Though it failed to light up the UK charts since November 30th, the Wii U has definitely become a talking point. Pundits, developers and gamers are obsessed with its power and specifications; arguing about whether it has enough grunt to be considered a next-gen console. We've been talking about the excellent Gamepad peripheral and how it could potentially lead to some revolutionary games. We've praised the launch lineup - which includes the excellent NSMBU and ZombiU - but complained that Nintendo's new console doesn't yet have a clear killer app.
What most people haven't been talking about, however, is MiiVerse.
It's hardly surprising. Nintendo has found it difficult to market the Wii U's social features, instead dwelling on asymmetrical multiplayer and family appeal. Without flashy screenshots, adverts or trailers to rely on, MiiVerse has slipped under the radar for many potential buyers, critics and even some Wii U owners.
This is a crying shame, because MiiVerse is nothing less than a revolutionary killer app... and one of the most forward-thinking console innovations of this current generation.
As we explained in our Wii U hardware review, MiiVerse connects every single Wii U owner to one another by acting as a cross between Facebook and traditional gaming forums. Once you've created a Nintendo Network ID, you're free to leap onto sprawling game-specific forums to browse the latest posts. Whether it's a question, statement or a picture designed with the simple Pictochat tool, you're able to reply with thoughts of your own, show your approval with a 'yeah' (think 'like') or view the poster's profile. All without leaving your seat... or even the game you're currently playing since it's immediately accessible from the home menu, leaving the action paused in the background.
"So what," I hear some of you ask. Well, here's what. There are a huge number of console communities and forums out there, but to access them, you have to use your PC, tablet or smartphone. With MiiVerse, however, community is directly built into the core Wii U experience and offers a range of totally new possibilities.
Finding like-minded people to befriend and socialise/play online with has never been easier, nor more convenient. A quick question on MiiVerse, a simple 'yeah,' or a throwaway reply can spark long conversations or rousing debates, which in turn allows you to add a poster to your friends list in two taps. You'll discover friends you never knew you had, and people who share your point of view on the other side of the planet. And again, it's all without putting down the Gamepad.
If you access MiiVerse while playing a game, you can attach the image on the television screen or Gamepad touchscreen into a post, allowing you to ask for help with specific sections, show off your prowess, point out glitches or anything in between. Posts can be tagged as 'spoilers,' meaning that you won't have your game experience ruined while idly browsing.
It's also a useful tool for people who are unsure whether or not to invest in one of the Wii U's pricier games. Out of bloody-minded interest, I posted a quick question on the Nintendo Land forums asking whether it was worth £45, and received a range of responses over the next fifteen minutes. "Yes, it's brilliant with the family," said one Nintendo Land owner. "Only if you have four Motion+ motes," chimed in another. "Wait for it cheaper," another player replied, while yet more argued its worth for hardcore players. I then asked a few more questions and quickly started a conversation, with people who have definitely played the game.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I've often retreated to the safety of MiiVerse during long ZombiU play sessions, seeking advice (and a little emotional support!) when the dread and claustrophobia piled up. New Super Mario Bros. U prompts you to post up advice and fun little asides upon completing tough levels, which are randomly corralled into other player's games as well as the forums. When you're on the main menu, the unused screen (either the telly or Gamepad) becomes a soapbox, trumpeting trending posts and pictures that can instantly be viewed, discussed or replied to. If you like what you see and read, you might even make a new friend just like that.
Many of us feared that Nintendo would censor MiiVerse with an iron fist, and they're certainly ferocious when it comes to moderation. I still haven't seen a picture of a penis, no racism, not even the hint of a swear word. What I have seen, however, is plenty of gamers criticising certain titles (such as Assassin's Creed III from a technical standpoint) and even the console itself, with some players saying that they prefer the PS3 or Xbox 360. These comments remain untouched, sparking 'lively' debates of their own. Ninty seems prepared to allow for insolence in their own house, which is always nice.
There's definitely room for growth and improvement, since Nintendo appears to be fixated by the number '100.' You can only type 100 characters in a single post, which is restrictive even compared to Twitter. You can only have 100 friends, which seems like a reasonable amount until you realise that every Wii U owner in the world is a potential friend... and just a finger tap away. Some of the game-specific forums are also doomed to obscurity fairly quickly, so it would be great to see some broader interest or even off-topic forums open soon. These little kinks are certainly annoying, but in the long run, MiiVerse has the potential to become one of the console's most endearing and far-reaching features.
That is, if enough people know about it.