Preview: Wii U Hands-On

Is Wii U for U?

Any time a company is about to release new gaming hardware there's a certain buzz that comes along with the E3 show that year. We've known for some time that Nintendo was getting set to release its brand new Wii U console this year, and we had a rather short sneak peek of the system at last year's E3. At the time we were unable to play any established Nintendo franchises on the system, making it a bit difficult to get a feel for what Wii U would bring to the table. That's what made this year's show so important to Nintendo and its fans alike.

It's clear Wii U is one sleek gaming machine. From the rounded corners of the system itself to the amazing Wii U GamePad controller, this is one slick console. Nintendo had both the white and black versions of the system on display at its game kiosks, and both look equally impressive. And although the system is a bit larger than the original Wii console, it's still significantly smaller than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, welcome news for gamers who have limited space in their entertainment centres at home.

The bread and butter of the Wii U console is its GamePad controller. Not only does the controller feature the usual array of Nintendo-style controls, complete with tilting analogue sticks, triggers and a wide assortment of action buttons, it also includes a gyrometer and motion-sensing accelerometer. It's an impressive piece of controller technology and it'll be interesting to see what developers are able to do with it.

The controls themselves should feel quite familiar to Wii fans as they're very similar in design to their predecessors. The 3DS-style Circle Pads that were shown on the prototype Wii U controller last year have now been replaced with the more traditional Wii-style tilting analogue sticks, and there's a button click when you push the sticks. The D-Pad has moved over to one side to make it more comfortable to use and it made quite a difference in overall feel. The buttons are a bit mushy, but that shouldn't bother most players too much. It's clear that Nintendo listened carefully to the feedback from last year's show and took the time to improve the layout and feel of the controller.

If there's a standout feature of the Wii U controller it would have to be its 6.2" LCD touch screen, with vibrant colours and crystal-clear sharpness. You'll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the HDTV you're playing on and the GamePad screen itself. And while the Wii U touch screen uses resistive technology rather than the capacitive system used in devices like Apple's iPhone, the similar feel it has to that of the DS and 3DS systems adds a nice layer of familiarity to it for those who own the Nintendo portables. It also tends to offer a bit more feedback when used with the stylus, so those wanting to use just a finger might find it a little less responsive.

Not to leave classic gamers out in the cold, Nintendo is also releasing a new Wii U Pro Controller that can not only be used for older titles in the Nintendo console catalogue, but also many of the brand new Wii U titles as well. The controller looks and feels very similar to the Xbox 360 controller and does a wonderful job of offering a more traditional controller feel for games. Taking Rayman Legends out for a spin with the controller proved to be a very responsive and comfortable alternative to the Wii U controller, especially after longer playing sessions. Much like the Wii U GamePad, the buttons are a bit soft to the touch, but it's still a very functional and comfortable controller option for those willing to pony up the cash for one.

From a hardware standpoint, Wii U is quite impressive. It clearly has some nice processing power under the hood and being able to play Nintendo franchises in high-definition has been a long time coming and a welcome sight for gamers who've been clamouring for the feature. The innovative controller also has a lot to offer and while we got to see some unique features in many of the titles that were showed off on the show floor, we're still likely to see far more variations in the coming years as developers gain a handle on the controller functions and how to best use them. And at the very least there's a lot to be excited about Nintendo's newest home console, which is something we couldn't say with any degree of certainty at last year's E3 show.