Nintendo doesn’t want you to call it a tablet — it's a 'GamePad' — but the Wii U’s new controller feels way more comfortable, and user friendly, than you expect. It shouldn't feel surprising, but it does. The GamePad doesn’t slip into your hand like a regular controller, but it’s no less accessible for that. It sits in your hand like it was designed to sit there. Quite an achievement considering how large and unwieldy a device of its size should be.
But this is Nintendo after all, and it’s made a habit of creating ergonomic efficient controllers. Even at their strangest — with the N64 and the GameCube — Nintendo has managed to create devices that somehow manage to delicately slide into position and stay there. Only Nintendo could make a seven inch tablet feel like a control pad.
Our hands on with the Wii U was a series of surprises. You might even say we were surprised to surprised.
For example — we came prepared to see New Super Mario Bros. U run in HD, and we were prepared to be dazzled, but seeing a 2D Mario in HD for the first time is quite an experience. It's a universe you expect less detail from. When you get that detail? It's actually quite disarming.
Predictably, I loved my time with New Super Mario Bros. U, it feels like a tightly designed homage to Super Mario World, and that's just fine by me. Transferring to and from the GamePad is just as seamless as Nintendo wants you to believe it is, and there's actually more to playing along with the GamePad than creating platforms for the main player. Nintendo has done a great job of making New Super Mario Bros. U interactive through touch.
Another surprise was ZombiU — a game I expected to fall instantly in love with. After a short hands-on it feels like it may be more of a slow burn. I actually found the game quite tricky to control — the massive gap between the two analogue sticks takes a lot of getting used to.
That said, ZombiU is overflowing with unique game concepts. Using the controller as a scanner in order to find secrets and clues was my particular favourite. Ultimately, ZombiU isn't the best game to try and play for five minutes inside a game convention.
Nintendoland is a series of mini-games. We expected that — but we were surprised by how vibrant and accessible each game was, and how well they integrate between the screen and the GamePad. Much has been written about 'asymmetric' gaming, but it's a difficult concept to imagine, or describe. I like to think of it as a complex game of hide and seek. Nintendo uses the GamePad to intelligently design gaming experiences where one set of people have certain advantages over the other. Multiplayer games nowadays typically pit players against one another on a level playing field — that's balanced. Nintendo land is packed with exeriences that completely subvert that concept of multiplayer, and I found that refreshing.
The Luigi's Mansion mini game is a great example of this. The player with the GamePad plays an invisible ghost, hunting down other players using Wii Remotes. On the television, the ghost is invisible. On the GamePad you can see your self, hunting down other players. The only way your four opponents can sense your presence is through vibrations and communication between other players. It's a really delicate, different experience, and I loved it.