Wii, U?


Last Friday, I was lucky enough to attend the Wii U Experience. Now I know I’m in the minority when I say this, but I think Nintendo has a winner. After 2 hours of hands on time with the Wii U, I believe that it’s truly a step forward for gaming. If the system is priced right - as in sub- $300 - I think this really has the potential to be a repeat of the breakout hit that the Wii was. And in case you live in fanboy land, the Wii was a major score for Nintendo... regardless of it’s current state.

The System -

This has been said a few times and I just need to say it again: This is a LONG system. It may look like a Wii from the front, but it has to be at least a foot long. Not that it matters, but man...

So what about the tablet controller? It’s much better than I expected. It’s light and comfortable and the screen is surprisingly nice. I don’t care if it’s not a high def screen; the quality of the visuals it displays was the most shocking aspect of my time with the system.
Playing New Super Mario Bros. U is great on the tablet, as is Nintendo Land. Looking down at the tablet and back at the big screen, you’d be hard pressed to notice much of a difference in quality between the two. That’s not to say a high def tablet wouldn’t be welcome, but the current screen works great! If the screen was any bigger- maybe not so much.

The sticks feel great as do all the buttons. They’re not clicky yet they’re far from mushy, which is just how I like it. The shoulder buttons are nice and comfortable and the grips make it easy to hold. The lack of analog shoulder buttons doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, but will put a bit of a damper on racing games. Aside from that, it’s a wonderful piece of hardware.

The Pro Controller doesn’t hold up quite as well. I was ready to throw it a few times while playing ZombiU because of the button layout. After about 10 minutes I got somewhat used to it, but my thumb knows where the buttons SHOULD be. On top of that, it’s a bit light. Like PS3 SIXAXIS light. To me, that’s not a good thing. I’m sure others won’t really care, but it I like heavier controllers.

But that’s not what people want to hear about. For far too many gamers, graphics are God. For most of those gamers, get ready to be disappointed. I read forums and comment sections on major game sites, and the back and forth between the fanboys about how much worse or better the graphics are is getting pretty ridiculous. Remember how the Wii was pretty much a beefier version of the previous generation of consoles? Well, it looks like that’s the Wii U in a nutshell.

I watched somebody play Arkham City, and it looked a lot like my PS3 version of Arkham City. I played Ninja Gaiden 3, and it looks a lot like the pictures and videos I’ve seen of Ninja Gaiden 3 that I’ve seen. Better or worse? I don’t know. Without putting them next to each other, I don’t know which looks better. And the Nintendo games looked a lot like Nintendo games, so I’m sure they aren’t really pushing the hardware to the limits. So based on what I’ve seen, the Wii U isn’t a major step forward in visuals, and it’s not a step back either. I’m sure there’s going to be some amazing things done with the hardware in a couple years, but don’t expect it to match what you can get on a nice PC. But I have a question: Is that really important?

The Games -

New Super Mario Bros. U:
Do you like the NSMB games? Do you wonder what they’d look like in HD? If you answered yes to those questions, you’ll like this game. It’s fun. A lot of fun. Using the tablet to make platforms for the other characters is a genius way to get less experienced players involved without slowing things down for the the more hardcore players in co-op games. In no time, I was building up a staircase for my stepson to reach a hidden platform with coins and 1-Up mushrooms. It may not sound fun or innovative, but it really is once you get your hands on it. I have a feeling that’s going to be a running theme when trying to explain how the games work. It’s hard to explain the mechanics and still make them sound fun. But they are. Nintendo’s marketing materials should say: Just Try It!!

In terms of content and visuals, it’s everything you’d expect from a NSMB game... for better or worse. For that reason, there’s not much more to say about it.

Ninja Gaiden 3:
This was by far my least favorite game that I tried. Not to say it was bad, but everything else was so much better. I haven’t played 3 yet on the other systems because I didn’t like the last 2 Ninja Gaidens and I heard this one was terrible.
With that in mind, the demo level that I played was pretty cool. The action was fast and the controls were tight. The implementation of the tablet was pretty weak, though. From what I can tell, it just displays a move list.
Graphically, it was pretty nice. The frame rate was nice and smooth, but there were more than a few jaggies. Granted, it’s still in development and I don’t know how it looks live on the PS3/360, so I won’t pass judgement on it right now. Overall, it wasn’t bad. But I wouldn’t say I’m excited about it.

Rayman Legends:
This is where things started to get interesting. I’ve been back and forth over the last few years on whether or not I care about the Rayman series. I had fond memories of the first game, but I played it recently and it did not hold up. Same with 2. What I’ve played of Origins was really good, but Legends feels like a beefed up version of that. The small bit I got to play was GREAT. Visually, this game is stunning. Much like Origins, it embraces it’s 2D roots and becomes what can be best described as a playable cartoon.
The only gripe that I had with it was taking the time to get used to the Pro Controller, which is no fault of the game. I felt like an old fart touching a video game for the first time every time I had to look down at the gamepad to get my bearings straight and find where the buttons were. As I mentioned before, it gets better over time.

The tablet implementation is much like NSMB in that you can have a helper that uses the pad to manipulate the landscape and help find secrets or make it easier to get places. I think of it being kind of like what Nintendo was working towards with the Mario Galaxy helper Luma but taken to the next level. Even if you suck at the game, you can still have something to do that is actually interesting. I’m going to say this again later, but the Wii U is bringing back the couch co-op.
I loved it. Much like NSMBU, it’s more of the same, but taken a little bit further.

Nintendo Land:
When Nintendo chose to focus so much time on this game at E3, I was a little confused. It just looked kind of blah. After playing it I can see why they focused on that game. It’s loads of fun with a group of people. Especially the Luigi’s Mansion portion. For the record, that’s the ONLY portion actually I got to play. The gameplay is simple yet genius. Up to 4 players roam around a top down view of the mansion looking for the ghost which is controlled by the player with the tablet. The ghost can see all the other characters and his job is to take them all out one by one. The other characters can’t see the ghost, but their controllers rumble when he’s near by and they’re job is to shine they’re flashlights on the ghost until his energy runs out. It gave me a slow moving Pac-Man vibe and was a lot of fun.

Not only was it fun, but it also showed what the tablet can really do. No other system could do this right now. You can talk about Smart Glass all you want, but I don’t feel that it will have the impact that the Wii U will have on gameplay. The Wii U tablet IS a controller. I don’t want to have to put down my controller to pick up my tablet to access new features. And I don’t care what anybody says about virtual buttons, there is no substitute for a good traditional gamepad. And with that, I’ll step off my soap box.
Aside from Luigi’s Mansion, I watched my Nephew play the Zelda mini game and he loved it. Donkey Kong also looked like a a lot of fun.

During my time at the Wii U event, the Nintendo Land area was by far the most popular area. People were having a good time playing quality multiplayer mini games. But you need to try it for yourself. It didn’t look fun at E3, but it was a blast in person. And like it or not, this is the true evolution of where the Wii was trying to go. They’re bringing something new to the table for the casual audience yet really giving the more experienced gamers something to sink their teeth into. And that brings me to...

Zombi U:
Zombi U will sell systems. Mark my words, this is the game that people will be talking about when they’re trying to sell you a Wii U. Graphically it’s good. It’s a nice looking game, but nothing to write home about. It can’t hold a candle to Call of Duty Black Ops or Battlefield 3, but it’s intense. Everybody talks about the whole one bite and your dead gameplay mechanic but until you experience this game, it’s hard to get a grip on how this effects you as a gamer. It’s more effective in building fear than any survival horror game I’ve playing in years. If you’re shooting wildly and then suddenly hear “click-click-click,” you know your game is about to end.

I don’t know what they called the mode that I played the most of, but it was a capture the flag mode with one player as the survivor and one player as the zombie king and the winner being the first to capture 4 flags. The survivor plays like a standard FPS, but the zombie king uses the tablet to place zombies on the map with varying abilities. You can place standard shufflers, faster hunter zombies, and zombie guards that seek out and capture flags. You have no control over the zombies aside from where you place them on the map, but it adds a near RTS aspect to the game that is loads of fun.

It’s like you’re the director from the Left 4 Dead games. Even though you’re not running around shooting your friends in the face, it’s still addictively fun. Of all the modes of all the games that I played, I’m most looking forward to playing this one at home with some friends. But, and this is a big but, this game was great for the 15 minutes I played it. I’m hoping that the full game will be good for extended periods. It’s going to come down to how many modes there are and whether the single player game can keep things interesting for a full campaign. I do hope it does all come together, because this was the most fulfilling FPS I’ve played in a while and goes a long way toward showing that the the tablet and asymmetric play is good for more than just side scrollers and party games. This hardware and it’s concept is also right at home in a great, mature, hardcore game. And I hope it catches on.

The other games:
I was also able to get my hands on Project P-100, Pikmin 3, and Just Dance 4. Let me start by saying Pikmin 3 was the game I was most excited for going in. Did I like it? Oh yeah! It was a good time. I’m a big time Pikmin addict, but I’ve only played on the Gamecube. I didn’t want to buy Pikmin 2 again just for the “New Play Control,” so the controls in Pikmin 3 blew me away. From what I understand, it’s basically the New Play Control scheme, so I may not have been so excited if I had bought the Wii version of 2. Graphically, it looks a lot like Pikmin. In HD. Nothing really more to say. It is great to see Pikmin again, and I’m looking forward to picking this one up.

Just Dance 4 caught me by surprise. I don’t play dance games and I did not “play” this one, but my step son had a LOT of fun playing it. I did try the puppet master mode, though, and it’s more fun that I thought it would be. There’s nothing like making your friends and family dance like a bunch up jackasses. I can see this being a big draw as a party game. And it looks cool. I like the neon visuals in the series.

Project P-100 blew me away when I was playing it, but I’m a little less excited the more I think about it. Visually, it was probably the best looking game next to Rayman. Cartoony or not, it’s a pretty sexy looking game. Gameplay wise, it’s a crazy mix of The Last Guy and Pikmin. You collect people that are trying to escape from invading space aliens, but you then use those people to help defeat said aliens. It’s crazy and fast and a little confusing. Unfortunately, the touch screen implementation wasn’t really working for me. You can draw shapes on the screen with your finger to execute more powerful moves and you have to draw circles around the people you want to save. But the game is so fast paced, it’s a chore at times to switch from mashing buttons to drawing and back again. But it does have a lot of promise, and I look forward to seeing the finished product.

I’m sold on the Wii U. You’re going to have to take that with a grain of salt though as I’ll also buy pretty much anything Nintendo makes. I like their games too much, sorry. But I do think that there is something here for everybody. The biggest draw that I see it having is it’s focus on local multiplayer. With the boom of online multiplayer, there seems to be less and less of a focus on local multiplayer.
This may make me seem old fashion, but I prefer to play with people that are at my house as opposed to complete strangers. Especially if those strangers are 10 year old brats that seem to just enjoy making asses of themselves and annoying everybody they’re playing with. I get the feeling that the Wii U is going to make local multiplayer a focus again.

Now is it a perfect system? No. It feels more current gen than next gen. There’s no hard drive (sorry, SD card and external hard drive support is no substitute for a BUILT IN beefy hard drive.), the visuals are an par with current systems, and 3rd party support is a big question mark. As always. But the new tablet controller is truly innovative, and backwards compatibility with with Wii games and controllers is a big plus. I would guess that more people will love it than not once they get there hands on it.

I brought my nephew and his girlfriend along (both in their 20’s), and I was surprised at how excited they were for the system after the event. My nephew is a pretty hard core PS3 gamer with no real Nintendo bias that I know of, and his girlfriend doesn’t really play games at all. Yet 2 hours with the Wii U and mostly Zombi U and Nintendo Land have them already sold on picking up a system when it releases. Even though that’s only two people, that goes a long way towards showing me that people will be hooked once they try the system.

But WILL people give it a try?