After a slow initial buildup of new, engaging titles, my family is finally doing the bulk of its console gaming on the Nintendo Wii U. First it was Pikmin 3 that effortlessly drew us in, and then the HD remake of Wind Waker – that rare achievement that manages to beat nostalgia by making a video game experience just as good as you remember. Lately, however, our Wii U gaming has been tied together across numerous releases by a single recurring element: more stuff.
Pokémon Rumble U was the first game in the Wii U lineup to take proper advantage of the GamePad’s NFC capabilities, and on that level it succeeds flawlessly. The collectible Pokémon Rumble U figurines are available as blind-pack purchases from GameStop retailers from $3.99 a pop – a budget price that reflects the low adoption cost of the downloadable title – and simply placing a compatible toy on the controller’s NFC area quickly brings it to life within the game.
Unfortunately, not all aspects of Rumble U work so well. The mindless four-player brawling – either via couch multi-player or with computer-controlled allies – didn’t quite live up to my expectations after my lengthy single-player love affair with its portable predecessor. The expansive maps of Pokémon Rumble Blast are replaced by smaller arenas, and the loot drops (in the form of captured Pokémon) lose a bit of their luster when contrasted against their real-world counterparts.
The highly stylized, angular design of the NFC figures perfectly apes the visual aesthetic of the series, but a combination of questionable build quality – my five-year-old unintentionally broke two of our three characters immediately – somewhat sours the experience. Though Nintendo insists that players need not make these additional investments to enjoy Rumble U, it’s important to point out that the NFC figures represent the only customizable, properly leveling characters within then game. Without at least one physical toy, you’ll miss out on the title’s more engaging aspect as you cash in coins to make these Pokémon more efficient fighters.
Despite its flaws Pokémon Rumble U offers a fun core experience supplemented by in-game Challenges and a lovingly detailed world. Though a hard sale on its own, the addition of a couple real-world NFC analogs makes the experience engaging and, even in a post-Skylanders world, rather wondrous.
Like Rumble U, Wii Party U alters Wii U gaming by the addition of another unassuming piece of plastic, a specialized GamePad stand, though it’s more the bundled Wii Remote Plus that makes this an enticing purchase. Taking the new hardware back to the ol’ party game well, Wii Party U combines mini-games with crazy dice mechanics for a larger-than-life board game experience on your television.
Boasting tons of activities spread across a number of game modes, this iteration of the Party franchise makes great strides to showcase the flexibility of the Wii U hardware. TV Party builds on the race around a game board by adding sub-modes dedicated to collecting costumes for your Mii and nods to that riveting arcade classic the token-mover game. House Party hearkens back to the real-world interaction of the original Wii Party, requiring players to work together to press outlandish button combinations on the various controllers, as well as exploring the possibilities inherent in the second screen and forward-facing camera afforded by the new GamePad. The GamePad itself also gets a dedicated mode where puzzle- and skill-based games can be played by two payers; these activities occur independently of the TV – think the cocktail table video games of old.
It’s the latter two modes that really make excellent use of the kind of unique gameplay offered by the Wii U, which helps take the sting out of the relatively small but not wholly insignificant number of the title’s 80+ mini-games that seem like uninspired retreads. As highly competitive as its precursors, Wii Party U is a fine offline multi-player experience, though it unsurprisingly flounders during solo play. Still, it’s exactly the type game that could see heavy use during the holiday season, and that alone sweetens the deal. (Though that bonus Wii-mote certainly doesn’t hurt the offering!)
The latest addition is Nintendo’s long-hyped Wii Fit U. This exercise title represents a welcome return for fans of the Wii original, but it could prove a significant investment for newbies looking to take advantage of its myriad of fun and funky physical activities. In turn you’ll use everything from the standard GamePad to a pair of Wii Remote Plus controllers (or one Remote and a nunchuck accessory), and many of the particularly intense and thus most appealing activities also require the Wii Balance Board.
While switching between the control interfaces – particularly transitioning from GamePad to Wii Remote(s) – can seem a little bothersome, the payout is more precision in the game’s body tracking. The GamePad camera can now be used to see how accurately you’re following the instructions of your virtual yoga trainer, and the wealth of available GamePad screen-only exercises means off-television play is not only possible but often preferable.
With a new Dance mode and access to shared online gym communities with your fellow gamers, Wii Fit U already brings a whole new dimension to the series, but the biggest difference is surely the new Fit Meter. Though housed in an obvious variation of the PokéWalker shell, the Fit Meter offers a much more detailed view of your daily physical activities. Measuring exercise intensity and air pressure/altitude changes means that it can more accurately gauge your calories burned, and this data can be easily synced to the game (via the GamePad) or shared with other Fit Meters.
Whether your idea of exercise is salsa dancing, simple walking or wacky, Double Dare-style physical challenges, Wii Fit U surely has something for you. The only barrier is the cost of admission, but Nintendo’s taken steps to ease this sticker shock. Currently a free digital version of the game is available from the eShop to let gamers get a taste of what Wii Fit U has to offer. You can explore the game in full for one month before its functionality becomes limited. Moreover, if you purchase a Fit Meter before January 31, 2014 and register the device within this promotional version, the game becomes permanently usable. Retail versions of Wii Fit U will soon be available both with and without the Balance Board accessory, but, for the $20 asking price of the Fit Meter, it may likely be worth your while to pounce on this particular promotion.
Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America