the artistry and psychology of gaming


Hands-On With The Wii U

Hands-On With The Wii U

Working part-time for Best Buy has its perks. For instance, over this past weekend, myself and a colleague of mine were invited into the city (that’s New York) for a private hands-on demonstration with Nintendo’s Wii U. It was a relatively small gathering of about 40 or 50 people with a modest selection of launch or launch-window titles out on display. I got my hands on a few of those games and have some pictures to prove it. Is Nintendo’s latest console another revolution, or a gimmick with a death sentence?

The first thing you see after being bound and blindfolded and taken through a smoke-filled hallway with speakers blasting strange and hypnotic psychedelic music.

For starters, the most immediate thing I noticed was the relative size of the tablet controller. In every promotional video or demonstration of the system, it has been made to look rather large. When I finally got it in my hands, not only was it surprisingly light, it was only a bit larger than a standard DVD case. The positioning of the buttons and the analog sticks felt comfortable enough with what I played, and the use of the touchscreen was interesting, but not entirely necessary for the evolution of games.

And speaking of those games, let’s get to them. Amongst Nintendoland, Just Dance 4, and New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo showed off some of its more promising launch titles like Project P-100 from Platinum Games, Rayman Legends and Zombi U from Ubisoft, and Nintendo’s own Pikmin 3. I got to personally try out P-100 and Rayman, so I’ll give my thoughts on those in just a bit. From an observational standpoint, Zombi U looked…good. I stress to call it great or overwhelming because it was still (and they made it a point to stress this) a work in progress, so the inevitable clipping or camera issues did arise. However the use of the tablet seemed to emphasize paranoia. The player had to look down at the screen when navigating menus or switching weapons while the game still rendered in real-time on the television. Any action you perform leaves the character helpless.

A survivor rummaging through his backpack in Zombi U, while the player looks down at the tablet screen to see his inventory.

The Nintendo representative did stress the survival element by reminding us that once a character is killed, he or she is dead forever and you spawn as a new survivor in a distant location. You’re then able to travel back out into the world to reclaim your lost belongings from your previous, now zombified character. When asked if there was an infinite number of randomly-generated characters or simply a long, long list that will just recycle names after a point, he was rather tight-lipped. However, he did reveal that there’s a bit of a leveling system in the game wherein your character can gain abilities that affect his or her combat proficiency. Hand-in-hand with the roguelike features of respawning new characters, if you die, you also lose all of those abilities and must relearn them as the new survivor.

In addition to that, I spent a bit of time checking out a few of the Nintendoland games. The first I saw was the Luigi’s Mansion attraction that was shown off at E3. Ironically, Dave Tango from the Syfy show Ghost Hunters attended the event, and was playing Luigi’s Mansion, a ghost hunting game. It doesn’t get better than that. Later they showed off a four-player Zelda game. They were all fairly standard, the typical Nintendo minigame affair. If it’s anything like Wii Sports, it’ll serve as an adequate entry point into the usage of the tablet controller, but beyond that it’s only a mild distraction.

Dave Tango from Ghost Hunters, hunting ghosts in his spare time.

Besides the first-party Nintendo titles or those exclusive to the Wii U, they also had a handful of games set to make a reappearance on Nintendo’s new console: Arkham City and Ninja Gaiden 3, specifically, as well as the forthcoming Just Dance 4. That’s enough about that, though. Onto Project P-100!

Platinum Games’ Wii U exclusive looks to be the most interesting title in the console’s near future, even more so than Nintendo’s own Pikmin 3. I had the most hands-on time with this, in large part due to my desire to play it more than anything else. True to its makers’ history of outrageous games, Project P-100 feels like an action-heavy Pikmin. You have direct control over a single character, but through various button combinations or touchscreen interactions, you can manipulate your posse into a number of different shapes: a sword, a gun, a giant fist, or a big blob of jello were the lucky chosen to be shown off. The demo was a decent length, roughly 10 minutes of almost full gameplay with a few cutscenes and enemy introductions, and the use of the controller felt natural rather than forced. Sure, weapon formations created by drawing lines or circles on the screen could have been easily relegated to a simple shoulder button on any standard controller, but the simplicity of it didn’t take away from the experience.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. It’s like Pac Man, but not because of copyright issues.

In other hands-on news, Ubisoft’s Rayman Legends was showing off the level from its announcement trailer and featured a two-player cooperative mode, with one person controlling the titular character using the new Wii U Pro Controller and the second player assuming the role of Murfy with the gamepad. Both controls were fairly simple for this demo, with the primary player only running and occasionally attacking through obstacles, while the second player would tap on the tablet’s screen at specific locations to earn more points. It wasn’t entirely dependent of each other (such as New Super Mario Bros. U example of the tablet-player creating blocks for platforming) or even necessary to include the second player, but perhaps this will change in the final version of the game. In the end it felt like the simulated cooperative experience from Super Mario Galaxy.

Nintendo’s demonstration of the Wii U did exactly what was intended: get it in the hands of consumers, the ones who are likely going to determine the success or failure of the system. Most of the gaming population can’t attend events like E3 where the system was first available for play, so something like this is absolutely in the best interest of both the fans and Nintendo. My thoughts after this weekend still remain skeptical, not on the potential of the system, but on its dependency of existing IPs. The house that Mario built has always had a strong first-party lineup, and it could be even stronger if Nintendo starts rolling out some of the more long-since buried franchises like F-Zero, Star Fox, and if the stars align, Mother, but where the Wii U could truly flourish is if they can finally, after so many years, rope in the talents of major third-party developers. If the likes of Zombi U and P-100 are signs of things to come, then they may have a good start. They just need to sustain it for the duration of the console.

(Final Note: Strangely absent were Scribblenauts Unlimited and LEGO City Undercover, despite the former being advertised as seen in the image below).

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