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

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Nintendo’s been a company built on paradigm shifts. They popularized gamepads when other consoles where still using joysticks, the Wii made motion control viable for gameplay input, and the 3DS aims to make 3D gaming a portable experience for anyone to enjoy.

The newest hardware from Nintendo harbors another paradigm shift, but one that’s not so easy to pin down. I got a chance to play with the innovative Wii U controller yesterday in a sneak peek courtesy of Nintendo. They had four experiences–which they stressed weren’t games in development–to share and they all showcase the way that the company’s looking to change the home gaming experience all over again.

Garden View

First up was the Garden View demo, which was a simple real-time demo of the graphical capabilities of the Wii U console.  Watching a few bird species fly through a Kyoto Buddhist temple as the seasons changed showed off dynamic lighting, water simulation, and specularity (the way that different surfaces reflect light) that rival the power of the PS3 and Xbox. The image on an HDTV is output in full 1080p HD and while the screen on the controller isn’t HD, it looked at least as good as the iPad 2. Looking from controller to TV, there seemed to close to no latency, so if someone were watching a game on either the big screen or the small one, there’d be close to no lag.

Chase Mii

The next demo–a hide-and-seek, 1-vs-4 hunt called Chase Mii–used the backwards compatibility of the Wii U to pit four Wii remotes against the new touchscreen controller. I took the new controller to play as a Mario-style Mii who simply had to run and avoid being tackled by four other players using the Wii remotes. I could see the entire map on the touchscreen and the locations of my pursuers while they looked at the TV, which was divided into four quadrants. They had to co-operate and talk with each other to spot me and track me down, so if I was moving from the yellow part of the game world, one hunter would yell out that they saw me and everyone would converge at the supposed location. Despite the simplicity of its concept and design, Chase Mii was extremely tense and fun. And for the record, the Nintendo rep on hand said that after a day of meetings I was the first one to elude capture.

Yay me.

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