E3 2011 hands-on: Nintendo’s Wii U demos

(This article comes courtesy of N-Sider, a site for well-adjusted Nintendo fans. N-Sider has served the Nintendo community for more than a decade.)

I finally got my shot at trying out Wii U yesterday morning, and while I’m curious about how it may develop, the few tech demos Nintendo are showing at the moment aren’t yet really substantial enough to make a judgment call on—it’s certainly not, at this stage, as impactful as the day I first laid hands on the Wii’s controller.

The most interesting demos used the Wii U’s screen as a motion-controlled viewport on a scene, much like the gyro look options in several 3DS games—this seems to be Nintendo’s new infatuation, and for good reason: it works well, particularly with no 3D convergence issues to get in the way.

The first demos we looked at, and the easiest to explain, were the Japanese Garden demo and the HD Experience demo, both of which were shown in part in Nintendo’s press conference yesterday morning. Both injected a live element into an otherwise pre-scripted scene, such as camera control. The HD Experience demo, a scene in the style of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, looked the nicest and most cohesive, while the Japanese Garden demo looked really great in some spots but lacked believability in others—plus, in some areas, the framerate dropped drastically.

New Super Mario Bros. Mii

There was also a demo called New Super Mario Bros. Mii which, though Nintendo insists they are not announcing new games, featured brand-new levels and new artwork—it’s not hard to guess that this is eventually going to be a Wii U title. It didn’t really seem to be doing anything new yet other than putting Miis into the mix as Mario-alternatives; the demo’s key point was simply to show that you could, in fact, play the game either on the controller or on the TV screen—though the demo didn’t support multiplayer in the latter case. (By the way, in case it’s not obvious, not every Wii U game will support moving it to the controller screen—it’s purely a developer option.)

Measure Up

Measure Up was a simple stylus-based game in which you tried to draw a specifically-sized circle, angle, or line, which the system then measured and ranked you on. Pretty straightforward stuff that you’d expect any system with a stylus to be able to do. (I am, truthfully, happy Nintendo is still sticking with the stylus, but I wish they would incorporate a more modern multitouch screen into the system, perhaps using a special stylus with it.)

Shield Pose

Further on down the line was Shield Pose, a rhythm game of sorts that had you using the Wii U controller as a motion-controlled viewport, swinging it up, down, to the middle, or right on cue to intercept plunger-arrows fired by a merry band of cardboard-cutout pirates. Once they stuck to your screen, you had to swing the controller down to dispose of them. The whole thing culminated with a very embarrassing “shake the controller to dance” sequence which was only topped by my abysmal score at the thing—but the premise has potential, maybe more if you could intercept some more slow-moving targets, for example, rather than relying on rhythm cues.

Chase Mii

Chase Mii was eerily reminiscent of Pac-Man Vs. which—full disclosure—is a game I still love to this day. One player holding the Wii U controller had an overhead view of an arena and needed to try to avoid other players as they chased him down using their own split-screen view on the TV. There was a power-up star in the center that the chasee could pick up, making him temporarily invincible and faster—this was great fun.

Battle Mii

Finally, Battle Mii was probably the most advanced of the demos on display, which put two players with Wii Remotes and Nunchuks in charge of two Miis done up like Samus Aran running around and shooting with their Remote pointers, while another piloted a ship with the Wii U controller and a somewhat awkward control scheme, using the right analog stick to rise and fall as well as quick turn and the left stick to thrust and retreat combined with the Wii U’s tilt sensing to aim. Powerups would pop up in this arena to restore life or grant a shield, and the objective was to take down either the ship or both ground troops.

Wii U just isn’t there yet

I liked playing it, but as of right now, the Wii U isn’t really doing a whole lot that’s very compelling. We asked about things like whether the video is being streamed from the system to the controller, and if the system was indeed limited to one Wii U controller, in order to get a better handle on its eventual capabilities—other than confirmation that Wii U would ship with at least one of the controllers, we got no answers on this front. The message right now seems to be twofold: it’s in HD, and the controller offers you an alternative viewport. I’m hoping for more out of Wii U as its announced 2012 release date draws closer.

Jeffrey’s thoughts: I have to agree. When I was at E3 in 2006 when Nintendo showed off its Wii software, the potential of the new technology was pretty apparent. With Wii U, it looks like Nintendo played its hand too early. The demos were limited in scope and only a few “new” concepts were shown like gyro use and using the screen of the Wii U controller as an advantage in a multiplayer environment. Hopefully we’ll see some real games next year.

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