Wii U hands-on with video

At its E3 2011 press conference Nintendo unveiled its next home console, the Wii U, coming in 2012. The system's unique controller, which features a 6.2-inch screen, accelerometer, gyroscope, rumble, inward-facing camera, microphone, and speakers, stole the show. A video touted the many possibilities this wide combination of features opens to game designers. It showed a golf game, with the controller set on the floor, its screen displaying the lie of the golf ball. And there was a ninja game, where the player held the controlled flat out in front of them and flicked their fingers across its touchscreen to hurl throwing stars in the scene on the main TV. But the trailer left many questions and room for doubt. Recognizing the unavoidable skepticism, Nintendo came ready to answer with playable prototypes of game concepts using the Wii U system. I played six of them, each of which offered me an intriguing glimpse at the creative potential. To get a better feel for yourself, watch our video of the Wii U demos being played and see the impressions of each below. BOOM video 9371

Chase Mii

Chase Mii: One of two demos that highlighted the use of the on-controller screen as a way for one player to participate in a game outside the confines of what was being seen on the main TV, Chase Mii setup a five-player game of tag. The person playing "it" used the new Wii U controller to move around an arena environment that featured a maze of paths and ramps. On the controller's screen, that player saw both a close view of their character useful for controlling movement and a top down map of the whole area good for seeing where exactly the pursuers were. The other four players saw the action in four-player split screen on the main TV. They guided their characters using the familiar Wiimote in an attempt to chase down the Wii U player. Simple as that sounds, matches got quite intense. With the disadvantage of not having a broad view of the world, the pursuit team had to work together, calling out sightings and sometimes having one person stay back to climb an observation tower to help spot the runner. It also turned out to be pretty difficult to get away for the full two minutes it took to win as the pursued.

Battle Mii

Battle Mii: The other demo to feature one player doing something on the Wii U controller while others played on the main TV screen, Battle Mii setup a sci-fi themed arena-battle between two players using Wiimote control working together on foot against the Wii U player in an armed flying saucer. The catch for the spaceship pilot is that the player flies around from the first person perspective. Using the two sticks for movement, the player "looked around" with the controller to control their facing and aim at the opponents. This arrangement must have been pretty funny to watch for those not playing. The two regular players would be intently staring at the TV while next to them stood the WiiU player, holding the controller up in front of their face and moving all around. In game, though, it worked to create an interesting separation between the two sides that at the same time maintained a sense of balance. Running around on foot felt a little like trapped prey but then I played as the saucer and realized it was equally tense searching for the ground players not really knowing when one might be lying in wait to ambush me around the next corner.

Shield Pose

Shield Pose: To show how the new in-controller screen could be combined with motion control for a more casual game, Nintendo offered the Shield Pose demo. A "Simon Says" style rhythm game, the demo used the Wii U controller as a shield, which had to positioned in response to incoming volleys of arrows in time with the beat of the music. The patterns chased the main ship in view on the screen, and then ships to the right and left on the horizon visible only in the controller screen, and shots dropping from above that required looking up to block. Simple, but fun to play, this demo felt the most connected between what I was doing with the Wii U controller and the action in the game.

New Super Mario Bros

New Super Mario Brothers Wii: Nintendo had to bring out a familiar face and Mario answered the call. Five levels were available to play and they delivered exactly as expected. There's no surprise to Mario but that makes it no less enjoyable to play, and in HD on the main TV screen it's never looked batter. This demo also featured the ability to transfer the action to the screen on the Wii U controllers. Doing so worked smoothly, and made it apparent that while it might not be the very pinnacle of screen tech, the LCD in the Wii U controller looks quite good. It displays a colorful, sharp image with only a little backlight leakage around the edges.

HD Experience

HD Experience: The HD Experience demo was the most tech-oriented of the group. There was no game to play here, only an example of how HD gaming looks on the system and how the Wii U controller can be used in conjunction with a traditional game. The scene was Zelda's Link inside a vaulted ceiling cathedral squared off against a giant spider. It looked on par with the expectations for modern HD games with detailed artwork, natural lighting, and a realistic complexity to the environment. Using the Wii U controller I was able to change the lighting from day to night, swap between camera angles, and switch the game over to the screen on the controller. Doing the latter again showed that the little screen is quite capable of displaying an HD game.