First Impressions: Wii U Panorama View

Look around you

Wii U's ability to output different scenes to television and controller is something truly special, but many of the games we've seen have been content to use the GamePad's extra screen to provide an alternative take on the main display, or an inventory, or a map. Wii U Panorama View is a startling look at the possibilities of the new console; here you can break away from a single viewpoint to explore environments that completely surround you.

Panorama View isn't a game at all, but there are promising transferable skills just waiting to be used. It's a collection of videos – sadly not high definition – filmed with a special 360 degree panoramic camera array. Every angle of a scene has been filmed simultaneously, rather than a single direction as is tradition, and that means that you can look whichever way you want, whenever you want. You're the director.

By default the television remains static on the front-facing view, while the GamePad becomes an enticing window that lets you see each part of the scene. Hold it up towards the TV and you'll see the same view. Move it anywhere around you – up, down, left, right, above, below, behind – and you can check out a different angle. The only place you can't look is directly beneath you, where the camera would have been positioned.

The effect, even in fuzzy standard definition, is absolutely breathtaking. It's one thing to see it or have it described, but it's another thing entirely to use it: there's no lag, and you can flawlessly search around wherever you want. It's a completely new way to view video content, and if it's applied to a game world it could be one of the most immersive things to happen to gaming. We drool at the prospect of being enveloped in a Metroid Prime-style world in this way. This is something that, shown off properly, has real potential to sell Wii U.

One scene had the camera set in the middle of a Rio de Janeiro festival march. On the TV you could see the procession of dancers and floats coming towards you, but by moving the GamePad it was possible to follow along as it stomped past and watch the furthermost parts strut off into the distance behind you. Another hung the camera from a hang glider, giving you the chance to peer upon tiny settlements below and fly among Canadian geese, while others let you survey the streets of London from a double decker bus and take in the sights of Kyoto's cherry blossoms. We really hope these, or whatever videos are included, are bumped up to HD resolutions for the proper release.

Your Mii is displayed in the bottom corner of the television, shuffling around to show off which direction you're looking; it's possible to change the television's view so that it matches whatever's on the GamePad screen, too, so that you might entertain an audience. You can zoom in on points of interest, flip the GamePad between horizontal and vertical modes to get a better look, and save your playthrough to rewatch later. At the end of each video a summary pops up, 'scoring' what you spent the most time looking at and displaying screenshots of the top three. It's perhaps best if you don't keep your eyes on those dancers for too long lest you fancy a ribbing from anybody else watching.

It's not clear what Nintendo has planned for Panorama View. In its current form it shouldn't be a retail title; it probably shouldn't even be an eShop title. It might do well as a pre-installed application, used to demonstrate Wii U to people in the same way as the augmented reality games on 3DS; perhaps as a portal to further downloadable video content like the handheld's 3D Video service. What is obvious, though, is that it's hugely impressive and could be the first glimpse of an exciting future.

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