It's somewhat gimmicky: Much of the time, you can easily imagine playing with just a regular joystick. But in "ZombiU," the GamePad adds to the atmosphere, creating the panicky feeling of scrambling around in a backpack while another undead horde approaches.
The high-definition graphics produced by the Wii U are close to those of Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3. That should bring back some of the game makers who had fled the underpowered Wii — at least until Microsoft and Sony bring out their next-generation consoles (neither company has announced any plans yet).
Some fine games from the past couple of years — Warner Bros.' "Batman: Arkham City," Electronic Arts' "Mass Effect 3" and THQ Inc.'s "Darksiders II" — are finally coming to a Nintendo console. The enhanced GamePad controls don't substantially alter their DNA, and if you've already played them on the Xbox or PS3, you aren't missing much. But if I'd had the option to play them the first time around with the enhanced GamePad controls, I would have.
The Wii U's online functions include video chat, its own social network and the ability to search for TV shows and movies from services such as Netflix and Hulu. These are all free. I wasn't able to test those features before writing this review. Nintendo said Friday that many of these features won't be available until next month.
I don't expect the Wii U to make as big a splash as the original Wii did six years ago. Nintendo's competitors are dipping their toes into the dual-screen pool as well: Some Sony games link the PS3 with the handheld Vita, while Microsoft's SmartGlass app for tablet computers adds bonus material to Xbox games such as "Halo 4" and "Forza Horizon."
Still, the Wii U goes all in on the multiscreen concept for a relatively inexpensive price. And in a world where people tweet on their iPads while watching sports or reality shows on their TVs, the whole GamePad concept feels perfectly natural.
The Wii U's success will depend on what Nintendo and other developers do with that second screen. The early results are very promising.
About the Wii U:
The basic Wii U model, with 8 gigabytes of internal storage, costs $300. The deluxe set, with 32 GB, "Nintendo Land" and a charging stand for the controller, costs $350. It comes to the U.S. on Sunday, later this month in Europe and Dec. 8 in Japan.
Both versions come with the GamePad, but you'll need to snag old-school Wii controllers from older Wiis or buy them separately.
Follow Lou Kesten at http://twitter.com/lkesten