The Wii U is an odd bird. Its central conceit – that players interact with both the screen on their television set and the screen on the Wii U GamePad – has been tough for many to wrap their heads around, ever since its official unveiling. Now that it's here, well – it's still a bit perplexing, but it's also clearly another platform for Nintendo's trademark magic: a multiplayer, family-friendly console that provides tons of fun, right out of the box.
As the company's first-ever HD console, the Wii U is compatible with virtually any HD display (an HDMI cable is included in the box). Finally seeing Mario and his illustrious colleagues in razor-sharp HD is fantastic. While the graphical quality of the Wii U software is no generational leap past the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, that's par for the Nintendo course.
As a piece of technology, the Wii U GamePad is also unlikely to impress jaded eyes. But while it runs at a lower resolution than the mobile devices that surround us, Nintendo has succeeded at the seemingly cumbersome merger of tablet and game controller. It's just the right size and weight, and features all the modern niceties: an accelerometer, gyroscope, camera, dual analog sticks, and built-in mic. The console is also compatible with the Wii Remote Plus, Nunchuk, Balance Board, and Pro Controller.
All this connectivity is key, because the console is essentially a triumph in four-versus-one "asymmetrical" multiplayer design. Take, for instance, 'Luigi's Ghost Mansion,' one of the 12 mini-games included in 'NintendoLand.' Up to four players, using Wii Remotes and Nunchuk controllers, try to find a ghost in a maze, and weaken it by shining their flashlight at it. The ghost, meanwhile, is controlled by the player using the GamePad, and remains invisible to the remaining players, as long as it avoids their flashlights. The cooperation required to catch the ghost is utterly unique, and reinforces the fact that nobody does local multiplayer fun better than Nintendo.
The GamePad can also function as a standalone screen, as long as you're in the same room as the console. If you're playing a game and someone wants to watch television, simply detach from the set and continue on the GamePad. Oh, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that the launch games to get are the aforementioned 'NintendoLand' (which comes with the Wii U Deluxe Set), as well as 'New Super Mario Bros. U' and Ubisoft's spooky 'ZombiU.' All of them make fantastic use of the console's unique attributes and, for better or worse, will have everyone on your block itching for a go. [$300, Basic; $350, Deluxe; nintendo.com]