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Review: Nintendo raises the gaming bar with Wii U

While the Wii U can employ its predecessor's

While the Wii U can employ its predecessor's motion-control remotes with a sensor bar that similarly detects them in front of the TV, the console's focus on two-screen experiences makes it feel more like a high-definition, living-room rendition of the Nintendo DS and 3DS, the Japanese gaming giant's dual-screen hand-held devices, than the original Wii. Credit: AP


That exclamation still has a warm place in my heart carrying with it many holiday memories from when I'd first received my Nintendo Entertainment System and "Ice Climber", my very first NES game. Although the years have past, the excitement is still there this winter. Nintendo's Wii U is on the top of many holiday wish lists and they've sent us one to detail why this is truly the "IT" gift of 2012.


Wii U at its core

Inside the Wii U is 2 gigabytes of DDR3 SDRAM that splits between the OS and running the games with a AMD Radeon-based High Definition GPU. Worried shoppers should not be torn on saving for the smaller hard drive storage inside the white basic set as compared to the 32 GB deluxe set. Both consoles can be expanded with either SD cards up to 32 GB and allow for external hard drive storage up to 2 TB with the current firmware update.

Is it going to make you want to ignore those other next generation home consoles?

In my opinion, no. But just like the Wii before it, the Wii U can find a way to bring families and friends together in one home on one console better than the other guys. Again, it's all about the controller.


The GamePad

In my opinion, no one knows how to make a controller better than Nintendo. The Wii U GamePad is super comfortable and light, weighing in at roughly 500g. Its 6.2-inch (16x9 aspect ratio) touch screen reminds me of the first time I ever played the original GameBoy because it's just so hard to take your attention off it. Unlike the Wii Remote, the Wii U GamePad demands much more of a learning curve for the not-so-average gamer. I strongly recommend having the GamePad plugged into a power source when first operating it, because the device's charge does drain rather quickly-- about 3 to 4 hours. This won't bother the casual gamer, but it was nice to see that the battery can be removed and replaced manually if recharging isn't desired at the moment.

There is so much packed inside the GamePad. A front-facing camera and stereo speakers offer in-game sounds and music. When at the Wii U main menu, the music from the TV and GamePad play different soundtracks that blend wonderfully. Many of the games do not do this, but the separate music beds are easier on the ears as compared to streaming audio from the TV set and controller in most games that play the same soundtracks. This can be adjusted atop the controller's slider if gamers feel there is too many sounds coming from one too many places.

NintendoLand does a great job of providing gamers just a taste of what the controller is capable of but developers will be able to expand on in order to alter the way we play video games. After playing through some of the launch titles Nintendo sent to Warp Pipe, Ubisoft's "ZombiU" offers the best mulitscreen experience. I'm excited to see what other ways the GamePad can grab my attention as well as how it will interact with Nintendo TVii, scheduled for a December release.

With any set of ear buds, plugging them into the GamePad enables in-game voice chatting that really works well, though I did not need the ear buds to conduct my video chats with friends. For more traditional gameplay, Nintendo did send us the Wii U Pro Controller. Although it does feel really good in-hand compared to the GamePad, there is no headphone input. In order to game on the Wii U Pro and enable voice chat, I needed to plug in my ear buds into the GamePad and carry on from there. This wasn't too bad, because in games like "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" the GamePad displays full-sized maps and interchangeable loadouts so the second screen comes in handy even when not in-hand.


Online Community

Nintendo was left on the outside looking in at all the online multiplayer success on their competition's consoles but not one does Nintendo finally join them with a proper multiplayer experience but they propel themselves way above the rest. Nintendo's Miiverse is an orderly and easy to navigate social media community that connects players to friends and fellow gamers. Using the GamePad, I was able to send to my friend's Wii U messages and drawings as well as conduct video chats that enabled friendly doodling on their faces while in mid-conversation. I never took advantage of the videoconferencing features on other consoles but this little features brings added fun to the technology.

I really like how each game and Wii U app such as Netflix and Hulu Plus has its own community. I am always interested to see what gamers think of the titles they play, and this is a great place to read opinions and helpful hints aside from the occasional silly comments and drawings. The community is moderated so I would not be too concerned about children seeing anything they shouldn't.

WaraWara Plaza (Japanese for "bustling") is where it all starts from the moment players sign with their Mii character if connected to the Internet. Each Mii toon is that of an actual fellow Wii U owner, both that of those on your friends list as well as gamers from all over. It's a pretty cool concept that both connects gamers and promotes Nintendo titles.


Backward Compatibility

If you own a Wii, the Wii U is worth the upgrade. Just like a cellphone or tablet but without needing to toss away products that you may have purchased. Nintendo peripherals such as the Wii Fit board and Nunchuck will work just like they do on Wii games as well as titles for the Wii U. Wii Mote Plus controllers are actually needed for many Wii U games and even some navigation within the Wii U menus.

Most Wii games can be played on the Wii U after installing the initial online update for the console (note that this update can take anywhere between 45 minutes to a few hours depending on your bandwidth). At this time, the GamePad does not support displaying Wii games on it, so I wasn't able to watch "American Horror Story" while playing "Mario Kart 7". But at least all of those classic Wii games will not be forgotten on the Wii U. Gamecube games won't be able to work on the Wii U because the console has no GameCube controller ports but these games will be available for digital download in the future in Nintendo's eShop.


Put the Wii U on your holiday wish list

The Nintendo WIi U is unlike any other video game and entertainment experience available. It takes what makes everything about technology and condenses it into on easy to use device. Although the games we played with various age groups did not leave an impact like "Wii Sports" did when the Wii was first launched, mini games like "Mario Chase" within "NintendoLand" created an interactive on the couch experience that has yet to be replicated. This console's destiny truly lies in the hands of video game developers and the soon to be released Nintendo TVii. What this means is that the Wii U really is the future of video gaming. I believe at $299 for the basic set, this is a great price to jump into Nintendo's warp pipe that leads to an undiscovered world for Mario to pounce his way into. 

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