Wii U: hands-on with Nintendos new touch-screen controller

Immediately after Nintendo announced its new Wii U hardware (opens in new tab)(and corresponding controller) the company invited a select group of journalists behind the stage for a quick peek at the tech as it exists today. The “games” on display were merely experimental concepts that could power future titles on the Wii U, and weren’t necessarily confirmation of any concrete announcements. To that end, Nintendo insisted on calling these “experiences,” not games; I happen to agree with the sentiment, as none of these could power a whole game, but do suggest a wide variety of ideas that could be possible.

The Legend of Zelda:
HD Experience

For five long years I’ve waited to see Zelda portrayed in gorgeous HD, and at long last, Wii U will make that dream a reality. No foolin’, no dancing around my very clear personal bias – I literally cannot wait to see and play the living hell out of whatever Nintendo kicks out the door. But this demo of a Twilight Princess-era Link facing off against Gohma will likely not be that game. Instead, this demo was meant to show off the 360/PS3-level graphics, lighting and environmental effects, as well as the many combinations of TV/controller setups.

Above: One of many potential setups for TV/controller

The demo began with game video on the television. I saw Link enter a brilliantly lit castle, then slowly walk through a row of torches when a massive shadow scurried across the windows. Gohma then smashed in through the ceiling and a brief battle ensued. This played out like a typical game setup. The next time through the demo, I could swap the map to the controller screen and leave the other action on the TV, creating a HUD-free image. Another option is seen above, with half map, half screen on the TV and full game on the controller. None of these are definite approaches, but they suggest a level of malleability that isn’t possible with other consoles.

Above: Genuine excitement

Shield Pose

Nintendo may have said the games on display were not, in fact, games, but Shield Pose uses the new tech so well and in a fun, accessible way that I have to assume it will blossom into a full title later on. Part Rhythm Heaven, part Parappa the Rapper, Shield Pose hurls arrows at you from four different angles, and you have to literally move the Wii U controller to intercept each of these projectiles. It’s a simple idea, but surprisingly fun, and made even better with a rhythmic beat playing underneath.

The beat actually acts as your cue to raise the controller; for example, the pirate leader will say “Center, Left, Right,” and then in time with the music you must point the controller toward the center, left and right of the TV to block the arrows. The controller monitor acts as a whole other window into this world, where you can see the TV pirate ship in the distance, but also as you turn around you can see the other two ships firing at you. Hell you can even spin all around and look in any direction and there’s a fully rendered environment existing entirely on the controller.

Finally, after each wave you must shake the controller to brush off the arrows, but also to the beat of the music. The lyrics and vibe, again, are very much a Rhythm Heaven/Parappa mix, so this idea stands a chance of powering a full game.

Chase Mii

Here, four players (using Wii Remotes) run around a colorful maze in search of a fifth player who’s on the run. The four TV players have a map of the level in the center of the screen, but can’t discern where the fifth is until they actually find him. That player, meanwhile, uses the controller screen to track the other players and stay one step ahead. Like Shield Pose it’s a basic application of the technology, but it’s also surprisingly fun. Sort of like Pac-Man with people.

The concept of the controller player seeing and doing something completely different from the TV is assuredly something we’ll see more of next year when Nintendo finally details the launch lineup.

Next page: Battle Mii and a breakdown of the controller itself

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