DISCLAIMER: All impressions of first and third-party content are based on play time with pre-release code and therefore do not reflect the quality of the final game.
After some extensive hands-on time with Nintendo’s latest console at both the Eurogamer Expo in London, and the Play Expo in Manchester, we’re starting to form some sort of opinion on the elusive little bugger. Starting with the Gamepad itself, let’s take a look at what Nintendo have been showcasing to eager punters these past few weeks.
The good – light and ergonomically perfect. Bright, crisp screen.
The not-so-good - analog sticks feel a bit floaty, particularly in shooters.
The bad - digital triggers.
The thing that stood out to me when I first picked up the Wii U Gamepad is how ridiculously light it is. It’s hard to believe that this thing is packing a 6.2″ touchscreen, a camera and microphone array, a gyroscope, accelerometers, an NFC reader/writer and all that lovely stuff; it doesn’t weigh much more than an Xbox 360 controller.
Equally as impressive is its size, again considering the tech that’s squeezed into it. Promotional shots didn’t really give a sense of scale to the controller, but it’s quite a bit smaller than I had envisaged. Of course, as it’s a Nintendo controller, it feels fantastic to hold and the grooves on the underside of the pad are pretty much ergonomically perfect.
Fans of the DSi’s clicky buttons may be disappointed, as Wii U’s are a bit mushy, more akin to the Classic Controller. They feel good, though, and Nintendo retain the position of having the best D-Pad on consoles. Like the ABXY array, the bumpers are also on the mushy side and feel nothing at all like those found on the Xbox 360.
Disappointingly, triggers are digital and this simple omission could have significant repercussions for third-party content, particularly racing games. Nintendo really dropped the ball here; there is no excuse for digital triggers in 2012.
For all intents and purposes, the Wii U Pro controller is the Wii U Gamepad, minus the screen, camera and motion controls. By that reasoning, there’s not much more we can say. In the hand, it does feel quite similar to the Xbox 360 controller, though significantly lighter. It also looks sexy as hell.
The components seem to be identical to the ones used in the Wii U Gamepad, and all give good feedback. Again, the lack of analog triggers is, for me, a massive letdown; the console can never have the definitive version of a racer for this simple reason. Even subtle gameplay features like analog sprinting in FIFA aren’t possible, which means, for me, the 360 and PS3 have the upper hand in a few genres right off the bat.
The parallel stick layout didn’t feel at all natural after a decade of twin-stick gaming on Xbox and PlayStation platforms, but we’d imagine it’s just a matter of getting used to it.
Highlights - Pikmin 3, NintendoLand
As is always the case with a Nintendo console, the first-party games really are the draw. We got some hands-on time with Nintendo’s Wii U launch window offerings.
Pikmin 3 – visually gorgeous third entry in the quirky RTS that started life on the Nintendo GameCube. We played using the Wii Remote, the controls being very similar to those in the New Play Control! Pikmin and Pikmin 2 Wii remasters. This was the most fun we had in the Wii U booth. Pikmin 3 won’t be a launch day game – launching in March 2013 – but as Shigeru Miyamoto once famously said: ”A delayed game is eventually good. A bad game is bad forever.”
NintendoLand – an insanely fun minigame compilation that doesn’t quite have the same instant ’wow’ factor as Wii Sports did back in 2006. Play it, though, and you’ll begin to understand the philosophy behind the Wii U. We played The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. All three were a total riot. Viva la local multiplayer revival!
New Super Mario Bros. U – the latest in the New! series of Super Mario Bros. A step up visually from previous entries with great image quality, but the same bland art style save for a few background details. It plays identically to the previous two games but with new powerups. It’s a lot of fun, but 4-player Mario remains a horrible crime against humanity that ought to be punishable by death.
Highlights – Rayman Legends, Trine 2
Rayman Legends – Wii U exclusive sequel to the phenomenal Rayman Origins. Big focus on local co-op with the Gamepad user acting as an assistant to the main player, helping them along the stage by revealing new paths, moving obstacles and collecting Lums amongst other things. Visually stunning with sublime image quality at 1080p.
ZombiU – Ubisoft’s second offering is a super-gruesome and punishing survival horror. You start the demo with six bullets and you won’t find many more. Brutally difficult, if not graphically underwhelming; could do with some anti-aliasing and improved texture work. Best use of the Gamepad we saw, though aiming felt off.
Darksiders II: Death Lives – worryingly, a launch title. We say worryingly because this game is not ready for public consumption. Not by a long shot. Presumably we were testing alpha code; the game crashed twice on boot, and twice again in-game. It looked awful, it ran even worse and the sound was playing up. Framerate looked to be sub-20fps at points.
Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition – a similar story here. Though not quite as atrociously poor as Darksiders, Arkham City looks and runs worse on the Wii U than it ever did on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. A guy playing asked a rep if it was running at 480p. We assume he was trolling. An ‘upgraded’ port of 2011′s action-adventure, Armored Edition features all available content from the original right there on the disc.
Trine 2: Director’s Cut - one of the best-looking games on Wii U is a downloadable eShop title. Playable with any Wii or Wii U controller, Frozenbyte’s gorgeous platformer controls really well and is some of the most fun we had at the expo. Launches day one alongside Wii U. Buy it.