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Review: Travelling the World with Wii Street U

Posted by Mike Mason

Quality streets

Wii U Panorama View remains one of the most impressive demonstrations of Wii U's potential: a collection of videos filmed with a special camera array so that you can look around 360 degrees and see the film from every possible angle by moving the GamePad. It's coming to the Wii U eShop at some point this year – at least in Japan – but until then there's a new application that uses the technology in a different way: Wii Street U.

A collaboration between internet wizards Google and Nintendo, Wii Street U takes data and imagery from Google Maps' Street View, which allows you to get right down to road level and investigate the world through 360 degree 3D environments made up of photographs. Wii Street U uses this treasure trove of geographical information differently, however: there's no way to work out directions, none of the public transportation schedules. This is Street View stripped down and re-imagined for the living room.

Whereas Google Maps is an extremely useful tool – for planning routes, finding and scouting out that restaurant your friend's been chattering about, or just looking up where an obscure country is – Wii Street U aims purely for entertainment. It has no real practical advantages over using standard Google Maps. If you thought Street View was fun with a mouse, though, you're going to have a ball using the Wii U GamePad.

The television displays the familiar overheard view of Google Maps, with satellite images also an option. Select an area you want to visit by dragging and tapping on the GamePad touch screen, or entering a location into the search field, and the handheld screen will show off Street View images. You can click on-screen arrows to trot along the roads and explore, or if you'd prefer to put the stylus away you can press A to move in the direction of the highlighted arrow; you can 'walk' continuously by holding down the button. You can flick between these anchor points with left and right on the D-Pad.

It's all pretty familiar if you've ever used Google Maps, where you would usually click, hold and drag the image about to check out all the angles. Wii Street U makes this action simpler and infinitely cooler: you move the GamePad around to look about, turning 180 degrees to see behind you, pointing towards the ceiling to see the clear blue skies – or smoggy grey clouds if you're in a city centre. If you don't feel like moving around, you can also sweep the camera about with the left analogue stick, though this is a tad too sensitive and springy for our liking.

Just as with Panorama View, it's like you're holding a tiny window in your hands; a portal through which you can see the entire world, or at least the bits that Google has got around to snapping. The GamePad never lags behind, smoothly adjusting no matter where it's shifted, pulling in more data seamlessly when you swap between horizontal and vertical positions. It's hugely impressive.

It wouldn't be much fun for the rest of the room if the view was restricted to the GamePad, though. By default the TV shows a small window mirroring the GamePad's content alongside an overhead map and the name of the current location, but the entire display can be filled with the same view as the controller screen's with a push of X. As one person stands rotating like a maniac, others can sit back and comfortably share the experience.

Really, that's what Wii Street U is all about. It's not a hugely useful tool: it takes the most socially viable parts of Google Maps and extrapolates them into a little application that encourages you to peer at the world around you just for the sake of it, without any particular purpose. You can seek out anywhere in the world with its search function and just take a virtual tour.

It's the sort of thing you might use to show a friend where you've been on holiday; we spent several minutes hunting down a tucked away hostel and several locations from a past holiday in Krakow. Would you do that on Google Maps on a computer? Quite possibly. But having it beamed from a TV while moving a physical window to the perfect angle to get just the right view of a hidden doorway, without having to cramp around a laptop at a desk? Wii Street U is a far more enticing prospect if you don't have practicality or planning in mind, and only want to look about a bit.

To this end, 72 recommended tour spots are highlighted. It's a shame they're not actual tours, with automatic movement and information about the locales; instead you're dumped in the middle of the selected locations and left to your own devices in the same way as if you'd just searched for something for yourself. They do, however, offer a number of fascinating places to check out if you're not sure where you want to go today. We glugged about underwater near Apo Island in the Philippines, poked at Stonehenge and even found our way inside an underground restaurant next to an HMV in Tokyo. It'd be great to see even more of these, though we would prefer them to be expanded to feature something approaching tour guidance in the future, too.

Wii Street U does have a few flaws. You can't bookmark locations, which would be great for easily showing off any interesting discoveries to others. Movement – shifting to a new photograph, basically — is a little jilted, a hangover of standard Google Maps and perhaps unavoidable given the amounts of data being thrown about. You can't adjust the position of the search box's cursor, so if you make a mistake while typing out a location you can only correct by deleting and re-entering. Finally – and this is a problem of Google Maps as a whole – not all images are up to date, with some last refreshed in 2008; though considering the size and logistical challenges of the project, we're willing to cut it some slack in this area.

However, for the most part these issues can be looked past, simply because the Street View concept has been adapted for a new platform and purpose so well. There are several ways it could be pushed further – perhaps expanding the social side with the ability to leave notes in locations for friends to discover, interesting facts about recommended tour spots – and it could definitely be tightened up for a slicker experience, but even as it is Wii Street U is a great use of the hardware; we're really interested to see if Google and Nintendo have any more collaborative efforts tucked up their sleeves. Currently a free download that takes up less than 100 megabytes of your system memory, there's no excuse not to download Wii Street U and start globetrotting right now.

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User Comments (43)

Sean_Aaron

#2

Sean_Aaron said:

It took me a bit of messing about to get the hang of it. I kept wanting to manipulate the camera using the touchpad like I would on my iPad, but I figured it out eventually.

Finding my childhood home and primary school in Chicago was pretty neat, as was touring the Great Barrier Reef. It's mainly a toy, but neat to have nonetheless.

Retro_on_theGo

#3

Retro_on_theGo said:

I love this thing. Kind of hope they decide to update it someday though. I was looking for a house in Mexico and I couldn't go down the street I needed to see it. I could only see it from the back. :(

Beta

#4

Beta said:

It's pretty nifty, indeed. The only thing that really made it a bit bad for me is that I could only view two streets in Austria DX (The country of my childhood)

LittleIrves

#6

LittleIrves said:

I spent an hour yesterday completely transfixed by Wii Street U as I toured around an old town where I used to live.... even though, as you say, you could see the same images on your computer, the effect of viewing it through the GamePad and being linked to the TV for sharing can't be overstated. A wonderful little bonus to a system already full of them. Really hope more people discover how charming and lovely this system is.

C-Olimar

#7

C-Olimar said:

It's such a thrill travelling through Shibuya, as a The World Ends With You fan! Did anyone notice the Bayonetta poster on the Shibuya 100 building, or the Sonic poster next to it?

Emaan

#8

Emaan said:

This is really something neat. I spent quite a few hours just exploring all these places. It makes you appreciate the world we live in.

DestinyMan

#10

DestinyMan said:

It's surprisingly a lot of fun, and something you can spend a very long time on if you were curious enough to explore some of your most personal or favorite locations in the world.

It would be nice if it could be updated, though, because while I can explore my hometown, I can't go to my house for some strange reason.

defrb

#12

defrb said:

@ DestinyMan, yes same, can't go to my house either.

But for the rest,good stuff, and even free, makes my wiiu even more special

luminalace

#13

luminalace said:

I got a photo street view of London from above but I couldn't replicate it. I don't mean the map but actual photo footage on the top of buildings. Need to keep using it.

Burning_Spear

#14

Burning_Spear said:

Great feature. This morning, I let my wife and her mother explore their old neighborhood on my flat screen TV, rotating the GamePad while they called out the directions in which they wanted to walk. I agree with Mike: An auto-walk option would be great.

Darth_Pascal

#15

Darth_Pascal said:

Sadly I keep getting kicked out of the app because I momentarily lose my connection. My Wii U has been like this all the time. I wish the app would just wait for the connection instead of booting out...

WiiLovePeace

#16

WiiLovePeace said:

I think its an awesome application! Its just so much fun to randomly explore the Great Barrier Reef, Tokyo or anywhere else & be able to see it from all angles by just moving around. Sure you can do it on a computer already or whatever but there's just something special about seeing it on the TV & moving around to explore the different areas, it just feels like you're there. Plus its free which is awesome too :D

rjejr

#18

rjejr said:

Glad to see this finally come out. This is my favorite part - "72 recommended tour spots are highlighted"

They should really get this on the in-store kiosks.
Oh, and Nintnedo must have been reading my rants b/c I was in Walmart and Target and both kiosks had the grayed out "DEMO" button removed. It's stupid a videogame console doesn't have demos - especially sitting next to a PS3 which does - but at least they removed the grayed out buttons.

True_Hero

#19

True_Hero said:

@Darth_Pascal - Same here. My Internet connection as a whole has been a bit spotty lately. I should probably do something about that.

From what I've been able to play of this, it's pretty fun. This is just the kind of thing I would have loved as a kid (and today still, really). I did notice that my neighborhood hadn't been updated since 08, though.

RogueBologna

#20

RogueBologna said:

You can hold A/B to keep walking forward/backward. There is just a bit of delay before it moves.

DePapier

#23

DePapier said:

As I'm reading I just wanted to point the fact that Panorama View is the software that will have those guided tours. (But not for free.)
And this one is actually FREE?!?!?! (I'm truly asking.)

Edit: Just finished reading, and I just found out it's free. :D

MAB

#27

MAB said:

Yeah it's a neat app last night I went for a virtual walk around my place and found a guy pulled over by the police getting a speeding fine... Also found it amusing when I checked my folks crib my old man was out the front mowing the lawn November 2009.

Vallu

#28

Vallu said:

It's annoying for bad internet connections becauce when it losts the connection for a second, it throws you at the wiiu menu...

andregurov

#29

andregurov said:

It is lots of fun; I've used it to look at off-street parking spaces in uptown New Orleans, to see an intersection and determine one-way street directions, AND to see my house! It was pretty cool to see my then-new car parked in my driveway.

123akis

#30

123akis said:

its harder to search for things on here, eg. type "nintendo of america" on maps.google.com and it will show up... but if you type it on the wii u it will not

Nareva

#31

Nareva said:

Yeah, this is surprisingly fun, being able to turn about with the gamepad to view a location. Good use of the hardware.

Setrodox

#33

Setrodox said:

I agree with every praise and suggestion for improvement you listed. Leave behind comments for friends like a digital geocash. Is that what it's called? MiiVerse integration with screen shots would also be great.

The oldest photo I have found was June 2007. My block during those batch of pictures was skipped, which is strange. I live in a fairly sized city, my neighborhood is easy to get around, and it is fairly busy. It's time they update their database where I live and not skip my block. :)

I found a temple in India. There was nowhere to walk. It was pretty.

WildMan

#34

WildMan said:

It's kinda cool I suppose. But I've already been doing this for fun on computers for years, so I'm not that amazed..
My house still doesn't have street view :/ Oh well at least it keeps people from creeping on me :P

Stuffgamer1

#35

Stuffgamer1 said:

I looked up the local mall where a casino was recently built...zoom in close enough, and it looks like it's still under construction. :D

TwilightV

#36

TwilightV said:

My city is dated December 2007. Because of the ridiculous oil boom a lot has changed around here since then.

LavaTwilight

#37

LavaTwilight said:

Glad no stars were left because it's the kind of thing you can't really rate since there's not really anything like it (besides googlemaps online).

On a note about leaving notes, posting images to Miiverse etc, there's probably a very good reason for that. Namely, data protection. If they allowed us to bookmark places for others then ALL sorts of information could get thrown about like where other people live, invitations to unsuspecting people to unsavory places, and the whole thing would be unmanagable. It's a good thing they don't have that... but being able to leave a personal bookmark for yourself, that can't be shared, should be allowed for personal use.

Bankai

#38

Bankai said:

I liked wandering around Akihabara and actually finding that I could 'walk'into my favourite maid cafe.

This is a nice app for the console, makes good use of the Wii U tech and I can see it being useful in helping to map out future holidays. Win all around.

gavn64

#39

gavn64 said:

saw my house in the irish south east its weird though cause the picture is from 2009

Marioman64

#40

Marioman64 said:

i think it's funny how this review has no star rating
"it's a free-at-the-moment app that's basically google maps for wii u, how do we rate it?"
"we can't give it a 10... but if we don't google will get mad..."
"let's not give it a rating!"
"brilliant!"
seriously though it's a nice little app to get lost in when you're REALLY bored

A1234

#42

A1234 said:

@Emeralds yup, exactly right. I found the town where someone lives who I had an online relationship with. nothing like they were talking about. lol

chiptoon

#43

chiptoon said:

Hey - Cape Town. I can't see my house from there, but if you went about 4km further along Tafelberg Rd I think you could!

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