E3 2011: Wii U Preview

At Nintendo's E3 press conference, the company revealed its new console-- the Wii U. The buzz surrounding the Wii U was astounding. Featuring HD graphics, motion control, a controller with a touch screen display, and wireless portability for gaming and more, it's no wonder Nintendo's new system was a major highlight of the convention. GameCore got hands-on time with the new controller at Nintendo's booth on the E3 floor and we reveal the details on this exciting new platform.

The Wii U in Action
We played several of the tech demos at Nintendo's E3 booth with the new Wii U touch pad controller, getting the opportunity to see the controller and system in action. On display also, though in a slightly inconspicuous way, was the new console itself. The console is small and rectangular with curved corners. It was set flat on its side unlike the Wii, which is usually placed in a stand vertically. Our booth tour host informed us that the console is a prototype and at this time the console's appearance is subject to changes prior to launch.

The first demo was a mini game called "Shield Pose". The objective of the game was to use the Wii U controller to shield yourself from arrows being launched by surrounding pirate ships, then quickly shaking the arrows off of the shield by moving the controller. During this demo, we noted that the sensitivity of the internal gyroscope may need to be refined, as during our play through, the controller had to be re-calibrated several times.

Next up was the "Japanese Garden" tech demo. A video of this demo was shown at Nintendo's press conference. In the demo, the controller was used to follow the bird's flight through a garden and over a pond, and ended with a fish jumping out of the pond. The graphics of this demo were the highlight. The lighting and movement looked great, shadows were refined and the animations of the ripples on the water were smooth.

In this demo and a few others, we got to see the unique in-game views that the controller provides. Turning with the controller in the player's hands, the touch screen display shows the environment of the game around the player. Pointing the controller up displays the sky and pointing it down displays the ground.

The "Legend of Zelda HD" demo was more of a high definition graphics experience. In this visual demo there was no actual gameplay, but we did get to see ways that the controller of the Wii U would interact with the action that's happening on the TV screen. The HUD was displayed on the controller -- showing a map and inventory along with other controls. At the press of a toggle on the touch pad, this display could appear on the TV screen instead. In a real game, it would ideally be as easy to toggle the displays from the controller to the screen and vice versa, giving players the choice of where the HUD appears. In the demo, the environment could be changed from day to night with a simple tap on the touch pad, showcasing the shadows on Link's face as they changed depending on the environment's lighting. Again as with other demos shown, the graphics looked great and are a big step up from the Wii. Though not necessarily as good as Xbox 360 or PS3 graphics, the visuals were still comparable overall.

In the "Battle Mii" demo we got to experience how the Wii U will function with multiplayer games. Two players used Wii remotes and their gameplay was shown on the TV screen via split screen. Their objective was to outrun and hide from the attacks of the third player who was using the Wii U controller to guide a spaceship while firing at the two players running on the ground. This third player's game was shown on the screen of the Wii U controller and had a unique view. Since the Wii U will only support one Wii U touch pad controller, multiplayer games will be set-up much the same way once the Wii U launches, with one person using the touch pad controller and the other players using Wii remotes. It also suggests that gameplay will potentially vary greatly depending on what controller you're using.

Our walkthrough concluded with the "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online" tech demo. It's important to note that this title is very early in development and shouldn't necessarily be considered a game demo, more just a tech demo like the others that we saw at the Nintendo booth. As with the other demos shown for the Wii U, the graphics not as sharp as 360 or PS3 versions, it is still a very noticeable upgrade from the Wii graphics.

Using the Wii U touch pad controller, weapon selection can be done by the touch screen, swiping across the screen to scroll through weapon choices. The controller screen also displayed the map and the scoreboard. Drones can be placed on the map using the touch pad and guided with the controller. The player can also place a beacon using the touch pad display map that friends can see, allowing easy setup for rendezvous or defend points. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online will be a Wii U launch title available through the Nintendo marketplace and will have single player and multiplayer modes.

Design and Functionality
The Wii U controller felt comfortable, and the design of the inputs and buttons feel very fluid and functional. The controller is light and the buttons are large though the analog sticks feel a little short.

The controller is similar to those of the Xbox 360 and PS3, with the bumpers, triggers, dual analog controls, rumble, etc. But it also adds features that we haven't seen before in a controller. Nintendo's mission is to provide deeper gaming experiences and have a selection that will appeal to all gamers. This could truly become a reality for Nintendo if they can deliver the gaming experiences that gaming fans are looking for while proving the added value in their console by utilizing its unique features. From what we've seen so far, it looks like the company is on the right track.

The addition of the analog sticks and dual triggers and bumper buttons means more precision and accuracy potentially along with freedom of movement -- all of which was sorely lacking in the Wii's gaming experience. The touch screen display combined with motion control work well together. With the ability for displaying stats, commands, menus and various controls on the touch pad, it's like having a command center in your hands.

The Wii U and its innovative controller certainly have the potential to change the way we experience games. Using this controller can add unique elements to gameplay. The ability of the controller to display in-game views and gameplay details is unique and could provide additional features that gamers won't be able to get from games on other consoles.

Imagine playing a survival horror game as your character walks around in a ominous setting while hearing heavy footsteps coming from the controller speaker. Then holding the controller upright and turning around, using it to view the in-game world and see lurking enemies and events as they happen around them in real-time. Or investigating a crime scene as a detective (i.e. LA Noire) and using the controller's display as a magnifying glass as you collect clues.

It's still early and clearly there needs to be refinement and tweaks to the controller and console. But at this point in the game, the Wii U is gearing up to be a big step forward in gaming technology. Only time will tell if this potential will be realized. With the vast array of capabilities of the Wii U and controller, it will be interesting to see how Wii U games will integrate all the features into gameplay. At this stage, at lot of variables are unknown, but as 2012 nears, we will get more details on the Wii U, its abilities and limitations, discover how developers are putting the Wii U's unique abilities to use, and see additional features like web browsing and video chat in action.

Solely based on what was seen at E3, it's unknown if the Wii U will be powerful enough to deliver gaming experiences that exceed those that Sony and Microsoft's consoles provide. Though the graphics the Wii U displayed at E3 are a big step up from the Wii, it has yet to be seen if it will truly be on par with the the Xbox 360 and PS3 at launch. However, as many may argue, graphics aren't everything, and the Wii U will also need to deliver in the gameplay department as well if it hopes to become the platform for all gamers. If Nintendo really wants to compete with Sony and Microsoft for core gamers they need to have the Wii U ready to produce the same kind of gaming experiences we can get on the competitors' consoles while adding to the gameplay, not oversimplifying it to fit in with motion controls as was often the case for Wii games.

Being backwards compatible with Wii games is certainly an advantage the Wii U will have, hopefully drawing on the Wii's popularity with the family and casual gaming markets, generating sales. Of course, the launch price of the Wii U will also be a determining factor to how readily accepted it will be. Unfortunately, a price point has yet to be announced.

The Wii U will not just be a gaming console, but an entertainment center as well. Although according to Nintendo's global president Satoru Iwata, the Wii U will not be able to play DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, this is easy to overlook if the Wii U can stream Netflix content as the Wii is capable of doing. There are also other features that make it attractive as something other than a gaming console -- being able to surf the web, create and share artwork and video chat. Using just the controller to play games and surf the web adds a freedom to the Wii U that isn't available in other consoles.

In many ways, the new controller combines the best features of the Wii, the basics of what makes touch-screen tablets like the iPad so popular, and the two-handed controller design that provides the functionality and precision many gamers have come to expect. The potential of the Wii U and its unique controller is immense. With features like portability within range of the console, a touch screen display, web browsing and more, the Wii U looks very promising. Time will tell if Nintendo can deliver on their claims that this will be a console for all gamers when they system launches in 2012.

Nintendo Wii U Stats and Specifications
For more details on the Wii U, check out the tech specs below.

  • Expected launch: 2012
  • Console: Approximately 1.8 inches tall, 6.8 inches wide and 10.5 inches long. One single self-loading media bay will play 12-centimeter proprietary high-density optical discs. Supports up to 4 Wii remotes and Wii accessories such as the balance board, nunchuck, and classic controller.
  • Video Output: Supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. Compatible cables include HDMI, component, S-video and composite.
  • Audio Output: Uses AV Multi Out connector. Six-channel PCM linear output through HDMI.
  • Storage: The console will have internal flash memory, as well as the option to expand its
  • memory using either an SD memory card or an external USB hard disk drive.
  • CPU: IBM Power®-based multi-core microprocessor.
  • GPU: AMD Radeon™-based High Definition GPU.
  • Other: Four USB 2.0 connector slots are included. The new console is backward compatible with Wii games and Wii accessories.
  • Touch Pad Controller: Approximately 5.3 inches high, 9.0 inches long and 0.9 inches deep. 6.2-inch touch screen, 16:9 aspect ratio, traditional button controls, including two analog Circle Pads, Power button, Home button, directional Control Pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons and ZL/ZR buttons. Controller is rechargeable and includes a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, rumble feature, camera, microphone, speakers, a sensor strip and a stylus.
*Note: These current specs were provided in a fact sheet from Nintendo and are subject to change.