One of the most common criticisms leveled at Nintendo's Wii U is that it's "not next gen." Whereas the successors to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will inevitably compete with each other to see who can make your retinas bleed from their graphical prowess, Nintendo have instead opted to go down a different route with the Wii U and, although they have finally made the leap to high definition, this isn't their focus.
Interestingly, for a community that so frequently goes up in arms over developers favouring graphics over gameplay, when it was revealed that the majority of the Wii U's launch titles would be displayed in the standard 720p and not the 1080p that had initially been reported, many gamers immediately jumped onto the nearest soapbox to preemptively pledge their allegiance to Sony and Microsoft, who would no doubt produce TRUE next gen consoles that, when you jammed your knife into the neck of a nameless ethnic minority in Military War Shooter #276, would have such realistic visuals that you would almost be able to smell the blood pouring from out of his/her body.
But Nintendo makes consoles for little baby girlies, so rather than simply making their new console more beautifulerer, they only went and turned it into a bloody toy by smacking a screen right in the middle of their controller. Oh, how the gaming community laughed and laughed – first motion-controllers and standard definition graphics, and now a useless half-hearted tablet. Were Nintendo intentionally trying to hammer the nails into their own coffin?
If you'd paid attention to their misguided advertising campaign, then your answer would've been a resounding "yes." Much like the Wii before it, the Wii U's myriad of commercials revolved around one concept: show an eerily disjointed family pretending to enjoy the new console in a sitcom living room. Of course, the key problem with this concept is that we are all humans and will therefore notice when someone is being distinctly inhuman, meaning that the actors hired to pretend to be part of a loving family instead come across as weird extra-terrestrials, hopelessly attempting to mimic our behaviour in order to gain our trust before eventually enslaving us using mind-controlling parasites.
But Nintendo's attempts to make their console appear as unappealing as possible to anyone with pubic hair didn't sway me from being excited by the prospect of finally getting my hands on a Wii U, and now that I finally have one, I can confirm that it's not as bad as its detractors would lead you to believe. In fact, it's not bad at all. It's good. Really good. Really, really good.
The Wii U is the first time you experienced 'Mode 7' in F-Zero. It's the first time you whizzed through Green Hill Zone with Sonic. It's the first time you hopped onto Yoshi's back. It's the first time you triple-jumped in the grounds of Princess Peach's Castle. It's a joyous piece of hardware but the constant, seemingly effortless advancement of technology has made us complacent, so much so that all we hope for in a new console is improved graphics and a more compact exterior. With the Wii U, Nintendo have yet again given us a console that no one asked for, but unlike the original Wii, its greatness and accessibility will be lost upon the average consumer by virtue of its practically unexplainable concept.
The Wii's concept could be summarised in a solitary paragraph. The controller was anything the game required it to be – a tennis racket, a baseball bat, a gun – and after you understood that, deciphering how it would be used in certain games was easy. In The Legend of Zelda, it would become a sword; in Call of Duty, it would become an AK47; and in New Super Mario Bros., it would become a standard controller when flipped horizontally.
However, with the Wii U the rules change depending upon which game you are playing. In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, the Gamepad's screen acts as little more than a map and it is almost completely devoid of touchscreen functionality. In the upcoming Rayman Legends, however, the Gamepad's screen is an integral part to the completion of the game, with the player being able to control a sidekick that will help defeat enemies/move platforms that are requirements for the player's progression. This continuous rewriting of the rulebook is exciting in practise, but has ultimately led to the same question being asked over and over again – "what exactly is the Wii U?"
Eventually, and I am certain of this, almost everyone will be able to answer that question. Since the Wii U floated into my life on a wave of convoluted optimism, I've rarely turned it off. I use it to change channels thanks to its functionality as a television remote, I use it to browse Netflix, I use it to watch YouTube videos and I can even play New Super Mario Bros. U using the Gamepad's screen while my girlfriend watches some ol' crap on the TV. Unlike the Wii, which was almost exclusively used on Christmas Day, the Wii U is swiftly becoming my most-used console. Ignore the critics and the "disappointing" sales figures. If you know someone who owns a Wii U, try it for yourself, then attempt to resist the urge to rush out and buy it. The Wii U is NOT the beginning of the end for Nintendo. It's their future.
Paul Tamburro is the UK Editor of Crave Online. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro.