The Wii U: (Hopefully) reeling in the whales of the blue ocean

Nintendo Wii U review
Nintendo Wii U review

After about a week with Nintendo's newest console, the Wii U (and an hours-long, day one update), this editor finally has the first new home gaming console in six years figured out. Much unlike the Wii before it, Nintendo's goal with the Wii U isn't to reach a new audience of gamers. It's to milk the one it roped in six years ago for all it's worth, and everything from the hardware to its social features exudes that strategy.

As far as hardware is concerned, the Wii U doesn't look terribly different from its predecessor, though it's slightly longer to contain its updated innards. Yes, "updated innards" means more impressive visuals--1080p HD, in fact--perhaps even better than, if not on par with, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Whereas HDTVs may not have been as prevalent in 2006 (Nintendo's answer for the lack of HD graphics in the original Wii) as they are now, today such performance is expected. And judging from the looks of launch games like New Super Mario Bros. U, the Wii U more than delivers on that front.

There are other subtle differences, like on-board flash memory to store game content updates and even full game downloads, for the perhaps more refined gamer. But nothing stands out more than the GamePad, Nintendo's purported control innovation (think the Wii's motion controls) and its second screen solution. With a 6.2-inch LCD screen, the GamePad offers up plenty of possibility for both single-player and multiplayer experiences (as our numerous hands-on experiences have proved). But with the latter, Nintendo assumes quite a lot, and with that the Wii U shows it hand.
For almost every multiplayer game on the Wii U so far, players are required to have a least one other Wii Remote, and in most cases, the experience with just one and the GamePad isn't terribly entertaining for the GamePad player. Take New Super Mario Bros. U, for instance: It's seemingly impossible to have one player play as Mario on the GamePad and the other with a Wii Remote play as, say, Luigi. It seems that in all cases of multiplayer including a GamePad, that player is restricted to using the GamePad for its Boost Rush Mode function, which amounts to tapping the screen to create blocks in the other players' world. (And if it is possible, it's awfully cumbersome to make it happen.)

The fact that Nintendo's own games are designed this way, and that neither box set for the Wii U comes with at least one Wii Remote, says a lot about Nintendo's goals and assumptions with the console. Nintendo seems to assume that most Wii U purchasers this holiday and beyond already own an original and a few Wii Remotes. The company also seems to believe that these customers will not trade in their Wii console (and at least one Remote) in toward a Wii U. So, what's Nintendo's goal with the Wii U? To turn the blue ocean it created with the original Wii into a loyal Nintendo fan base with this updated hardware.

Wii U screens
Wii U screens

This isn't clear in just the Wii U hardware, but the software as well. After a lengthy patch that all Wii U owners will have to download on day one of setting up their new gaming system, players will have access to a breadth of social features. Even in just the language Nintendo uses as it introduces players to the Nintendo Network and Miiverse, it's clear that these services were designed with both the core Nintendo fan and mom who decided to buy the Wii for a workout.

For all intents and purposes, Miiverse is Nintendo's answer to Facebook, built around each game as well as a central network. Players can post status updates to game communities, follow players they resonate with, track those they follow in an Activity Feed and even add friends to play with through the Miiverse. It's something that competitors have looked over almost entirely, simply baking Facebook and Twitter support into their systems. But more importantly, Miiverse is something that could very well get the mom who bought the original Wii in the same year that she started playing FarmVille to play console games online.

Wii U screen shots
Wii U screen shots

With the Wii U, Nintendo doesn't intend a blue ocean strategy for a third time. No, it hopes to reel in the whales (the big spenders) it found in the azure sea that the Wii created and hook them with the Wii U. And it has a fine shot at doing just that. The Wii U, if a tad bland-looking, is one fine piece of hardware when paired up with the GamePad. There's a a simple joy to beaming whatever you're playing on the TV to the GamePad, so that someone else in the room can watch their favorite show. The same goes for playing a round of Nintendo Land in which everyone else is against the almighty GamePad guru.

But it's simply not the same feeling that the Wii created when you and your mom first swung around tiny controllers to a game of digital tennis, hours passing like minutes. And maybe that's OK. It's clear that the Wii U isn't designed to wow moms, dads and grandparents like the original Wii did.

In fact, this editor wouldn't recommend a Wii U to someone that doesn't already own a Wii. That is, unless they're willing to spend another $120 on four Wii Remotes. But if you do, then you might want to consider the upgrade to at least to the Basic Set this holiday. And if you do, the Wii U has quite a lot to keep you hooked for as long as possible.

Are you excited for the Wii U? If you already have one, tell us what you think of it in the comments. Add Comment.