Nintendo Wii U: what we know, what we’d like to see

Following the unveiling of Nintendo’s Wii U at E3, Mark looks at what we now know about the console, and what he hopes to see in the future…

Wii U

Shortly before E3, I wrote an article looking at the rumours and conjecture surrounding the imminent announcement of the new Nintendo console, and what I hoped to see from the first new console to be released in over five years. Now the dust has settled, and gamers everywhere are getting used to the name Wii U, I want to look at how the reality compares to my hopes and dreams of two weeks ago.

First off the bat: Zelda. Quite rightly, Nintendo seems to have decided not to usurp the Wii’s last hurrah, and although it wasn’t shown at the conference itself, Skyward Sword was fully playable at the show itself, and very impressive by all accounts.

I appreciate my wish for an upscaled version of the game that would work on both the Wii and its successor was hopeful, but at least the Wii U is backwards compatible with both Wii games and controllers, so gamers that have sold their old console long ago will have an epic game to play on the Wii U on day one, regardless of the launch line-up.

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What I certainly wasn’t expecting, though, was a first look, however limited, at a new HD Zelda game. The tech demo that showed a Twilight Princess-style Link squaring off against Gohma in a wonderfully detailed and lit church was one of the highlights of the show, and had Nintendo fans salivating at the prospect.

Although, of course, this isn’t an official game announcement just yet, The work that has gone into preparing the demo itself and the demonstration of the way the inventory would work on the controller surely just make this a matter of time, if only to prevent a riot by Nintendo fans the world over. It’s also worth remembering that, when a stereoscopic version of Ocarina Of Time appeared on the 3DS last year, Shigeru Miyamoto dismissed it as a “tech demo”, only for the finished game to appear less than 12 months later.

Personally, I can see a HD Zelda launching, maybe, as the spearhead of the second or third wave of Wii U games, possibly towards the end of 2013 or 2014, perhaps even in direct competition with the announcements of the next generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft. I still hold out hope that we may see an HD re-worked version of Skyward Sword before then, however, to whet the appetite, maybe at Christmas next year, once the Wii is dead and buried.

I was way off the mark with my prediction for other first party games, hoping for something Metroid flavoured from Retro Studios and also a new F-Zero game. Game announcements as a whole were almost non-existent, with just Lego City Stories (woo-hoo!) and a future Smash Bros game mentioned. I’ve never been a massive fan of the latter series, though, so the announcement didn’t excite me as much as it did the rest of the E3 crowd.

Hopefully, I should get my wish for new announcements at the Tokyo Game Show in September, or perhaps even a new Space World conference at the tail end of the year. It seems that E3 was purely about spreading the news of the new controller and what it can do, with even the console itself strangely neglected by Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime and Satoru Iwata.

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We know for certain that Retro is working on a new title for the console, and the controller seems almost like it has been custom designed to work as a scanner within a Metroid title, so here’s hoping. Aside from that, Mario Kart and a Mario platformer of some kind are surely also in development.

I have to say the controller itself both shocked and confused me in equal measure. I’ve seen it described as a Fisher Price My First iPad, and it’s true, it does have that vibe about it, but it’s also very clever, and perhaps even more revolutionary than the Wii controller in terms of new ways to play. The main issue that I have with it, though, is whether it does too much. In other words, how do you describe to someone who isn’t a gamer exactly what’s different about the Wii U?

The main function of the controller leaked before the reveal was, of course, that you can stream games from your TV onto the controller itself. This is indeed a great feature, and certainly the easiest to explain. What about the more unusual features, though? Using the controller as a standalone unit for board games or testing your weight on Wii Fit? Functioning as an additional game controller almost like the DS’ lower screen? Seeing another ‘window’ into your games not directly using your TV? All of these are very strong selling points for the controller, yet they don’t seem to ‘join up’ in a way that motion control, touchscreen or a “no glasses required” 3D screen sells the previous Nintendo consoles.

That said, some of these controller uses have certainly fired up my enthusiasm. I like the idea of using the controller as a catcher’s glove in Wii baseball, or a sniper scope in a shooter, for example. I previously said I was hoping for a new F-Zero game.

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Remember how, in The Phantom Menace (if you can bear to remember it), Anakin had to carry out running repairs on his pod racer whilst still staying on the track? Imagine having to do that in an F-Zero game.

The main TV screen could show the traditional racing view when, all of a sudden, your engine breaks loose. You then need to keep one eye on the track and continue steering, maybe with motion control, while also using the touchscreen to reconnect the wiring to the engine, balancing loosing control of your craft with repairing the engine in time. That’s a new way to play a racing game that none of the other consoles could duplicate.

The controller could also be used in a novel way on one of the many third party titles announced. Batman: Arkham City was one title I really wanted to see ported, and I was very happy to see it shown in the preview reel. I said previously that the controller screen could show a permanent detective mode, but given what we now know about the controller, this could be taken one step further, and actually have you pointing the controller at the TV screen or even all around you to highlight areas of interest. If this feature could be implemented, along with perhaps a motion tracker in Aliens: Colonial Marines, and a special move ‘swipe’ system for Ninja Gaiden 3, we could see the Wii U hosting the definitive versions of these games.

It’s still unknown, however, whether these third party titles will be based on the PC or current gen versions, which does worry me slightly, as will whether the developers really will take the time to use the controller in a proper way, rather than just tag on a menu screen or something. To me, this remains the most important question surrounding whether this console will be genuinely interesting to non-Nintendo gamers.

From what we’ve beem told so far, the system’s graphics are roughly equal to the 360 and PS3 – though one recent report suggests that the Wii U could be 50 per cent more powerful than its current-gen rivals. Bearing in mind this is a console still pretty early in its development, we can hopefully see some graphical improvements on this generation, as the hardware seems to support it.

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What I said in my preview article still remains unanswered by Nintendo’s reveal, interesting though the presentation was. I’m 100 per cent certain that Nintendo will produce great looking, playable and interesting first party games for the Wii U, and for some people, that will be enough. Just hosting ports of popular 360 games won’t be enough, though, to attract new hardcore gamers – if that is, in fact, Nintendo’s aim.

Most people I know that still play on the Wii buy very few games on it, and much prefer to spend most of their gaming time on rival consoles. If Nintendo support graphically superior versions of popular third-party titles, coupled with genuinely novel uses of their controller, then at least for two years or so while the Wii U is the most advanced console on the market, they will attract a significant share.

If Arkham: City, DiRT etc are just flat ports with an underdeveloped online aspect and a more bulky controller to play on, the Wii U will remain a novelty for most people, and only played on rare occasions.