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E3 2011: Wii U Hands-On

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I think it’s safe to say that Wii U was the pearl of this year’s E3. It stood out tall among many of the offerings of other announcements, which came off as more conservative (including those from Nintendo as well). Not to mention I had to spend a good five hours in line just to play with the blasted thing. The Wii U represents the direction Nintendo intends to take its home entertainment. So what does it have to offer?

It’s hard to say at this point. Nearly everything was conceptual. While a lot of the things shown off were fun, if not novel at least, it was also tough to get excited about ideas over actual games. It was in pretty stark contrast to last year’s E3 when Nintendo revealed the 3DS. While most of what they showed was just trailers, nearly all of them represented actual games that would definitely be made. I suppose it can be argued it’s a lot more difficult to show Wii U’s potential with commitment to specific games, whereas all the 3DS needed to show off was its glasses-free 3D. Nevertheless, what matters most with any hardware is the games it has, so as neat as some of the Wii U demonstrations were, you’ll forgive me if I sound less than excited.

For this demonstration, everything was about the Wii U controller (which so far doesn’t have any special name). Nintendo was reluctant to really show off or go into detail about the console itself, to the point that some people reportedly thought the controller was the system itself. The major focus of the controller is its 6.2″ LCD touch screen. While this already opens up all sorts of possibilities for play control, the controller still features all the same buttons you’d find on the Wii’s classic controller, though arranged a little differently. There is also a front facing camera. The top of the controller stores the stylus pen, the AC adapter port and has a headphone jack and volume control. The bottom of the controller contains an elongated port of presently unknown use. The back of the controller has a protrusion along the upper area to rest on your fingers while you hold it. There are also a could grooves in the back that one of the Wii U hostesses, I suppose you’d call them, speculated could allow for a stand. Finally, the controller has a built in accelerometer and gyroscope.

With the generous touch screen on the front, there are a wide variety of ways it can complement games. Concepts shown off included it being used as a map and an inventory system. It is also possible to play the games directly on the controller’s screen, assuming you have people over who want to watch something else on TV. Despite being loaded with tech, however, everything on the controller is streamed from the system; there is no hardware in the controller to play games on it separately from the Wii U. It also sounds like Nintendo doesn’t intend the controller to stray too far from the console, so it won’t really double as a portable gaming device (though with any luck it can make it as far as the restroom, eheh).


Despite its rather large size, the Wii U controller is very light, and surprisingly comfortable to hold. At no point with the various demonstrations I tried did I feel any awkwardness reaching for buttons or get any strain or pain. It worked remarkably well, and there were a number of unique ways available to use it. I tried the following concept demos:

Measure Up – The first game I was directed to, since it tended to have the least amount of people at it. It was a very simple concept the demonstrate drawing on the touch screen. The game instructed you to draw various shapes; a circle with a two inch diameter or an 80 degree angle, and so forth. After drawing, it measured how accurate and near you were able to draw the requested shape. I opted for a competitive match with the Nintendo hostess, who was certainly better after hours of having to demonstrate the software. Despite how basic it was, I felt an intriguing sense of fun in trying to draw a shape and seeing how close I could get just eyeballing it. I could see Measure Up working as part of a Brain Training or Wii Fit style game.

Super Mario Bros. Mii
– I was determined to get to this next, since how well classic Super Mario Bros. plays could very well determine if I want this system. And wouldn’t you know it, it felt terrific. I may as well have been playing on the Wii remote, because there was nothing awkward about the controls. Even shaking the controller to give Mario that extra lift in jumps worked fine. The only thing that was odd was trying to play the game off the controller’s screen, which got a little disorienting. I’m not sure if this is just a concept or the beginning of a legit game, and I personally think the idea of injecting Miis into a Super Mario Bros. game is a bit weird. Nevertheless I am happy to know the Wii U will support my classic gaming habits just fine.

Chase Mii – A five player game set in a maze. Four players play with Wii remotes and chase the person using the Wii U controller. The “chasee” had the benefit of an overhead map and the ability to see where the four chasers were. The chasers could see how close they were, but had to rely on communication to track down the chasee. This game worked better for the chasee, since running around in 360 degrees with the Wii remotes D-pad is a bit tricky. I loved this demo, and playing as the chasee was very exhilarating. Incidentally, both of the multiplayer demos used just one Wii U controller, and it seems Nintendo is intending that only one Wii U controller is all the system will need (local multiplayer games will prefer Wii remotes).

Battle Mii – Another competitive game with a curious Mii meets Metroid style. Two Miis controlled by Wii remote ran around on foot, while the Wii U controller player piloted a spaceship. The soldiers could shoot anywhere the Wii remote was pointed, could charge up to fire a bomb, and could roll a la Samus’ morph ball. The ship player, meanwhile, had more life and a rapid fire gun. The objective was to hunt each other down, but this time the advantage was to the players on foot. The ship was needlessly complex to operate, and pretty slow as well. I don’t think I saw a game where the ship beat even one of the soldier players. Still, it was a pretty interesting concept. I could see this and Chase Mii together as part of some sort of “Wii U Play” type game.

Shield Pose – A game meant to demonstrate the Wii U controller’s gyroscope. This was a pretty fun Rhythm Heaven style game, although the Nintendo hostess made it clear it has no relation to the Rhythm Heaven series. On the TV screen, a pirate ordered his henchman to launch arrows at you in rhythm to some music. Following the beat, you would hold up the controller like a shield to block them, then shake to knock the arrows off. However, arrows could come from different directions, and moving the controller around like it were a moveable window you could see other ships in the distance to the right and left. There was virtually no noticeable latency in scanning around with the tablet; it was very impression.

HD Experience – There were two demonstrations that exhibited the Wii U’s graphical prowess. I only watched one, which was themed with The Legend of Zelda. In the short rendered movie, Link enters a temple and is attacked by a giant spider. The movie then repeats with the lighting changed to night (though you could change the lighting in either case). It was also possible to change the camera angle, and switch the movie between the TV and the controller’s screen. I’m really no connoisseur of graphics, but the demonstration looked detailed and sharp, both on the TV and on the controller. I would definitely say it looked as good as about anything on either the 360 or PS3.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Online – This demonstration was headed by an Ubisoft representative. The game was in a very early build, and truthfully I’m not at all familiar with the series. However, the controller functions were very intriguing. I started off by customizing my character’s weapons by sliding around options on the controller. In the actual game, the controller served as a map. With the gyroscope, it was possible to move the map around like a 3D structure. I could also tap on the map to set beacons for players to regroup at, and use radar to identify enemy locations (which were just automated turrets in the dem0). I really liked how many possibilities there were for strategic cooperative play.What’s more, the representative said Ghost Recon Online would be fully online, with its own system of user accounts and friends, essentially similar to what you’d expect with the 360 or PS3 online infrastructure. I asked if this was via the Wii U’s own online capabilities, or if it was a special network setup for the game itself. The representative told me the online network was something Ubisoft specifically required from Nintendo for the game to work.

All in all I am mostly impressed with what the Wii U controller is capable of. It opens a lot of doors for new and interesting console experiences. I think one thing I don’t much see the point of is playing on the Wii U controller to free up the TV. I see where Nintendo is going with this, but we live in an age where most households own more than one TV. Furthermore, it would probably be in Nintendo’s better interest to have a system where people would rather come together and play its games as opposed to offering TV as an alternative to playing for some people.

It’s an intriguing gamble. When Nintendo came out with the Wii, they really had a vision for a new direction of gaming, but most third parties didn’t jump on board. With the Wii U, I feel that Nintendo is letting third parties have their way now, while Nintendo themselves continues to carry their expanded audience on their own (which they essentially did with the Wii). Good questions to ask would be: will the expanded market want a Wii U, or will the Wii be good enough for them? Likewise, will core gamers find the need to jump ship from the 360 and PS3, which is likely to carry many of the same third party games the Wii U gets?

As I said before, the games are what it will really come down to. I am impressed by Wii U, very impressed. But I’m not yet sold.

Samus has had a rough go finding work after the implosion of Other M.

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One Response to “E3 2011: Wii U Hands-On”

  1. June 16th, 2011 at 11:03 am

    LBD "Nytetrayn" says:

    Huh, I didn’t even see a Tom Clancy demo where I was. Would have been neat to try.

    I do wonder if having the buttons positioned lower on the controller would make playing on its screen feel more natural, though.

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