Nintendo Wii U Extends Social Experience, Family Fun #WiiU

Nintendo Wii U GamePad and Wii Motion remotes

Despite JavaDad’s protests, I began lobbying for a family gaming system four years ago when JavaBoy entered Kindergarten. I could see that video games would eventually be one of the factors in our kids’ social lives as to who wanted to play at whose house. By having a gaming system in place, I wanted us to become familiar enough with the games to know what our kids would be playing elsewhere, and of course I hoped we would become what used to be called “the Kool-Aid house,” a place where the neighborhood kids wanted to come play.

After much thought and consideration, we bought a Nintendo Wii console.. It seemed the most family-friendly of the choices, had what was then considered an innovative interactive form of controller, and it was a system I truly saw us playing with together. And I was right — my husband’s 40th birthday was a Wii Party!

Back then, I had no affiliation with Nintendo. Today,  I am a Nintendo Social Media Ambassador, which simply means their PR company sends me products from time to time to try out and while they hope I’ll talk about it, I’m not required to. If you are a long-time reader, you know my opinions are always my own.

Which is how I happened to have about 30 friends* and two very nice (and yes, I’ll say it, quite adorable) representatives from Nintendo’s PR team in my house last week, trying out the Wii U. It sounded fun. It was also great motivation for getting the whole family to pitch in and straighten up the house. Win-win, right?

Why would I worry, right? (Yes, this is the “give me your tiger/crazy face” shot.)

Shortly before the party, I became slightly panicky at the thought of 30 people in my house playing a game with five remotes. Especially since about half of those people were under the age of 10.  So in addition to the Wii U set-up that Nintendo provided, I managed to bring in another one and set up a “kids room” in one room and an “adults room” in the other.  Just wanted to bring that up so you didn’t get the crazy idea I normally keep a Wii U in my formal living room. Or a large gaggle of children.

This is merely half-a-gaggle of children.

In a nutshell, everything I liked about my original Wii — family-friendly, interactive, promotes movement rather than being a couch potato while playing — still exists in the Wii U.  However, enhanced features such as TVii, streaming video and Wii U Chat, both reduces the remote control clutter and extends the entertainment functionality of our family room.

What’s Different

Playing with the Wii U GamePad in Nintendo Land's Mario Chase.

My friend S. is very focused on the Wii U GamePad during a round of Nintendo Land’s Mario Chase!

The GamePad is the most obvious change between the original Wii and the Wii U, but more than just a fancy new remote, it radically alters the way games are played. In addition to allowing you to have a fifth player in many games, it is a touch screen with a camera, and allows you to participate in the game in a different way from the other 1-4 players holding regular remotes. For example, you may be the only one who can see the entire layout of a course — in Mario Chase (Nintendo Land), the player with the GamePad is Mario and runs a maze to escape the Toads. Only Mario can see the entire maze and everyone’s position. The perspectives of the Toads are divided onto the TV screen. There is an option that allows the Toads to watch live video of the face of the person holding the GamePad either for fun or to see if that gives away any clues as to Mario’s location (i.e. shifting eyes).

On the TV screen you can see the perspective of the remote-holders in Mario Chase.

Outside of gameplay, the GamePad can become an interactive TV remote with Nintendo TVii;  provide access to video on demand services such as Amazon Instant video, Hulu Plus and Netflix (service subscription required); and bring YouTube and the rest of the Internet to your TV.

Wii U Chat allows you to video chat via the camera and microphone on the GamePad with another Wii U user. My kids enjoyed interacting with their cousins this way (the video can appear on both the GamePad and the TV) not only because of the video chat, but the added feature of being able to “scribble” on each other with the stylus. You must be approved “friends” in order to chat, and like most Nintendo products, there are ways to lock this down, so I feel pretty confident about giving my own kids access to this. They can’t add a friend without my intervention.

We haven’t explored everything in the Miiverse, but again, we have been able to keep the parental controls pretty tight, so we are comfortable with this interactive/social portion of the Wii U.

The Wii U console typically does not come with remotes other than the GamePad. If you had a previous Wii, although your old remotes will work, if you hadn’t already upgraded to the Wii Motion or Motion Plus remotes, I highly recommend doing so as some of the new games take advantage of the vibrations and other features of the Motion remotes.

Your regular Wii games will still work on this console, but the Wii U games will take advantage of the added dimension of the GamePad. It is difficult (for me, at least) to explain how much this allows the game developers to enhance the creativity and interactivity of a game — you really need to play it to grasp it.

The Games We Played

Nintendo Land appeals to me because it has a variety of games that use different types of skills. At the opening you walk into a virtual theme park with attractions based on different Nintendo worlds. My favorite is Luigi’s Ghost Mansion where the person holding the GamePad is the Ghost and can see all the other players in a haunted house and tries to scare them to death. Meanwhile, they have flashlights and try to shine it on the ghost. They work as a team, knowing the ghost is nearby if their (Wii Motion) remote vibrates, and try to zero in on its location. There are so many games on this disc, we haven’t played every level of every game — but it is a quick way to entertain any group of people (no matter what age or skill level).

Luigi’s Haunted Mansion in Nintendo Land is my favorite game. I am partial to playing the role of the ghost!

In Super Mario Bros. U, the whole gang is here, including your Mii characters! With new worlds and new power-ups, the changes aren’t merely in the scenery the GamePad player can help by adding bricks to block the bad guys or help the team get a lift.

I love how K. goes from "game face"...

I love how K. goes from “game face”…

... to laughter in a split second!

… to laughter in a split second!

SiNG Party was clearly the hit of the evening with the adults, but the kids loved it too. Unlike traditional karaoke where all eyes are on the singer, this party game has prompts for the dancers (that’s the rest of the crowd!) so everyone can get in on the fun. One or two special Wii U microphones can be plugged into the console.

The Results

Pure hilarity!

Can you guess which song we we were singing and dancing to here?

My friend J. wowed the crowd by crooning a classic Monkees song.

Oh sure, the kids are dancing, but notice who is REALLY into it. Yep… the adults!

I didn’t personally get much time to play during the party as I was running around taking photos and cheering like a maniac and making sure, for example, that children didn’t get chocolate cake on the white sofas. I had no worries that the kids would enjoy themselves — they figured things out quickly, mobbed the screen and yelled out instructions to each other. But the adults! Oh my! I loved watching them transform from cautious, polite parents (“Oh no, it’s okay, you can take the GamePad first…”) to singing and dancing rock stars. The laughter as they teamed up for games reminded me we are all kids at heart. Which is why I’m going to make a point to invite families over (not just kids) to play more often.

Resources

The Wii U game console is available in different configurations and bundles ranging from about $299 – $350 from a variety of big box stores/retailers/e-tailers. For more information and/or purchase, you may be interested in the official Nintendo Wii U site at http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu. If you are having trouble finding it locally, you may be interested in using my Amazon Associates affiliate link, which will allow you to support Caffeine and a Prayer at no additional cost to you.

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Wii U is a trademark of Nintendo. KOOL-AID is a trademark of Kraft Foods Groups LLC.

*If we know each other IRL and you weren’t invited, it doesn’t mean you aren’t my friend. It’s because I don’t have a house large enough to invite everyone I wanted to. Ping me if you want to come play!