E3 2011 Coverage : Hands on with the Wii U

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WiiUe3

The first thing I noticed when I held the Wii U’s large and alien controller was how surprisingly light and comfortable it was; I was expecting the device to weigh a heck of a lot more than it did. The second immediately apparent thing is just how sharp and crisp its 6” screen is. And then I got to play.

The queues for access to the tech demo’s, or experiences as Nintendo likes to call them, were all insanely long and it would have taken up to 3 hours just to get time with one single experience. Thankfully, we knew the right people and got whisked away to a hidden VIP area that gave us immediate access to every single demo, with nary a queue to be seen.

Here’s what we thought of each experience.

Japanese Garden
Japanesegarden

This experience, really nothing more than a tech demo showing the graphical capabilities of Nintendo’s new system impressed with its HD rendering of well…a Japanese garden. What was quite fascinating was the interesting use of the Wii U controller’s screen. While its default view was to show exactly what was being displayed on the larger TV screen, holding a trigger button and using either the analogue circle pads or the device’s gyroscope to show completely different camera views, panning around the area. It’s impressive in that the device is apparently capable of rendering two different sets of visuals that are comparable to what we get on current HD consoles at the same time; one for each screen.

Zelda HD Experience
ZeldaHD

When we saw the Wii U’s reveal at the Nintendo press conference, one of the more intriguing things shown was of an imagined Zelda game in HD. It looked amazing from our seats at the conference, but seeing it close up was nothing short of breathtaking. It’s not currently a game, but the experience gave us the chance to see what it would be like if it were to happen. The Wii U control, by default would show the dungeon map, with the simulated gameplay – rendered in real-time – taking place on the main screen. Pressing a section of the touch-screen would allow you to stream the main “gameplay” through to the controller,whike other touch screen “buttons” would allow you to dynamically alter the lighting and change the camera’s perspective. It looked incredible, and if this were to become an actual game – and by rights it should – I’d buy Wii U in an instant. Zelda in HD? Yes please!

Measure Up
This experience is a simpler one, using the same sort of casual aesthetic we see in Nintendo titles like Wii Fit. It’s a simple multiplayer game where each player is tasked with drawing something on the touchscreen within specified guidelines. We were asked to do things like draw a straight 5 cm line, or a 30cm squiggle, or an angle of 65 degrees – with the system then calculating our accuracy and tallying up scores. Other than showing us that the Wii U, although it seems to function as well as a capacitive touch screen, is actually a resistive one that includes a stylus – it demonstrated that Ian is far better at judging drawn measurements than I am.

Battle Mii
BattleMii
This was an interesting experience, and the first of our encounters showing the possibilities inherent when mixing up the use of older Wii controllers with the fancy new one. Two players controlled Mii Metroid-liker characters in a mixed third and first person perspective much like we’ve seen in Prime, aiming and shooting with the Wii motes and using the Nunchuck to move about. A third player uses the new controller to pilot a flying space ship, with the goal of it all being for the ground-based combatants to destroy this ship and vice versa.

New Super Mario Bros Mii
NSMBWii

This was a traditional 2D Mario experience, with its goal as a tech demo just being a means of showcasing how well the streaming of full games to the controller’s screen works; and it does so beautifully – without any noticeable latency, as if by magic. I did find that for some reason, I was more comfortable following the game on the smaller screen of the controller than the image shown on the TV.

Chase Mii
Chasemii

This was another Mii game sporting Wii-like visuals – but its game dynamic made it one of the most fun prototype  experiences for the new system. It’s essentially a 5 player twist on hide and go seek; with 4 players using wii motes and one using the new controller. The character using the tablet is privy to a map on the touchscreen that shows the positions of the rest of the players, and is a given a brief head start to run away and hide. The others players need to work together, scouting for and shouting out the location of the hider. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, attested by the fact that just about everybody playing had huge grins.

Shield Pose
Shieldpose

The last experience was a an odd sort, that reminded me a lot of the absurd DS title, Rhythm Heaven. In it, players are tasked with holding the Wii U controller up to the screen to block plunger arrows fired from pirate ships to the left, right and in the centre. The display on the controller would change relative to how the controller was being held; as if it were a viewscreen to an entire reality arpund you. The odd bit is that players are required to bring the controller up up in a specified music beat, and shake off the arrows by quickly pulling the Wii U controller back down, in time to the music as well. It’s a cool demonstration of how the controller can be used to give different vantage points to what’s displayed on the main TV screen.

In  the end, I left the extended hands-on session quite a bit more keen for the new console than when I entered. It’s still very much a prototype, with no real playable games – but the tech demo experiences showcased had me excited for the new gameplay experiences and world of potential offered by the Wii U.

Last Updated: June 10, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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