I'm partially writing in the abstract. I don't know what the Wii U will cost. I don't know exactly how powerful it is (though I've tried to report my way to some answers). I won't ever need the Wii U to be my only gaming console, because I make enough money and, thanks to my job, I can assume I'll always be able to have as many different consoles as I want.
I can't tell you if Nintendo will go out of business because the Wii U is a wreck, nor can I tell you that this will elevate them to Wii-like dominance again.
I have no idea, really, and part of me just doesn't care.
Part of me just likes to pick up a new controller and have fun. That part of me has had four or five cracks at the WIi U in the last year and, while I haven't loved every bit of it, I've generally been happy.
I want a Wii U. Why?
Let's go back to the first time I played the system back at E3 2011. That was the first time I ever played a video game on my TV that let me have my fingers on buttons but also reach to a touch panel to tap out a few more commands. Nintendo had me playing a demo of Super Mario Bros. on it, which I didn't really care about. I like Mario side-scrollers, but I don't anticipate them. They're no Metroid or Assassin's Creed, not in my world. But the very first time I played Mario on the Wii U, I played it entirely on the controller's screen.
A week or so later, I was playing a video game at home and I felt guilty that I was hogging the TV while my wife wanted to watch a show. The Wii U would solve this problem, I figured. That made me want a Wii U.
A year later, I figured out that all Wii U games will not support this kind of off-screen play, but even if just a few do, I'll take it. I could never get my PSP to remotely play my PS3 games anyway. At least with Wii U, I'll have a shot at that kind of thing working.
So, point 1:
I can enjoy a console that lets me play some of its games on its controller.
The Wii U controller looked silly at first glance. It seemed really wide and hard to handle. It's not. It's light. It's even better now that it has analogue sticks. And, so far, I haven't even run into a problem with the lack of multi-touch, because I haven't seen anyone program a game that needed it. Maybe it's holding it back, but I'm not one to judge what's not there when I have so much to judge regarding what is there.
A year after I first saw the Wii U, I got a private demo of what would presumably be "launch window" games for the system from some top Nintendo people. I was… mostly disappointed. Nintendo Land seemed simplistic in the wrong way, reducing classic Nintendo franchises to trifling mini-games. There was a cool multiplayer Zelda one, but, really? Flagship game? No way. At this same meeting, I played a slightly evolved version of that Mario side-scroller. It still didn't do much for me.
As this year's E3 rolled on, I heard good things about Wii U games like ZombiU and Rayman Legends, and I even got a decent couple of minutes in with Pikmin 3, a sequel to a series I like a lot.
The Pikmin game was a strange one, because, well, I love Pikmin gameplay — I love essentially controlling an ant-swarm of little flower-topped color-coded alien guys or whatever they are — but there was nothing to the game that felt like it needed the Wii U to exist. Sure, they show an overhead view of the game world on the Wii U GamePad's screen, but they could have just as easily put that map on a corner of my TV screen. It might have even been better there. So what good is the Wii U?
Let's be honest: The Wii U is a tax on playing Nintendo-made games that some of us are willing to pay.
I guess there's some scenario that could have made Nintendo a third-party studio and put Pikmin 3 on the Xbox 360. The Wii Remote/Nunchuk controls in the new game are pretty good (I played the game again this week and promise you they're good!), but, sure, they could have mapped this to a 360 controller somehow.
That's just not Nintendo's way, and I've played enough of their games to know that, if Nintendo makes their stuff best when they know the hardware cold, then I will buy their hardware to play their games.
A couple of times this month, I got to try Nintendo Land again. And then, earlier this week, I played the Wii U version of Batman: Arkham City. Sorry, WB Montreal, but your Batman game is not benefitting from the Wii U. And I'm even more sorry to say that I now consider it to be the bad Wii U game I've played that makes the good ones stand out.
What does the Wii U give Batman? An unnecessary nudge to players that they should sometimes stop looking at their TV and instead scan for clues on the GamePad screen. Not a bad idea if the TV and GamePad weren't essentially still showing the exact same scene, the main difference being that there's a hey-look-at-your-GamePad icon over the graphics on the TV. I'd rather keep looking at my TV, thank you very much. It worked when I played this game on the Xbox 360.
Really, what does Arkham City gain by making me pilot Batman's batarangs by staring at the GamePad screen's copy of the graphics and tilting the controller all around the room I'm standing in? It's no good.
Compare this to my experience with Nintendo Land which has been more and more joyful, each time I play it. The best games in Nintendo Land are the multiplayer ones, the ones that put my experience on the GamePad and all of yours (all four of you!) on the TV. I can be sitting in the same room as you, cackling as I hunt you all down as a ghost in a Luigi game while you each shout to each other about where you think I'm lurking. Or I can be playing on the TV in an Animal Crossing game, running around trying to collect candy in a four-player splitscreen game while the person with the GamePad is hunting us all down. These mini-games, or whatever you want to call them, are easy to learn and a delight to play. Would I get a Wii U just for Nintendo Land? Probably not. But am I glad there's a system that will soon exist that does this kind of thing? Yes.
So, point 3:
The Wii U does cool things other systems don't and that' just about all I need.
I admit that I have an innovation bias. I like new games and systems that do new things. I will pay for experiments and weird stuff. (I bought Cubivore and liked it.) And I'm not convinced that an iPad-TV combo nor the Xbox 360's SmartGlass tech can replicate the kind of no-lag connection between TV images and GamePad images that I've repeatedly experienced with Wii U. SmartGlass has to stream its graphics to my phone or laptop over an Internet connection. I don't think that's going to beat what the Wii U is custom made to do.
The thing that got me excited this week was playing Project P-100, the Wii U exclusive from the makers of Bayonetta and Viewtiful Joe. Now, this was a game seemingly made just for the Wii U that is wonderful in every way I would want it to be wonderful: 1) it plays well; 2) it looks great; 3) it feels new.
We've run a video of the game's E3 demo, so you can just watch how the multi-character brawler works.
You control a flock of super-heroes who beat up giant robots. Fine with me. What you can't see as well in our video is how well it controls. We get a combo of button and stick commands, plus the player is asked to draw simple shapes on the screen to activate special attacks. I'm sure that those special attacks could have been mapped to button combinations. I'm sure it is, to some extent, just a gimmick to make the powers touch-activated. But it felt really comfortable to activate one with a quick circle of my finger, one with a straight swipe and one with an upside-down-L. I kept my eyes on the TV, lifted my left hand to swipe the command onto the screen, and then kept beating up the giant robots. It was a nice bonus that the GamePad screen was showing a futuristic computer-screen display. That reminded me that the controller is going to be able to look different from game to game, which I think is fantastic.
Oh, and, just like you could in that old GameCube-GameBoy Zelda game, sometimes when your character goes inside a room, you will play through the indoors parts on your controller screen (the TV shows the exterior of the building, which, if you watch the video I linked above, allows for some clever puzzle gameplay.)
We're several months away from the Wii U's late-2012 launch, and the fact is that some of the games may be stinkers. I have low expectations for the new Game & Wario, for example, because I don't want Wario mini-games. I want Wario micro-games.
I can say, however, that I've played some very fun games on the Wii U.
I should make that point 4:
I've played some very fun games on the Wii U.
That's enough for me. People can laugh at Nintendo. They can say they're doomed. Maybe they are. The part of me that likes playing games can simply tell you that there's some fun stuff on the Wii U. I've played it already. And I can tell you that the controller feels good, that games on the system can have great graphics and that Nintendo is making at least one party-pleaser in Nintendo Land.
I won't be able to tell you whether a Wii U is worth buying until way closer to the machine's launch. But I think anyone would enjoy playing it. I think it's good. I could be the only one. I could be one of 100 million. We'll find out, but I figured it was my duty to let you know: I've played this thing a whole bunch of times and I want to play it again.
(Caveat: the calibration thing is still a mess and Wii U developers would be well-served not making any mini-games or modes that require you to point the side of the GamePad at the TV like it's a Wii Remote. It doesn't have the sensor to make that work. It forces way too much manual re-calibration. Wii U devs, kill this practice. Please.)