Nintendo fanboys will always be there to support whatever the company comes out with next. The promise of new, technologically advanced iterations of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid have historically been enough for the faithful to keep the faith. But Nintendo has loftier aspirations than appeasing a single set of hardcore gamers. The company wants its products to take over the living room, to tap into an audience of casual gamers who don’t stand in line for the next Call of Duty.
The Nintendo Wii accomplished this with a deep library of easily accessible motion-controlled games in addition to the usual collection of titles featuring the Nintendo-exclusive stable of characters. Now, the big question is if lightning can strike twice. Can Nintendo, in firing the first salvo into the next generation console war, change everything once again with a new piece of hardware? And if the Wii U really is another game-changer, will Nintendo really be able cater to both casual and hardcore audiences, and not just pay lip service to being an all-in-one?
It may take years of game development to sort out the answer to the latter, but one thing is clear: The Wii U itself is indeed powerful enough and versatile enough to serve all gamers. The variety of titles available at launch is one clue. In addition to Rated E first party fare like New Super Mario Bros. U and NintendoLand, there’s also a ton of mature content, including a wide swath of triple-A ports like Darksiders II, Assassin’s Creed III, Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, and unique new entries like Ubisoft’s survival horror game ZombiU.
Another clue to the huge variety of experiences that the Wii U can deliver is in the way you control different game experiences. Barring any peripherals, there are three main ways to use the Wii U—via the original remotes compatible with the old Wii, through a new “Pro Controller” which bears a striking resemblance to the Xbox 360 controller, and with the much-touted Wii U game pad—a tablet-like device with dual analog sticks and a familiar button set surrounding a large, 6.2-inch touch screen in the center. The game pad—which is surprisingly light at just 1.1 pounds—can be used in a variety of ways depending on the situation. It can serve as a touch-screen interface for playing on your TV; you can play full games like Mario Bros. U on the second screen while someone else watches TV; you can draw on the screen and write messages to your friends on Nintendo Network using the stylus, and, after a very brief setup, you can use it as a universal remote for your TV and cable box. Talk about a living room takeover.
There are times when the functionality of the game pad gets a little silly. Different mini games within a game like NintendoLand illustrate this point by utilizing the motion sensors within the pad as a means to navigate your character through the levels. This will find you standing in front of the TV with the pad out in front of you, literally rotating on an axis to make turns. This isn’t a serious knock; developers will find a way to use new technology just for the sake of using it, and occasional gimmicks like this don’t detract from the overall positive innovation of the game pad. Especially if you have to share a TV, it’s hard to overstate just how useful it is to be able to continue the game in the palm of your hands.
The Wii U currently comes in two varieties—a basic set in a white finish with an 8 GB hard drive for $300, and a deluxe set in a black finish with a 32 GB hard drive for $350. Both sets come with the game pad. For an extra 50 bucks, the deluxe set is a no-brainer considering how easy it is to fill up hard drive space with game downloads and save data. This recommendation, however, comes with the caveat of being able to find a store that has either unit in stock; more than 400,000 Wii U systems were sold in the first week of release, so if you plan on giving the Wii U as a gift his holiday season, you’ll have to be vigilant.
The next console generation has just begun. With the Wii U, Nintendo has proven that a single gaming machine can indeed be all things to all people. As the system’s game library gets deeper in the coming months, we’ll see how many people outside of Nintendo fanboys get the message.