I had the opportunity to preview the Wii U last night at a Nintendo special event. Bold and bright, with flashing lights and helpful attendants, the preview was designed to build anticipation for the unit's upcoming debut.
Does the age of Apple TV and iPad/iPhone AirPlay integration herald a challenge to traditional consoles? Apparently so, as the new Wii U controller seems highly influenced by tablets.
The Wii U's large on-board screen offers a portable gaming solution that feels like the offspring that might occur if a Wiimote ran away to Vegas to marry an iPad. The Wii U offered all the standard gaming keys and buttons you'd expect, including switches on the back of the unit.
It is very lightweight and rugged enough to use in active living room play. You wouldn't want to swing around an iPad while exercising, but the Wii U is built for use with Wii Fit and other active games. You don't have to worry about cracking glass, or the overall heft of the device, and the in-hand feel was not too far off from many games that use a sideways-held Wiimote.
Nintendo had a bunch of new games they were showcasing including an updated Wii Fit, Super Mario Bros, a Karaoke Sing game, a dance title, and a bunch of shooters. I'm not entirely convinced any of these games benefited from adding a second screen. I should add that the console made it possible for a large group of people to play at once on separate devices, which is something the iPad / Apple TV paradigm doesn't support.
Throughout it all, I kept asking myself if what I saw was enough to make me want to upgrade my current Wii system, and I'm not sure it was.
Although a few of the games looked great, the hardware didn't particularly excite me. Wii U falls somewhere between the GameBoy/DS and the full screen console experience, which is where tablets normally lie, but it didn't define enough of a niche for me. Nearly every game I saw seemed to play just as well if not better using a normal WiiMote.
If a unit fell into our lives, I'd certainly use it and enjoy it, but I don't quite understand the big draw. That's in contrast to my iPad experience, which fits so beautifully into work, reading, and play. Once people see you using one, they get how it's meant to be used.
With the Wii U, I just kept thinking, "Oh, so now everyone playing in the living room can focus on their individual laps instead of playing together as a group."
In the end, I found the Wii U to be cool but not compelling. What's your take on Nintendo's newest gaming device?