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E3: Hands-On With The Wii U

At a private showcase following Nintendo's E3 presentation Tuesday morning, Gamasutra was invited to go hands-on with several proof of concept demos for Nintendo's upcoming Wii U.
At a private showcase following Nintendo's E3 presentation Tuesday morning, Gamasutra was invited to go hands-on with several proof of concept demos for Nintendo's upcoming Wii U. None of the demos on display were tied to announced titles: according to the representatives we spoke to, these were simply to demonstrate gameplay possibilities using the Wii U's controller. The Hardware While a Wii U console was technically at each demo kiosk, only the front part of it was visible. According to the reps we spoke to, what was in there was a prototype anyway, not necessarily representative of what the final product will look like. Regardless, what was in there was the same as you might have seen in promotional slides: a white unit, roughly Wii-shaped, though a bit rounder. The controller -- a 6.2" touch screen surrounded by dual analog sticks, a D-pad and face buttons -- was lighter than you might expect based on the publicity stills. Something perhaps not obvious from the promotional materials is that there is a headphone jack at the top of the unit. As several demos showed, audio from the console is piped into the controller too. So, as Irrational Games' Ken Levine pointed out in a video during the presentation this morning, you could in theory play a full console game in bed with headphones on. The touch screen looks nice: it was hard to tell what resolution it displayed, but it was certainly above standard resolution. I wouldn't quite compare it to an iPad, but it was close. The screen felt like a DS screen, meaning it wasn't as smooth as an iPad, and also appeared to not support multi-touch, though it's impossible to know for sure (and at least for now, Nintendo's not telling). Shield Pose The first demo we tried was codenamed Shield Pose, and was a rhythm game with a pirate theme. For those familiar with Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven series (and if you're a GDC veteran you surely are), this played out very much like a mini game from that. In fact, this was almost certainly from a new game in that series: it was the most polished demo on the floor, and felt the most like part of a full game. This demo showed off the ability for the controller to act as a second "camera," which it did quite well, and was a fine example of the accelerometer being utilized to full effect: moving it around the room showed a full environment surrounding the player, it was like a window into the game's world. New Super Mario Bros. Mii This one played out almost exactly like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but with three key differences: the game simultaneously streamed onto the Wii U controller (for the one player who got one, anyway), it ran in HD, and as the name would imply, Mii avatars could be used as playable characters. The HD here looked reasonable, though it did not appear to use new art assets. It looked like the Wii game, but properly upscaled. The point of this demo was to show off the streaming tech, and how a full console game can be played directly onto the controller. HD Experience This mildly interactive looping video showed off what a Zelda game might look like in HD, and allowed the player to move the camera and play with the lighting using the controller. The effects weren't necessarily breathtaking, but this is a very early tech demo, and was a nice glimpse into what a full game might look like. Chase Mii This was a simple game of tag where four players used Wii remotes to try to find and chase a fifth player, who had a bird's eye view of the field using the controller (the other four had to rely on the TV). It was a compelling application for using the screen that others can't see: maybe not as cool as the Madden playbook we saw at the presentation, but still neat. Battle Mii Like Chase Mii, Battle Mii relied on one player having a tactical advantage using the controller while the others hunted him down on the TV, except this time it was two Miis in Metroid suits trying to shoot down a flying ship. This also employed the accelerometer, specifically to aim the ship's guns. It felt a bit unwieldy, but might just take some getting used to.

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