Nintendo Wii U review: Packed with promise, Wii U still has a lot to prove

The Nintendo eShop is the Wii U's online virtual store, where users can download full Wii U games and digital-only titles. Those who purchase the Deluxe Wii U Set are entitled to a rewards program that can be used toward game discounts.

Anything purchased in the eShop can be accessed by all users on a Wii U system, regardless of the purchaser, and each Wii U system may have up to 12 separate users.

The Miiverse is a social network for gamers that allows Wii U owners to interact with others all over the world. You can trade pictures, messages, and more. The Wii U also features a limited functioning Web browser.

As for the eShop, it's only controllable via the GamePad. Here you can buy digital-only versions of full Wii U disc-sized games. These titles are not small by any means, so even 32GB Wii U owners will need to get resourceful in making room. Don't forget, you can expand memory only through a USB drive for downloaded content.

Nintendo has said to expect more software applications to be available from the eShop, so we'll have to wait and see what other companies have signed on to develop for the platform.

The games
Nintendo Wii U standard games retail for $60 and come in blue boxes. They're printed on proprietary Wii U discs that hold up to 25GB of data. They look and feel just like Blu-ray discs, but I'm told they are not.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Seeing Nintendo games in HD for the first time is awesome. There are sure to be cynics out there who write it off as something we should have gotten with the Wii, but for me the novelty has yet to wear off.

Give Nintendo credit. Where other consoles have all but abandoned the party game genre, the Wii U proudly wears it on its sleeve. While kids are guaranteed to fight over who gets to use the GamePad, the Wii U is easily the king of local multiplayer gaming. Up to five people can play certain Wii U games at once (GamePad plus four Wii remotes), which can make for some epic battles for gamers of any age.

Graphically speaking, Wii U games are just about on par with current-generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 visuals, but videophiles may spot a few shortcomings with textures and frame rates. A number of launch titles run noticeably smoother on their PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts.

So far, Nintendo has yet to do an overly impressive job of locking up exclusive titles only available on the Wii U. Aside from forthcoming first-party titles like Pikmin 3 and Game and Wario, Nintendo has only teased exclusives like Bayonetta 2, Lego City Undercover, and The Wonderful 101. Of course it's safe to assume the usual crop of first-party franchises will show up down the line, too: more Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, etc.

The Wii U will likely receive many multiplatform games, but keep in mind that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are approaching the end of their product cycles themselves, so the Wii U will inevitably be playing catch-up just like its older brother.

Nintendo sent along a handful of games to test out with the system, as did a number of third-party developers. The Wii U launched with around 30 games (a list is included at the bottom of this review), but here are a few words on a select few that I spent a healthy amount of time with:

Nintendo Land: Bundled along with the Deluxe Set, Nintendo hopes this will be the Wii U's answer to Wii Sports. Nintendo Land may not do for the Wii U what Wii Sports did for the Wii -- and gaming in general -- but it's no doubt one of the must-own launch titles. There are enough minigames packed inside this disc to provide an enjoyable tutorial for new Wii U owners.

Nintendo Land is also the must-own party game that will provide hours of entertainment for families and busy living rooms. The games are cleverly designed and easy enough to pick up and play.

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New Super Mario Bros. U: Don't write NSMBU off as just another carbon-copied 2D platformer. Mario in HD looks amazing, and the game is a perfect example of how liberating off-TV can be. NSMBU is also a sort of Mario anthology, as there are other gameplay modes packed inside that extend the overall replay value.

Plus, up to five players can jump in at once, with the GamePad user providing pivotal jumping blocks to access hidden areas and avoid hazards. It might be one of the most expensive Mario games to date, but it's well worth the price of admission.

Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition: This reboot of 2011's game of the year is a mixed bag. For anyone who has yet to enjoy this fantastic game (where have you been?), this is a great opportunity to check it out. However, Armored Edition does not completely live up to its Xbox 360 and PS3 cousins in terms of smoothness and graphics. There's also a bit of noticeable jitteriness during cut-scene playback.

I really liked using the GamePad as a batarang, and the touch screen makes for an excellent inventory hub, too. If the Wii U is your first console in six years, pick it up. You can also check out my impressions of the game from E3 2012 .

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ZombiU: Ubisoft's ZombiU is packed with moments of horror and great action, and does a convincing job at showing how having a map on the GamePad is much more convenient than having it in the pause screen.

However, at times the game's controls feel a bit convoluted and jammed me up when in the frantic panic of a zombie attack. There's also no pause at all, so if you're digging through your inventory, you'd better make sure you're out of harm's way before doing so.

It's nice to see an M-rated launch game with some potential here, so consider zombie horror fans well served on day one.

I'll be sure to update this games section of this review when more titles ship. More in-depth game reviews can also be found on individual product pages by searching CNET.

Nintendo TVii
Easily the most under-discussed feature of the Wii U has got to be Nintendo TVii. Unfortunately, while Nintendo had told us this free service would be ready to go for day one, it didn't hit the console until December 20. All TiVo functionality isn't ready yet and Netflix integration won't be here for a while, either.

After a few weeks with using TVii, it's safe to say there's a lot missing for it to be a one-stop shop for all things recorded and live TV. It definitely feels incomplete. For one, TVii doesn't work unless the Wii U is on. While normal cable box control can be initialized from the GamePad separately, the Wii U must be powered on for the guide and programming features to access the Internet and grab data. It's just another step that impedes the flow of using the GamePad as a remote.

TVii is also painfully laggy and slow. It's a noticeable downgrade from the performance of the Wii U's interface and really makes for a subpar experience. The first time you boot up TVii, you'll need to go through a 5-minute setup process that will ask for your location, cable service, and favorite TV shows and movies. You can't just pick any show or movie you want, though you can try to search. TVii will use this information to generate a "favorites" profile for you.

The main TVii screen is split into five sections: Favorites, TV, Movies, Sports, and Search. More than one user can have a profile on the Wii U, so that also translates to more users on the Wii U, each with his own show/movie favorites. You can also bookmark a set of TV channels so that they're easily accessible from the favorites section.

TVii also offers access to IMDb, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, and more, but the way these services are implemented seems clunky. For example, TVii posts to your Twitter account if you decide to comment on a live TV program. What's that about? It also auto-appends a canned message that prefaces your tweet, something I could see many people would take issue with.

One thing that's sure to alienate some users is the fact that seamless DVR functionality is exclusive only to TiVo customers (which is still a ways away). Don't count on the Wii U controlling your carrier-based DVR any time soon. Nintendo has said such functionality is in the works, but Google has been telling the same story for years as its engineers and product managers continue to refine and tweak Google TV .

One thing people may find useful is the way TVii interacts with live sports games. Live scoring, football play drives, and basketball scoring maps are all awesome accompaniments to watching a game, but that's about where TVii really seems to "get it." Oh, and if you're a hockey or baseball fan, you're out of luck. Those professional sports are left out for now.

Nintendo has partnered with a company called i.TV to provide most of TVii's ambitious timeline and sports content, which will allow for program commenting and tagging, sports plays and scores, and even things like instant TV meme creation.

While Nintendo TVii will allow for the combination of live TV, guide viewing, TiVo DVR, content discovery, and more, the GamePad can also control your TV. In fact, it does a great job with controlling my Verizon Fios box. However, it's probably not going to replace your Harmony remote because there doesn't yet to seem to be any sort of "activity" function where the GamePad can blast a series of commands to get a series of devices working.

Instead, you'll have to manually input items just like you would on a bunch of separate remotes. There also seems to be a limit of only two devices stored on the GamePad, so those of us with home theater systems will still need to control things like volume and input with another remote. Of course Nintendo could update this functionality down the road, but you'll probably not want to hold your breath on that.

Speaking from a strictly logistical point of view, TVii misses the mark. Its ambitions are lofty, but ultimately its execution just isn't seamless enough. The way it currently sits, TVii is not worth the hassle and is not going to replace your much more capable Harmony remote.

There's still plenty of potential with TVii's guide information and separation of profile favorites, but given the laggy interface, confusing structure, and overwhelming sense of incompleteness, TVii, just like the Wii U itself, still has got some work to do.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
I'm not sure the Wii U emanates the same wow factor that the original Wii did. For me, using the GamePad didn't feel all that revolutionary simply because it feels like a souped-up 3DS. Instead, my wow moment was playing Mario in HD for the first time.

The Wii is a tough act to follow. That thing showed up in nursing homes, for crying out loud. The Wii U is different and accessible enough to break boundaries, but I'm not sure it will have the impact of its predecessor.

When someone checked out the Wii for the first time, the mind-blowing innovation was right there in black and white. With the Wii U, you've got to dig a little deeper.

Right now, the most promising Wii U feature for me is off-TV play. If many games start supporting it -- games that are available on multiple consoles -- I can see myself choosing to play them on the Wii U so that I won't need to always monopolize my living room TV. There's a ton of value there.

Then there's Nintendo TVii; Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told me he wants the GamePad to be the "jumping-off point" of every living room, so whether TVii can provide that unified experience is still up in the air. The way it stands now is a definitive "no."

Focusing solely on gaming, it's going to be tough to recommend the Wii U to anyone who already owns a PS3 or Xbox 360. A sizable chunk of the system's launch games are already or soon to be available on the aforementioned systems. Just like with the original Wii, first-party and exclusive titles are really where the Wii U needs to knock it out of the park to incentivize a console purchase.

In almost every other department, save for what Nintendo TVii is supposed to provide, the other consoles on the market have the Wii U beat: network and offline media playback, diversity of streaming services, exclusive games, and speedy operating systems.

Despite its unique dual-screen presentation, innovative GamePad controller, and ambitious Nintendo TVii service, the Wii U still has a lot to prove.

Wii U launch titles:

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Skylanders Giants
Transformers Prime
Wipeout 3
Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
FIFA Soccer 13
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Wii U Edition
New Super Mario Bros. U
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge
Nintendo Land
Sing Party
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper
Darksiders II
Assassin's Creed III
ESPN Sports Connection
Just Dance 4
Rabbids Land
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013
ZombiU
Scribblenauts Unlimited
Game Party Champions
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov 18, 2012
  • Color white
  • Media Type Nintendo Wii U disc
    Nintendo Wii disc
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