A games console is only as good as its games. But even after the console has been out for 18 months, the Wii U games library is still disappointingly small. Just a handful of games are making interesting use of the GamePad’s unique technology, and most of these are Nintendo games that largely extend what we’ve seen before – basically, more of Mario and Zelda.
Other titles add content that does little to enhance the uniqueness of the Wii U experience, such as displaying the game map or objectives. There are some exceptions, however, with Rayman Legends by Ubisoft being a great example. It offers an innovative mode for co-op play using the touchscreen.
Less-powerful hardware means Wii U versions of cross-platform titles will not match the appearance or speed of the PS4 and Xbox One releases, which generally look and play better on those platforms. Wii U sales have been slower than expected, and third-party support for the console has declined. Major companies such as EA and Bethesda will offer limited or no support until the Wii U starts to pick up.
Credit must be given, however, to Nintendo’s commitment to backwards compatibility, as the Wii U can play Wii titles via a built-in virtual console. You can also download classic Nintendo games, from earlier consoles such as the SNES and Game Boy Advance.
Getting around with Mii and U
The GamePad’s touchscreen gestures make navigation easy and avoid getting bogged down in complicated menus. This easy-to-understand approach extends to games, apps and settings, making the console especially suitable for new players.
The Wii U is similar to Nintendo’s 3DS handheld’s dual-screen play in the way it displays different menus on the GamePad and your TV screen. By default, the GamePad is used for general menu navigation – opening games, apps and settings. Your TV presents the central community hub, WaraWara plaza, which expands into the Miiverse, the community driven online environment for Nintendo fans.
WaraWara Plaza details recent trends, popular games/apps and messages from other players, with whom you can communicate by tapping on their avatar (or Mii). Inside WaraWara is the Miiverse, which includes a community hub for each game released on the console. These areas are for sharing messages, information, achievements and screenshots. Most link directly to Miiverse.
This approach makes sharing content contextual and relevant, rather than arbitrarily posting info on a message board and hoping someone will see it. It really streamlines online interaction in a way that makes you feel like you’re connecting with players who are equally passionate about these games, and is an object lesson to the online services of other consoles.
Miiverse feels like a warm, inviting environment with a few nice features that enrich communication between players. For example, you can tag posts with spoilers that are turned off by default, or you can use the included stylus to draw simple doodles (although some pictures could possibly count as works of art). It’s the attention to detail of these little touches that make the Miiverse feel like a fun community.
The individual elements that make up the Wii U are, on their own, quite impressive. The GamePad is an interesting piece of technology, games are still fun, if a little familiar, and the console performs relatively well, despite the lack of performance compared to the PS4 and Xbox One.
Overall, however, it’s hard to see what Nintendo’s vision for the unit really is. The result is poor sales and little support by game developers.
The original Wii was clearly aimed at the casual market, and it scored a home run. By contrast, the Wii U tries – and fails – to be a jack of all trades. Ultimately it lacks enough simplicity for casual gamers and enough complexity for hardcore players.
In a world where every second person owns a smartphone or tablet, touchscreen technology isn’t as impressive as it used to be, and it’s certainly nowhere near as intriguing as motion controls were when the Wii first hit the shelves. The GamePad just isn’t showing the potential that Nintendo may have hoped for, and games that don’t fully take advantage of the touchscreen become underpowered versions of their PS4 and Xbox One equivalents.
The real problem is that, with very few exceptions, playing games with a touchscreen combined with a traditional controller doesn’t feel unique or special, just different. Nintendo exclusives and the occasional title that uses the tech as intended will keep the Wii U alive for fans, but Nintendo will have to bring back some real innovation to win new fans over from the PS4 and Xbox One.