Christmas has come and gone, as it tends to do thanks to the cyclical nature of time. Santa was kind to my children this year, dropping down the chimney into our furnace and emerging from the boiler to drop a Wii U beneath the shiny plastic Christmas tree. When you're four and eight, Santa is the maker of dreams, and they gleefully thanked him (because he is all-knowing and all-hearing) and I got none of the credit. Of course, I'm not upset by this. My wife and I have chosen to perpetuate the myth that a magical fat man who eats cookies exclusively breaks into our house and leaves gifts. But if only the kids knew what I had to struggle with to make their Christmas truly special (despite what TV and movies have taught us, the true spirit of Christmas really is just getting presents).I pre-ordered the Wii U the day pre-orders went live. It showed up at my house in a nondescript box on the day it released. From there, it was scurried away into a spider-hole just south of Tikrit. Security was very high, you see. And then it tortured me with its very existence until just before Christmas, when I surgically extracted it from its packaging long enough to hook it up and do the day-one system update. And then the magical moment on Christmas morning, when the little tikes tore into it and freaked out with blissful joy. That was all due to my wife and me. But we let Santa take the credit, because kids still have an idea that life is mostly fun and presents.
So now I have a Wii U in my house, only a few months after everyone else who wanted one was posting to Twitter about how much fun New Super Mario Bros. U is. It IS fun, by the way. A whole lot of fun. But I'd like to take a moment to talk about my impressions of the console itself. First of all, it's an HD system. FINALLY. Geez Nintendo, only a few years late on that one. It should be noted that it is ONLY an HD system. Unlike Xbox and PS3 (sort of), there is no way to play on a standard definition television. Which is fine, because HDTVs are pretty inexpensive. It also hooks up with a standard HDMI cable, which is pretty great. I hate proprietary AV connectors, and HDMI cables are so cheap these days that I use them as tie-downs when I'm hauling stuff in my truck (which is often). There's an HDMI cable right there in the box, regardless of whether or not you bought the Deluxe SKU or the cheaper, sadder version for dumb babies, the Basic. I am very excited about this one stupid little inclusion. Can you tell? I can't shut up about it!
The console itself is longer than the original Wii, but roughly the same size otherwise. There's a sensor bar, just like the old Wii, and it has the same tiny, thousand-foot long wiring that gets wrapped around everything else in your entertainment center. You only need it for playing Wii games and Wii U games that require the Wii controller. Otherwise, you can just use the super awesome touchscreen gamepad that I am in love with. When I initially saw a photo of the gamepad, I thought to myself "There is no way that thing is going to be comfortable to use for any period of time." Some of you might remember the original Xbox controllers and how playing with them for more than a few minutes in a time turned you into a Canadian lobster baby. But I have to say, the controller feels really nice. It's quite light and fits into my hands well. My kids have no problems using it, other than my insistence that they wash and dry their hands completely before going near it. I've seen what they do to other controllers, and their 3DSes are covered in a scaly layer of filth that I gave up on cleaning, so I am protecting them from themselves with the Wii U gamepad. Plus, stand-alone gamepads won't be available until June and then they'll be well over $100 each, so if the kids break it I'll be so upset. Like, time-outs forever.
The gamepad is great for many reasons. Firstly, you can just shut the television off and use the gamepad to play your games. If my wife wants to watch something on TV, she no longer has to sit in the living room, bored and angry, while I bogart the tube with my expensive hobby. She can watch her stories and I can wile away the hours in my own world of fantasy and joy. Secondly, the controller works as a television remote. Setting it up took about three seconds, and now I can run my TV and cable box directly from the gamepad, which is awesome because I am always searching for the lost remotes in a tumultuous sea of couch cushions. It comes with a stylus, so you can draw little pictures and share them with the Miiverse, Nintendo's foray into social networking. The graphics on the gamepad look better than they do on my budget HDTV, and touch seems very responsive. There's no multi-touch, which everyone everywhere is obligated to mention, but I don't really care, personally. Well, except when I find myself trying to zoom in or out on something using the iOS pinch/reverse-pinch.
Maybe it's just the pleasant shock of seeing Mario in high definition that's making me all gooshy inside, but I'm really happy with the Wii U. It continues doing the things that made Wii a success, but it significantly improves on the Wii's shortcomings. It has games for grown-ups, which is a plus, and it's a next-gen system! Finally, we're starting the next generation. I feel like Wii U is going to be the best value going when the next Xbox and PS4 are released. It will also be the least-powerful, but Nintendo always manages to pair great games with their hardware. Most of my favorite gaming memories involve a Nintendo game, and Wii U will likely be no exception.
If you're thinking about getting one but worry it will collect dust like your original Wii eventually did, I don't think that will be the case this time around. The ports of multi-console games look arguably better on the Wii U than the other two consoles and play just the same. The eShop is on the Wii U and you can download many, many games. Not just indies or download-only games, either, but full-on retail games DAY ONE.
So go get one, hater.