With the reveal of Nintendo’s Wii U console at E3 2011, scores of attendees happily waited in line outside the Nintendo booth for a chance to play with it. This writer was fortunate enough to get some exclusive hands-on with the console and unique controller. Read on to learn our impressions of the system and its many functions.
The Wii U’s most remarkable feature is its tablet controller. While we were told that the design details for both the controller and the console were not finalized yet, the controller itself was surprisingly comfortable to hold and extremely lightweight. At a about 9 inches wide, an 5.3 inches high and an inch thick at its thickest point, the controller is quite large, but manipulating the controls felt instantly familiar.
The Wii U controller features a 6-inch LCD touch-screen (16:9 aspect ratio) in its center, as well as all the bells and whistles of a standard console controller. It has two analog circle pads just above the D-pad and A/B/X/Y buttons on either side of the tablet. The back of the controller features a prominent ridge that runs along the width of the tablet. The index fingers naturally rest on this ridge, which also happens to be where the L and R buttons are found. The ZL and ZR buttons are situated on the top left and right of the Wii U controller. Start, Select, Home, and the Power button can all be found along the bottom of the Wii U controller’s face.
In addition to touch-screen and full controller capabilities, the Wii U controller also features a built-in camera, microphone, speakers, stylus (for the touch screen), and accelerometer and gyroscope. In fact, several games Nintendo demoed along with the Wii U made full use of the controller’s gyro and accelerometer capabilities.
The console itself is something of an enigma; while the Wii U console was visible behind a display at each demo kiosk, the system’s technical specifications have not yet been revealed. The system will use an IBM Power-based multi-core CPU, and AMD Radeon-based HD GPU. The Wii U supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i resolutions, and is compatible with HDMI, S-Video, component and composite video output. The Wii U will utilize internal flash memory, which can be expanded with SD memory cards or a USB HDD.
The Wii U will be backwards-compatible with Wii games (but not Gamecube games) and accessories. It can support up to four Wii Remote or Wii Remote Plus controllers, in addition to the one Wii U tablet controller. Wii input devices, such as the Classic Controller, the Nunchuk and the Wii Balance Board will also be supported.
The playable demos available for play with the Wii U were essentially mini-games (or just a cinematic demo in Zelda HD’s case), which may or may not become actual retail games. Nonetheless, they gave players a taste of what the Wii U would be capable of.
The Battle Mii demo was a Metroid-inspired shooter that pit two Powersuit-wearing Miis against Samus Aran’s ship. The ship was controlled exclusively with the tablet controller. Altitude was controlled with the right stick, while the left stick controlled movement. In order to aim, however, players would need to physically tilt and move the controller, which changed the perspective of the camera. It took practice, of course, but after shooting a few targets to warm up, aiming felt quite natural. The gyroscope was sensitive enough that only subtle movements were necessary to aim effectively (no need to spin in place like a top).
The second demo to make heavy use of the Wii U controller’s motion-sensing abilities was Shield Pose, a timing/rhythm game that had players defend themselves from volleys of pirate arrows. The Wii U controller served as the shield, and in order to effectively block attacks, players would need to move the tablet left, right, above, or directly in front of them to deflect the incoming projectiles. The game started off easily enough, with only a few arrows being shot at a predictable tempo. A few rounds in, however, and the game started to mix up the speed and direction in which these arrows came from, making shielding oneself much more challenging. After several rounds, the player is told to “dance” (I shook the controller like a raging chimp) to build up energy. Once enough the energy was collected, players could fire it at the pirates by thrusting the Wii U tablet forward, Hadouken-style.
Chase Mii was a more straightforward demo. The game takes place in a block and hedge maze, comprised of four zones of a different color (red, blue, green, and yellow). Four players with Wii Remotes take control of a respective Toad Mii, while the player with the new Wii U tablet controller is given control of the Mario Mii. A whistle blows, and the Mario Mii is given a thirty second head start to get as far away from the other players and hide. Once that time is up, what ensues is an extremely fun, Pacman-esque game of tag. The player with the Wii U remote is given a birds-eye view of the map and the position of the other players, and must maneuver the maze while avoiding them. The Toad Miis can only see what is in front of them, and must work together to ambush and tag the Mario Mii out.
Zelda HD was not a playable demo in the traditional sense. What was presented was a cinematic that showcased the graphical power and unique functions of the Wii U and its controller. The scene depicted the giant cyclopean spider Ghoma facing off against Link, in an art style clearly reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The Wii U controller played several roles in the demo. It primarily served as a map display, showing the location of the boss and Link in the room. Players could also switch the scene between day and night at the push of an icon, showcasing the Wii U’s impressive lighting and rendering abilities. Another icon allowed players to change the view of the scene, displaying the ensuing battle from various camera angles. A third icon allowed players to switch the screens on the TV and Wii U controller, displaying the scene on the Wii U controller and the map and info on the television.