Wii U, oy vey!

Our Wii-skeptic gaming critic reviews Nintendo’s latest, and remains skeptical.

New Super Mario Bros. U

While I’m sure it’s selling well and customers are pleased as punch with their purchase, the lustre of a Nintendo console launch has dimmed in recent times. The GameCube was a brick compared to its generational peers, and their last console, the Wii, sold like hot cakes and supposedly got your grandma off the couch, but in no way lived up to the potential motion controls promised. By the end, you were playing ugly, standard definition franchise reboots with awkward control schemes. It died a painless death.

But at least the Wii sold us on a lofty dream; the Wii U’s goals are considerably less clear, and at 300 bones, a difficult purchase to recommend with so few games out now and not too many more on the immediate horizon.

The Wii U is attempting to capitalize on a recent development in viewing habits: that people are inclined to do something else, such as use a tablet, while they watch TV. Flipping through stats on an iPad while watching football on TV is one thing, but how does having a bulky tablet for a controller promise a thrilling new game experience? Based on the two first-party launch games I tried, Pack-in Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U, Nintendo isn’t so sure either.

Nintendo Land is the Wii U’s Wii Sports: a series of simple mini-games designed to show off what the hardware can do. But where Wii Sports had some appeal as a drunken party game, Nintendo Land’s games are hardly worth a second play. Rail FPS’s and Simon Says rhythm games have been done to death, and no game in 2012 should include either. Almost all of the great Nintendo franchises are poorly utilized here, except for the F-Zero challenge in which the tablet is used as a steering wheel. The mini-games sometimes require that you switch between looking at the tablet screen and your TV screen, and let’s hope it’s an idea that never leaves Nintendo Land.

In truth, the most fun I had with the Wii U was playing old school 2D side-scroller New Super Mario Bros U on the tablet with my television screen off. Of course the experience is no different from playing a Mario game on a Nintendo portable, but it also made me realize that Nintendo should have embraced its nostalgia peddling by simply releasing a sleek, fashionable (and not so toy-like) tablet with as much of their back catalogue as they could cram into it.

The Wii U’s graphical prowess is nothing to get excited about, but at least it’s in HD this time, and the tablet screen is what you’ve come to expect, graphically speaking, from touch screens. The tablet is versatile, also serving as an oversized controller, Wiimote and regular television remote.

The Wii U isn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be, but you may as well wait for Nintendo to release a few must-have games for it before splurging. My biggest fear, though, is that like the Wii, those golden days will never arrive. ■

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