Hands-on with the WiiU

After Nintendo’s announcement about their next generation console, the WiiU, at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, we at Gamer Living were split into two camps of excitement versus skepticism.  What would this new console have to offer?  Would it be something to finally rival the Xbox and PlayStation 3?  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to have hands-on time last June – something that Nintendo happily rectified for us at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Situated in a room at the Hilton, the Nintendo crew enthusiastically presented to us the WiiU in the same form as seen at E3 2011, along with the wireless controller with the built-in display.  Before the demonstration started, the Nintendo employees were quick to reiterate that what we see right now is not necessarily what the final product will look like, and the features may or may not change.

What we saw was an innocuous-looking, tiny white console and a controller that resembled a tablet or even a portable gaming console.   The addition of a 6.2” touchscreen, camera, and speakers to the WiiU controller gives Nintendo gamers a unique gaming experience for both cooperative and combative play: instead of having a split screen on the TV, one player can have a different view of the game on the controller itself; what shows on the controller’s screen is completely independent of what’s projected on the TV screen.  The controller also has built-in gyroscopes and accelerometers, allowing the player to manipulate the game by moving about in their physical environment. To showcase the WiiU and its controller’s features, Nintendo shared with us two tech demos (not games, they stressed), entitled “Chase Mii” and “Battle Mii.”

In “Chase Mii,” five players engaged in an interesting and complex game of tag.  The main premise was simple enough: on a playing field split into four different-coloured quadrants, four of us would team up to catch the one person trying to evade us in a specific timeframe.  Fail to catch the fifth person before the time runs out and we lose.  Then came the complex part: the four catchers had to work cooperatively, and communication was integral. We had to tell each other when and where we saw the runner, verbalizing his every move (e.g. “He’s in the red, heading towards the back and green!”).  Not only that, but a powerup was provided mid-game to the runner, allowing him invincibility and speed.  Furthermore, our prey had an advantage over the rest of us: with the new controller in hand, he had an omnipotent map to look at, allowing him to see where all the seekers were; with his back turned away from the TV we began to play.

The “Battle Mii” experience was somewhat similar: two players team up (using regular Wiimotes) to bring down a hostile spacecraft (controlled by the new controller and a third person).  Again, the third person had a different view on his controller’s screen, while the TV was split into two sections showing the other’s view of the game.  This time, however, the third person could navigate the spacecraft by moving the controller left and right, using it like a steering wheel of sorts.

After watching the players use the new controller, it became a bit confusing to me.  It almost seemed like the controller was a portable console that could be paired with the Wii.  Unfortunately for Nintendo, this seemed to be a confusion shared by the majority of consumers.  With the emphasis on the new controller’s features (and its capabilities are indeed impressive), many people asked if the WiiU is just a new portable console.  The WiiU video further exacerbated this misunderstanding, as one of the features of the controller is that you can continue a game on the controller’s screen if someone wants to watch a show on the TV.

But what sets the WiiU apart from Nintendo’s other home consoles?

Well, Nintendo was able to show us a snippet of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the new console, and with the game playing on the big screen we also got an up-close and personal look at the WiiU in all its 1080p glory – and I, for one, was pretty impressed.  The colours were vibrant and crystal clear, both on the TV and on the controller’s screen.  It was also interesting to have two different perspectives of the game between the screens without having to lift a finger.  Also, with the new controller, you could see a mini-map on the smaller screen.  I can just see developers taking advantage of this feature, allowing you to have game maps, weapons/armor customization, etc. literally right at your fingertips.

The new controller’s capabilities open up a slew of possibilities with games. However, I guess any speculation right now is pointless, as the features we saw were not finalized.  Me, bitter? Surely not!  We’ll just have to wait with bated breath to see what Nintendo finally releases.

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January 19, 2012 - 7:43 pm