Wii U Impressions

New Super Mario Bros U Gameplay 3 I finally got my hands on a Wii U the other night. It’s not my Wii U, it’s a friend’s. We were out having a few drinks and he was gushing about how much he loved his new Wii U. Being that I’m actually a bigger game nerd than he is, he couldn’t believe that I hadn’t bought one yet. I explained to him that while I know I’ll eventually get a Wii U, at launch, there weren’t any games that I just had to play.

The Hardware

Buttons and Sticks

When I first picked up the massive Wii U gamepad, I was surprised at how comfortable it felt in my hands. It reminded me of the first time I picked up a Gamecube controller, which I still believe is the most comfortable controller ever made. The grips feel great and the sticks feel tight, but I’m not a fan of having the right stick where most controllers put the buttons. It’s gonna be really weird having to reach down to hit buttons. Having the right stick down there works because you’re not required to be precise in hitting a specific target. You just drop your thumb down and then pull the whole thing in a certain direction. Button presses require a little bit more precision, and I have a feeling that I’m going to wind up hitting the wrong button far too often.

A Tale of Two Screens

The Wii U’s biggest selling point is its crazy controller, right? It’s got a massive screen that, while not Retina quality, looks really good. It’s not a mandatory feature amongst Wii U games, but a lot of them will let you play what had been playing on your TV on the controller. It’s really neat, but when I was trying to play Mario on it, I felt like Mario was too small. On the TV, Mario is perfectly big enough to see and control, but on the controller, he’s too small. The controller mirrors the TV’s proportions. A true portable game like the 3DS Marios don’t have such a large background with just a tiny little Mario. Mario on Wii U would be better on the controller if it could scale to how a 3DS Mario game would look, but that’s probably asking too much and it’s probably never going to happen.

There are other uses for the screen other than mirroring, thankfully. Nintendo Land has you using the screen to initiate throwing ninja stars and Arkham City lets you use your inventory (from what I hear). RPG and Metal Gear games where you have large inventories would benefit from the screen’s capabilities. Quick access to interactive maps could also prove rather useful.

Software

The Flucking Menus

The interface for the Wii U is very DS-like. The screen on the gamepad has a bunch of icons similar to those on the DS and that’s fine. What’s not fine is the 20 seconds it takes to return to the main menu anytime you go anywhere else!

A Lack of Games

The Wii U isn’t exactly overflowing with games. The two games I was able to play were Wii U-only, but a lot of the games are Wii U-enhanced ports of 360 and PS3 games from earlier this year or in Batman’s case, last year. As much as I like and want the hardware, the software just doesn’t compel me to buy it.

Japan Lost Me

Binary domain

It’s been a long, slow process, but Japanese games finally lost me as a fan. Not that I don’t like any Japanese games, but on the whole, most of what I consume (game-wise) is developed in the West. I was a huge fan of Japanese games. It was largely what got me interested in learning Japanese in the first place. It started when I got an HDTV in the fall of 2010. Suddenly, I wanted everything to be HD. My Wii and PS2 look awful on my 46″ TV and I just stuck with my PS3 (and later 360 as well). Then, I changed jobs and my previously long commute was halved, I got a Kindle and playing games on the train became less appealing. So, now that I wasn’t playing portable games (where most Japanese games are developed for), and because Japan’s console offerings are pretty paltry past PS2, the only source of HD gaming I had was Western games. And it turns out, Western games hit the sweet spot for me now the way Japanese games used to. Huge RPGs like Mass Effect gave me a whole universe to explore and after years of shying away from shooters (because I had difficulty with them) I gave the Gears of War games a run through and even finished a couple first-person shooters as well. Turns out, I’m not as bad at them as I thought, and online co-op helps with the difficulty (and it most cases, allows me to play at higher difficulty levels without getting frustrated with the game.)

The one shining hope Japan had (for me, at least) was the Ryu Ga Gotoku (Yakuza) series. I loved the series all the way through 4, but 2011′s Of The End finally lost me. The engine was never good with guns, and they made the combat in the game all about guns. The exploration and side-questing that made the previous games so much fun became annoying because no matter where you went hordes of zombies followed you and the terrible shooting mechanics made it a pain in the ass to fight them off. They did everything they could to ruin that game. They are going to be putting out a Ryu Ga Gotoku 5 someday (2013, I’d imagine) and I’m glad they’re taking some time off from the series. Three consecutive yearly releases finally ruined the quality of the series. (Assassin’s Creed, I’m looking at you too. But AC: Revelations was nowhere near as bad as Of The End.)

So what’s the Ryu Ga Gotoku team’s answer to a poorly made zombie shooter? Another crappy shooter. Binary Domain isn’t what the gaming press would call “AAA”. It’s barely a “B”. I played Binary Domain at TGS 2011, and while it handles better than Of The End, Gears of War it ain’t. It’s a third person shooter where Japanese stereotypes of foreigners run around Tokyo in the future killing robots (because shooting people or even aliens would be too violent for delicate Japanese sensibilities.) Also, Binary Domain is a squad-based shooter and while they included 4-player online co-op, the co-op exists only for separate non-story missions. Because like most Japanese game companies, every step forward has to come with another step backwards.

Noise Entertainment System for iPhone

Screen Shot 2011 09 08 at 5 08 13 PM

Shaun Inman has been on a roll as of late. I bagged on the guy for a lot of niggling little things in the past, but he’s put out one great thing after another as of late. While he still hasn’t produce an iPhone app for Fever, he’s improved the web interface for both desktop and iPhone browsers. He even added a couple little things for the iPad version of Safari too. I’m a newcomer to Mint so the greatness of that is new to me as well. Then a few weeks ago, he put out The Last Rocket. It’s a nifty little iOS action puzzler that, while a little buggy in the controls department, looks sharp and has great sound design. I knew Inman was crazy for retro game music, but I didn’t know how far his love went.

I don’t know how I didn’t manage to comes across it earlier than I did, but Inman released an NES/Game Boy sound file player called Noise Entertainment System for iPhone. It lets you load the app up with NES and Game Boy sound files through iTunes file sharing. Some sort of way to add files from Dropbox directly through the app would be nice as well, but for keeping things simple, it works fine as is.

Screen Shot 2011 09 08 at 5 08 28 PM

NES apes the built-in iPod well. You can browse by title, album, system, composer and year (according to each file’s metadata). When playing an NES sound file, the theme of the app reflects the system of which it is emulating. Better yet, when playing a Game Boy sound file, the theme of the player shifts to something GB-looking as well! It’s very clever and it put a smile on my face.

If you have old game music you want to keep on your iOS device and don’t want to convert them all over to mp3 or wav files, Noise Entertainment System is a great player for them. You can get it on the App Store for $1.99.

Interesting Links: July 28, 2011

A primer for converting Markdown files into Microsoft Office-readable files.

I’d rather not see hashtags take off on G+.

The hashtag was invented by Chris Messina only three years ago. So far, its power has been limited to Twitter. But I see an opportunity to expand its use and its empowerment the more it is supported on other platforms. When Google+ finally gets search and when it releases its API, it would be wonderful to see it enable users to easily enter tags and cluster conversations around them. There’s an opportunity to use tag data to learn more about the topicality of conversations and content all around the net, on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, maybe Facebook. There’s our chance to limit the power of these silos.

I’m right there with you guys.

This is why console games are easier and more widely played compared to PC games.

Well, that’s pretty nice of Nintendo.