Nintendo has now announced its new next-gen console - the Nintendo Wii U - at E3 in LA and Pocket-lint was on hand to have a play, behind closed doors after the event. What do we think, should you be excited, and will it change the way we all game? Read on to find out...
The Wii U isn’t just a controller that you bolt on to your current Wii console, it’s part of a whole new games machine that is in two parts. The first is a brand new box that sits under your TV, powering everything, and the second is the amazing new Wii U Controller, which looks suspiciously like a tablet.
The idea is that the controller talks to the box, allowing you to see other elements of a game, share content, or interact with your TV in ways that you haven’t really thought about yet.
Only basic tech specs of the Wii U have been detailed, because they're subject to change as the console isn’t out until 2012 - sometime between April and December, Nintendo tells us helpfully... Ahem.
Those specs include HD video playback, the promise of Xbox 360 / PS3-quality graphics, internet connectivity, and the ability to play current Wii games via a slot-loading disc drive (DVD?).
We thankfully know more details of the Wii U controller, however.
Central to the proceedings will be a 6.2-inch 16:9 touchscreen display that you can draw on with a stylus, much like with the Nintendo DS. Around the edges of the screen, the controller takes on the Classic Controller button scheme with two analogue Circle Pads, +Control Pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons and ZL/ZR buttons.
Around the back are yet more “trigger” buttons and there’s shoulder buttons too. You aren’t going to be short of them in your gaming.
But it’s not just buttons, there’s a Wii Sensor too so it can detect older Wiimotes - up to four.
In addition to the 6.2-inch screen, the new controller also features an accelerometer and a gyroscope, a rumble feature, an inward-facing camera, a microphone and speakers.
It's light in the hand, but is something that you definitely need to use two hands for most of the time, and Nintendo showed us a series of demos to highlight some of the possibilities of the new controller (and console itself). None of them are confirmed games, and the games giant says it is too early for games as of yet.
Oh and it’s white. Nintendo white.
As we’ve said, Nintendo hasn’t demoed any finalised games at E3, although has hinted at some of the titles that will be available come launch day next year.
Titles confirmed so far include Lego City Stories, Super Mario Bros Mii, Tom Clancy Ghost Recon Online, Darksiders II, Dirt, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Tekken, Ninja Gaiden 3, Batman: Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed, Metro: Last Light, Super Smash Bros 4, and possibly Battlefield from EA.
While we can imagine and hope that the above titles will be exciting and compelling enough for the new machine, we were able to play a series of “proof of concept” demos to get our minds racing as to what the Nintendo Wii U will be able to achieve come launch day.
Japanese Garden Tech Demo
This demo has been created to prove the graphical power of the Wii U, and had us watching a bird fly around a Japanese garden. Aside from move the camera while a video of a computer animated bird flies around, there is very little to this demo. The graphics look good. Not PS3 or Xbox 360 good, but certainly better than the current Wii offering - although that’s not really hard is it?
Here, the tablet isn’t that much more than a bigger Wiimote. However, we did notice that while playing it, the area we were in was displayed on the Wii U controller.
This demo is designed to show how you could interact with the Wii U controller and then have those actions measured up on a different screen on the television at the end.
It asks players to complete a number of tasks, such as drawing a squiggly line to a set length with the included stylus.
And it’s pretty good fun, showing an interesting new perspective on home gaming along the way. Microsoft might be trying to rid you of the controllers completely, but here Nintendo is making sure that it is centre stage.
This demo shows that the Wii U controller can be used as not only a shield when objects are virtually thrown at you, but to see into an imaginary world within your living room.
Imagine holding the Wii U controller up in front of you, or to the left or right of you, or even above you and being able to see different things beyond what is on the television.
In the case of this demo, that meant pirate ships and the moon, with a crew happy to fire arrows that you’ve got to deflect at the right time to survive.
It’s very clever. It also means that games developers will be able to create a virtual environment outside the realms of your television for the first time. Pseudo AR.
Here, the Wii U controller is designed to give gamers a different perspective on the game. In this case, that means the player with the Wii U controller playing Mario, trying to hide from four other players using the standard Wii remote.
Because the Wii U controller has the 6.2-inch screen, instead of using the television to see what is going on, we were able to see a special screen on the controller instead.
So, on Chase Mii, it shows a close up of what we're doing, and a map that shows where those that are hunting us are so we could do better job of evading them.
It’s great fun and any game that embraces this approach is likely to be a big hit when playing with friends.
We can easily see this being in a game where you play the dungeon master or a quiz master, while your friends try and solve the problems you give them.
Battle Mii has a similar premise to Chase Mii, except it's a tad more violent. This time the player uses the Wii U controller to control a spaceship that is trying to kill two Mii Avatars of your mates.
The Wii U controller player, of course, gets the view from the spaceship, while the other two players get the view from the group looking up wondering what’s happened.
New Super Mario Bros Mii
This demo was really to highlight three things: fun graphics; our favourite plumber is going to be involved with the new device; and that you’ll be able to start playing a game on the console on your TV and then switch in to the Wii U controller if Mrs Pocket-lint wants to watch something else. As you would expect Mario looks as cute as ever.
The Wii Controller doesn’t offer HD graphics, but when it comes to basic gaming looks and feel, the new Super Mario Bros Mii is a cracker.
In an attempt to prove that Nintendo really has improved the console’s graphical prowess, it has created a HD experience demo with a suped-up fight sequence between Link from Zelda and a giant spider.
And, to show what the new system will be capable of, during the sequence, we were able to dynamically change lighting effects and camera angles.
Furthermore, we could even pull the action from the TV screen to the Wii U controller. You’ll also be able to use the secondary screen on the Wii U controller for inventory items, maps and other treats.
We are nowhere near a verdict on this one. As tablets become more and more about being a companion device for the television, this thrusts Nintendo straight into the firing line, suggesting that this play is more about Nintendo taking on Apple rather than Sony or Microsoft.
The Wii U controller is a considerably better experience than we were expecting, giving us a different perspective on gaming in the living room.
That might sound crazy, it might sound complicated, but if anyone can put it off it will be Nintendo.
The only catch we can see, however, will be the price. While Nintendo has said nothing about pricing, you have to start to worry, based on the cost of other devices on the market, that it’s going to be expensive.
Based on Sony’s 250 euro ($249 USA) price point for the PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo's own RRP of £230 for the 3DS, you’ve got to think that this will come in at much, much more. The handhelds have smaller screens, and the console unit will be HD and Internet-ready. We can’t realistically see the Wii U coming in under $500.
That might be enough to scare away the casual gamer that’s signed into the whole Wii eco-system.
However, for now, the big question is - have we enjoyed our hands-on play?
The answer is an emphatic "yes". It’s not as fluid as the Microsoft Kinect, but certainly not as pointless as the Sony Move controllers either.
We're not too sure about some of the features demoed so far, but love others. The idea of using the screen on the Wii U controller as a scope for when it's in sniper mode is genius, for example, and we really like the ability to get a different perspective on games - beyond the confines of a TV - as well.
It’s definitely going to be an interesting year ahead. Well, 2012 anyway.
Don't forget to check out the rest of Pocket-lint's E3 coverage, reported live from the show floor by our man on the ground.
What do you think? Crazy or one to watch? Is it what you'd hoped for? Let us know in the comments below...