Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2014-06-07 04:54:22
The Wii U Menu is a hub of unbridled joy
I enjoy nice things, and that extends to my video game experiences. A lot of video games nowadays are about killing people with bigger and shinier weapons on various brown battlefields - and that doesn't really appeal to me as a lover rather than a fighter.
Nintendo has frequently managed to escape from this pitfall by showcasing games that escape from the inertia of blowing things up and murdering people. There's a magic to Nintendo that I don't think the other two console makers capture, and this extends to how they handle things on their hardware as simple as menu screens.
When I turn on my Wii U, I instantly get cast under that Nintendo spell by the menu, which is both simple and cleverly designed. The hub is a shiny white world where icons representing popular games hover in place and the Miis of other gamers around the world gravitate towards the games they're playing. At the time of writing Mario Kart 8's logo is a very popular place, with plenty of little characters hanging around it. If you hit a shoulder button on the GamePad the games move around the screen and the Miis chase after them, which is cute to see and serves as a quirky little addition. Every few seconds a cute little sound effect representing their voice pops up with a message about what they're doing - they might be praising a track, or saying they had a particularly challenging match. You can sit there watching people in real-time popping messages into your game - and they're all filtered to be friendly for all ages, which is fantastic.
Clicking one of the characters gives you a chance to see their message or picture in greater detail - you can save their Mii if you think it's a cool design; you can boost straight into the game they're playing if you have it (and if you don't you can press a button to be taken to the eShop to purchase it); you can view their post and its replies on the Miiverse, a giant forum where people can comment on and discuss their games; and you can view their profile for more information about their gaming habits.
This relaxing hub genuinely feels as if it's harbouring a community. You'll see hundreds of people walking around your game world and you get a real sense that they're enjoying the games they're playing - enough to comment on them and invite you to comment too. You can see which games are trending and get a sense of what people feel about them - and it's infectious to watch their commentary happening dynamically.
I genuinely feel as if the Wii U as a system gets far too much criticism - not everything comes down to sheer power of specs and how many third party titles you get. Nintendo has its own community and gaming ecosystem that does things its own way. It is fair to say that it's playing in its own league now, while Microsoft and Sony compete with their latest consoles - but what's really wrong about that? Do we really need three identical systems? I've viewed Nintendo systems as complementary systems for years now - with me personally buying a Gamecube to enhance a Playstation 2 and buying a Wii to enhance a Playstation 3 - and it's fantastic that their systems are interesting and unique enough to warrant this decision.
If some of the people who sit around lambasting Nintendo and the Wii U could just sit down with one for a while and see how fun the community is, how enjoyable the games are (of which there are quite a few good ones by this stage) and how magical the design is, I'm sure very few would continue to take pleasure in attacking the company and console. I really enjoy my Wii U, and I'm not just saying that. Give it a chance and you might just enjoy it too.
(As a side note, I'm a big fan of the ambient menu music, which is incredibly relaxing and can be listened to below):