Wii U Week Day Two: Hands-On and a New Nickname

In part one of my article series on Nintendo’s Wii U, I talked about my initial skeptical reaction upon the touch-screen controller being unveiled at the press briefing. This next part focuses on my hands-on time with the new controller and its Wii-Remote friends.

If objects in mirrors are closer than they appear then Wii U’s controller on the Nokia Theater screen is larger than it appears. It’s 9 inches wide by 5.3 inches high size is deceptively smaller in person than what you might think.

In hand the Wii U controller feels naturally comfortable and as importantly, light. Any concerns about the controller’s weight becoming an issue over an extended play session can be tossed. It feels no heavier than holding a 3DS or Sony Vita.

The first demo I tried was a cat-and-mouse game called ‘Chase Mii’ in which three players using Wii Remotes chase after a fourth using the WIi U controller until they catch him. I was the player being chased for 5 minutes and lasted about 4:50 before being caught. So, so close.

This was a perfect party game that will likely end up as a launch title mini-game in a compilation like Wii U Party or something like that. Using the Wii U controller’s screen exclusively to run from the chasers via an overhead map took a little getting used to, but it made the game more compelling that my adversaries – in the same room – could not see where I was unless I was in their direct line of sight.

Keeping your left thumb constantly pressed on the left thumbstick was a requirement in this game and it revealed a potential small issue I had with the new controller. I found my thumb slipping off the thumbstick on numerous occasions during the match, once almost costing me getting caught fairly early on. It could be entirely my fault for how I was pressing on the thumbstick, but is worth pointing out nonetheless.

The second demo I played called ‘Battle Mii’ was inspired by Metroid. In this demo, one person used the Wii U controller to fly a spaceship, while the other three players used a Wii-Remote to control Metroid-like characters tasked with shooting the ship down.

Notice the trend here? One Wii U controller complimented by one to three Wii-Remotes. More on that later.

I didn’t get to control the spaceship in this demo but I did talk to my press buddy who did. The way the controller worked was you had to physically move it around in a 360-degree circle to control the movements of the ship. He found this incredibly hard to get the hang of in one try and got lit up by the rest of us shooting up at him from above. I must admit it was odd glancing over and seeing him facing backward while the rest of us were looking at the monitor.

My final demo was brief but visually the most impressive. Nintendo set up a tech demonstration with Zelda to showcase the console’s 1080p high definition capabilities and processing power. You don’t play the demo in which Link is attacked by a giant spider, but you can use the Wii U controller to change some of the demo’s attributes like light source. Impressively the dynamics of the room change instantaneously on the fly from night to day.

What really jumped out in the Zelda demonstration was the Wii U controller screen resolution. Nintendo has yet to publish what it’s capable of looking, but I’d swear Link and the spider looked equally good on the controller as up on the monitor in 1080p. I’d even go as far as to say that the Wii U controller screen is pumping out an equal or higher resolution as Sony’s Vita.

There were other less impressive demos on display at Nintendo’s booth, such as using the Wii U controller as a shield to block incoming projectiles. Those I spoke of in-depth were the biggies for me and they helped reshape my impressions of Wii U.

As I walked away from Nintendo’s booth it dawned on me that Wii U is essentially a “DS untethered.” Admittedly it’s not the catchiest nickname, but it perfectly describes the experience. They’ve taken the concept of dual-screens on the DS, broken the hinge and freed the screens into two independent displays. It’s a radical design evolution for at-home gaming, but the demos proved to me that there is potential.

To not alienate the millions upon millions of users who already own a Wii, Nintendo has brought forward Wii’s controllers to the Wii U so – in theory – multiple players should be able to jump into party games right out of the box without forking out for additional Wii U controllers. It’s quite ingenious if you think about it, aside from the fact that Wii consoles will become glorified paperweights.

The best compliment I could give Wii U after playing it is that I wanted to play some more. And those were only slapped together tech demos, not the big guns that Nintendo will undoubtedly roll out for launch next year.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about Nintendo targeting third-parties for the first time in several console generations in part three of this five-part series on Wii U.

– Dan Bradley

Wii U Week Part 1: Announcement Reaction
Wii U Week Part 2: Hands-On and a New Nickname
Wii U Week Part 3: Third Party Support
Wii U Week Part 4: Questions and Concerns
Wii U Week Part 5: Optimism Prevails

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