03 April, 2013

Review: Wii-U

Before the Wii-U came out it was firmly at the top of my household's holiday list. As Nintendo devotees we were early adopters of every platform they've released. When the Wii-U hit stores, it was quickly removed from the holiday list and replaced by iPads. The Wii-U, with Nintendo's bizarre DRM, seemed overpriced and underwhelming. Store displays did not allow you to play the game, relying on prerecorded commercials to sell you on the new concept. It was the exact opposite of their Wii launch and it was a disaster

I've listened to store clerks who have not played the Wii-U struggle to explain it to parents before directing them to other consoles. I've watched Nintendo issue press releases about the supposed supply shortage while my local retailers heavily promoted an excess of stock. Individual game titles went from $60 USD down to $19. The Wii-U made me think my time with Nintendo had come to an end. Nintendo is trying to make an improbable world happen. In this world you pay for a virtual version of a game which you can only play on one device. You cannot share it with a sibling or a friend. You cannot carry it to a friend's house. If you lose your device, or it dies, you lose all of your games. Nintendo makes no price concessions for this. You pay full price for a crippled version of a game. Apple charges small amounts for games you can put on any of your devices anytime. You can upgrade or change devices at will. Replace a device and Apple will load all your settings for you. Buy one copy and both kids can play. This is a battle Nintendo is going to lose and in my house they lost it long ago. We have no WiiWare. No 3DS paid downloads.

With the Wii-U falling off the holiday list it seemed that Nintendo was going to follow Little People and Playmobil out to the dustbin of growing up. The kids took their holiday cash and bought iThings. We didn't look back. Birthdays rolled around and the kids found themselves kicking around Gamestop with giftcards they weren't sure how to use. Skylanders? iCases? Like a Pixar film come to life, a fully functional Wii-U made it's play. Once it was in the kids hands their hearts beat a little faster. They remembered Mario and all the good times they'd had. The cumbersome iClone control pad stopped confusing and started to make sense. This is the marketing experience Nintendo should have opened with. Giftcards hit the counter with a clatter. Birthday money flew out of pockets. Frantic counting led to begging, then cajoling and finally pleading. iTunes and Target cards were sold on the spot to an agreeable parent. Promises destined to be broken were made. Allowance was forsworn. Spring Break belonged to Nintendo and times thought past.

Is the Wii-U more fun to play than it's weird kid averse marketing leads you to expect? Yes. Absolutely.  It's the Wii, with some added features. Unfortunately one of the added features is a cumbersome load time. I expected a dial up modem soundtrack to accompany each interminable wait. Want to start the system? That multi hour update and load thing isn't a myth. (Do NOT buy the base model, you will fill it with the first update.) Want to play a game? Wait for another system update. Now wait for the disc to load. Now wait for the .... and so on. Want to switch games? It's going to take a while. You might take this chance to fix a snack or catch up on your favorite magazines. While the Wii-U may be underpriced for it's components it is overpriced for it's out of the box experience. If you love Mario like our house does the investment may still be worth it. Super Mario Bros U is much more challenging than recent Mario games. NintendoLand beats WiiSports. Pikmin 3 is coming. If you are not a Nintendo devotee the frustration factor may drive you to another console. Perhaps that explains the lack of playable systems in the stores - a fear that encountering load times would discourage sales. It's a fair concern. If I hadn't wanted to get my Mario on I might well have said screw it and flipped the unit back to the store. The Wii-U has been a very enjoyable purchase but it certainly isn't a necessary one.

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