First Hands On With Nintendo's New Wii U, The Next-Generation Of Motion Control

I played Nintendo's Wii U earlier this week, the exciting successor to the Wii that not only plays a lot like the Wii—only with a new, unique twist—and a console that plays nicely with the Wii you already have.

It is an experience that incorporates the social appeal of the Wii while also delivering a high-definition visual experience and control interface that video gamers may be more comfortable with. Nintendo says it's designed to appeal to "the most experienced players" as well as those gamers whose first interaction with video gaming was with the original Wii.

The core of Nintendo's Wii U is its New Controller, a hefty, rectangular device with buttons and sticks on its edges and a 6.2" touchscreen controller in its centre. It also sports a camera on the face of the controller, a microphone, a tilt-sensitive gyroscope. Nintendo's Wii U outputs its HD visuals simultaneously to a television and to the controller's screen, meaning players can either game on their TV, their controller screen or both a the same time. It was a demonstration that showcased the unique possibilities of gaming on Wii U, how it might affect how games are designed by Nintendo and its third-parties, bringing one of a kind experiences to Nintendo faithful.

Nintendo showed a handful demonstrations of its Wii U in action at a recent hands-on event. Here's what Kotaku saw and played.

Japanese Garden Demo

The first demonstration I saw powered by Nintendo's Wii U was also the most unexpected from the maker of Mario, Kirby and Zelda games. This presentation was clearly designed to showcase the visual fidelity of Nintendo's Wii U, delivering a gorgeous, high resolution display of rare photorealistic graphics from Nintendo.

Only lightly interactive, the non-playable demo centered on soothing, sweeping travel through a traditional Japanese garden, following the flight path of a tiny sparrow. As it flew through this lush world, a Nintendo of America rep moved the New Controller around, tilting it and turning it. The New Controller's display was recreating what was being output to the television screen in perfect sync and movement of the New Controller manipulated the camera's view on the big screen.

The sparrow flitted through a cluster of falling cherry blossoms, landing on the branch of a cherry tree, plucking a flower from its branches. Depth of field effects blurred blossoms in the foreground, locking the viewer's attention on the beautifully animated bird.

The sparrow dropped that blossom into the lake, drawing the attention of a school of koi. The fish emerged from the surface, splashing, scales glistening wet. A bright orange koi leapt from the pond, again kicking in a dramatic slow-motion pause.

The Garden demonstration then refocused its attention on another bird, a falcon gliding over a softly rippling lake. The demo dramatically slowed to zoom in on the bird as it flew by, offering a detailed look at its plumage, each feather rendered in a photorealistic style. It soared over a rock garden, magically drawing concentric circles in the dry sands with a powerful mystic wind. Snow began to fall, at first whipping in the wind but eventually collecting. The Falcon landed. It hopped through the piling snow, leaving impressions on its surface in real-time.

It was a welcome surprise, this visually rich, but quietly reserved demonstration. If it represents a visual benchmark for Nintendo's Wii U, it bodes well for the platform to compete ably against its Xbox and PlayStation counterparts.

Playing Chase Mii, the Next Generation of Hide and Seek Chase Mii is a five-player game in which one player—me, during my demo—wielded Nintendo's New Controller, playing as a mustachioed Mii in Mario clothing. Four players, each armed with a Wii Remote and in control of a Mii styled like a Super Mario Bros. Toad, were tasked with chasing down my Mario Mii through a brightly coloured, Super Mario Bros.-themed maze.

We all started our game of cat and mouse in the centre of a diamond-shaped map, but I had a few seconds of a head start. I ran by moving the left analogue stick, seemingly my only control option. My opponents had only a minute or two to find me and catch me with a tackling jump.

The players armed with Wii Remotes couldn't see my Mii if I hid behind walls made of Mushroom Kingdom bricks and decorated with Piranha Plant pipes. They could, however, see how far away my Mii was on the four-panel split-screen display on the television, giving them some sense of my location. My pursuers had to cooperate, attempting to spot me as I ran, calling out my position, trying to surround me.

I had an additional advantage, thanks to Nintendo's New Controller. Not only could I see my Mii running around the play field from third-person perspective, I had a top-down map view of the level on the New Controller's touchscreen and the locations of each opponent. But my opponents were fast and many. I failed the first time, easily caught within 30 seconds. My second try, I was successful, outrunning and outsmarting my foes with improved hide and seek tactics.

If you remember the concept behind Pac-Man Vs., Nintendo's attempt at bringing GameCube-to-Game Boy Advance connectivity to its pre-Wii console, then Chase Mii should sound familiar. The mechanic is almost identical, good news for gamers who loved the multiplayer thrills of Pac-Man Vs., but found the hardware requirements to play it were just too steep.

Playing Battle Mii, A Third-Person Shooter

The three-player shooting game Battle Mii left the Mario-themed aesthetic of Chase Mii behind for a game in which Miis wore Metroid battle armour and flew a chubbier version of bounty hunter Samus Aran's gunship. Battle Mii pits two players in space suits against a lone player flying that gunship. Players on the ground look for the person piloting the gunship, attempting to shoot him down, while the gunship pilot tries his best to blast the duo running around a futuristic city. Like Chase Mii, it requires cooperation and communication—maybe in the form of excited shouting. It too is a game of hide and seek. And it is disarmingly fun.

I started my demo as a Mii foot soldier, aiming and shooting with the Wii Remote, moving with the Nunchuk controller. My partner did the same. We watched the skies on our respective halves of the split screen for the Mii player piloting a gunship, to catch a glimpse of him or to trace his energy blasts back to the location of his ship. And we were both trying to stay under cover, taking carefully aimed shots or charging up our attacks to launch a splashy missile. We hunted for dropped items, like a health-restoring heart. And we were successful, shooting down that enemy Mii ship with a flurry of beam fire.

Then, I switched to the gunship pilot's seat, which is controlled with the New Controller. The left analogue stick moved my ship forward and backward and strafed. The right analogue stick controlled my ship's altitude. I aimed my crosshairs with sweeps, twists and turns of the New Controller, a precise method as it turns out. But that three-part control scheme is not immediately easy to grasp, working with three control interfaces to move and shoot. But Battle Mii looks like a rare thing: a family-friendly third-person shooter.

Playing Shield Pose, A Slice of Rhythmic Heaven As Chase Mii appears to draw clear inspiration from Pac-Man Vs., so too does Shield Pose seem to draw its influence from Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven series, a brand of rhythm games that explored the controls of the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and (soon) the Wii in simple but inventive ways.

Shield Pose put the player (me) in control of a shield (or more specifically a pirate wielding that shield). Holding the New Controller in hand, I looked out from a ship through the large touchscreen display. In front of me was a pirate ship, populated with comical pirates. Two more were visible at my right and left, the moon viewable above me. I could look around in this virtual space by twisting and turning my body and the controller. It felt like window into another world in the palm of my hand.

But as uniquely interactive as the visual experience was, Shield Pose was a simple play experience. I was given simple audio cues "Hey! Come on!" to raise the controller, to block arrows lobbed from that pirate ship, cues to look upward or left then right. After stopping one of those arrows, a "Hey! Down!" commanded me to shake the controller downward, while obviously maintaining a firm grip on the device to which I was not tethered. Initially simple, the commands started to come more quickly, faster and more complicated, offering hints of a smart rhythm game to (potentially) come.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

This is the demo that may shrieks of delight, heart palpitations and flowing tears of joy from the Nintendo fan: The Legend of Zelda in brilliant high-definition with a sense of visual clarity and detail unlike anything the series has ever seen.

(Before those Nintendo fans set expectations to impossibly stratospheric, please note that Nintendo said this Zelda demo, sporting a Twilight Princess artistic sensibility, was only a demonstration. There were many "ifs" and "maybes" in this "Wouldn't it be cool if we did this?" presentation, but no promise of an actual game.)

The Zelda demo re-imagined the Temple of Time from Twilight Princess and Link's battle with Armogohma, a ghastly, colossal spider boss monster. Not playable, but interactive, I watched as Link stepped onto a polished marble floor, his reflection sharply visible as light from stained glass windows danced on its surface. The fairy Navi appeared as a softly glowing orb of light. We could see the stitching in Link's tunic, the leatherwork of his boots and sheath in detail. Smoke pouring from flaming braziers was lit with a soft orange glow.

I was handed the New Controller. On its screen were three buttons and a map of the Temple of Time. One of those buttons switched the lighting from daytime to nighttime, showing that the demo was dynamically lit. Another changed the demo's camera angle to offer dramatic new perspectives. A third swapped the displays of the television and the touchscreen controller. I could watch Link's battle play out on an HDTV or on the smaller, more intimate controller's display, switching back and forth with a tap of the screen.

*** With Wii U, Nintendo seems uniquely positioned to compete in the space that made the Wii a massive success. Players who enjoy competing with each other in Wii Sports in the same room and players who enjoy competing with others online will likely find something to love about the Wii U experience, a surprising middle-ground between dedicated gamer and casual fan.

Wii U is scheduled to be released sometime between April 1 and December 31, 2012.

WATCH MORE: Nintendo News


Comments

    Is the processing handled by the Wii?

      No, its powered by the new WiiU console.. Wii is in no way powerful enough.

    Kinda disappointed.

    Being spoilt with tablets, the proportions of the controller look wrong. Screen too small, bezel too thick, too fat etc. And this will only get worse as tablets get thinner and more svelte.

    Yes it'll be powerful enough to run multiplatform games (finally!), but really, why would you? Anyone who's entrenched in XBL/PSN will stay where they are. PSN is doing EVERYTHING to get you to go to their platform especially after the outage, I can't see anyone with a 360/PS3 wanting to pick up a multiplatform game on this over the others.

    Cost. That controller doesn't look cheap. I'm not entirely sold that it can really be used for much more than maps or tossing screens between the tv.

    Ultimately this would need to justify its existence against the likes of the Vita (and PS3), iPad as well as the slew of new Android tablets on the horizon.

      I agree.

      im disapointed with the whole E3 from Nintendo. It was all filler and no real details.

      on top of that, now I really regret my 3DS purchase. which i got to play while my wife is watching TV. eShop is trash, I can play better games on my iphone for free. I was truly disapointed with internet browser..why bother Nintendo.

      It seems like Nintendo are out of there league these day and out of touch with consumer expectation.

      Give us the specs of Nintendo Wii "U Draw+" next time!!

      Good thing you only need 1 controller then? So far they havent shown any concept outside of multiplayer gaming that uses more than 1. Everything seems to be catered to using your Wiimotes if needed which considering how many are out there - is a smart move.

      As it is, remember this is a controller, not a tablet.. Its designed with the gamer in mind. Ever hear about iPad and Android owners complaining there is no dedicated buttons? Touch screen controls suck? Well this is there way around it and there is only one solution.

      As for the cost, chances are the Vita/PS3 are going to cost more combined.. you will get the console and controller with it - so should end up being fairly affordable - this is Nintendo, I cant see them selling this thing for $800..

      Overall Im excited for it.. Bit worried about how heavy the controller is, but love the fact im not going to be tethered to my TV and can play anywhere in the house beside the misses.

        If we're going to judge it as a controller, rather than a tablet, it comes off even worse. Something of that size and shape (and weight I expect) just isn't suitable for extended gaming sessions. There are good reasons why the PS3, 360, and the wiimote pro have similarly shaped controls: because ergonomic principles dictate the range of motion and positioning our hands can take for extended periods. This control make the original xbox pads look svelte.

        That said, I do like the possibility of playing without a TV.

        its a bad one

        They only showed multiplayer with one of these controllers + multiple Wii remotes precisely because if they showed 4 player splitscreen with all players holding a Wii U, people would freak out about the cost. Reggie ambiguously stated that it can work with Wii remotes for a completely different experience, but what if you want to keep it fair? 3 or even 4 players who all want to use this thing can break the bank.

        It's true that tablets suck for gaming, but this controller has seemingly inherited the worst of both worlds. It'll take the weight of a tablet but without the handles of a controller. Look how the thumbsticks are so close to the buttons/D-pad because of the limited space on the bezel. I'm not even sure if there's any other way to play than on your lap.

      i liked it, Nintendo is always creative but yeah, that controller looks expensive, im going to wait for review after the release to get it

    I'm sorry but something with a controller as big as your foot will never be succesful (outside of the general fans and whatever advertising hype can squeeze out of people).

    Awesome. Great wrap up from E3. Can't wait to try it.

    Had it just been a regular controller/console combo, I was a goner. No point given I've got a ps3 and 360.

    Nintendo really is innovative and not afraid to take risks.

    Wish the other companies would do this.

    I also think it is a clever combo. Not every PS3 owner will have a Vita, but every WiiU owner will have the new controller, and most likely the nunchuck and remotes from their Wii.

    This thing will be a lot cheaper, and everyone will have the same hardware.

    Really looking forward to seeing the Wii U in action. I think it has tons of potential. I mocked the Wii when it first came out, and that turned out to be incredible - I use it more than I've used a console before. So I'm going with the 'hopefully optimistic' frame of mind. My biggest concern is that EBGames has already listed the price as $600. That is a serious investment.

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