Wearers of glasses beware: the Wii U is determined to give you eye strain!
I got a chance to sit down for a while with a friend's Wii-U tonight. I managed to make an avatar and sign up for the Nintendo network, as well as try out an hour or so of ZombiU. I have to say that I was not impressed with either the hardware or the software.
First and foremost, the controller, despite its size, is actually pretty comfortable to hold. It is lightweight, and the cradles nicely in the hand. The screen is bright and vibrant; and sound is clear, but probably better with headphones. Button placement on the right side felt a bit awkward for me. It might just be my familiarity with PlayStation and Xbox controllers, but I didn't like having the buttons below the right stick, and they seemed a bit too close. I frequently missed the 'X' button (the top button), which was annoying because it was the most commonly-used button in the game I played.
I really wasn't digging the screen on the controller though. The avatar creation and network sign up screens annoyed me because most of the data input is done on the controller screen, but the TV screen presents a lot of information. The password screen was particularly annoying, since all the messages were displayed on the TV, and I just didn't see them because I was focused on the controller screen.
On top of that, even a brief time with the system exposed me to a glaring problem for myself (and likely many people): I am nearsighted. I need glasses in order to see at a distance. I'm not blind to things that aren't directly in my face, but after about 6 to 8 feet, things start to get fuzzy, making reading text or discerning other very finely-detailed information hard. I wear glasses, but I don't like to wear them to look at things up close. I often take them off when using a laptop, using a cell phone, reading a book, looking at a computer monitor, writing or drawing, and other "point blank" activities. Wearing my glasses for such things often causes my eyes to strain and gives me a headache (and probably further degrades my vision).
I can already tell that games that require the player to constantly shift between focusing on the controller screen and the TV screen will be very uncomfortable for me, since I'll either have to keep taking my glasses off and putting them back on, or I'll have to deal with the eye strain when looking at the controller screen. Perhaps Nintendo needs to release Wii-U-branded bifocals!
Also, the placement of your TV and how you sit are also important factors in your enjoyment of the console. My TV happens to be elevated so that I can lean back while I play, and I like to hold the controller loosely in my lap. This puts the TV and controller screens for the Wii-U about as far away from each other as they can possibly be. The position that I hold the controller also causes problems with games. I had trouble using the scanning and first person shooting mechanics of ZombiU because the range of motion for the controller was limited. I had similar problems with the PS3's sixaxis controller in the early years of that console's lifespan. Fortunately for the PS3, the sixaxis motion sensor was never a huge selling point for the PS3, nor was it critical to the functioning of the games, so it was eventually phased out of most games, and now it is hardly ever used. Good. The touch-screen and motion functionality of the Wii-U's controller, however, is the key novelty and selling point of the console, so players are going to be stuck with it no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
I like survival horror, but I'm so sick of zombies...
ZombiU didn't really do anything to sell me on the console either. I guess for one thing, I'm just burnt out of zombie games - and zombies in general. They're so ho hum. It's nice to see that the traditional survival horror genre is seeing some new life with Silent Hill: Downpour, Amnesia: the Dark Descent, and now ZombiU, but ZombiU just didn't hold my interest as well as I was hoping it would. Character controls seemed unnecessarily sluggish, and the controller features became annoying pretty quick. There are some genuinely good ideas in this game, and I'd like to be able to spend some more time with it, but it just isn't a console-seller in my book.
Bottom line is: I am not sold on the Wii-U. Not even close. The core functionality of the console just wasn't comfortable for me, so Nintendo is going to have to really impress me if they want me to buy into their latest fad console.