I was able to get my hands on the upcoming Nintendo Wii U gaming system a few days ago at the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center. While having my doubts about the dual screen system’s seemingly overpriced experience, Nintendo showed me and any gaming skeptic that this is a legitimate system, not just looking to be a Wii sequel, but something that stands on its own with all new innovations.
To recap what we know so far, the Wii U will be a full-fledged piece of gaming hardware on par with the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. It will be released on November 18th in a Basic and Deluxe version for $299 and $349 respectively. It fully upgrades the previous Wii’s graphic capability for total 1080p resolution. It’s gimmick is that the controller you use will have a huge touchscreen on it (the Wii U Game Pad), creating a brand new way to interact with your Wii U dashboard and your various gaming experiences.
While at my demonstration, I was able to play three games, and see the TVii application in full effect. Suffice to say, I was impressed with what I saw. Here’s the breakdown:
Nintendo TVii (Still Pronounced TV Despite the Extra ‘ii’s)
To break down the super campy and promotional trailer above in layman’s terms, Nintendo is attempting to make an interactive home dashboard. While the Xbox has you maneuvering through a bunch of apps in order to access several programs and the PS3 dash is just straight frustrating, Nintendo seems to have found that sweet spot between connectivity and ease. When you first turn on your Wii U it’ll automatically sync up with any account you let it (Netflix, Hulu Plus, your cable provider), and let you pick and choose what you want to watch and how you want to watch it with a very simple interface on the touchpad controller. With touchscreen in hand, Nintendo’s controller becomes the universal remote for your living room.
You’ll also be able to access two different programs at the same time using the touchpad and your main TV. Say you want to watch something on Netflix, but your spouse wants to watch something on Hulu Plus. You can do both! You just have to decide which person will use the controller’s screen and which person gets the big screen.
The real sell however is the TVii’s interaction with your cable provider. If you’re watching TV, all you need to do is turn on your TVii controller, and you’ll see a live stream of whatever you are watching on your actual television with prompts for all kinds of commenting and social media on the touchpad screen. It’s an amazing addition of interactivity for not only gaming, but life in general. I don’t need to tweet from my phone or laptop while watching the NFL, I don’t need to access Facebook from my iPad while I’m watching the latest episode of whatever’s on HBO, it’s all right there in front of me. Kudos on the ease of use and ingenuity, Nintendo. The only caveat is that I saw a demo; the verdict’s still out on what all of this will look like in real time in our living rooms.
Nintendo Land (Pretty Much Wii Sports Part Deux)
The idea of two screens for gaming is a hard idea to get used to, let alone try to get your average consumer to buy into. However, Nintendo has faced this dilemma before with the original Wii and its nunchuk idea. Wii Sports (and it’s incredible tennis mini game) is what made us know the Wii works and is incredible. Nintendo Land does the same thing for the Wii U.
The idea is taking three separate levels (Team Attractions, Competitive Attractions, Solo Attractions) and putting in intuitive and instinctive mini games in each to get newcomers to the Wii and regular gamers sold on the idea of having a touchpad screen with your regular TV as a useable operating system.
I played a game from each of the levels (Metroid Blast, Mario Chase, and Balloon Trip Breeze respectively) and realized how easy the touchscreen is to use as both a visual and manual controller. For some games, I found myself looking at the main screen while dragging my finger across the touchpad to control my character, running around levels using only the touchpad while other players tried to chase me on the main screen, and working together from different vantage points on both the touchscreen and the main screen to take out wave after wave of enemies. The touchscreen itself displays in full 720p HD, so I didn’t really feel like I was losing any kind of quality of gaming if I was just staring down at the touchscreen instead of looking at the main screen. While the touchpad controller is wide, the screen more than makes up for any kind of gripe about how far you might have to hold your hands apart. Nintendo Land had me smiling not about the games themselves, but how awesome the games brought together the touchpad and the main screen and made me feel smart while doing so. If you get a Wii U, just pop in Nintendo Land, and you’ll find yourself with a very little learning curve. It’s easily the best and more important game for the Wii U experience, and it remains that: an experience, not just a weird add-on tutorial that was really fun like Wii Sports was.
New Super Mario Bros. U (Mario Is Finally in HD!)
The gripe that I had for a really long time with the Wii was that it was never in HD. I found it to be one of the main reasons that I only used it as a “party” console, and something I never seriously gamed on unless there was a new Metroid game or I had to write a review. Luckily, with the Wii U, I can’t complain, and nothing can better explain this than New Super Mario Bros. U.
While the idea of helping out Mario on the touchscreen as someone else controls him on the main screen seems a little off putting at first, the gameplay is so fast and rampant it’s a really fun time. Plus, I totally geeked out over seeing Mario level up to a bigger size or donning his infamous Flying Squirrel suit in crisp clear HD on both the touchpad screen and the main television. After playing this and Nintendo Land, I figured out how the WiiU has mass appeal for everyone get to involved in every kind of gameplay; from old vets who remember the first Mario on the 8-bit Nintendo to a little kid getting his first introduction to Mario thanks to that old vet being his dad.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (The Game Changer)
While Mario and Nintendo Land handle the broad/family-oriented aspect of the Wii U, a big question is how exactly would the “core” (bleh, I hate that word) gaming audience would respond to the touchpad idea on the console. Luckily enough, after seeing the upcoming Call of Duty game, I find myself blown away.
While it’s still Call of Duty at heart, it’s the interactive touchscreen where you’ll be able to access your perks, kill streak bonuses, and an entire mini-map of whatever level you’re on instead of just the little HUD map you see on the screen with a flick of your finger. It creates a streamlined experience compared to what I was used to playing on my Xbox 360.
Another improvement, if you could call it that, is that Call of Duty supports Off-TV Play. It lets you move whatever game you’re playing from the TV screen directly to the Wii U GamePad controller with a touch of a button. The idea is to ease the tension in households of gamers when someone else wants to watch television but you’re in the middle of a great multiplayer session. When I was told all I needed to do was hold down two buttons at the same time to bring whatever was on the television screen to the touchscreen, I did so immediately. In a few seconds, my game was brought to my hands with no loss of screen quality. It looks great from a demo perspective, and if it works as efficiently as it does at home while at my demo, this will bring an entire wave of gamers and consumers to the Wii U. The idea of instead of waiting for the TV to be free to play my favorite games for them to just be in the palms of our hands adds to the ease of a user experience. Sure, that might not be what you buy that crazy 50 inch LED flat screen for in the first place, but it sure helps you avoid an argument with your girlfriend.
Overall, my experience at the Wii U Showcase at the Nintendo World Store impressed me in ways that I didn’t think were possible. I was skeptical about the practicality of the Wii U, but after getting some hands-on time with it, the idea of Nintendo putting out a legitimate gaming system to compete with Microsoft and Sony is no longer a foreign notion. The Wii U is coming out on November 18th: Are you planning on picking one up?