it was going to be available on launch day.
-The misleading 'Close' button in the web browser.  I have this exact same issue with the 3DS's browser.  When you open the main menu, a 'Close' button comes up.  It's all too easy to mistake this for a button that closes the menu.  It actually closes the browser.  Considering both consoles have a Home button integrated into the hardware which serves the same purpose, this is not only a misleading inclusion but a purposeless one as well.
-Although the browser does have tabbed browsing (yesyesyesyesyes), it does not appear to have a way to open links in new tabs.  You appear to have to open a tab first and then bring it to the URL you want.  Considering how much use my center click gets when I'm browsing, this is extremely tedious for me.
-While I seem to be alone on this, the impact of a Nintendo console having high definition is completely absent to me.  Perhaps it's because the TV I'm using is only 720p, but I'm just not seeing anything that's as beautiful as some of the praise of the system might lead one to believe.
-I want to buy Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U but I already have the 3DS version and they look to be mostly the exact same game.  But...but...I just want the Wii U one and I don't know why.  This was an easier situation to deal with when it came to games like Sonic Colors where the DS and Wii version were totally different games and buying both was perfectly justifiable.

In the end, only time will tell but I think I'll end up being happy with the Wii U once the game selection gets going.  I loved the Wii despite it's rather minimal selection in worthwhile games so I guess I'm not all that picky.

*I had never used the HDMI port on my laptop.  For some reason, I honestly assumed it was an input port and I brought the Wii U home expecting to be able to display it through my trusty Toshiba.  Shortly, I realized my error and promptly rushed back to Best Buy to get the cheapest HD TV I could find.
Incidentally, I had a similar occurrence when I first bought a Wii.  The TV in my bedroom at the time was a rather old hand-me-down from my parents and didn't have AV cable ports.  After bringing the Wii home and noticing I couldn't hook it up, my mother and myself took a trip to...I forget where exactly...and I got a standard definition, 20" brick of a TV that served me relatively well these last 6 years.
But hey, now that I have a TV at my new home, I can finally play my Retro Duo here!  I can actually play my legitimate copy of Super Butouden 3!  That's just so cool to me.