I will be completely honest here and say that the real reason I got a Wii U was my fiance wanted one. Not that I wasn't looking forward to seeing what Nintendo had to offer, but I wasn't 100% bought in. Still, I knew it would make him happy, and after some extra prodding by Swankmotron, I found myself in line this morning hours before the store opened to hopefully grab a Wii U. I was actually quite surprised by the lack of crowds, so I easily picked up a system (I was informed they sold out about an hour after I left), Super Mario U and Scribblenauts before heading home and seeing what (hopefully) all the fuss was about. Well, after a solid day of gaming, I can tell you that not only does the Wii U live up to its hype, but it has brought me some of the most fun I've had gaming in years.
First off, if you're reading this and didn't manage to grab one on launch day, I understand that it will be difficult to find any version of the system this holiday season, but if you are lucky enough to have a choice between the basic and deluxe versions, go with the deluxe. For an extra $50, you're getting quadruple the storage space, a charging station for your GamePad, a black system (which blends in much nicer) and the pack in game, NintendoLand, which by itself, retails for $60. Obviously, the deluxe version is the better deal, but if you don't have a choice and really need a Wii U, the basic model will be ok, just be prepared to invest in a hard drive and some other accessories to get it up to par with the deluxe model.
Getting started is incredibly easy; if you've setup a Wii, then you can setup a Wii U, as all the same components are included, with the exception of an HDMI cable, which wasn't included in the original Wii system. As a quick side note, I want to give a shout out to Nintendo for including an HDMI cable, stock, as the others only include component or RCA and ask their customers to purchase one, which is stupid. HDMI cables are the standard and cheap as hell -- throw one in! Once you power everything on and get the GamePad charging (you can use it as it charges), you'll set up a Nintendo account and a user name. Keep in mind, that your account name is NOT what your friends will use to find you in the Wiiverse -- that's the Nintendo account name, so be sure to take note (or just name them the same so you don't mix them up) otherwise your friends will have a hell of a time finding you. Finally, hook your Wii U to your wifi network and start the mandatory update, put the controller down and go out to lunch. Seriously, the initial update takes a good hour or so to run and install, so leave your Wii U alone and go read a book or something until everything is complete.
With that complete, pop in your game, and get going. You may see another notice about an update, but the great thing is, you can start playing your game while the update downloads, and then let it install once you're finished; a GREAT feature that I wish Sony would take note of.
If you were able to get the deluxe version, take my advice and check and see what NintendoLand has to offer before moving onto whatever game you may have purchased as well, because NintendoLand does an amazing job at getting you familiar with the new GamePad and what the Wii U can do. I honestly spent a good 5 hours today going through all the different mini games and multiplayer action there is here. Whether you're looking for racing, hack and slash action, ghost hunting or a dancing game, it can be found in this game. What's also amazing is that each player will experience the games differently depending on their role and device they are using, and there really isn't a drawback to using a GamePad over a Wiimote -- they're just different ways of enjoying the same game. For instance, in Luigi's Mansion, the players with Wiimotes are searching the different floors of the mansion looking to capture the ghost with their flashlights while the ghost is controlled by the player with the GamePad who needs to sneak up and scare the other players. What's fun here is that the ghost hunters are playing on the television where the ghost is hidden (unless illuminated by a flashlight or flash of lightning through an open window) while the ghost player is fully focused on the GamePad where they can see all that is going on and are doing their best to avoid any and all light that's not always obvious from their point of view. This may sound silly, but there is a very visceral satisfaction to sneaking up on a ghost hunter and literally making the gamer controlling them jump because you popped up on screen where they weren't looking. My fiance and I played this one for a good hour before we went looking for other games, and not because we were bored, but because we realized we had a lot more ground to cover.
It was around this time that some people wanted to watch some football, and the Wii U made sure we could keep playing games while letting everyone else watch TV at the same time.
I put in Super Mario U (review to follow), and we switched the channel over to cable, and wouldn't you know it, I was able to keep playing Mario on the GamePad screen while everyone else was able to watch football; it was the first time in my life that I could continue playing a console game while the tv was in use for something else, and as basic as the idea sounds, it blew me away. The concept seems so basic and simple, it's almost mind boggling that no one has put it into effect before (yes, I know the Vita has a similar aspect, but it's not the same as the Wii U), but here it is and executed perfectly.
Alas, I did run into the problem that shortly after switching to playing soley on the GamePad, I was alerted that the battery life was low and needed charging, and herein lies the main problem with the Wii U -- crappy battery life in the controller. Sure, you can play it plugged in, but the 6 inch touch screen tablet that's built in gives it abysmal battery life and is the only gripe I have about the system so far. It's far from a deal breaker, but with tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire getting hours upon hours of battery, it seems silly that a much smaller tablet would require such frequent charging.
I did play around with Scribblenauts for a bit, and while it was great fun to see this wonderfully imaginative game being projected in full HD on a big screen, it was more for the enjoyment of the spectators, as the main player will find themselves focused on what's taking place on the GamePad since that's where they will be typing in all the information the game needs to work.
In closing, the Wii U really does stand out as the next gen system, and that is fully due to the second screen aspect of the GamePad. Sure, the graphics themselves are only on par with the XBox and PS3, and maybe the GamePad really isn't used to it's fullest extent, thus far, when games DO take advantage of what it can do, the results are stunning, and will make gamers go back again and again to see what else the system has to offer -- and this is only my impression after a day's worth of gameplay.
Simply put, if you love games, and you get the chance to pick up a Wii U, do so without hesitation. It's not gonna make your jaw drop, but it will give you more enjoyment than you've had with a video game in a long time.