Ever since I played the Wii U last month at E3, I've been running through my memories of the surprisingly abundant Wii U-ish experiences I've had with other gaming hardware, some of which I've written about.
It's happened again.
Last week, I got an early look at - get this - the new Marvel Super Hero Squad game on THQ's uDraw Tablet. Not a Wii U game at all. It's for current consoles. But it sure runs like a Wii U real-time-strategy game might.
The uDraw tablet, which launched for Wii last year and will be released for Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 this fall, is a wireless drawing tablet that THQ is using for art applications and video games. It is roughly the same size as the Wii U controller and is primarily different in that it doesn't have a screen... just a drawing pad. But the two devices are similar in that they allow a gamer to control a game with a tablet instead of a traditional or even Wii-like controller. They are plastic rectangles you hold in your hands, with a big touch-able surface available for controls.
The uDraw Tablet
The new uDraw Marvel game is called Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat and imagines the player as a Marvel comics artist who is on the first day of the job and has to draw six issues of a mini-series. That plot device explains why you're controlling small clusters of Marvel heroes with a stylus in your hand and a tablet on your lap. Unfortunately, you're not really drawing much in the game. You're not sketching the heroes or drafting the level. There are, at least, transitional scenes that make it look like the levels you're playing in are pages on an artist's drawing board, but the game is essentially an super-hero brawling game seen from an overhead perspective. (The game's publisher, THQ, provided the screenshots that you can see in this story, but nothing that shows the proper camera angle or uDraw interaction, unfortunately... so just imagine this, OK?).
The Wii U
You control the game's Marvel heroes with your uDraw stylus. You're always controlling a small group - three or four - including Thor, Iron Man and Squirrel Girl (!?). They follow the commands of your pen. You tap on a portion of the tablet's drawing surface and that sets a destination marker toward which all of the heroes march. I'm not sure what the input is for attacking - I wasn't allowed to play the game myself and can't find that detail in my notes - but I do know that you can draw little bombs into the playing field, tap where you want Thor's hammer to fly and sketch in barricades. You're more of a commander than someone who is in direct control, just as you are in most real-time strategy games.
I thought there would be a problem with controls like this, a problem that would diminish the effectiveness of the Wii U for games of this sort. I'd wondered if those exact controls were going to be hard on a Wii U. Wouldn't you need to look down to see where you want to aim your heroes? Not at all, the THQ rep playing the game told me. There's a learning curve, but you get over it quickly. He controlled the action without looking down at the tablet.
I imagine that the gameplay I saw in Comic Combat could be easily expanded. You could theoretically use a stylus in this type of tablet-controlled real-time-strategy game to select a group of units and send them to a bunch of waypoints. You coud basically do the type or RTS controls that we were supposed to get via the lower touchscreen of the Nintendo DS and just about never did. Maybe we needed larger viewing screens like the TVs that uDraw and Wii U games will primarily display on. Maybe we needed bigger tablets, like the ones that the Wii U and uDraw devices serve as. (Or, I know, I know, maybe we just needed to rely on computers to enjoy RTSes!)
Keep an eye on Comic Combat. I can't say that the game looked complex or deep enough to engage older gamers, but I can say that the November 15 Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii game demonstrates the bright potential of real-time strategy games on home consoles that support tablet controllers. Good thing we've already got one RTS from Nintendo slated for the Wii U.