After using the Wii U for about a week, I've had a decidedly mixed experience.
The positive future-forward idea of a tabletlike GamePad that works away from the TV, Nintendo's fun family-oriented ideas of same-room party play -- well, so far, those benefits have been outweighed by a lot of question marks.
You've probably heard about some of the issues in our still-unfolding Wii U review. The Wii U, as it currently stands, is a new game console that's in need of a confidence boost. It needs to compete against the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and even Apple's devices, and be good enough to succeed.
Here's what I think it needs most, and what's standing in the way of success.
Better battery life for the GamePad. This is a big, big deal. The included GamePad, which is the only controller that the Wii U comes packaged with, may be futuristic and fun to play with, but its 2 to 5 hours of battery life pales in comparison to a regular Wii remote, not to mention any other wireless game controller, or even tablet. My typical night gaming session is at least several hours. The GamePad can barely survive without a recharge, and it can't be plugged in to the Wii U to do so. You need to use the included AC adapter, which is a serious pain. I'd love to see a software update or, preferably, either an add-on battery or a whole new GamePad that could fix battery life issues. The goal should be at least 6 hours.
Online that makes sense, and actually works. Nintendo's made a career out of skirting around online on its gaming platforms, but it's caught up with the Wii U. Granted, a lot of services aren't fully operational yet, including the much-hyped TVii as well as Amazon, Hulu Plus, and YouTube apps. Those that are, like Miiverse, the Web browser, and the Nintendo eShop, are clunky to navigate and limited in function. I never expected Nintendo to launch an Xbox Live competitor, but Nintendo needs to have a rich, logical online world for its games and entertainment.
Games that make the most of the hardware. Of all the launch titles, only a few feel perfectly suited to show off the unique qualities of the Wii U. Nintendo Land is a very fun introduction to the Wii U's potential, but where's the follow-up? I expected at least one more AAA-level game to create excitement. A few games like ZombieU and Rabbids Land come close. New Super Mario Bros. U, while surprisingly good, just isn't groundbreaking enough to be that game. There are many ports of mass-market games ranging from Assassin's Creed III to Mass Effect 3, but those games won't help sell the Wii U to me or any other shopper who might get an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
A far easier way to sync old content between the Wii and Wii U. The method of transferring old Wii game saves, Miis, and other content involves keeping both systems on and using an SD card. The whole concept tired me out and made me avoid beginning the process. There are a ton of Wii owners out there, and the Wii U needs to feel like a simple home upgrade. It doesn't feel that way right now. I'd like a far more hand-holding experience, and a way to simply transfer games off to an SD card without downloading extra apps.
More cheap download-only games. I only found about three games in the eShop that weren't full-price downloadable versions of disc-based games. Of those several games, none costs less than $9.99. I'd pay $10 for a high-quality indie downloadable Wii U game, but there don't even seem to be that many. It's a shame, because it's precisely those low-cost, high-experimentation games that could make the Wii U and its GamePad a very fun playground without a big investment.
More games for the GamePad to play off-TV. Off-TV play is a potentially killer app for the Wii U, but few games take advantage of the ability to use the tabletlike controller to play when the TV is otherwise occupied. Here's an easy way to infuse a huge game library: make all Virtual Console games GamePad-playable. I'd love to carry Mario Kart, old Zelda games, or even Sega Genesis throwbacks around the house.
Improve the wireless range of the GamePad. My GamePad didn't make it halfway down the hall of my apartment before my Super Mario Bros. U game froze and I got a message warning me to get closer to re-establish my connection so I could play off-TV. Wi-Fi, this isn't: my iPads, laptops, and phones all work in my bedroom easily, even though the router's in the same place as the Wii U. Maybe the Wii U needs an extra antenna accessory to improve range, but I was surprised at how limited my GamePad's wireless radius was. I can forget about using the GamePad to watch Netflix in bed.