Wii U

The Wii U's screen-equipped controller is a joy to use, but can it sell the entire platform? Photo: AFP

Midnight tonight will be when the Australian public gets their hands on Nintendo's new Wii U console for the first time, with most turning up during the day tomorrow to buy it (though they may be disappointed - many retailers are already sold out). I have been lucky enough to have had early access to a Wii U for the past few days, along with some launch day games.

Here are my first impressions and highlights.

The hardware

I must admit to feeling a little let down by the Wii U's graphical performances. I loaded up several cross-platform games that I have previously played on other machines, and the results were disappointingly mixed.

One of the best looking is Darksiders II, which does not appear to have lost any graphical fidelity at all. Not so fortunate is Mass Effect 3, in which the characters all look far less life-like than in other versions. Finally there is Batman: Arkham City, which not only looks worse, but also suffers from some occasional frame rate drops.

The main problem I have with the Wii U's visuals is the lack of anti-aliasing. Aliasing is the "jaggy" effect you see on diagonal lines when they are shown on a TV screen or monitor. Anti-aliasing is a graphics technology that smooths out these jaggy lines, to give a more natural appearance. Wii U titles, or at least the cross-platform ones, don't appear to have any anti-aliasing at all, and the picture quality suffers for it.

As expected, the prettiest games on show are Nintendo's first party titles. Mario has never looked as good as he does in New Super Mario Bros U, the first Mario game ever presented in high-definition. This new Mario Bros title looks extremely polished, and it seems that being in-house at Nintendo can help a game studio to master the new technology.

Even minigame collection Nintendo Land looks good. Granted, it never displays anything too taxing on the hardware, but it always looks smooth and shiny.

I worry that the Wii U is still too underpowered to be much good as a platform for "core" gamers, but I have some hope that developers will get the hang of the new chipset and start producing better-looking games.

My other issue is loading times. Every game I played on the Wii U took an inordinately long time to load, and even travelling between Wii U system menus can take far too long. For example, opening the options page from the main menu takes a good 30 seconds or so to load. I hope this is addressed in a system update very soon, as it's a bit ridiculous.

Issues aside, I am still in love with the Wii U GamePad. The first time I held one in my hands, all my doubts melted away. It feels great in the hands, it controls games really well, and the touch screen is bright and responsive.

One pleasant surprise was that I actually made use of the ability to play games with the TV off. While playing Scribblenauts Unlimited, I found I was spending the whole time looking at the screen on the GamePad, so I turned off the TV to save electricity and happily played for over an hour that way. It was a feature I was sure I would never use, but it proved useful despite that.

The console will go on sale in two versions: the white basic pack, including just the console and the GamePad controller, and the black premium bundle, which adds a charging dock for the GamePad and a copy of Nintendo Land.

The games

Tomorrow, the Wii U will have one of the biggest console launches in history, with an exceptionally large range of games on offer. Nintendo has clearly learned their lesson from the lacklustre 3DS launch and made sure there are plenty of games to play this time around.

My personal highlight is Scribblenauts Unlimited. I was a fan of the first two games on Nintendo DS, and was very disappointed by the iOS version's lack of content. Unlimited is an all-new game with no re-used content at all, and a substantially redesigned world.

Rather than a large number of discrete levels, picked from a menu system, Maxwell now wanders through a large semi-open world, finding people who need help. In addition to the creative fun of the game, there is also a sense of exploration and discovery now, which makes it all the sweeter.

Nintendo Land is also a highlight, and it comes free in the premium bundle. While you may understandably groan about yet another minigame collection on a Nintendo platform, this one is pretty solid and entertaining. Some games are duds (the Octopus dancing game was my personal low-light) but a few are so good they justify the purchase of the entire console.

Nintendo Land is at its best when playing multi-player games, typically with one player using the GamePad with its private screen while the other players gang up on him. Luigi's Ghost Mansion is my favourite of these, but Metroid Blast is a surprising amount of fun, too, and shows how well first person shooters may be implemented on the Wii U in future.

I also recommend ZombiU for the horror fans. it has some flaws, but it is a true survival horror game in an world that has pretty much abandoned that genre. It's tough, unforgiving, and often frustrating, but it's also unique and pretty wonderful. I'll definitely have a full-length review of this one in the coming weeks.

Update: Nintendo Australia has supplied me with the full list of games available on launch day tomorrow. The below list is complete and official:

  • Assassin’s Creed ® III

  • Batman: Arkham City™ Armoured Edition

  • Ben 10: Omniverse™

  • Call of Duty®: Black Ops II

  • Darksiders®2

  • FIFA 13

  • Family Party: 30 Great Games® Obstacle Arcade

  • Funky Barn

  • Game Party™ Champions

  • Just Dance®4

  • Mass Effect™ 3 Special Edition

  • New Super Mario Bros. U

  • Nintendo Land

  • Rabbids ® Land

  • Scribblenauts™ Unlimited

  • Skylanders Giants™

  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed™

  • Sports Connection™

  • TANK! TANK! TANK!™

  • TEKKEN TAG TOURNAMENT™ 2 Wii U Edition

  • TRANSFORMERS PRIME™

  • Warriors Orochi®3 Hyper

  • Your Shape®: Fitness Evolved 2013

  • ZombiU™

How about you, readers? Do any games on the above list whet your appetite? Are you planning to pick up a Wii U at a midnight launch party? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 - James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez