Nintendo took the wraps off the Wii U, their next generation gaming console, previously dubbed Project Cafe. Ever since the launch of the original Wii in 2006, and despite its groundbreaking and influential Wiimote game controllers, one of the Wii’s major criticisms is that it was graphically weak in comparison to the Xbox 360 and the PS3. With the high definition capabilities of the Wii U, Nintendo finally has the opportunity to even those odds, as well as introduce a new controller. So will the Wii U finally satisfy “true gamer” naysayers? Let’s take a look.
First let’s look at the Wii U controller itself. It’s significantly larger than handhelds like the PSP, but much smaller than an iPad. It boasts a 6.2 inch 16:9 single-touch screen (which is NOT an HD display), accelerometer/gyroscope, and front-facing camera. According to Nintendo, it is not intended to be used away from the console like a mobile handheld, but always an extension of it. Surrounding the screen on either side is the standard dual stick/d-pad/action button/trigger button configuration that adorns the PS3 and XBox controllers.
Here’s a potentially disappointing aspect: Nintendo’s Sr. Mgr. Shigeru Miyamoto states that only one controller is to be used per console. Beyond the controller, up to 4 standard Wii remote controllers may be connected, and there’s talk of the future ability to connect 3DS units as controllers.
The main console is quite nondescript, and in this early demonstration unit does not even have the unique design lines of the Wii. It’s expected this will change by ship date. There is no Blu-Ray support, and games will come on proprietary 12cm media, a la the Wii.
There were several games on display, and I got to test drive a few. Nintendo took great pains to emphasize that none of these were in a finished state and were meant to demonstrate gameplay concepts rather than final games. The first was a reboot of Super Mario called Super Mario Mii, where your Mii gets to play alongside Mario and Luigi. For this, standard Wii remotes were used, and the Wii U controller mirrored the main console.
Next up was Chase Mii, and this is where the Wii U controller starts to shine. Up to four players using Wiimotes chase down a fifth through a maze, using a Wii U controller, but that player has the advantage of having a top-down view of the playing field, while the chasers only see their third-person views on the main screen.
Next were a couple of HD tech demos, one that depicted a bird at flight through a Japanese garden, and one that, interestingly enough, was an HD cinematic of Zelda’s Link tackling a giant spider boss. For this demo, the Wii U screen acted as map of the level, and had controls to change the environment and camera angle. This is where I finally got to take a look at the Wii’s graphic capabilities, and I must say, I was less than impressed. As demonstrated, it’s nowhere near as capable as the PS3 nor the Xbox. I’m attributing this to the fact that the Wii U is still at an unfinished stage, and hope this improves by ship date.
A demo level of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon was next, and here Nintendo taps into what could be a revolutionary game mechanic. Gameplay is as normal with the Wiimotes, but tactical information was shifted out of way to the Wii U controller screen, where the touchscreen could be used to call up information, change strategy, etc. This left the main screen clear for gameplay. This could potentially transform any strategy game already cluttered by menus and submenus.
Lastly, Nintendo demonstrated yet another way to use their new controller, in what they call ‘Shield Pose’. You hold the controller in front of you, with the back facing the main screen, and use it as you would a shield. Their example app was a game where an onscreen pirate directs his crew to shoot toy arrows at you from different directions, and you lift the Wii U controller to block the arrows, which, if successful, stick to the screen with a resounding ‘pop’. This was a heck of a lot of fun, and I see a lot of future use coming out of this game mechanic.
While it may still be too early to tell if the Wii U can match or best the competition in graphics capability, one thing’s for certain: with the Wii U controller, Nintendo has revolutionized gameplay once again and I look forward to seeing how developers will take advantage of this new technology.