The launch of the original Wii essentially created a new breed of gamers - those who liked to play games that required them to physically move more than their thumbs. The Wii became a console for the casual gamer, and thus it was ignored by those who preferred to play Halo
or Call of Duty
With the Wii U, Nintendo has made a big promise: a console more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that will service both casual and hardcore gamers alike. Core titles like Mass Effect 3
and Batman: Arkham City
have already been announced for the device, and the plan is that when games are released next year, they'll be released on all of the major manufacturer's platforms, not just the 360 and PS3.
But at its core, the Wii U is still all about the casual, social experiences, as we discovered when we had hands-on time with the device at E3. That's because the best feature of the device is what Nintendo refers to as 'asymmetric gameplay', which always requires at least two people.
What's asymmetric gameplay?
At the end of this year, all going well, Nintendo will release the Wii U with an in-built virtual theme park called NintendoLand. In this theme park, there'll be 12 games, including Luigi's Ghost Mansion
and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day
, both of which we got to play. These games can support not four players but five - four using regular Wii controllers and the TV screen, and one using the 6.2-inch touchscreen on the Wii U's gamepad. The person using the gamepad is competing against the four people using the TV screen - hence the word 'asymmetric'. You don't have to have a full five people, but you need a minimum of two.
In Luigi's Ghost Mansion
, four players have to find a ghost, who's controlled by the person using the gamepad. The person controlling the ghost can see where every player is on the map, but the rest of the players can't see the ghost - it's invisible. You can get a rough idea of where it is because the controller vibrates as it gets nearer. To take down the ghost, your team has to shine a light on it before it can attack you.
When Nintendo announced NintendoLand at its press conference, most of the press were rather uninterested, but more than once we heard people express surprise at how fun these minigames were. We also enjoyed them, and hope that the asymmetric gameplay won't be limited to these titles.
But how does the gamepad feel to use?
It feels pretty good, actually. While the Wii U's gamepad is very plasticky, it's deliberately designed that way so it's lightweight and able to be held for long periods of time with no problems. It fits comfortably in-hand, and the dual thumbsticks are nice to use.
If the games we've played are any indication, you won't be using the touchscreen on the gamepad all that much, which is a good thing: the touchscreen is its weakest point. That's because the Wii U's touchscreen is resistive, not capacative - so it's more like the touchscreen on a Nintendo DS than the one on your smartphone. Resistive touchscreens have an advantage in that you can use them with gloves, or a stylus, or, well, anything at all. You can control a resistive touchscreen with a piece of cardboard if you can push down hard enough. But they also have a disadvantage in that resistive touchscreens generally require you to press down hard. It can be frustrating when you're gaming and you fail something because you tapped a screen instead of grinding the tip of your thumb down against it until the screen cracked. There will be styluses for the Wii U, however, if you choose to use them.
The picture quality on the gamepad's screen is also not so great, at least not compared to Nintendo's own handheld devices. Again, it's about equivalent to the Nintendo 3DS's lower screen.
Single-player games have incorporated the gamepad in different ways - for example, some games will display your extra information, such as your inventory or your game's menu screen, on the gamepad the same way the bottom screen of your 3DS would.
Up to two of the gamepads will be useable at once for social play - but none of the launch titles will support dual gamepads.
What if I want to use a regular controller?
If you prefer a more classic controller, Nintendo was also showing off a Wii U Pro Controller. The shell of the controller is very, very similar to that on the Xbox 360, so if you like the classic 360 controller, you'll probably like the Pro Controller.
The real difference between the two controllers is that the Pro Controller has swapped around the four buttons and the thumbstick on the right-hand side. The thumbstick is where the buttons would be on the 360 or PS3 controller, and the buttons are where the thumbstick would be. Because of this, we found it quite difficult to get used to using the controller in the brief amount of time we had, and kept pressing the wrong buttons. Granted, with more time you're likely to get used to the new button placement eventually, but if you have more than one console it could be a bit tough to switch between them.
What are the graphics like?
Given that Nintendo has repeatedly told press that the Wii U will be more powerful than the Xbox 360 or PS3, we were expecting games to look better than they would on either of those two consoles. The trouble is that developers have had years to work at getting the most out of the 360 and the PS3, and Wii U developers haven't had that time.
The Wii U's graphics may not look significantly better
than that of the other consoles, but they do look roughly equivalent. It's the first Nintendo console to support full, 1080p high definition, and compared to the Wii it's a massive upgrade.
Is the launch line-up going to be better than the 3DS's?
It looks like it. The 3DS launched with an abysmal game lineup, especially here in New Zealand where we got less than half of the titles released in Japan and the USA. The first console-shifting title, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
, didn't come out in New Zealand until months after the device did.
Nintendo has clearly learned from that lesson - aside from the built-in NintendoLand games, there'll be a new Pikmin
, more of Mario, more of his brother Luigi, and games from third-party developer Ubisoft like ZombiU
, a zombie game where one bite will kill you.
Some of the Wii's big sellers will also have sequels - there'll be a Just Dance 4
and a new version of Wii Fit
, called Wii Fit U
For a more comprehensive list of upcoming Wii U titles, check out the Wikipedia page
What's left to be revealed?
You might have noticed that this article hasn't mentioned the actual specifications of the Wii U itself - that's because very little is known about them. We do know that it will have an IBM multi-core processor, a custom AMD Radeon graphics card, and 8GB flash memory, but further details on those key components are scarce.
While we know Nintendo plans on releasing the Wii U before the holidays, we don't have an exact date yet, either internationally or overseas, and we still have no idea about pricing. Here's hoping the pricetag is equivalent to that of the original Wii, or at least lower than the astronomical launch prices of Microsoft and Sony's offerings.