First Impressions: Nintendo Wii U

Taking Nintendo's new console for a spin

After seeing the Wii U and its touchpad controller revealed at Nintendo's E3 Press Conference, it was difficult to get an idea of what the system would hold from a gaming perspective. Sure, the visual power looked good and the controller itself featured a wide array of control functionality, but getting a feel for what the system could do from a practical standpoint would have to wait until I could get my hands on the system and experience it in action on the show floor.

When you first hold the actual Wii U controller in your hands, it's a bit of a shock to the system. It's just so vastly different from anything else you've likely used on a home video game console and its larger size is a bit staggering at first glance. The controller does feature a nice lip that runs along the upper section of the rear of the controller which does make it quite comfortable to hold, but it's obvious that this baby is going to take some time to get used to. The button alignments are fairly familiar to anyone who's played any of Nintendo's recent console offerings, but the inclusion of Circle Pads rather than the typical tilting analog sticks is a bit strange, not to mention the fact that the buttons are far too mushy.

The console itself looks extremely similar to the Wii system, but it does feature a much more rounded look and is significantly longer that the Wii, most likely due to housing a far greater number of components than its predecessor. Much like the controller, the button arrangement on the front of the console is similar to that of the Wii and even the ports found on the back of the system don't stray too far from what we've already seen before. Probably the biggest addition would have to be the HDMI port, finally signaling Nintendo's embracing of HD technology, something that should please fans who've been clamoring for a high-definition experience from their Nintendo console for the past few years.

Since no actual Nintendo title were playable for the system, it was up to the rather unique batch of demos the company had running on the Wii U console to show off the system's capabilities. The demo I had the opportunity to play was called Shield Pose and involved blocking arrows being shot from a band of ghostly pirates using the Wii U controller.

At the beginning of the demo, you're given a short tutorial that shows you how to use the Wii U controller as a shield in order to catch the barrage of arrows being shot at you from the various pirate ships. When you raise the controller, it acts as a targeting window that can be pointed in a variety of directions, depending on which direction the arrows are being fired from. The pirate leader gives you a heads-up as to which direction you'll need to face at the beginning of each round and then it's up to you to follow the commands to the rhythm of the music and then slam the arrows off of the screen by motioning the controller in a downward thrust. There's even a female announcer that will help you stay in tempo with the music.

There's no denying that the mix of the TV screen and controller screen was quite unique. Even the surroundings would change based on which direction you were looking through the controller. If you aimed the controller at the sky, you'd see the moon, whereas looking directly at the screen would show you a version of what was already displaying on the HDTV in front of you as if you were looking through a window on the controller. You're even treated to a rather impressive display of the arrows sticking to your screen.

Once you've accumulated enough arrows, you're then asked to dance around while wildly shaking the Wii U controller in order to build up an energy blast that you'll eventually fire off at the pirate ship in front of you by thrusting the Wii U controller out towards the pirate ship. If you can complete all of these tasks, victory will be yours and the nagging undead pirates will be knocked off of the ship. Trust me, it sounds far more exciting than it actually was.

One of the highlights of the demo would have to be the visual presentation. Not only do you get some of the most silky smooth storybook-like visuals, but there are also some extremely flashy lighting effects used on the swinging lamps. Even the animations taking place onscreen were every bit as smooth and fluid as the individual graphical touches themselves. All in all, it was very nice to finally see a Nintendo console displaying in HD, something long overdue.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed in the Wii U and while I see a lot of potential with the system, it's going to put an awful lot of pressure on developers to come up with creative uses for all of this unique technology which, as we've seen with the Wii, often leads to them spending all of their time tacking worthless uses for it on just for the sake of doing so. To be fair, I'll at least give it all a chance and wait until I get the chance to see and play some actual Nintendo games on the console before I pass too much judgement.

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