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Wii U: The launch verdict

Nintendo's new console aims to satisfy every audience - but is it worth purchasing before Christmas?

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The Wii U's interface is, at launch, a mixed bag, with crisp touch-friendly menus proving simple to use, if occasionally a bit confusing and sluggish.

Loading up the console displays an interface that will be familiar to any owner of the original Wii or Nintendo 3DS; on the GamePad three rows of five icons are displayed, from which you can load applications or boot up whichever game is in the disc dive.

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Four further screens of icons can be filled with content and navigated using either touch screen or physical controls. It's clean, simple and works well with the GamePad's smaller screen.

Below the main icon list are five smaller online app buttons; Miiverse, eShop, the web browser and notifications, with Friends List and Wii Chat accessible via the GamePad. The whole online suite of applications is nicely integrated into the OS and each is easily accessible at any time via the GamePad's home menu, much like the Xbox 360's Guide.

At launch some of the Wii U menus can be a bit confusing to navigate - it took us 15 minutes to work out how to send a friend request - and sluggish loading is a problem, but it's still a delight to see Nintendo attempting something encompassing an integrated online platform.

Even at launch Wii U's online offering is a significant improvement over its predecessor - but we all know that isn't saying much.

The first bit of good news is the death of friend codes; instead of messing around with annoying digits, on Wii U players can register their own Nintendo Network ID and track down friends' Miis that way. It's miles better than the restrictive and confusing system offered by the original Wii, and should finally see some truly excellent online offerings on a Nintendo platform (Black Ops 2 is already available).


Miiverse

The Miiverse is an expanded online hub for Mii avatars. Players can make friends, follow others, post drawings and messages, and publish screen shots. In the near future, the Miiverse can also be accessed via browsers on PCs, smartphones and - in theory - other console browsers.

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Miiverse is the most unique proposition of Nintendo's online offering, which is a sort of built-in message board for Wii U owners to discuss games and leave stylus drawings. 'Topics' are separated in to different Wii U titles and you can also sort posts by region.

At launch Nintendo's doing a remarkable job of moderating the Miiverse; since the EU online patch went live this Thursday we genuinely haven't seen a single penis doodle, and anyone trying to post game spoilers will have their message swiftly blocked from those who choose not to see that content.

In the long term this could result in a more restrictive and censored service than even Xbox Live, but for the time being it's a delightful social hub that should please the core audience.

Miiverse can be accessed in-game via the GamePad and can be fully integrated into titles that support it. New Super Mario Bros. U for example allows players to leave messages on the world map after they've either failed several times on a level, or completely nailed it.

In this particular title you can choose to display global Miiverse posts or just your friends' messages. Combined with the established Mii system the latter is a welcome method of transforming a single player experience into a really great social one.


TVii

Only available in the US in 2012, this custom service for the Wii U provides access to a comprehensive level of TV services. Users can access Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon TV streams, as well as live TV, and even access their Tivo player.

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Perhaps just as surprising as Nintendo's online u-turn is Wii U's positioning as an entertainment hub. The Nintendo TVii service has been confirmed for Europe - but it won't launch until next year. In the meantime users can get their video fix from individual service apps such as Netflix and eventually LoveFilm.

The former can display video content on either the television of the GamePad. The interface feels excellent on the touch screen, while the ability to watch content on the GamePad while the television is used for something else is another big plus point - if the battery lasts long enough.

With the 'TV' button on the GamePad able to change the channel and source of your TV or satellite receiver, Nintendo certainly sees Wii U as the new center of living room entertainment.

Until the TVii service eventually launches launches in the UK, we're not yet convinced that dream will become a reality, as its current entertainment offerings are a bit flat and not up to par with that of Xbox Live and PSN.


Launch Verdict

Who - if anyone - should you buy a Wii U for this Christmas? Yourself, or your family?

As we've come to expect from every Nintendo console, the Wii U delivers something different. The GamePad might not be as revolutionary as the Wii Remote, but it's still a fascinating peripheral with a chance to again disrupt the gaming landscape.

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The controller has at its disposal an embarrassment of tools with the potential to, we're sure, deliver incredible gaming experiences. The NFS reader for example is still totally unused, and no launch title truly masters "asymmetrical gameplay" outside of multiplayer.

On day-one those incredible experiences aren't quite there - and Nintendo needs them to convince either core or casual audiences.

The launch line-up is comprised of more than a few great games, but unless the concept of HD Mario puts butterflies in your stomach, none are truly worth purchasing an expensive Premium system for.

At launch, the GamePad is ultimately a complimentary feature for core titles, rather than the game-changing input it could eventually become.

Nintendo Land and Tank! Tank! Tank! Will entertain your family on boozy Christmas nights just as Wii Sports did, but the price and confused messaging will - for now at least - likely keep them from purchasing one for themselves.

Wii U's ability as an entertainment hub too isn't yet at full strength, with the promising TVii service on the horizon and few apps available.

Nintendo's gamble is yet to pay off then - but it hasn't failed either. With time Wii U has the ability to evolve into a truly unique platform, but it could just as easily be left outdated and unexploited once the next-gen rivals arrive.

If you've already decided to become an early adopter then you're unlikely to be disappointed. For Xbox 360 and PS3 owners peeking suspiciously over the fence, Wii U's yet to do enough to ignite another revolution.

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