Impressions On Nintendo’s Pre-E3 Wii U Announcement

Last night, Nintendo streamed a pre-E3 video briefly detailing features of their upcoming system, theWiiU.  If you happened to miss it, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with the lowdown on the new console.

The stream was hosted by Nintendo’s Global President, Satoru Iwata, who opened by speaking of Nintendo’s goal to create something unique, and the inspirations behind theWiiU.  Showing a picture of a family, who all have their noses buried in a different piece of technology.  Mr. Iwata referred to this as being “alone together”, stating that though they are spending family time together, no one is interacting.  He went on to state that the goal of the Wii U is to eliminate this and bring the family together.

Now forgive me if I’m wrong, but was this not one of the goals of the original Wii, to bring families together?  And if this is still a problem, how is making a new console with the same goal going to help?  It seems Nintendo is hoping to find success with what previously worked, which is a terrible first impression when showcasing something that’s supposed to be unique.

Continuing on, viewers were shown the system’s controller, entitled the Wii U Gamepad, which has undergone some changes.  Originally, this tablet-like device featured two circle-pad styled joysticks, similar to the one currently featured on the 3DS.  However, this setup was believed to be better suited to portable devices, where a slim profile is more desired.  So now, the Gamepad will feature two full-sized analogue sticks instead, which also have the ability to click like with the PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers.  This makes sense, as a longer stick gives a wider range of control and the click option allows for additional inputs.

The controller has also been redesigned to be a bit more comfortable.  Instead of being flat on the back, the bottom left and right sides now feature a raised and curved design for players to rest their hands around.  Thumbsticks and face buttons have also been slightly shifted, with the sticks closer to the outside of the controller, and the buttons closer to the center screen.  This design looks like it will be a lot more natural for thumb movement between the two inputs.  Overall, the remodel looks very nice, but only a hands-on will truly tell.

Also shown on the Wii U Gamepad were two interesting little features: an NFC card reader/writer and a TV button.  Gamers will be able to use the former to read data from or write data onto cards or statues (presumably similar to Skylander’s figurines and portals) and have this reflected in-game.  While not a truly unique aspect for gaming, having the feature built right into the controller is going to be a big plus for Wii U owners.

On the other hand, the TV button is something interesting.  A press of this button will bring up a remote menu on the Gamepad’s screen, which can function even without the main console being turned on, and can be used to turn the console on or off.  However, apparently it can also be used as a standalone infrared remote, meaning you no longer need to look under the couch cushions for the dedicated TV remote.  Now here is a feature that is both practical and unique, and games who are constantly losing their small remotes (like I seem to everyday) will be very happy that it’s included in the console.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wii U announcement if the controller’s screen wasn’t touched on.  Mr. Iwata showed various examples of how both your TV and controller screens could be used together to create different experiences.  The one that stood out the most was a golf section of what looked to be a Wii-Sports title.  A woman placed the Gamepad on the ground (which then acted as the tee),and then swung at her virtual ball with a standard Wii-mote.  Her shot was then reflected on the main screen, from a first-person perspective.

This is definitely the selling point of the Wii U so far: being able to use two different visual references to play a single game.  We’ve already seen how it can be used in action titles (such as The Legend of Zelda), placing maps or equipment on the controller screen while keeping all the action on the TV.  This way there’s no need to break immersion with a pause button; just a quick tap from your thumb and you’ve now got a bow at the ready or you know the layout of the room.  While it’s a fantastic concept, we’ll have to wait and see if it has the software to back it.  After all, you can’t have an in-depth adventure with just cool hardware alone.

Moving along, Mr. Iwata briefly explained that the Gamepad will feature motion and gyro sensors as well.  Not much detail was given, other than it will use “more intuitive motions to control a game.”  A quick snippet of gameplay footage of a Wii-Sports game demonstrated a bit of this feature, showing off a baseball game.  The ball had been hit out into the field, and was traveling away from the TV screen’s camera.  On the Pad, however, the screen showed the ball coming towards the camera with a small red circle in the center, which the player kept the ball inside of via motion.  Eventually, the ball landed and it was revealed that the circle was the catch area of a baseball glove.  While it looks interesting, it’s once again down to software, because if there aren’t any quality games to utilize this feature, it will all go to waste.

Of course, Mr. Iwata stated all the bells and whistles of the Wii U were thanks to its improved graphics processing capabilities.  To be honest though, while graphics on the Wii U are a massive step up from the original Wii, they’re nothing particularly special.  Sure, from the few demos we’ve seen thus far they look great, maybe even slightly better than our current Xbox or PlayStation, but with hints of new systems from Microsoft and Sony it’s possible that the Wii U could become another over-shadowed console in terms of visuals.

Our cheery narrator went on to show other ways the Gamepad could interact with our TVs, or rather how it works without them.  Thanks to the pad having its own screen, it can work independent from your TV, meaning players can continue playing as though it were a portable device.  Parents can watch their shows without having to stop their kids from playing their game – assuming the title doesn’t require both screens, that is.

While this is sure to be a blessing for families with children, it also seems counterproductive to Nintendo’s mission against “alone together”.  If you want families to come together as one, why give the option for a player to seclude themselves?  Don’t get me wrong, as a gamer I think it’s a fantastic idea, but it just seems to distract from the presented goal.

Another key feature mentioned was the fact that the Wii U can use any current Wii motion controller, including the Wii-mote, Nunchuk, and Balance Board.  While this is old news, Mr. Iwata revealed the Wii U Pro Controller.  Similar in function to the Classic Controller Pro for the original Wii system, this version is tailored to the layout and features of the Wii U.

Sharp-eyed gamers will notice something very quickly though, and that’s just how similar it looks to an Xbox 360 controller.  The design of the Pro Controller is nearly identical to Microsoft’s design, only swapping the positions of the right thumbstick and face buttons on the right side of the controller.  Although it’s not hard to understand Nintendo’s choice, as many gamers know and love the controller’s feel, it seems incredibly cheap as well, as though they’ve run out of their own design ideas.

After this announcement our guide took a short video break, playing a trailer that quickly showed off features of the Wii U’s social aspects, known as the Miiverse.  Instead of running through the video, full of painfully bad acting, let’s just move on and talk directly about the features.

The Miiverse is an interactive social environment present throughout every aspect of the Wii U.  With it, players are able to make posts within spaces dedicated to specific games (whether to ask for help or just comment on a title), video chat with other players worldwide, and even leave a comment within a game itself.

A good example of the latter is within what appeared to be gameplay footage of a new Super Mario World title.  The gamer had run through the 2D side-scrolling course, only to accidently plow into a koopa creature.  While the screen went black, speech bubbles appeared with chat left from other gamers, with phrases like “How did I forget that turtle was there again?”  After the world map loaded back up, other players had left phrases all around it, stating their favorite locations or places they had troubles.

This concept is something that is truly ground-breaking, and could greatly augment our gaming experience, but some boundaries need to be set with it.  There will need to be rules detailing what can be posted, and gamers need the option to select who they see posts from.  I wouldn’t want my children playing Mario to find a series of frustrated curse words, left by a stranger that couldn’t get past some goombas.  Select gamers may also only want to see posts from friends, or would like to ignore it entirely, so a wide array of options would need to be available.  Handled well, however, and it’s a service that I’m sure many gamers would love to see carried over to other consoles.

After some more talk about the Wii U’s goal of bringing sunshine, smiles, and laughter to a living room near you, Mr. Iwata said his goodbyes, and the Pre-E3 video ended.  From the amount of info about the Wii U we’ve been given up until now, it’s looking like it has some potential.  While it boasts several unique and interesting features, they’re going to need to be very well delivered for the console to stand out.  Otherwise, it may sit on shelves as a glorified Wii.

The system must also deliver in the games department.  I’m not talking about a few good Zelda and Mario titles that happen to use the systems’ key aspects, but new IPs that were built from the ground up for the console.  As fun as it is to save Mushroom kingdom again and again, a brand new title that makes use of each unique feature will prevent the system from being just another place to put N64 remakes and third party ports.

More information is sure to be revealed at Nintendo’s press conference tomorrow, hopefully alongside some title announcements, but for now things are generally looking good.  Stay posted for more news and impressions as E3 continues this week!



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