Hands on with Nintendo's Wii U
Give it to Mii...
First look It's been widely discussed, dissected and generally accepted that E3 2011 was something of a misstep for Nintendo; last year's unveiling of Wii U was met by much scratching of heads as press and public alike tried to fathom what we might expect from the gaming firm's Mario Wii U console.
How were we meant to hold such cumbersome-looking tablet controllers for extended periods? What exactly was the system's horsepower? Might it suffer the same fate as the Wii and end up ignored by third parties once Sony and Microsoft usher in their next generations? Most importantly, was that really the best name they could come up with?
With its rivals still holding back on their next machines, this year's E3 was Nintendo's to grab by the scruff of the neck, where it could convince punters that we need tablets with our consoles. So, after a year of development, is the Wii U enough to make a wolverine purr?
First to the tablet, now known by its official name: the Wii U GamePad. It's a device Nintendo is calling 'the first controller with a screen' (even if we gamers know that Dreamcast already did that whole thing way back when).
It has all the same inputs you'd expect of a regular pad (Nintendo almost shouting to EA and Activision shooters that they'll feel at home on the device). It can scan in character models (in a similar way to Skylanders), it has tilt and Wiimote sensors built in and it can even be used in conjunction with a second GamePad – though, so far, that last point has only been announced and not demoed.
I'm left pleasantly surprised by how light the GamePad feels in my hands. It's a more compact device than, say, the iPad, and while I wasn't able to play for several consecutive hours at E3, the device never felt anything other than a naturally contoured fit in my hands, whether using it as a traditional pad or in a more novel way.
In fact novelty is what Nintendo seems hell-bent on pushing, for while the likes of Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City are being ported to the console by third parties, none of Nintendo's titles look too far beyond what we've seen on the Wii: its policy of gameplay over graphics seems set to continue.
Nintendo Land perhaps best illustrates this, offering 12 mini-games in the guise of areas of the Nintendo Land theme park, each of which make interesting use of the GamePad to offer their own unique experience.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, for example, has the GamePad player controlling two candy guards – one mapped to the left analogue stick, the other to the right – while other players viewing proceedings via their TV take up the still-compatible Wiimotes in a bid to collect all the candy without being caught.
Next page: Panoramic power
I see a great potential for the tablet style controller, if they use it right... My first thought was good old fashioned RPGs. It used to be a PITA to switch to your inventory, map, spellbook, etc... Now you can have all of that on the tablet and keep the gameplay on the screen... Think of Fallout 3 with your pip-boy on the controller all the time...
Also possible are social multiplayer games that couldn't previously be done on a console.. Like Texas-Holdem... I think it's kinda pointless on a console, but none-the-less you could have your hand on the controller and the community cards on the TV.... Now a creative sort could come up with all sorts of fun games where there is a private element and a shared public element like this that could take advantage of the tablet.
It'll still never appeal to hardcore gamers... and so what? The market is casual gamers like myself who love to play simple mario mini games with friends and family and have never 'fragged' anything in my life... The truth is, we outnumber the gamers in the big wide world and make Nintendo a lot of money, which is the objective of business.
Hmm, exactly the same criticism levelled at the original Wii: "OMFG everyone else has HD graphics, this thing's dead".
Then it pwned the market, leaving Sony and MS looking rather puzzled to find that gameplay actually trumps eyecandy.
The mass market for consoles is those bought for kids to have fun with rather than serious gamers to count pixels on. Who knew?
100m sales tell me that you're in the minority with your opinion and, even despite that, who cares? You don't like it? Don't buy it. I don't come on here and troll every Sony review, for instance, because I don't like them, I just don't buy one.
There's a lot you can do with the second screen but without games already using both screens you wouldn't really know. Hell, it's not hard to imagine an FPS or RPG where your inventory is kept private so you can compete against others in the same room without them knowing what you're about to throw at them. The second-screen worked quite well on the DS, for instance. And seriously, pressing a button to have your character pack the shotgun into your backpack and pull out and load a pistol doesn't break your "immersion"? You're a gamer, through and through.
Nintendo are building consoles NOT FOR YOU. So don't buy them. Meanwhile the 100m (at least) of us who have a Wii in the house will probably be looking at the next version just to play a silly party game once a year with friends (hell, that's the only reason I have a Wii, it's the only physical console of "this" generation that I own, and I've been gaming since the Spectrum).
Not everything is about pixel-perfect shooters. In fact, I can name at least four people in my family who don't play games on anything but the Wii because, and I quote one of them, "all those other games are too fast and need me to do stuff too quickly and I like to look around and work things out rather than have to jump perfectly in a split-second all the time". Sounds like some of us can have fun with the Wii or Wii U, then, and that - after everything is said and done - is all that matters to anyone with a games console.
Hell, I'd probably end up with one when they got to a sensible price just for the semi-annual Christmas / birthday gatherings where friends come over and we end up playing Wii Bowling. This from someone who, personally, has poured 50 hours into the CS:GO beta and considers that merely "casual" gaming for myself.
In Nintendo's defense, they did the N64 with marketing focused on being the most powerful console on the market, and it got beat by the competition (I wouldn't call it a failure, they still seemed to sell well).
Then there was the Gamecube, which again I believe was fairly powerful. It certainly seemed powerful compared to the PS2. Same thing.
Then there was the Wii, underpowered, focused on gameplay, not power, and it sold more than the competition, and they made profit on the units when their rivals were making a loss..
That is all anecdotal and from the top of my head, not checked or researched, but I believe it to be a fair description of the last three generations.
So if you were Nintendo and about to release a new console, what would you do? I know what I would be selling and it wouldn't be cutting edge.
I honestly can't wait
It's probably the most innovative control system I've ever seen to jump about collecting coins.