When you are essentially catching up to your competition from a horsepower standpoint, there is little point talking about polygons, 1080p, 5.1 surround sound, and other things of the like because everybody else is already doing it. And to their credit, Nintendo in their press conference at E3 2011 stayed well away from this stuff and focused on their hook for the newly announced Wii U console: the revolutionary controller. And not just the controller, but all the options it presented, either used alone, or with your current Wii controllers.
That’s the message we get from Nintendo, anyways. But how does it work in practice? Well, if the tech demos we got a chance to try out are any indication, it’s going to work really well. Sure, it was a very controlled environment with simple experiences, but some of the demos on display almost felt like they could have been released immediately, and showed the massive potential that the Wii U has.
First up, we played a game called Measure Up, which involved going head to head with Greg to perform given tasks like drawing a line 2.5 inches long, or drawing other shapes of a required length, and being awarded points for how close you got. This was designed to showcase the large resistive touchscreen (using a stylus, just like the DS and 3DS) moreso than the main screen itself, which just served to show results. The unit feels very solid, if not a bit large in your hands. In fact, little hands may have a problem holding this controller when used in more traditional modes.
Next up was a rhythm game called Shield Pose. This really showcased the capabilities of the separate screen on the controller. A pirate ship is shooting arrows (suction cup tipped, mind you) and you have to stop them with your controller/shield. As you moved the controller up, down, left, and right, as required by the game, you would see other pirate ships come into view that were shooting at you. Almost like they are there the whole time, and the screen just reveals them. The possibilities for extending the game world beyond the main screen are intriguing, to say the least.
We also got a pure tech demo of the graphical capabilities of the machine by going through a Zelda world in full 1080p. You could navigate somewhat here and there using touchscreen or other controls on the Wii U Controller, but this was more about seeing what Link and Co. look like in high definition. It looked impressive, but not unlike anything you’ll already see on the other consoles.
Finally, perhaps our favourite game was Chase Mii. This highlights the ability to use the Wii U controller along with the legacy Wii Remotes in the same game. Basically, one player gets to use the Wii U controller. They are “it” and get a 15 second head start to take off from the pack. They play entirely on the controller, and are given a birds eye view of where they are and where their pursuers are at all times. Meanwhile, the up-to-four chasers play on the main screen, split into four parts to accomodate them. They can only see the main screen and don’t get the bird’s eye view that the “it” person gets, though they do get an indication of how close they are. Thus, the four chasers must communicate and work together to try and catch their target, using their Wiimotes as controllers. This was tremendous fun, as both chaser and chasee, and showcased the potential of mixing control mechanisms. This particular demo seemed ready-made for families to play together, and played it multiple times it was that much fun.
All in all, we’re really impressed with this very early build of the Wii U, and are looking forward to seeing what developers will come up with. And we’re really hoping Chase Mii is included in some title or bundle on release. It does seem that there will be practical applications for both hardcore and casual gamers, as Nintendo tries to achieve their stated goal of a console for everybody.