One thing that many will have already noticed about the Wii U launch line-up is that it's showing the beginnings of greater third-party parity for Nintendo gamers. There are exclusives, of course, but there is also a mix of big-budget titles being ported to the new system: some will be practically new when they hit Wii U, such as Assassin's Creed III, while others will have been around for a number of weeks or even months. Two high-profile examples in the latter category, and both on show in a recent hands-on day at Nintendo of Europe, were Mass Effect III and Darksiders II, both of which we jumped into.
This effort from BioWare, with the Wii U port being handled by Australian developer Straight Right, was one of the headline releases on Xbox 360 and PS3 earlier in the year. Some of you may have also been aware of much anguish and gnashing of teeth from series fans in relation to the ending, a situation subsequently remedied in free DLC that followed. In the Wii U Special Edition this "extended cut" is included, along with From Ashes extra content and some multiplayer goodies. Exclusive to this version — sure to get fans of big guns excited — is a rocket launcher capable of firing multiple rockets at once, as well as an interactive comic to allow you to see what happened in the first two games and make key decisions. Having this content on disc is undoubtedly welcome, and may help to make it tempting to those that have yet to jump into the series.
What about the actual game? For one thing the visuals themselves have come across rather well, with plenty of nice HD textures and effects along with a reliable frame rate. This is also a title that allows you to play exclusively on the GamePad, if you have relatives insisting that they must use the television, and the crisp graphics converted well, and instantaneously, to the additional screen.
When playing on the TV the GamePad has been used relatively conservatively, with a map on display with touch icons on either side for various items; familiarity with the game or its manual will be needed to understand what these symbols mean, if you want to avoid blind and hopeful tapping. You can also direct your squad with taps and drags on the map, though the representative on hand had a far better time with it than us, as we were too busy trying to avoid an untimely death. The button layout and controls were functional in the battle included with the demo, but a title with various options for melee, taking cover and so on takes a little practice on the meaty GamePad. That said, playing at home and knowing the controls before starting will ensure that your performance is more convincing than ours.
Ultimately, this is a safe port that makes rather standard use of the GamePad for its inventory and map, with no gyroscope aiming or any such trickery. That said, it's been optimised well with attractive visuals, and with plenty of packed-in extras it could potentially be good value for those that want to see what all the Mass Effect fuss is about.
Darksiders II was actually one of the first titles shown off when Wii U was revealed at E3 2011, even if it was footage from rival systems in the sizzle reel. Like Mass Effect 3, it's possible to shift the action to the GamePad screen, though considering how useful the extra display is during play that's not something we'd recommend unless forced to by disgruntled TV viewers.
As expected the GamePad is a haven for a map screen, which is helpful when working through dungeons, and also offers separate areas to manage your inventory and equip special actions. It's simplistic, once again, but the delays to view this info in the other versions of the title make this change welcome, with the interface intuitively split into three distinct screens that are accessible with well-placed screen taps and swipes.
The demo that we played through had two areas to explore. The first was an action sequence that necessitated the use of a powerful gun, with the basic task of slowly walking from area to area and blowing away all-manner of nasty creatures, preferably from a distance. It wasn't the most enthralling gameplay, with a plodding pace and the occasional annoyance of having the gun knocked from your hands, prompting frenzied button-mashing to push enemies away enough to re-equip the weapon. Overall, it wasn't necessarily the best demonstration of what's on offer.
The second area was, thankfully, an improvement, taking place in a dungeon with some challenging puzzles and exploration to be completed. Progress required intelligent use of a portal gun, where you shoot designated areas in two locations to transport yourself or, more importantly, items that'll clear a blocked path. This section was well designed, causing us to scratch our heads and need help, suggesting that the final product will make gamers engage their brains to get through some puzzles. With some basic wall-running acrobatics also thrown in this was more entertaining and engaging, giving a much improved overall impression.
The visuals themselves are undoubtedly attractive on the surface, though the frame rate itself was a little sluggish in places. This is a demo build, of course, but we'd hope that this can be improved prior to release to ensure more free-flowing, and therefore exciting, combat; it's not a major turn-off, but could be a little better.
Overall this title has promise, with the GamePad screen's unimaginative utilisation actually making a great deal of sense considering the large number of items and powers that you'll need to juggle throughout the campaign. Whether the final retail build will improve on an occasionally cumbersome frame rate is yet to be seen, but this could potentially be another port worth considering at launch.