Only hours after the official announcement of their newest gaming console, Nintendo opened the doors to their booth and allowed attendees of the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo to get their hands on the Wii U. Don't let the name fool you. This is not a mere update to their previous system, but a full-blown, giant step forward from the console they released in 2006.
After a four-hour wait in line, I was able to sample Nintendo's latest offering. What makes this new console so great? What are some of the potential problems of the device?
The most obvious change in Nintendo's newest hardware is the crazy looking controller pictured above. Imagine this: If the Wii Remote, Nintendo Classic Controller, and the iPad had a baby, it would look something like the new Wii U controller. The controller has the same layout you'd expect from a standard controller- it's very similar to the revamped Classic Controller Pro for the Wii released last year. However, there are quite a few number of surprises on the new controller, too. There's an HDMI port on the bottom, a pointer (similar to the Wii Remote's) on top, a 6.2 inch touchscreen capable of displaying Wii-quality graphics, a front-facing camera, and a port to charge the controller. Finally, no more batteries!
What makes the device more than just a tablet attached to a controller is that it streams game information and video wirelessly from the console to the touchscreen, without any noticeable lag. I had my doubts about how comfortable this huge device can be after a few hours of gaming, but after holding it for a few minutes, I can safely say that it's a very light, comfortable controller.
What is unexpected from the controller is the HDMI port located at the bottom of the controller. This means that the image displayed on the touchpad can be projected onto a HDTV or computer monitor. In fact, many of the demo units had the controller attached to a small HDTV, so that those in line would be able to see a blown-up version of what was going on in the screen. You'd think that it would be a pixelated mess, right? Wrong. The images displayed from the touchscreen looked arguably better than the graphics of the Wii.
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The controller leads to many unique gameplay possibilities, and a few demonstrations of these ideas were demonstrated on the show floor. Similar in concept to Gamecube's Four Swords Adventure" game, the Wii U focuses on integrating the integration with the shared television screen with the individual player's personal screen. One of the games available to sample was a three-player game called "Battle Mii," in which two players cooperatively had to shoot down an aircraft controlled by a third player. The player controlling the aircraft used the new Wii U controller, and is able to see things on his screen that the other two players cannot. The game is very simple in design, yet loads of fun. The possibilities of new gameplay mechanics for the Wii U are very exciting.
The graphics for this machine are amazing, as well. A few "high-definition experience" demonstrations were available, with the sole purpose of showing off how good the graphics can look on this device. Two demonstrations were shown: one with a battle scene from a HD Legend of Zelda, and another called "Japanese Garden." When I first saw these videos, I thought they were beautiful. Too beautiful, in fact, that I thought the were just pretty videos designed by a special effects team. No way can the Wii U make graphics that look this good! However, I was quickly proven wrong, when the two videos were interactive using the Wii U controller, illustrating that the trailers were developed using a graphics engine produced by the Wii U. The Japanese Garden demo looked so good that it can pass off as an actual video of a real bird. Clearly, the graphics from the Wii U look better than anything from the XBOX360 or PS3.
However, all of these bells and whistles can potentially come with a price. Although no price point has been announced for the system yet, it's probably not going to be cheap. Think about it- a single controller has so many expensive components attached to it, such as the front-facing camera and the giant touch screen. Each controller may cost up to $100 a piece, and Nintendo rarely (if ever) sells hardware at a loss.
Other than the possibility of the high cost of the system, there aren't too many bad points with Nintendo's Wii U system. The demonstrations have proven that the system can push visuals that rival any other home console, and the new screen/controller can introduce clever new ways to play games. And since the system can at least port over just about any game on the PS3 or XBOX360, there is a lot to look forward to with Nintendo's Wii U system.