Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Been One Wii-k

That's right. I went there.

  The Wii U has been out for a week, and I've already started referring it to the Wii, having pretty much phased the original console out of my head. Fact of the matter is this: Nintendo has caught up to the whole "HD Console" after 6 years of leaning on the Wii for as long as it could. In a single week, library of games not withstanding, it has completely surpassed it's competition.

  Granted, with 6 years of planning, every failure would weigh them down infinitely more. Every "negative" is much heavier reason not to get it in this current environment. Where the longevity of the system lasts as updates to the XBOX and PS3 arrive is big cloud in the sky. However, one look at the market for iOS and Android games and the way they're being moved to the big PC with Windows 8, and I think you'll see that the trend here is moving away from power-hungry machines, and more or unique experiences. And with history as my only source, Microsoft and Sony are more interested in an arms race with the same old thing. Where the Wii was, in all fairness, a gimped experiment hamstrung by an effort to move away from high-cost consoles, the Wii U is a perfection on the Wii's attempts at bringing the new. Historically, consoles are always about either evolution or revolution, but the Wii U manages to strike both.

In case Nintendo's incredibly vague marketing has you confused, yes, it's a new console, not just a new controller.

  Evolution comes from the improvements made in the realm of things that are a staple of modern online connectivity. When the Wii came out, nobody hard heard of an iPhone store, and even Steam was only starting to pick up... well, you get the idea. Digital storefronts were pretty weird and clunky all around, so it was easy to settle with Nintendo's hat-in-the-ring. Also that Wii shop channel music could calm a charging rhino. With the Wii U we have a much smoother interface, but like the 3DS, there's still an issue of just wanting the ability to browse based on categories.  It's easier to get what you want and go, and at the end of the day you either check it obsessively like me or you wait until somebody tells you to get the bestest new game, and then you just go find it with the search. On the downside, WiiWare and Virtual Console titles are still tucked under the "Wii Channel," which straight up boots an emulation of the Wii, and forces you to go into the Wii Shop Channel to find what you want. It's clunky as hell. Considering how easy throwing GameCube games in the Wii was, I'm surprised they went so weird this time around. Also, when the DSiWare evolved into the 3DS eShop between generations, everything in the DSiWare rolled into the new shop. That is not true of the Wii U eShop. Here's to hoping that with a unified account system being found in Wii U's Nintendo ID, we can move towards something cross-platform, akin to Sony's excellent dealings between the Vita/PSP and the PS3 with the Sony Network. It wasn't right to have to buy Super Mario Bros. on the 3DS when I have it on the Wii, and as time goes, it's less and less excusable to continue that kind of practice.

  I also wanted to mention that the fact that you can buy almost every retail game that comes out on Wii U in both a digital format as well as the standard physical is amazing. It's finally time people started catching up to services like Steam, who even then usually has to wait for some releases to finish making a PC port after the console launch. I don't foresee myself buying anything more than I have to in physical formats. Now you might be one of those "I like everything on the shelf," type people, and that's cool, I get that. But that doesn't take away from the fact that Nintendo, who had a bare-bones online presence with the Wii and DS, has suddenly caught up and blown the other guys out of the water. Sony getting a Day 1 digital release was cause for headlines at IGN. Now it's an every day thing, thanks to Nintendo's push.

  The Wii U has tons of other neat features like a browser that you can access while your game is paused. As somebody who is dumb and likes to Google the answers to Subject 16's puzzles in Assassin's Creed, or the day-to-day guide for unlocking your social links in Persona 4, I bloody love this. The 3DS has it, and I know from experience that it's useful. You can also access TVii here at some point, which promises the ability to meld all your streaming services and TiVo together, but that feature's not up and running just yet. I think, once it is, the Wii U will be the only console you want to experience streaming media on. That is, of course, unless you're already using it for that.

  I'll readily admit that I stopped using XBOX's ridiculously degenerating interface. Combined with requiring me to pay to use my XBOX to stream Netflx and Hulu, despite them being free to stream on literally every other device in existence, there was just nothing left that system could offer me. Achievements don't mean anything when it's that much weaker and plays the same games as my PC and PS3.  Admittedly, I never had a problem with the PS3's interface, but let me tell you, there's something about that GamePad that just works. You only need the pad, because it doubles as a universal remote, making the process of setting up your nightly Star Trek: TNG session that much easier. Technically, you don't even need to do that if you're interested in just watching Netflix on the GamePad. It seamlessly transfers from big screen to little screen, which is great for when you're sitting at your computer away from the TV. I suppose if you had kids it could be useful to keep them off the big TV. Or (and let's all be brutally fucking honest here, people) if you're on the toilet and you don't want to stop watching 30 Rock.

  Let's talk social, because the Wii U just may have done it the best damned way possible. The XBOX has taken great strides for online play with your friends, and admittedly they still do it best. What the Wii U does do, however, is create a sense of community around it's games. When you boot the Wii U on, your GamePad hosts the Wii-like tile menu, while your screen is overrun with Mii's surrounding game icons. Each one of those Mii's is another person out there in the Nintendosphere, all of whom leave comments on each game's Miiverse page. Miiverse is kind of like Twitter, Facebook, a little bit of DeviantArt, and Reddit all rolled into one surprisingly cohesive package. Except here, the people are (generally) better, there's no advertisements, and nobody can ruin your day with downvotes!

This is what happens when you say you liked Mass Effect 3's ending on Reddit.

  You can load up the Miiverse and search for a game you like, or a game you're interested in. On that board, you can view posts based on tags, or just run down the list to see what's up. There's conversations taking place, people can post screenshots directly from their games, and you can even leave drawings or hand-written messages. It's insane the amount of talent people have been showing off in the Miiverse. Tons of sketch art and scratch art for all your favorite games. You can follow anybody and see whenever they post something, so if you've picked up on a few awesome artists, you can catch every surprising masterpiece they post.

  The Miiverse doesn't just stop at being it's own thing, though. It can be implemented into every and any game. In Nintendo Land, it's there to talk about what you thought of a game or post your high score. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, it will pop up during certain benchmarks to ask you to express yourself, sometimes in colorful ways. It's going to be a non-issue for some people, but I find it really enjoyable. And whatever moderation Nintendo has is doing an alright job. I've only seen one poorly drawn scrotum all week! Once the Miiverse hits mobile phones and PC, I honestly seeing it be the answer to Facebook for people who just like games, and as a way to keep up with what your friends are doing. The only other competition would be Steam's new community that's only been around for a couple of months. With a few more improvements, and a couple of firmware updates, there's no reason Miiverse couldn't continue to grow into something, well...

  My only real beef with the Wii U itself is that they've seemed to take up Sony's plan of being slow as hell whenever you get a new game. Never mind the hour-long "Day 1" download, booting up a game that needs any updates installed is way more painful than it needs to be. We're talking upwards of 5 or 6 minutes. I'm hoping something down the line will help ease those installations because they are rough.

  Something that's going to make the Wii U a tough sell to a lot of people is "I've already got a PS3 and/or Xbox, why do I need this?" I don't know what it will take to convince you to get one. What it comes down to is this: Nintendo consoles have always been seen as only profitable for Nintendo. The Wii U changes that. There's no reason not to port anything on the Wii U. There's no weird tiny discs, there's no technological ravine between it and the other consoles, and the digital front is heavy. You're already making games for XBOX and PS3, just throw in another port. On top of that, the Wii U is superior in both hardware and software to the XBOX. At this point it's PS3 and Wii U to get your bases covered. If you're one of those people who has just condemned themselves to a life of thinking "I don't like Nintendo or anything they do," well then there's really nothing that can be said to convince you otherwise. I can tell you why it's great, but you'll find an excuse not to believe me. And that's true of any console, not just Nintendo.

This is how I imagine anybody who uses the phrase "fanboy" to try to win an argument.

  There are more ways to play games, better ways to stream videos, and awesome ways to connect with your friends and communities. There is a lot of potential here. With the new consoles from the other guys inevitably on the future, I'm curious to see what all happens in the next year or two. Even just looking at the horse power behind my computer and my XBox and PS3, I'm positive we're not going to see -that- drastic of a tech shift; the Wii U will not be another Wii. Plus, with more "normal" ways of gaming, it'll be easier to convince people to make games for the system. The Pro Controller bridges the gap between the Wii-Remotes craziness, and the fact that only one GamePad can connect to your system. I think the longevity is there, but it's really dependent on how Nintendo continues to evolve the platform. Also looking ahead, don't be surprised to see Sony try to integrate the Vita better, or to see Microsoft's push it's "Glass" down your throat just as much as it does Bing.

  If I sound like I'm overenthusiastic about the Wii U, it's because I probably am. Maybe it's this new Bupropion I'm taking, but I really do like this system. I won't deny my love of Nintendo, but there are two things to understand about said love. 1: I give everything a fair shake and a fair chance. I really do. Ask me about the Vita, I'll tell you I absolutely love the thing. 2: There's a reason I love Nintendo the way that I do. They can be the most infuriatingly stubborn company, but when they want to do something, and really get it right, nobody can do it like they do. And while the technology might not be 100%, and a new console should probably happen sooner rather than later to stay 'caught up' with the competition, I think the Wii U really is a new way of playing, and for the better. It's versatile in a way that no other console is. It's 'new' without being something so drastic as just the Wii-motes. It is, at the risk of sounding hopelessly glassy-eyed, the future.

  But hey that's just me. Do you have any questions about the Wii U I can maybe answer? Do you have your own thoughts on your console? I'll be talking software down the road here, I wanted to focus more on the 'Out of Box" experiences you'll be having for now. I've spread myself a bit thin on games... 6 on the Wii U alone, not to mention Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Persona 4: The Golden, Professor Layton: The Miracle Mask, Virtue's Last Hope, Crashmo and holy fucking hell I need to stop buying games. I also need a month or five off of work to catch up. Hopefully this all means I"ll have more to talk about, as more game-specific discussions (let's not call them "reviews," per se) will start coming down the pipe. I look forward to conversation!

Oh and look, I have a Twitter account! Aren't I novel?


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