This year’s E3 was my first time getting to experience the Wii U, a full year after the console was announced to the public. Upon gearing up for my first hands-on demo of Nintendo’s new hardware, I was as excited to check out the console in person, as I was the Wii U GamePad.
First things first, the Wii U is small, something not so noticeable from the handful of press photos or promotional videos you’ve seen. Wii U is much closer in size to the Wii than today’s other HD offerings. It’s also a really good looking console, not too wide with rounded ends compared to its boxier predecessor. The console is horizontal only, a decision made with the intent of having this small device fit your existing living room setup, without being a distracting showstopper. Shown in both white and black, the glossy black finish definitely has my undivided attention.
Now onto the console’s biggest attraction, the incredibly alluring Wii U GamePad. While it may appear quite large compared to the average controller — especially the Wii Remote– this bad boy feels incredible in your hands. The width of the GamePad makes it the most comfortable controller I’ve used, alleviating the cramped carpal tunnel-inducing position you’re used to from traditional smaller controllers. With the GamePad, your hands are spaced to a more natural position. You also have two slightly raised grip handles for each hand on the back, making the GamePad easy to twist and turn without fear of dropping. Buttons feel great, similar to the Wii Remote, and analog sticks are a dream.
Now onto that beautiful 6.2″ touchscreen. Nintendo has already stated that each game can use the touchscreen differently, whether serving as a map, an inventory menu, or even an exact mirror of the game you’re playing on your TV. One game I played during my hands-on time was Scribblenauts Unlimited, which went with a mirrored display. Mirroring gives players more accuracy and ease when creating or selecting objects. I would simply look at the TV, see an item that I wanted to interact with, then quickly touching that item with my finger on the touchscreen.
The biggest issue with that type of gameplay is the back and forth glancing between two screens that seems a bit like a burden. I’m sure it will become second nature, as it did with Nintendo’s line of DS handhelds. Because the resolution on the touchscreen is so sharp, I often found myself just playing the game right on the Wii U GamePad, forgetting there was a large HD TV two feet away. I would imaging that’s going to be a common theme, though it’s hardly a bad thing, just more of an observation. For me, the controller will prove its usefulness when serving as an add-on to the TV’s on-screen action, showing content that supplements the gameplay.
Visually, software looks incredible running on the Wii U. Capable of running full 1080p, games look crisp and colorful. It’s great seeing Nintendo titles like Pikmin 3, or New Super Mario Bros. U with beautifully detailed environments, shadowing, and lighting effects never before possible on a Nintendo platform. Scribblenauts for instance was just so clean and blemish-free, visuals alone made me want to continue playing. The Wii’s visuals were tolerable, but Wii U raises the bar for a high-quality visual experience that Nintendo fanboys have waited for.
Though my time with the console was limited, it’s clear Wii U is everything Nintendo is making it out to be. As we approach its holiday release window, I’m looking forward to seeing how more developers utilize the GamePad to offer different types of experiences. Trust me, you have plenty of reasons to start getting excited.