Hands-On: Wii U Is A Surprisingly Elegant Console With A Strongish Line-up
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that criticised the Wii U’s release schedule. I still stand by the notion that it is the worst I’ve seen in a long time for a console, but the one thing I made clear was that the console itself could be a promising prospect for the future that will sell like hot cakes, eventually! So consider this then a primer for the new Nintendo console. Should you get one and what will be there when you purchase it?
Probably the first thing is to discuss is the Wii U itself. Graphically, the games don’t look too much more advanced than the likes of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but then again neither did they upon first release. Games that have appeared on other platforms, such as Darksiders II and Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Wii U Edition, look about as good as they do on the other consoles. In the case of Tekken, I was alarmed when not even the Namco Bandai representatives could tell why the game was running at a third of the usual speed, but that is not representative itself of the Wii U.
The Wii U GamePad itself has largely been touted as one of the important things about this console, to the point where the first reveal of the console was just the GamePad. Now having used one, I can see why that is. Equipped with a touch screen, button interface, and gyro sensors, it can do some amazing things. Perhaps the most marvelling of the lot is that you can use it as a panoramic viewer. While a TV can only display a 180 degree viewpoint, by rotating the GamePad, you can see what would be behind you. The gaming use of this was shown off in Nintendo Land’s Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest game, but I was informed that you should be able to do this in ZombiU as well.
Using the touch screen isn’t as fiddly as one might think, with transitions between touch and buttons being fairly seamless. One thing I did find was that Nintendo designed the GamePad for tiny hands, as I found it very hard to grip. During one play-test I nearly dropped the device, much to the shock of the Nintendo Rep standing next to me. When you can grip the device, it has smooth edges to make it as ergonomic as is physically possible.
The Nintendo Wii U Pro Controller on the other hand was only available for some games on show. Picking up the controller was the first sign that this was not the best controller Nintendo have designed. People are saying it is a carbon copy of the Xbox 360 controller, but I’d go as far to say that it is an inferior piece of kit. It is stupidly light and looks cheap and nasty compared to previous Nintendo controllers. It’s as if the Xbox 360 controller and the original Six-Axis PlayStation 3 controller were merged together in an unholy Nintendo fusion experiment. Thankfully you can use all your Nintendo Wii peripherals with the Wii U, so that will save your bank balance.
The main focus of the Wii U’s showing so far and the one game Nintendo were heavily publicising was Nintendo Land, with five of the 12 attractions on offer at the Eurogamer Expo. Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest pitted two swordsmen with Wii Remotes and an archer with the GamePad against an onslaught of Moblins and Chu Chus. While those with the Wii Remotes only needed to remember how to play Skyward Sword, the GamePad user had a panoramic view of the proceedings, being required to aim at foes. Reasonably similar in look and feel to the aforementioned Skyward Sword, this was a bit of a challenge as life totals were shared, but easily came off as the weakest of the offerings.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Days was next and much like the series itself was utterly adorable to look at. This was one of those asymmetric multiplayer modes, where one player with the GamePad is against those with the Wii Remotes. Three players must gather as many sweets from the orchard by working as a team to make them fall from trees, while avoiding the two guardsmen controlled by the GamePad user. The thieves can eat or drop sweets at will, but must get 50 of them before their team life total is reduced by three. Guardsmen can reduce this life total by pouncing on them. As the sweet thieves, you can distract the guards long enough for your team mates to gather the required quota; while as the guardsmen you can separate them by using separate control sticks and triggers to control them independently, setting up ambushes. Playing both roles was a thrilling experience that definitely justifies the case for asymmetric gaming.
Eerily similar to this was Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, a game for up to four players with Wii Remotes and one GamePad user. The object is for the Remote users to shine a torch on the ghost controlled by the GamePad user enough times to whittle its HP to zero before the ghost can incapacitate all the hunters. Being a hunter was a true test of teamwork as separation could prove fatal, while reviving another player is perilous to say the least. As for being the ghost, it was a heck of a lot of fun trying to play mind-games with the four other players. While I found this one to be the best on show, I can see the limited run of fun about this game.
The final two were single player games for the GamePad: Takamaru’s Ninja Castle and Donkey Kong’s Barrel Chase. The former requires you to turn the pad on its side and throw ninja stars against foes, which despite a small delay between input and action was quite fun in a shooting gallery sort of way. The latter was an infuriating test of mettle where you use gyro sensors to guide a kart through an obstacle course. Both games looked great, with the latter giving you an overall view on the TV and a zoomed in view on the GamePad. Overall, Nintendo Land isn’t as silly an idea as originally anticipated, but without incentives to keep the players playing the games, the appeal will be relegated to parties, making this probably not as essential as Wii Sports was to the Wii.
New Super Mario Bros. U
Nintendo’s other big release is New Super Mario Bros. U, the demo of which was multiplayer only. Seeing Mario in HD for the first legal time is a pleasant sight, even if the perspective is an all too familiar one. Playing with the Wii Remote was exactly like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, only there was a new suit and a new Yoshi to use. The Flying Squirrel Mushroom acts just like the Raccoon Leaf, only you also have the ability to cling onto walls for delayed wall jumps. This has many level implications, while the pink Yoshi’s balloon ability allows players to fly a little bit. If you are using the GamePad in multiplayer, you are put into a support role that uses the touch screen to put down platforms and stun enemies. The three stages on offer showed signs that this was more essential to your game collection than New Super Mario Bros. 2 was for the Nintendo 3DS.
A similar mechanic for multiplayer use was found in Rayman Legends, a game that otherwise would feel exactly the same as Rayman Origins. That is only a good thing as what isn’t broken can only be improved with scope. That is exactly what the level showed, featuring many secrets to uncover in its medieval pirate castle theme. The player with the GamePad was more instrumental to success here as they can interact with the environments to help the player through the levels. They can also trace around the Lums in order to score points for themselves. The person who was playing with the GamePad with me described this as “the iPad games mixed with Guitar Hero” and felt it “could get repetitive quite quickly”. I’d say that was a fair assumption.
To say that the ZombiU demo on the show floor was a little bare-bones is an understatement, but that’s only because they were showing an early version of the code that didn’t have many of the features of the final game. However, that isn’t to say that the short time I had with it before meeting my untimely demise wasn’t eventful. Exploring the sewer and waters beneath Tower Bridge was deeply immersive with its limited perspective and terrifying as a result. Zombies would actively sneak up behind you with the “double tap” being practically a requirement! Looting bodies came up with valuable supplies such as ammunition and health packs. I met my demise when a zombie exploded nearby, something the scanner I used to scan the group in question didn’t pick up. Still, its easy to see why there was such a big queue for this hugely anticipated title.
One surprise that I wasn’t expecting was the appearance of Pikmin 3 on the show floor. The demo used the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combination in conjunction with GamePad as a navigation device. My objective was to collect as many fruit and defeat as many monsters possible within the seven minute time limit. Here I was treated to gorgeous visuals, tough as nails Red Pikmin and even tougher Rock Pikmin. The leaves and flowers bloomed quickly as I defeated one monster with nectar in its sack, while I was able to send a horde to build a bridge as a shortcut back to the spaceship. Suffice to say I didn’t do that we’ll as I’ve never played Pikmin with a Remote before, however, it looks to be a quality title that is as much fan-service as it is refreshing gameplay.
The Wonderful 101
The Wonderful 101 was shown on the show floor as Project-100, but that is okay as it is still Platinum Games’ insanely similar to Pikmin, superhero slug-fest. Using the touch screen for a few of the implementations was empowering, while the battles verged on epic in scale. Featuring unusual uses for the GamePad, such as being the screen for indoor puzzle sections are refreshing to see in a day with some similarities, while the touch screen gestures helped unlock doors and turn ordinary citizens into Superheroes! It was an absolute blast to play and well worth checking out.
The other three games available on show floor were the Wii U ports sequels: Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Darksiders II and Trine 2. Tekken as mentioned before was having crippling frame rate issues, but other that looked about the same as the other console counterparts. While I didn’t see any of the Wii U exclusive features in the demo, having battles happen both on the TV and the GamePad in sync was a promising sign. Darksiders II And Trine 2 largely haven’t changed much, though the visual quality is slightly clearer and there are unique touch screen features exclusive to the Wii U.
What I was expecting was a mere sample of what Nintendo’s latest console had to offer, I actually came away with a better picture of what is to come. Titles such as Zombi U and New Super Mario Bros. U will no doubt sell well, but it was how surprisingly well the other titles came off that caught me off guard. Despite Nintendo Land sounding like just a collection of mini games, I can see how these would be fun for a casual gamer. Other games on show used the GamePad in interesting ways that I don’t think many people expected them to. The Wii U is definitely an evolution of the original concept behind the Wii and it is an absolute shame that the release schedule is as diabolically bad as it is. Snapping up one of these consoles is an increasingly delightful prospect. Let’s just hope the games come thick and fast!