Hands-On Preview: Wii U, Wii U GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller
“I was a big fan of Nintendo when I was younger. I was dedicated to the brand, owning most of the major console and handheld releases right up to the Nintendo 64. My interest began waning with the GameCube and bottomed out with the Wii and DS. At first I figured it was because Nintendo lost that “something special,” but that turned out to be completely false. The Zelda and Mario games (while everyone has a favourite, and it certainly can be contested which one is the “best”) being made today are some of the highest quality seen in either series. Nintendo has a formula, sure, but they’ve refined it to near perfection. Really, tastes change as people grow older, and I found that I cared less and less for the latest Nintendo platformer, and more and more for innovative and complex games seen, more often than not, on the PC or Sony and Microsoft’s consoles. I cannot deny Nintendo’s success nor their masterful grasp of the industry, as their hardware innovations with the Wii and DS have completely reshaped the marketplace and have made them a mint–it’s just tha I found myself preferring the offerings found on rival consoles. That’s not to say that I don’t like some games on either device, only that I wasn’t terribly impressed overall.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of the state of mind I had when I went in to see Nintendo’s latest offerings. I’m always excited to see new technology, but I held a certain amount of reservation. The Wii U looks like a slightly larger Wii, one that can finally stand alongside the Xbox 360 and PS3 in terms of technical specs, though not surpass them. The Wii U GamePad looks big, clumsy and awkward, and the idea of having a touchscreen in the center seemed like a doomed idea. Well, as the old adage goes: don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
After putting in some time with the console, I can say that my expectations have done a complete reversal, and I can’t wait for the Holiday launch. The graphics are better, sure, but at this point in the game, I don’t expect Nintendo to deliver the most dazzling images. No, gameplay has always been king with Nintendo, and that looks to be true here too. The games demoed were a metric tonne of fun, and I found myself really impressed with the quality of the controls.
The Wii U utilizes the old Wiimotes, but that’s fine because the Wii MotionPlus controllers are great, meaning it’s a nice concession on Nintendo’s part that you don’t have to go out and buy a whole new set of accessories (Nunchuks and Wii Fit Boards work as well). It’s the Wii U GamePad that is most impressive, though. It’s still bulky, and there were a handful of awkward moments, but I now feel that I can brush that off as part of the hazards of becoming accustomed to a new controller. Really, the controller is fine, and it’s going to come down to the game designers to be able to figure out how to make the most of the controller. During the demonstration, I played games that made clever and innovative use of the GamePad and others that made it play as clumsy as it looks. Third-party developers have long suffered on the Wii thanks in part to the difficulties with making the motion controls intuitive and interesting, but after suffering with and troubleshooting an entire generation of motion controls, now on multiple platforms, I have full confidence that we’re going to see a plethora of amazing games. From Nintendo, of course (that goes without saying), but also from third-party publishers, especially if Ubisoft’s ZombiU is going to be any indication.
Good work, Nintendo, you’ve sucked me back in, just when I was confident that I could be a snooty, jaded consumer.”
Roland’s Pro Controller Thoughts:
“I love it. It’s basically just an Xbox 360 controller, so it works wonderfully! In a move that I rather like, the joysticks have been set parallel to each other, similar to the PlayStation DualShock controller layout. There’s not a lot to say about it, because after a generation with the 360′s controller, and three with the DualShock, gamers should be prepared for what to expect, and whether or not they’ll want to purchase it. I’d say it’s worth it.”
“Before getting my hands on the Wii U, I was very skeptical. I didn’t know if I’d enjoy having a screen on a bulky controller, or a system without true ‘next-gen’ graphics. After finally playing it though, I really want one.
It isn’t that it does one thing particularly well, it’s that everything works in tandem. While we weren’t able to test out the webcam or TV remote capabilties, we checked out lots of games which used the Wii U GamePad in new and fun ways. For games like New Super Mario Bros. U, one player can have a full view of the screen and plant blocks to help out the other 4 people playing with Wii Remotes. Or in NintendoLand, you can use the touch screen to fling ninja throwing stars or have a secret view of a ghost as you chase down your friends. Throw in multiple uses for inventory management in ZombiU or Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition or a top down map like in Pikmin 3 and you have infinite possiblities.
As for the GamePad itself, it is very comfortable, lightweight, and sturdy, and has a bright and colourful screen (which is surprisingly responsive). While you can tell the visuals on the GamePad screen have seen a downgrade, it really is cool to be able to turn your TV off and continuing playing.
So, while I came in with worries, I left really enjoying my time with the Wii U and I can’t wait to finally own one.”
“The Wii U did, in fact, placate some of my doubts I had coming in. It is a worthy competitor to the PS3 and 360; this should have been the console Nintendo put out back in 2005 to stand chest-to-chest with Sony and Microsoft’s fresh-faced platforms. But instead, it’s 2012 and it’s a scrappy little buck stepping into the ring to box with a geriatric Xbox 360 and an arthritic PlayStation 3 until their successors show up to challenge it to a real fight. And that’s kind of the sad part—I was very impressed that it was keeping pace with its elderly competition. The high definition graphics on the games we sampled looked very nice, but again it feels like I’m handing out a ‘Participant’ ribbon to the kid that crossed the finish line in 35th place for having to even mention how impressive it is to see HD graphics on a Nintendo console. Even the iPhone can do HD graphics now, Nintendo, what the hell took you so long?
Hardware-wise, nearly all the games ran great—all the first-party games, anyway. It distressed me to see, as I noted in my preview for Arkham City, that it ran at a sluggish pace compared to its Xbox 360 and PS3 incarnations. If the gears start to grind a little running a simple port of an apex current-gen game at the start of its life, I’m worried to see how the console handles the more demanding games yet to come, especially once we make the jump into the next generation proper.
Now, the thing everyone wants to know about is the GamePad. Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with the GamePad. I’m intrigued by the idea of it, and some of the games we demoed, like New Super Mario Bros. U and NintendoLand, did some really cool things with it. Other games just treated it as a gimmick or didn’t really know what to make of it or do with it. It’s like Schrödinger’s peripheral—in the abstract, it is simultaneously awesome and terrible, but you don’t know what quality you’re going to experience until you actually experience it. There is a lot of room both for error and for awesome with the GamePad, and while Nintendo seems to know what it’s doing with it, only time will tell if other developers can make games that truly integrate it into the gameplay instead of just treat it like an oddity to be placated with empty token gestures.
The GamePad is surprisingly comfortable to hold for something nearly the size of the currently existing Wii. It handled much like your standard dual analog stick controller only there’s a touchscreen in the centre of it. The touchscreen itself is intuitive and easy to use—on its own however. When used as part of the controller itself, it handled a little awkwardly, especially in the middle of faster-paced action games like Project P-100, which require input with the standard buttons, thumb sticks, and the touchscreen. It meant taking my hand off the buttons to draw on the screen leaving my characters helpless on screen until I finished doodling on the pad. I tried using my left hand on it, but that just made things even worse. It’s not a great sign of things to come, but these issues can be easily rectified if developers treat the touchscreen like the DS’s, as I’ve yet to encounter a DS game that made bad use of its touchscreen.
I was worried going into the event that Nintendo was maybe a little too creative with the GamePad, and I remain worried after having played it for the better part of an afternoon. I know Nintendo is genuinely trying to involve players more intimately with their gaming experiences through innovation, but the GamePad sometimes seems like it’s more of a barrier to be surmounted, one more little thing that just gets in its own way rather than becoming a conduit to allow interplay between the player and the game. Were the GamePad a console onto itself, I’d probably be madly love with it, but since it isn’t, I’m still skeptical about it.”