I made my physical Christmas list a bit late. But, early on, I asked for one thing: a Wii U. A Wii U to enjoy. A Wii U for me. A Wii U.. so I could say I have the latest, greatest!
While it isn't the greatest console ever, I'm thoroughly impressed by it so far.
But I wanna immediately get something out of the way, what I feel is the best part about the Wii U itself: the implication of this "Miiverse".
You probably wouldn't know it until you experienced it for yourself, but this thing is very cool. Like a forum built within the console, a message board for each of the Wii U's titles. It's, honestly, genius. And I've actually been doing more than just browsing the Podtoid-centric Rabbids Land community. I've posted pictures, screenshots (which are incredibly helpful when asking about specific parts of a game), thoughts and asked questions. And my most recent question, I got a helpful reply within minutes. Even the most dormant of communities are fairly active, sporting hundreds of users at the least.
Hypothetically, I could've gotten stuck, pressed the Home button, clicked Miiverse, posted my question, gotten a helpful reply, said my thanks and been back to my game, exactly where I left of, all within a matter of about 5 minutes or less without having to switch over to my laptop or phone. Fucking awesome.
On top of that, you'd be hard-pressed finding a single blatantly jerk response. I haven't found any.
I'm a pretty decent artist... when I have a reference shot
But your first stroll through the Miiverse will take place at the Wii U's very home screen.
Several icons appear on your TV that form an oval with an army of mini Mii's rushing towards each one. Not sure how your experience may differ, but my icons were of NintendoLand, NSMBU, Blops 2, ZombiU, etc. and within seconds (granted you've properly activated the Miiverse at this point) you'll see popular posts pop up from within each of those games' Miiverse's. This is where I discovered some of the jaw-dropping artistic talent of some of Nintendo's fans, which was at least half the reason I decided to check out the forums.
I feel apart of a huge, friendly community with the Miiverse. And none of it feels intrusive at all, even at the home screen. The music, the pop-up posts, the sounds the Mii's make, it all combines to create a unique and very charming experience.
Just an awesome awesome job on a scene from Yoshi's Island
Then you have the Wii U's take on the eShop. Which is like McDonalds nuggets. Satisfying, but not too awesome (and if I may extend that analogy just a tad, by comparison, something like Steam is much like Wendy's spicy nuggets *droooooool*). For one thing, I tried searching up what demos were available and merely got results for the 3DS. Why is this stuff even accessible at all from here?
(.... anybody got any Wendy's spicy nuggets?
And I know there's at least two (Rayman Legends and Sonic and Many Cameos Racing Adventure). So I had to search up the game titles specifically and then there they were. Definitely needs to be a dedicated section for demos ala the 3DS's eShop.
Some other small annoyances hold it back a tad like you can only browse it with the Gamepad (rather than the options of that or the Wii-mote, Pro Controller, etc.), it doesn't feel as if it's fleshed out enough (at least there's still a Wishlist feature), etc. but I'm sure things will get better as more stuff is put out so that there's motivation to rework the system. At least it feels a little more intuitive than the Wii Marketplace with whatever is there (example: adding money to your balance is much faster).
Various other improvements have been made coming from the Wii to the Wii U, like a dedicated Download Management tab, a far more useful and enjoyable Software Data Log (it was interesting seeing that I spent almost an hour in the Wii U's surprisingly great internet browser on my first day while I never touched a single one of my games), the addition of an actual chat system and a friends list tab, etc.
And with all these things in place, so much has been done to outdo the original Wii, yet it all still feels very clean and simplistic. Sterile, without feeling devoid of soul or stimulation.
The only problems I can think of about the Wii U itself are the very minor inconveniences I've already listed, sometimes attempting to drag down the screen on the Gamepad will result in accidental clicks that will take you someplace you didn't mean to go, on initial start-up there's a patch that will take anywhere from 30 minutes (if you're lucky) to almost 2 hours (and I hear even longer) to download, the Miiverse notification pulse sometimes won't show up and then there's some occasionally unappealing loss of color vividness when playing a game on the Gamepad.
But, overall, as far as the system itself is concerned.... I love it. There's already a very solid groundwork for more features and improvements. I can't wait to see what this thing will boast in the years to come. Perhaps an attachable arms accessory for use with a Nintendo-twisted version of Patty Cake or Rock, Paper, Scissors? What idea could be better?
This thing is like a console-ized version of the DS with some extra flair and technology behind it. Which is also fucking awesome and not underwhelming in the slightest considering the DS's quality. I can turn off my TV, switch any game (or app) to my Gamepad and enjoy it in the bathroom or downstairs in the kitchen. Never have I said I've been able to have a full, true console experience within my hands.
[NOTE: Features such as TVii are of no use to me, so I never bothered with it, but I hear it's basically amazing]
Now we get to what's most likely the reason you or I would want a Wii U: the games. And, so far, I have played 5. Here's a little rundown of each one with my thoughts....
New Super Mario Bros. U
I've bought every core Mario title ever. I can safely say I at least enjoyed each of them, but most of them I loved. Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, especially. They're the kind of games that are the reason I play video games. Pure imagination and inspiration in both their influence and their design. These games, unlike any other platformer, take me to a place where I can hang out and escape into. The series has nearly 30 years worth of games and lore behind it.
Mario is big, and is a big deal in gaming for good reason.
But, sadly, as many have said that I will now echo, a couple recent core Mario titles haven't been the most imaginative or inspiring. I speak of the "New" series of Mario games, a franchise name now mocked because of it's lack of being exactly that. First a breath of fresh air, now merely a faint queef for some.
However, New Super Mario Bros U is like a can of Mushroom Mist Febreeze on that smelly queef. Oh this installment smells gooooooood.
I've made it a little past the first moments of World 5 and if you asked me how many new assets and interesting layouts I've come across, I would respond with "My head hurts. That's a lot.". While most of the environments are the same in concept (desert, jungle, water, etc.), they've been given a huge visual overhaul. The first world is a memorable one, for example. Large towers extend to the skies, multiple layers of blue/green hills off into the horizon, a tall acorn tree and a lot of the gravel platforms sport this very appealing teal blue. I must say I love the relaxing music too.
It feels as if there's a certain attention to detail not seen in previous "New" titles.
Most of the levels are very competently designed and fun while not feeling like they're playing it too safe. They will surprise you and they will actually challenge you. At least half of the levels I've played, in trying to get the desired coins, power-ups and Star Coins, have forced me to buckle down and pay attention rather than blowing through just another level. A couple times I've even skipped Star Coins and such because I was tired of making one mistake too many. Pff, hell, I've died several times from the basic platforming you need to get through to progress (not including the times I just made some real dumbass moves). Several of the layouts even give off a fan-made vibe, but in a good way. A sort of "There's no way that Nintendo themselves would design something so devious/cool in a modern Mario title." feeling.
And there's not just a ton of new visual assets and layouts, the same can be said for the actual gameplay additions. Even the Toad House mini-games are a million times more exciting than they were before. And there's Nabbit, who works a lot like if the rabbit creatures from the beginning of Mario Galaxy got fat, turned to a life of crime and put up a fight. He ends up in various parts of the map with a bag of stolen items that you can choose to retrieve. If you do, you have to run through the stage fast enough to catch the fleeing purple perp where a single misstep can prolong the chase that much longer. Get 'em!
Probably most importantly is the new flying squirrel suit, which is interesting because it doesn't provide you with any new methods of attack. Instead, you just get a new way to travel, and a fun one at that. Think the propeller suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii only without a ground pound ability and you can stick to walls. Oh and it's not just boring, red latex.
Tons of new enemies, gameplay modes, etc. round out to make what I believe is the best Mario game since Galaxy 2 and one of the best 2D Mario games. I can't wait to find out what this game still has in store for me. This might even be a new favorite for me by the end.
It's odd playing such an eerie, mature game on a modern Nintendo console that isn't Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, but here I am. Essentially Dark Souls in first person with zombies, ZombiU manages to be way more of a quality Nintendo launch title than Ubisoft's other, Red Steel.
Real Talk: I love zombies, and I'm not tired of them... but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the game that made me re-fall in love with them. If only I were tired of them. Then maybe this highly enjoyable adventure might've been even better. This game makes zombies an actual threat again.
Something something prophecy. Something something plague. The story of ZombiU is hardly it's focus, despite the attention to it and the slow-paced gameplay. The slow pace is actually what makes ZombiU stand out, and along with it's high challenge it's what keeps me playing. You get your breaks, you're not constantly being bombarded with zombehz, but that doesn't mean the tension is any less.. tense. Every sound triggers an alarm in your head. Every corner, you check. Because when you're learning the ropes, even just a zombie or two is formidable. Yet the game doesn't use peanut butter chunky controls to make them formidable. Instead, you have to prep each strike and know when to time each said prep and strike. It's not always a good time to swing or shoot.
Now, 3+ hours in, I feel like I can handle myself against several zombies at once granted I'm not backed into a corner. Oh you better pray there's not a wall behind you as you're backing up. That's where you'll likely get yourself killed the most. Pick your targets, throw flares for distractions, know what to keep in your quickslots, etc. and you'll be fine.... maybe. It's survival, baby.
Then... the graphics, feeling overdone at first, have a certain appeal. Like a low-quality camcorder without any of the HUD. Intense flares and overall somewhat blurry/muzzy (possibly intentional...? .... eh), it's definitely got a "thing" going rather than just a base presentation. Grittyyyyyyyyy.
While the graphical presentation is arguably try-hard, the attention to detail is exquisite. Environments are believably shattered and torn, various debris lay about, even the zombies look pretty frightening. What I find really awesome is that their howls and blargs are properly synced with their mouth movements, which don't feel canned at all. I feel as if each zombie is a real creature.
Now, a while back I mentioned this game was a lot like Dark Souls and I'm not the first to make that comparison, for reasons I'll explain. For starters, when you die, you start with a new survivor, spawn with merely the default gear and at your last checkpoint (being one of the mostly sparse safe houses). But, you're given a chance to recover your lost stuff you've spent so much time pillaging if you make it back to your now zombified corpse and kill it.
It's interesting when it happens. You have pretty much just killed yourself. And not only that, but occasionally the zombified corpses of other online survivors will "invade" your game (loot intact). Finally, you also have the ability to leave vague online hints on walls in the form of various icons. Yet another Demon's/Dark Souls influence, but it's all given a special ZombiU twist and I love it.
Oh and the menus are in real-time.
And completely separate from the Normal difficulty is something called "Survival Mode". Where if you die (and you most likely will), you die. In the truest of forms, you just die. The game starts over and no progress is saved. Even though I've worked up a decent amount of experience in my playtime so far, this scares me. But, also excites me. I have a feeling that eventually I'll only wanna play it on Survival. I've even set aside some money for an extra Gamepad should it push me over the edge.
With only the occasional feeling of repetition and a framerate stutter here or there to complain about (so far), ZombiU is quite possibly the most hardest of core Nintendo console titles we've seen in a very long time and it's a quality one. I could see the game getting more and more repetitious by the end, but at least it's not "going through the motions" repetitious. The tension, difficulty and solid gameplay make you wanna overcome. And when you do, it's time to breathe again.
From the makers of World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth (I knew something felt familiar about this art style), it's your very own Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace!
... this game is somewhat unsettling. As if the demented part of my brain that loves playing with fire made a video game. It comes off in everything from the art style, to the gameplay, to the items you can burn and their descriptions. Oh.. and speaking of which, of course almost the entire premise of the game is to just burn things. Many things. From paper, to toys, to food, to bugs to even miniature planets.
The genius behind the game, though, is that it not only gives you the power to burn shit up, but it structures and drip-feeds the entire process in a way that's hardly the least bit annoying. Because, c'mon, you just wanna set stuff on fire. It can't afford to be annoying.
See, you can't just burn willy nilly if you wanna get anywhere. First, you need coins to buy stuff to burn. Poke a few Unknown-like spiders and they will drop some. Then you may purchase 1 of several available flammables. As you buy newly unlocked items, other new items will unlock. The items you burn will drop more coins. Use those to buy the items you just unlocked.
And so on, and so on. Until you unlock everything within a catalog. Then you have to perform burn "combos". Such as burning a Corn on the Cob and a Television for the Movie Night Combo. 4 combos will unlock the second catalog of items.
This system moves along fast enough on it's own, but once you purchase an item from one of the catalogs, it has to "ship" to your inventory. Smaller items take around 10-15 seconds, with bigger ones taking anywhere from 30 seconds to well over a minute (although you can choose to express ship an item using tickets which also drop occasionally).
Now, you're probably thinking "UGH! You say it isn't annoying, but it all sounds like a hassle. A needless halt to my pyromania!", but it really isn't. There's just something pleasant about burning various objects... but constructively or while gradually opening up more and more possibilities. If I had the freedom to set off the miniature nuke right off the bat, it wouldn't feel quite as satisfying or awesome. I would've probably started with the more interesting items and the surprises would be non-existent. I earn what I burn, but without it feeling like a slow grind to the best stuff. It's all quick enough that it never bothered me.
There's also a story to this sort of burning simulator, wouldn't ya know. A simple enough one, where it's basically colder than Antarctic ice and the only thing keeping you and everyone else warm enough is the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace from the Tomorrow Corporation. Told through notes (although strangely written in real-time) with straightforward dialogue, quirky grammar and off-putting character stills, just like the economy it adds a surprising amount to this incredibly simple game.
It's weird. Just like it's weird to get so much enjoyment out of burning things down to fragile ash. But, that's the way some of us work.
Now, what would probably make all that pretty annoying is repetition. If everything burned the same. There's hardly any real challenge to the game so there needs to be at least a reason to keep burning this or that. And, thankfully, each of most of the items burn a little differently. Whether it's their after effects, how they affect other items, how they explode/burn/sizzle, etc. which when combined with the sheer amount of stuff available, it only gets a teensy boring when you've played for hours at a time.
I'll tell ya, I've had most of my fun just ignoring the story and combos by creating scenes or structures... and then watching them burn up! I set down a boat, a pirate doll on top of the boat and a fire-breathing dinosaur plush to the left of them. Lighting the dinosaur on fire causes him to spew fire from his nose, roasting the boat, causing oil to erupt from it's top, coating the pirate and eventually turning to flames that then roast the pirate. I laughed. And I think I need help.
There are some framerate issues with this edition, but if you're an easily entertained pyromaniac like me, you'll wanna jump on this game ASAP.
Nano Assault Neo
Nintendo consoles now have two sticks, people. So it's time we break them in with a look at the Wii U's only twin-stick shooter (at the time of this blogging), Nano Assault Neo (what the fuck, spellcheck... neo is a word). It's the Wii U's answer to Geometry Wars and Stardust. Or the Wii U's answer to the 3DS's Nano Assault. Either way you look at it, it's got legacy, expectations and comparisons and I'm going to use Geometry Wars/Stardust for comparison, if you don't mind.
Like Geometry Wars, it's got awesome visual flair. Like Stardust, it has power-ups, a visual style not made up entirely of geometric shapes and bosses. Bosses that look really squishy.
What's really awesome about this game, and what makes it unique, is it's stage design. It's got that Stardust perspective, but with crazy hills, turns and stage obstacles. Shooting enemies from atop a hill and having your pellets swoop down the sides never ceases to feel uber topsy-turvy and it'll screw with your mind for a while. But it's great.
The game also has microorganism-inspired assets. Enemies that resemble mites, bacteria and cells. Same goes for the stage designs, which, again, I love. However, there's only so many of them. There really could stand to be one more "cluster" of stages and in playing the mode that I'll probably be playing the most, Survivor, you can get repeats pretty quickly as there's only 12 because they don't include the boss fights.
And speaking of Survivor Mode, I wish they had handled it in a more traditional fashion. Have a set stage, perhaps with randomized enemy spawns. Or, better yet, have a stage completely designed around Survivor. That would've been amazing, what they could've done with that. But, as is, it's just randomized stages (with their usual enemy spawns intact) until you die. I sort of might as well just pick a single stage and go for the high score in that or just play a cluster because that's about as long as I can last at the moment.
But, where the game lacks, it makes up for with it's uniqueness. Yet again, the stage designs are interesting, awesome and occasionally beautiful. And you'll sometimes pick-up (or equip within the mid-stage upgrade shop) extra turrets (although called satellites) that'll help you out which you can actually customize where they are around your ship and even how they arc mid-fight by just touching the Gamepad screen once, making the game pause until you start moving your ship again. It's cool and very intuitive.
At 10 bucks, it's a liiiiittle bit steep for how they handled the mode that'll likely keep you coming back and for how short the campaign is (about an hour+ or so long), but it's still a very competent little twin-stick shooter with some awesome visual concepts.
Here it is. The Wii Sports of the Wii U.
Yet another mini-game collection, is it? Well, yes. But this mini-game collection has managed to hold my interest and keep me playing longer than any of the other Wii U games I have played. This, friends, is why I've saved this one for last. ZombiU's interesting survival horror pleasantness couldn't do it, my reinvigorated love for Mario couldn't push me to play NSMBU enough... that thing from E3 2012 that we all said "... what?" to, has beat them all.
Obviously, you wanna know why.
Coming into it, I would be lying if I said I wasn't expecting to at least have some fun. Nintendo just doesn't make unfun games, IMO. And this game definitely is fun. But, not only that... it's incredibly fun. The kind of fun you'd expect a 5-7 year old express. "Whooaaa.", "Cooool!" and *giggle* are among the various, child-like phrases spewed from my word hole while playing this. I wanna stop typing up this too long of a blog and play some more, but for the sake of JURNALIZM, I must continue.
This mini-game collection succeeds because it tries to be more than just that. Some of these games could house an entire separate experience. More like little adventures than mini-games, the likes of Zelda Battle Quest, Pikman Adventure and Metroid Blast have the meatiest content on display here. Up to 20 or more stages, each lasting anywhere from 2-5+ minutes. With "Mastered" ranks to achieve and Stamps to earn as well, these will take a while to 100% because don't think that those ranks, especially, are easy to get. They are not.
That is also where Nintendo Land surprised me: It's challenge. I still have yet to beat even one of the levels in Donkey Kong's Crash Course, it took me a handful of tries to get the Mastered rank in just the first stage of Pikman Adventure (and I was trying REEEEALLY hard), my brain keeps giving out at the last stage of Octopus Dance and how THE LIVING HELL am I suppose to pass Gate 14 on Yoshi's Fruit Cart?!
Then there are prizes to earn through a neat little Pachinko meta-game, that's played with the coins you earn in the 12 attractions. A whole 200 of them.
This is where the fun of Nintendo Land lies. Not only in it's insane amount of charm, but it's challenge and amount of content/goals. You wanna become a star player for each attaction, you wanna nab all the prizes to make your Nintendo Land Plaza the ULTIMATE of Nintendo Land Plazas and you wanna get every single Mastered rank.
Talking specifically about the games themselves, Zelda Battle Quest is probably my favorite. Playing as either an archer with the Gamepad or a swordsman with the Wii-mote, you will journey through 9 different normal stages and 5 "extra" stages with a Triforce to obtain at the end of each (which kinda sort of really really undermines the concept of the Triforce, but whatever). Played completely on-rails, too. Which is surprisingly a non-issue because it at least does on-rails right.
And it's also not exactly the template for the next core Zelda title.
The controls work very very well. Full 1:1 motion and attacks, all without having to carefully prep each strike like I felt I had to do in Skyward Sword (although you still have to a teensy bit if you wanna make double sure your flurry attacks land precisely).
Steadily introducing new enemies and with some great musical numbers (some, if not all, remixes though), glorious visuals and consistently enjoyable encounters. Only some padding out towards the end to complain about, where bosses and environments are repeated a time too many for my tastes, where I can't justify their existence at all. The final battle with (take a wild guess) Ganon and the extra stages make up for it though.
My other favorite is Captain Falcon's Twister Race. A time trial-centric speed course with you as Mr. Fal-koo Pawnch himself. Holding the Gamepad by it's bottom and top sides controls the steering, with a touch of the screen used for breaking. It's an awesome ride the first few times through, and I have yet to complete the advanced areas. Another game with fantastic visuals and great touches like when things get intense and you're forced into skidding across the very railing of the track or turning sharply which causes road sparks and a shift in handling.
The only one of the 9 mini-games available to me as a single player dude that didn't totally impress me was Octopus Dance. While it still managed to keep me coming back a few times, and I still have the final stage to pass, it feels really dated when compared to stuff like Zelda Battle Quest or Pikman Adventure being merely a match the movements rhythm game similar to the Rhythm Boxing mini-game in Wii Fit but a little more to it.
When it all comes down to it, Nintendo Land is one of the best mini-game collections out there. However, it is still a mini-game collection. You won't get the same kind of enjoyment out of this as you would, say.... a full-blown Zelda or Mario game. It's a time-killer kind of enjoyment. But, an awesome one.
So, get the fuck outta here with the basic edition Wii U. You want the DELUXE. A game with free extended memory space and blank paint job.
That was a lot of freaking typing. I'm tired, I'm shaking, I need to get my ass to get sleep or at least off this laptop.
Dudes, I'd say... get this Wii U when you can. Because it's got something real sweet going with this Gamepad, a pretty damn good launch line-up, still hot, and it's got a pretty awesome future ahead with Bayonetta 2, Pikman 3, Wonderful 101 and... huh. Wasn't Funky Barn supposed to be a launch title?