During their E3 2011 conference on the morning of June 7th, Nintendo finally showed off the successor to the Wii: the Wii U. The reveal was not a surprise, as Nintendo flat-out announced that the device would be playable at E3 when info about it started leaking from everywhere. Gamers everywhere struggled to make sense of the rumors of a dual analog controller integrating a 6'' touch screen and wondered what to make of the reports that the device would be on par, slightly more powerful, or much more powerful than Microsoft's or Sony's current consoles.
E3 came and went, and I got the chance to play it.
But first, directly from Nintendo's fact sheet (and keep in mind, details are subject to change) :
New Controller: The new controller incorporates a 6.2-inch, 16:9 touch screen and traditional button controls, including two analog Circle Pads. The rechargeable controller includes a Power button, Home button, +Control Pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons and ZL/ZR buttons. It includes a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, rumble feature, camera, a microphone, stereo speakers, a sensor strip and a stylus.
Other Controls: Up to four Wii Remote™ (or Wii Remote Plus) controllers can be connected at once. The new console supports all Wii™ controllers and input devices, including the Nunchuk™ controller, Classic Controller™, Classic Controller Pro™ and Wii Balance Board™.
Video Output: Supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. Compatible cables include HDMI, component, S-video and composite.
Audio Output: Uses AV Multi Out connector. Six-channel PCM linear output through HDMI.
Storage: The console will have internal flash memory, as well as the option to expand its memory using either an SD memory card or an external USB hard disk drive.
Other: Four USB 2.0 connector slots are included. The new console is backward compatible with Wii games and Wii accessories.
The Wii U's tablet controller definitely feels more comfortable than it looks. I have nearly always been pleased with the ergonomics of Nintendo's controllers, and this one is another winner. When my thumbs were resting on the dual slide pads (which are pretty much identical in look and feel as the 3DS's slide pad, as far as I could tell), my index and middle fingers were ideally placed for all four shoulder buttons. I wonder if I would not prefer Nintendo to switch the placement of the face buttons and the right slide pad, however.
The screen is vibrant and sharp. I was not able to verify how responsive the touch controls are when using your finger, but I certainly have no complaint about its responsiveness to the stylus.
I was pleased to notice a headphone port on top of the tablet controller. I regularly play games with headphones on, and this feature will help reduce the clutter in my living room. Plus, its presence there simply makes sense when you consider that Nintendo wants you to be able to "move" your game from the TV to the tablet when you need to free the television for someone else. There is also a port at bottom of the tablet, no doubt for recharging and for various accessories Nintendo showed off during their conference. I find myself dreading those, to be honest. Enough plastic already!
Finally, I know little about how accelerometers and gyroscopes work, but it seems to me that Nintendo's tech (or the way they use it) keeps improving. More on that in my impressions of the Japanese Garden demo.
May as well start with the weakest demo of the bunch, Measure Up. With a look and feel very reminiscent of games like Wii Fit and Brain Age, it is definitely the plainest-looking demo on the show floor. The goal? The game will ask you to draw a 40 cm line, or a 75 degree angle, and then score you on how close you were. That's it.
I have been struggling to find a point to this demo. Was it fun? Kind of, in the same way Brain Age is kind of fun. But is it a good demonstration of the Wii U's potential? Hardly. This is nothing that couldn't be done on a regular tablet, the original DS, or even the Wii. Perhaps Nintendo felt there was a fear that the casual audience who bought Brain Age would be forgotten with the Wii U, and wanted to assuage that fear? Who knows.
New Super Mario Bros. Mii
Again, I am unsure what exactly this demo was supposed to show off. NSMB in HD looks nice, sure, but it's hardly a technical showcase. And the player using the tablet as opposed to a Wii remote gains no extra functionality whatsoever. When I asked the booth lady what the advantage was, she simply said "it's just another way to view the game". Alright, fair enough.
Perhaps they simply wanted to show that yes, absolutely, you WILL be able to take this game to the john with you, for those times when you just gotta go and can't stop playing. If that is the case, I think having a working port-a-potty next to the TV that the person with the tablet could use would have helped illustrate that point better.
Now here is a more satisfying demo of a game concept only possible on multiple screens. In Chase Mii, four players control their Miis on the TV screen using standard Wii remotes in split screen view, while a fifth player controls his Mii (which dons Mario's hat) on the Wii U controller's screen. In addition to the regular view, he can also see the whole map and the positions of each player, whose goal it is to try to find and catch him.
I got to play both roles. First, as one of the chasers, I had to run around and try to locate the target. It took me a while to spot him, but once I did, I did not let him get out of my sight. The timer was running out, however, and I failed a last second attempt at jumping on the target to catch him.
I then got to play as the Mii with the red cap. Hiding the screen from the prying eyes of the other players, I got a 10 second head start to try and find a hiding place. But either I was not doing enough of a good job hiding my screen or the woman working the booth had gotten way too much practice at this game, but as soon as the chasers could move she started shouting my location to the others, telling them I was in the red area, then the green area, going back to the red area... I only lasted little more than a minute. You will pay for this one day, booth woman!
That is the demo in a nutshell. There is nothing else to add, really, other than yes, HD resolutions do improve the look of games as simple-looking as the Wii ___ series. The Miis were not more detailed than in the Wii Sports games, and the level could have been a remake of a Super Mario Kart's Battle Mode map, but they looked nice and sharp nonetheless.
Another good demo showing off the usefulness of having a secondary screen. In Battle Mii, two players control Miis who have stolen Samus' suit with the Nunchuk and Wii remote combo and view the action on a split TV screen, while a third controls a Mii who stole Samus' ship with the tablet controller.
The explanation for Samus' absence from the show this year: a mugging
Again, I got to play both roles. As a pedestrian with the Wiimote and Nunchuk, the controls are as expected: you point where you want to aim and you shoot, you move the cursor to the edge of the screen to turn, and you walk forward, backward, and strafe with the Nunchuk's stick. There is not much to say, really, other than I seriously hope the Wii U will get more third person shooters with these controls than the Wii did.
Piloting the ship was not as simple and familiar as the good old remote+Nunchuk combo, however. With one stick, you could move up, down and strafe left and right. With the other stick, you could move forward, backward, and turn. And in addition to that, you could use the gyroscope/accelerometers controls to aim in general. It was a bit like rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time: not impossible, but not immediately intuitive either.
Again, I lost at this game when using the tablet, but come on, two against one is so unfair! Ah, but I also realize I should have made better use of the tilt controls to aim. I tried too hard to make it work with only the dual analog controls, a mindset deeply ingrained now at this point. The tilt controls could have helped give me the extra accuracy I needed. There was no aim assist in this demo, I have to mention!
This is the demo that looked the most appealing to me, for some reason. Perhaps the combination of rhythm-based gameplay and the use of the dual display in a single-player game.
This is the only Wii U video I managed to take, so try to enjoy it.
You begin the demo looking at a black ocean on the TV. You are then prompted to raise the tablet controller in front of you and on it, you get a zoomed in view of a pirate ship. Then you are tasked with finding two more ships as well as the moon, but those things do not show up at all on the TV screen. So you move the tablet farther and farther left, beyond the edge of the TV screen, and what do you see? Another pirate ship! Outside of the field of view offered by the TV! How cool is that?
That is just the initial setup. Things get started for real when the pirates start flinging arrows at you. You keep the tablet lowered and instructions appear on the TV: left, center, right. Then you have to point the tablet in those directions to the beat of the music in order to block the volley of arrows. It wasn't as easy as it looked when others were playing it, but then again I have always been rhythmically challenged... It was definitely fun, however, and I feel it offered a window into how the tablet could be used to enhance single player games in general.
Japanese Garden demo
Much like the Shield Pose demo, the Japanese Garden demo showcased the possibilities the tablet's accelerometers and gyroscope open up. Nintendo's PR talks about "removing the traditional barriers between games, players and the TV by creating a second window into the video game world". Now, you can take that as marketing spiel, but this demo helped me understand what they were getting at and believe in it. It is almost, almost, like holding a little window to another world. You move the tablet around, and the view changes with it. Imagine playing Face Raiders and the background, instead of being your surroundings, were instead another place entirely. If the tablet were goggles instead, we would be calling the Japanese Garden demo virtual reality.
The unfortunate thing is that the demo was not a full 360 degree view. Move too far to the left or the right, or up or down for that matter, and the camera stops moving, breaking the illusion.
There were two more demos that I did not check out. A Zelda HD demo, which did not attract me, as I thought it was a non-interactive demo playing on the TV screen. Whenever I looked at that booth, the lady in charge was holding the tablet in one hand waving it about, no one paying attention to it, as if it did next to nothing. And while I thought the trailer looked nice, I am not a graphics guy. I was far more interested in interacting with the controller than looking at pretty details. But as it turns out, the tablet in that demo did in fact have applications. D'oh!
There was also a Ghost Recon Online demo. After waiting in line for five minutes while the booth guy showed off nothing but the load out selection screen to the guy having his turn, I decided it was not worth my time.
So there you have it, my impressions of the controller and the demos being shown for the Wii U. You will have noticed that I focused much more on the use of the tablet than the graphics, and that is simply because of the kind of gamer I am: as long as things "look nice", I'm happy, and I would only embarrass myself if I tried to judge graphics on their technical merits.
Overall, I would say I am definitely intrigued by the Wii U's potential. The demos I have played at E3 were just that: mere demos. I do not expect a full $50 for Measure Up at the Wii U's launch. But Battle Mii and Chase Mii have shown me the potential for new, super fun same-couch multiplayer experiences, while the Japanese Garden and Shield Pose did, in fact, "show me a new way to look at games", as contrived as that sounds, and I cannot wait to see similar functionality implemented in, say, a new Metroid game.
I do not know if I would feel the same had I not played it with my own hands. I do not believe that the saying "you need to play it to believe it" holds as true as it did with the Wii. Nevertheless, I am sure it helped me form a favorable opinion.
What about you, reading these impressions? Are you a Wii U believer, or a doubter? Does holding a window on a video game world sound appealing to you, or is it the most contrived thing you have ever heard of? Post your comments!
Ok, so I was messing around and pretended my keyboard was a controller. I noticed something when I did this: 1. I can be too smart for my own good (which would explain why I'm still single). And 2. I might enjoy this controller a lot more than I originally realized. What makes console controllers so much more comfortable that the 3DS controls is that with console controls your wrists are positioned straight. Kinda like this /(+oo)\ rather than _I(+oo)I_
Legend: / = left hand \ = right hand (+oo) = controller _I = left hand I_ = right hand
That's a big deal because I find the circulation going to my hands during _I(+oo)I_ tend to make my hands go numb.
As for the other stuff, I didn't need an answer for that. Just expressing my excitement for the Wii: Ultra. :)