Review: Wii U - Playtest of new Nintendo gaming console

Wii U

New touch screen gamepad console is sophisticated and fun but no game changer

In recent years Nintendo has avoided the techno wars by taking a sidestep into imagination rather than battle for technical supremacy. While Microsoft and Sony have launched ever more powerful gaming consoles, Nintendo have given us the Wii and 3DS. Their next gen machine, the Wii U, is another unique prospect that also wants to appeal to core gamers beyond the party market that the Wii so successfully tapped into.

The first thing that strikes you about the Wii U is how different the new controller is. Each console comes with a GamePad with left and right sticks, gyroscopic motion controls, camera, microphone, speakers and a 6.2” touch screen. It’s like a cross between an iPad and a PSP. It opens up new ways of interacting with the onscreen action but in some cases it makes controlling your character more confusing, which is the exact opposite of what the Wii achieved. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t take long to adjust to the touch screen.

What’s really interesting is that the action on the GamePad can be independent of what’s on your TV screen. At its simplest it can be your map and information screen, meaning you don’t need to pause continually to access info. Then there are clever uses for this dynamic where one player receives completely different information to everyone else in the room. In ‘Luigi’s Ghost Mansion’ (one of the mini-games that made up Nintendo Land) for example, the players on the TV can’t see the phantom chasing them but the player on the pad, controlling the ghost, can see everyone as he creeps about. On certain titles you can play using the pad alone, like a larger more sophisticated DS, so others can watch TV. However, it’s not a self contained portable games machine as you need to remain in range of the Wii U console.

The new GamePad sometimes feels shoehorned into the action with players controlling the bulk of the action with the usual Wii Remotes. You can’t help but feel like an observer with limited input while someone else actually plays the game. While it’s fun in short bursts on the demo of New Super Mario Bros U, placing blocks to help or hinder progress of the other players, the idea of sitting down for more than an hour doesn’t seem very exciting for the pad player. However, on Rayman Legends it feels more collaborative as it’s crucial that both players work in tandem to progress.

A great technical demo showcases the fact that you can look through the GamePad as you move it around at any angle: you can see through it much like looking out of a window so the game world is observable above you, behind you, a full 360 degrees. At the launch you could also see it being utilised in a gaming situation in ‘The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest’ (another Nintendo Land mini-game): other players used a normal Wii remote while you used the pad to look around and shoot arrows at targets and baddies.

Nintendo are perhaps the most family orientated games company and still have a long way to go to appeal to hardcore gamers. The titles on show at the launch all felt like small bite-sized party games rather than serious games. The only over-18s game on display ZombiU had a few clever ideas with the pad nicely integrated into the gameplay to search for clues or aim a rifle. Unfortunately forthcoming third party titles like Mass Effect 3, FIFA 13 and Batman Arkham City weren’t available to playtest – this would have been the best way to really compare the Wii U against the PS3 and Xbox 360’s might.

The graphics we saw didn’t compare to the best of the PS3 or Xbox 360 but they were in full HD and were crisp, bright and gloriously colourful. This doesn’t bode well for the future, though: if they are already struggling to match current consoles they could be left behind by the PS4 and Xbox 720 in the next few years. It’s also fairly pricey (Amazon are currently offering the 8GB Basic Pack at £248 while Game had the 32GB Premium Console for £309.99) but the good news is that the Wii U is backward compatible with Wii games and Wii Remote controllers.

Please bear in mind this was a test model, playing demo versions and no online features were operational. As you’d expect from Nintendo the Wii U is great fun, but it doesn’t seem to have the instant pick up and playability factor that made the original Wii such a game changer.

The Nintendo Wii U is released on Fri 30 Nov.

Nintendo Wii U Trailer (E3 2011)

Wii U - New Super Mario Bros trailer

Unboxing Wii U

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