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E3 2011: Wii U Hands-on First Impressions

Feature; Jun. 9, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Ryan Goodman
Subtypes: Opinion, Preview
We finally get our hands on the Wii U
Los Angeles, CA, USA

Nintendo set the gaming world on fire this week when it unveiled its newest console, the Wii U. The system features HD graphics and a unique tablet-like controller that players will be able to use in countless ways. A playable version of the Wii U is on the show floor at E3, and I braved the more than three-hour wait to get my hands on it.

Wii U Controller

The first thing I got to check out was the new controller. As I said above, it does have a tablet-like look to it, with a 6.2 inch touchscreen in the middle. The left side has a circle pad (not analog) and a D-pad, while the right has another circle pad, with four buttons underneath. There are four buttons on the top and back, along with a stylus. There is also a camera on the top front, just above the touchscreen, and a microphone adjacent to it on the bottom front. When I first picked it up, I could not believe how light and comfortable it was. Getting to all of the buttons was a breeze, and it was very comfortable to move around.

After a short wait, it was time to check out the demos. There were eight total, one of them an HD graphics demo of what the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess would look like on the new console. I got the chance to take a look at six of the remaining seven.

Mario Mii

First up was New Super Mario Bros. Mii. This version of the popular 2-D platformer lets you take your Miis along with Mario and Luigi in their next adventure. The four-player demo I played all used Wii remotes, which are compatible with the Wii U, as are all other Wii accessories. Obviously, something was missing. I glanced over at the tablet controller -- not in use for some reason -- and saw the game running, just like it was on the big screen. I would guess that Mario Mii works perfectly fine on the tablet, with the same simple controls of the Wii remote. Obviously a bit of a disappointment, but the game was still fun regardless, and any old-school Mario fan will be pleased.

Measure Up

Up next was a drawing demo called Measure Up, which is similar to some of the exercises found in the Brain Age games on the DS. I played along with one of the Nintendo booth girls and competed in a variety of simple drawing exercises, such as draw a line that is exactly 2.5 inches long. Whoever would get closest to that exact specification would get more points. Clearly, this demo was to show off the touch screen and stylus, which both worked with precise accuracy. It was very easy to draw on the touch pad, and my poor drawing skills were just like they would have been had I drawn it on a sheet of paper.

Ghost Recon: Online for Wii U

Next up was the lone third-party title on the demo, Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Online. It started off with a light version of the gunsmith mode that was shown for GR: Future Warfare during Microsoft’s presser. It was controlled by simple taps on the touchscreen. After I was done picking a specific part, I would flick up toward the big screen to attach it to my weapon. After I was done customizing, it was time to go into battle.

The main battlefield was seen on the big screen, while the touchscreen served as a map. While obviously this game is still early in development, I was disappointed that the touchscreen was not used as a bigger part of the experience, such as being a scope for the sniper rifle. You can move around the map and give orders to your team, using the touchscreen and gyroscope. Everything else used buttons, which had a layout similar to earlier entries in the series. Graphically, the game looked more like a Wii game than one in HD, but again, this was an early stage. It also seemed to lag a bit during game play.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed with this part of the demo.

Garden

Next up was a demo called Japanese Garden, which essentially was an interactive HD video of an owl flying around, while the landscape and seasons changed over time. This demo showcased how the tablet can add that extra element to the visuals. As the owl soared around the big screen, I could hold down the R trigger button and physically look around the entire area while moving around the tablet controller. If I looked at the tablet facing the ceiling, I would see the sky. When I looked down, I saw the ground. It felt amazing to be able to literally see a virtual world all around you. I did have some issues here and there, though. Occasionally, the view on the tablet would stop moving with me, and I would have to let go of R and start over. But considering the console isn’t fully completed yet, this didn’t concern me that much.

Chase Mii demo

The next demo I tried out was called Chase Mii. Here, four players used Wii remotes to chase and catch a fifth player who was using the tablet. I got to try the two perspectives out and had a blast with both. The player using the tablet does have a couple of advantages to thwart his pursuit. The touchscreen served as that player’s monitor and had a map of the whole level, which showed where the other four players were at all times. Also, the tablet player was given a short head start. Overall, it was simple, but showed off the console’s multiplayer capabilities very well.

The last demo I had a chance to try was called Shield Pose and was my favorite of the bunch. This one again focused on the tablet monitor, and how changing your perspective can change the way you play. This was a rhythm game, using the tablet to block projectiles coming from three pirate ships. As you felt the beat, you would move the tablet left, right, up, or to the center to deflect arrows. After you passed all the rhythm prompts, you were prompted to do a silly dance, and then use the tablet as a launcher to fire a projectile at the pirate captain by moving the tablet forward. This demo was very fun and got me thinking about what Nintendo could do for another franchise that’s been missing for some time: WarioWare. To me, this demo really showed what the possibilities were with the new controller.

Battle Mii demo

The only demo I didn’t play was called Battle Mii. This one featured Miis dressed as Samus of Metroid fame and had a three-person shootout with two Wii remote players on foot, while the tablet player used Samus’ ship to fight from above. The on-foot players could transform into a ball like Samus. It looked like a lot of fun, but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to check it out.

Overall, I was thrilled and impressed after trying the Wii U for the first time. While the system is a far from ready to hit store shelves, I got a good feel for what could become the future of video games.

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