Nintendo scores with Wii U's GamePad

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Nintendo's new Wii U home console hit shelves on Sunday, just in time for the Black Friday frenzy. This is the same time of year the Wii was released in 2006, and if the Wii U can match that level of excitement, it will be hard to find in stores before the New Year.

Nintendo is looking to reinvent video games once again, but instead of motion controls -- as was the case with the Wii -- the new hook is the GamePad. This screen-controller hybrid acts as the control center for the Wii U. It sports all the usual buttons of a controller but adds a 6.2-inch high-definition touchscreen in its center.

The GamePad is comfortable to hold and pleasing to the eye, and it can re-create any television display with no loss of picture quality.

However, there is a learning curve that comes with this second display: It's often difficult to determine which screen to look to when playing a game or browsing a menu.

It took about an hour to get used to multiscreen gaming. Once holding the screen became comfortable, the Wii U's concept did appear to be revolutionary tech. "New Super Mario Bros. U," a re-creation of classic Mario games, displays the game on both the television and the GamePad. This makes it possible for the user to play on the GamePad if someone wants to watch something else on TV or even turn off the television. In some households, the feature makes the fight for the television a thing of the past.

The Wii U has a stacked lineup of launch titles, giving the system plenty to do right off the bat. While Nintendo has never struggled bringing a large number of games to their consoles, it hasn't had the same success in other areas, such as multimedia. The Wii U follows that trend. The system menu is as confusing to hard-core gamers as it would be for a first-time user.

Nintendo wants the Wii U to be a complete online entertainment hub, but many of its online features feel like they're still in the beta test phase. There's even a lengthy initial update for the console to activate online capabilities that can take more than an hour.

A few apps come preloaded onto the console, among them Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Video, but only Netflix was functional at the time of review. Others will be available at a later date. The Miiverse, which acts as Nintendo's social network, is overly complicated in its current form. For instance, the friends list is difficult to locate.

The system comes in base and deluxe models that retail for $300 and $350, respectively. Both packages come with the console, a GamePad and the game "Nintendoland." The deluxe model comes with 32 gigabytes of storage space, while the base model has 8.

The Wii U is a novel and attractive concept that won't see its true potential for at least a year. All consoles and developers go through an infancy phase, but the Wii U is trickier than most because of its original concept. It has promise, but its online capabilities still require some refinement to match the offerings of the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Big bucks for 'Black Ops II'

A happy holiday came early to Activision Blizzard Inc., which announced that sales of "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" topped $500 million in retail sales on its first day on the market, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The war game went on sale Nov. 13, a week after the release of "Halo 4," which had more that $220 million in sales in its first day, the Journal story said. "Halo 4" is available exclusively on Xbox 360, while "Call of Duty" was launched on both the Xbox and PS3 and will be available on the new Wii U.

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Max Parker is the Post-Gazette Game Guy. Follow his blog at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com and on Twitter at @GameGuyPGH.


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