E3 2011: Hands-On with Nintendo’s New ‘Wii U’

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Battle Mii

We then moved on to Battle Mii, where the touchscreen was used to steer a spaceship that competed against two players on foot. This experience had a Metroid theme with the on-foot Mii warriors wearing power armor like Metroid heroine Samus Aran. My ship was steered via a combo of stick and motion control with guns fired from the triggers. I played at first on foot and it was nerve-wracking how you never knew just where the ship was hovering ahead until it shot at you. The two warriors could duck in and out of nooks and crannies and pop out to shoot at the ship. Matches ended when the ship’s health count of six, or each soldiers’ health counts of three, were depleted by being hit. The design was of shared yet competitive resources, with health that could be grabbed or destroyed by anyone. This experience had the hardest learning curve at first but, again, showed depth through simplicity.

Shield Pose

Weirdest of all was Shield Pose, a rhythm game that combined defensive gameplay with movement. The touchscreen became a portable window where I could see three cartoon pirate ships in the distance. By turning my whole body around or lifting the screen, I could see a ship directly ahead of me, one to my right, one to my left or the moon overhead. Each ship would launch arrows at me but the lead pirate would call out the order of attack. So, if I lifted the screen to chest level in time with the beat, I would get arrows from the left, right or center ships lodged on the screen. Things got faster and more complex as the demo progressed but Shield Pose illustrated yet another gameplay idea borne of the TV screen and portable screen combo.

Panorama View

Following Shield Pose was Panorama View, which ran a real-time video capture of busy Japanese streets on both the TV and touchscreen. But moving the touchscreen around would shift the angle a full 360 degrees, letting me look skyward, at the ground or around each side.

The Legend of Zelda

The last thing I saw was a Legend of Zelda teaser done in HD. Series hero Link walked into an amazingly detailed cathedral and the touchscreen could be used to view inventory, change the lighting from day to night, or switch between different camera angles. There wasn’t live control of the Zelda slice; rather it was used to show what would be possible for a Wii U Zelda game.

It seems like the one theme tying all of these experiences together is the idea of changed perspective. You could get a sharper look than previously available through a Nintendo console, take a piece of the game world with you, or look at the same game world through different points of view. Yet you’ll still have the controller layout that traditional game experiences use for player input, with two analog sticks, face buttons and a pair of triggers on either side. Even at this early stage, Wii U already seems poised to offer new game design opportunities that point to the future of the video game medium.

More on TIME.com:

E3 2011: Nintendo Outs New ‘Wii U’ Console, 6-inch Touchscreen Controller

E3 2011: Sony’s New 3D Monitor, $249 ‘Vita’ Handheld, ‘Uncharted 3’ Gameplay

E3 2011: Microsoft Showcases ‘Halo 4,’ Hardcore Kinect-ions

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