Wii U Take-Home Impressions: The GamePad Works Like a Dream

I’ve spent about six and a half hours with Wii U so far, and while that may not necessarily sound like much, I’ve had enough time with the GamePad in my hands to deliver some initial take-home impressions of the system, specifically how well the system’s trademark controller – the GamePad – works in practice. If you’re curious to hear about how it handles gameplay, visuals, and being used from another room, you’ll get some answers here.

Hop inside to check out my first impressions of Wii U now that it’s sitting comfortably at home.

Setting Up Wii U

The first thing I noticed when I first started putting my Wii U together: there are lots of cords you need to manage. There’s an AC adapter for the system, HDMI cables (or SD AV/Component cables), and a sensor bar, plus a separate charger for the Wii U GamePad itself. That’s a lot of plugging. While it’s not necessarily a problem, be warned: If you’ve already got a packed entertainment system, Wii U could add to an already twisted mess of wires.

The second thing I noticed – you know, once I plugged everything in and got to power on the system: Wii U takes a long time to set up, at least if you want to activate all of the major features. You’ll have to sync the GamePad, activate its TV Remote feature, configure Internet settings, create a User (which requires you to either create or import a Mii), perform a system update, initially access your Friend List, and create a Nintendo Network ID account before you can tap into the full gambit of services offered at launch. And that’s before you transfer your Wii data.

When all’s said and done, the process will likely take at minimum 1-2 hours, much of that devoted to downloading and installing the system update due to the strong initial demand on Nintendo’s servers. If you’re unlucky like me, your wireless router may cause some trouble for the Internet connection settings, meaning you’ll have to go through and enter in IP and DNS settings manually (see how to do that by clicking here). Performing the Wii transfer process takes about 15-20 minutes on top of that, but is critical if you want to have all your data on your Wii U system.

After that, you should be all set to explore the Wii U menu. I’d recommend creating a Nintendo Network ID and linking it to your User as soon as you can, and then exploring Miiverse. If you have any friends, you can easily register them using the “Friend List” function, which is tucked away in the menu that pops up when you hit the Home button. You won’t need any clumsy Friend Codes – just input their unique Nintendo Network ID, and have them input yours, and you’ll be good to go.

Using the Wii U GamePad

Trevor recently mentioned how much lighter the Wii U GamePad was than he expected, but using it wirelessly in your own home makes it feel even less weighty. It’s easy to hold, all the buttons are within easy reach, and the touch screen works pretty nicely. Though pressing virtual buttons is as easy as tapping the screen with your fingertips, I’d recommend using the stylus for any actions that require you to “slide” along the screen, as it’s much more responsive that way.

The layout of the Wii U Home Menu will be familiar to anyone who’s owned a 3DS: applications are laid out in a grid-like fashion, with different tiles representing each app. You can touch them or manipulate the cursor with the left stick or + Control Pad to select icons, giving users the ability to control the way they want. Below the tiles are icons representing Miiverse, the Nintendo eShop, Internet Browser, Nintendo TVii, and system Notifications, most of which will also appear on the pop-up menu that appears when you hit the Home Button, making them easily accessible no matter where you are in the system. The GamePad makes menu navigation easy, though there are some significant load-times for most of those menus at present.

So far, the non-gameplay function that’s impressed me most is the GamePad’s TV Remote function. It can be easily activated at literally any time, whether you’re browsing a menu, watching TV, playing a game, or even when the system’s powered off, and it’s actually significantly more responsive than the remote that actually came with my TV. This may not be terribly important for gaming applications unless you have a need to turn the volume up or down while playing, but it shows nonetheless that Nintendo’s gone the extra mile to make the GamePad as functional as possible.

Off-TV Play works like a charm – games and menus run smoothly, even when I put a wall between me and my system to play from my bedroom. The graphics aren’t as crisp as the main television screen, likely due to the rapid compression and decompression they have to go through as they get beamed from the Wii U to the GamePad, but given the screen’s smaller size, this doesn’t intrude significantly on the experience. The best part? Absolutely zero latency, at least nothing that I’ve noticed so far.

The GamePad’s relatively short battery life may get in the way of serious play sessions – it only lasts about three hours under heavy use. Bear in mind that by “heavy use,” I mean that my wife and I were playing Zelda: Battle Quest, which uses the gyroscope – playing games that don’t require much in the way of motion control will likely add an hour or two. Fortunately, the included AC adapter actually has a pretty long cord, so as long as the space between you and your wall outlet doesn’t get a lot of heavy traffic, this doesn’t necessarily have to be an inconvenience.

So far, I’m very impressed with the GamePad’s implementation. If there’s any complaint I have, it’s that the different built-in applications sometimes don’t use the buttons and sticks in congruous ways, meaning you have to fiddle a bit to figure out how to get around some of the menus. By and large, the GamePad manages to work pretty dawn well as a TV-connected tablet… while not really feeling like one during actual gameplay. It’s an astounding paradox, but one that Nintendo’s banking on to get people excited about everything that Wii U can do.

I haven’t had much of a chance to play around with most of the online features yet, since by the time I got my wife to surrender the GamePad controller after a lengthy Nintendo Land session Miiverse had gone offline… but I’ll be bringing my impressions of those services as soon as I can.