I've had the Wii U for one day, and the way I play console games at home has already been forever transformed. I think you should know how. It's the only rational reason I have for sharing half of the floor plan of my apartment with you. (Please don't turn it into a Counter-Strike map!)
If you're at all interested in the Wii U, this is important.
Nintendo sent me a Wii U earlier this week. I got it yesterday and took it home. I set it up in my living room (you can see its location in the floor plan above). I powered on the new Super Mario Bros. game it's launching with. The game's graphics appear on your TV and on the Wii U's GamePad—the signature controller with the six-inch screen—at the same time.
I looked down at the GamePad.
I started playing.
Then I started walking around my house and learned the three things about the Wii U that will literally reshape how I play console games at home.
See, most consoles force you to play their games on your TV, so I can only play an Xbox 360 game on my TV. The PS3 clumsily does let you stream some games to the PSP, but I could never get that "Remote Play" feature to work. (I should try it with my Vita but haven't yet.)
The Wii U, however, lets any game that supports "off-TV play" run on the controller. This controller is wireless, which means... maybe I could play New Super Mario Bros.—oh, I don't know—in the bathroom?
Nintendo suggests that the GamePad can work up to a range of 26 1/4 feet, but that's presumably under ideal conditions: big open rooms, through thin walls, etc. I live in a pre-war condo in Brooklyn New York. The walls are thick. My WiFi router, which is in my bedroom, can't get its signal through more than two walls (it gets into my dining room but not beyond into the kitchen). So... the Wii U?
The results of my test:
- The GamePad can still play Mario when I go to the far end of the living room, meaning, I can give up the TV to my wife, plug headphones into the GamePad and continue playing a Wii U console game at the other end of the room, while she's using the TV. This is a very good thing.
- The GamePad can still play Mario when I go into the bedroom and lie on my bed, which means that I can stay up late, in the dark, playing a Wii U console game. I can also leave the GamePad on my nightstand, power it and the Wii U on with a press of the GamePad's power switch and start playing my console in the morning—without getting out of bed. Note: this may have a radical effect on my ability to play Call of Duty: Black Ops II multiplayer at strange hours.
- The GamePad cannot still play Mario when I'm in my bathroom. Hell, it can't even reach my bathroom. The signal fails when I begin to walk down the hallway. I can't even get past the coat closet let alone to the door that follows, which leads into my bathroom. Thus: the Wii U will have to wait when it's time for me to go to the restroom.
Click the top image of this post to get a better look at the Wii U's range in my home. It will differ in yours.
I'm not sure I can effectively convey how odd it is to have these new options for playing console games at home. It's not quite like the shock I felt in the late 90s when I got a cell phone and was suddenly able to make phone calls while walking down the street, but we're in the same ballpark at least. It's impressive and exciting to have these new options, and I'm curious to see how widely-implemented the support for off-TV play will be. I'm also curious if advances in tablet gaming and dedicated handhelds will diminish how impressive this is in the coming years. But, for now, the prospect of playing a new console Zelda in various rooms of my house? I'm into it.
A few extra notes about the test I ran: 1) The GamePad also ran Mario when I went out my apartment's front door, closed it behind me and walked halfway down the stairs. 2) As you reach the GamePad's outer range, the framerate of the Mario game begins to get choppy, but, oddly, the chop is more pronounced when you're walking to that outer range and then smooths out if you stand still. 3) I've only tested this with New Super Mario Bros. U and therefore have no idea if any of these tests would have gone differently with different games. I don't see why they would, but you never know.
We'll have tons more on the Wii U in the days and weeks to come. The system will be out on November 18.