This Is Not Your Grandma's Nintendo

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The same company that introduced a console six years ago that you could actually play with your grandparents on Christmas morning just reinvented how we play video games, again. Except this time around, grandma might not have such an easy time figuring out how to swing Zelda's sword.

The Nintendo Wii U, most reviewers seem to agree, is awesome. It's so awesome that we don't even know how awesome it could become once game makers actually figure out how to use all of the features they've crammed into the gaming system. (Which is actually a downside for now, but we'll get back to that.) The basics: the Wii U is like a Wii on steroids, with HD graphics, a faster processor and a new entertainment portal called TVii that works kind of like an interactive Nintendo cable box, while also letting you control Netflix and Hulu. The GamePad, the system's innovative new touch screen, camera-enabled controller loaded with built-in speakers, a motion sensor, near-field communication (NFC) capabilities and all the buttons you could ever want, is without a doubt the biggest piece of this proposition. It's basically like someone glued an iPhone onto an XBox controller. It's light enough to hold for five hours at a time and durable enough to drop, a lot. 

The entire Wii U experience revolves around this controller. Like watching election results on CNN and reading Twitter on your iPad, the two-screen experience allows for complementary interfaces during game play, like the ability to see your character on TV and check your inventory, mission objectives, etc. It also drains the battery on the controller in three to five hours. The built-in camera allows you to see other people's faces while you're shooting at them in Halo 4. The GamePad also responds to your movements, and as intimidating as a double-screen, multi-button gaming experience might sound, this is where things start to come full circle and get simple again. So, you know how your grandma would try to move Mario over jumps by tilting the controller to the right? That actually works now.

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Reviewers love the possibilities of the new Wii U and its GamePad. We use the word "possibilities," because everyone seems a little bit disappointed that the games don't take full advantage of all the features. As such, everyone's talking in sort of idealistic terms about the promise of the Wii U. Time's Matt Peckham says, "Whether that’s true or not, the Wii U already feels like a much more robust and fascinating idea, one that shows even more promise, in my opinion, than the Wii did in 2006." The games, so far, don't really take it to the max, though. "First-party titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land capture the company’s signature bright, cartoony style, but come across as high-definition versions of games that would have been possible on the original Wii," says Kyle Orland at Ars Technica. Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner really drives home the point about the less intuitive interface:

One of the reasons the original Wii was so immediately relatable was that its tech-demo-cum-launch-title Wii Sports used such familiar metaphors. You would swing a golf club or baseball bat, or you would roll a bowling ball. Your aunt and uncle could pick up a Wii Remote and immediately have some idea of what to do. The Wii U's demo title, NintendoLand, needs to explain itself a little more. Its incessant tutorials are a pretty apt metaphor for the fact that you're going to need to explain how games work to your mom and dad. It can feel like a step backward in how we interact with video games, especially Nintendo's.

Still think your family can handle the new all-powerful super duper Nintendo? Go ahead and spend the $300 to $350 for a new Wii U. If all else fails, it's evidently great at board games. As it should be, since that's more or less how Nintendo got its start over 120 years ago

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.