Hands On: Seeing The World in Wii U Panorama View

It needs a new lens prescription

Wii U Panorama View has been around for a fair amount of time, appearing at various events and being a common feature at Wii U demonstration units. The concept is simple but, at the same time, is a solid demonstration of the unique possibilities of the Wii U GamePad; the innovative controller functions as a window into a fully realised world, allowing you to view beyond the confines of the TV.

As a concept demo, then, this is an excellent way to show newcomers to the system one of its unique selling points, and before the Wii U shipped there was speculation around the web whether these "tours" would be bundled on the system or be available, at least, as free downloads from the eShop. Nintendo has decided to go the other way, however, and after a bit of a wait has made these tours available for sale; so are they worth buying?

To start with, there's a free demo that allows you to enjoy a very brief taste of what the tours have to offer. It's a short teaser, however, so for a more sustained and worthwhile experience you'll need to put down $2 / €1.99 / £1.79 for each tour, with four on offer. The options are clearly designed to tap into tourism fantasies for consumers around the world, with a London tour bus being joined by a Brazilian carnival, a flight with a flock of birds and a rickshaw ride through Nintendo's hometown of Kyoto. Based on our runs through the latter two, you're looking at around 5-8 minutes each of video in these downloads.

The main question revolves around whether this tech demo works well, and it mostly does. In terms of utilising the GamePad's motion sensors it does a solid job, with the start of the app prompting a calibration process to get it ready. You start off by pointing at the TV and then simply move the GamePad to look around a 360 degree view on the controller's screen. The movement is smooth and mostly reliable, though occasionally — as is pretty much always the case with motion controls — the GamePad can lose its centre; simply pointing at the TV and tapping the Select button resolves the issue.

Beyond simply moving your view around, you can also move the camera a little on the left stick — which is a little pointless — and zoom the view with the right stick. Tapping R immediately gives you the reverse view at a 180 degree angle, which is a thoughtful inclusion, while a tap of X will show the GamePad's view on the TV — the default on the TV is a forward view with a GamePad window in the top right. If you so please you can also jump into Miiverse and post screenshots of the TV or controller perspective, though you may need to do a quick fix of the calibration with Select when you return, as it's often lost when you do so.

And that's it from a functionality perspective — as we've said, this is really a tech demo. The question remains whether these tours are worth your hard-earned cash, and we're not sure they are. For one thing, the two that we've experienced have woefully low-res pictures, which are painfully noticeable on the TV in particular. This is possibly the result of the system having to process a 360 degree view, but the fuzzy video immediately undermines any illusion of being immersed in a tour — unless you have bad eyes and are in need of a new prescription. When zooming in with the right stick the pixelation becomes even more apparent, and the picture quality seems out of place on a system that's so resolutely HD in its new apps.

The poor picture quality is a pity, as both the Kyoto and flying tour — based in Italy — have some thoroughly decent photography and musical accompaniments, showing that the intention was there to produce an enjoyable, worthwhile experience. The rickshaw ride takes in a fairly rural area of Kyoto, with charming backstreets and an attractive garden to explore. The flying tour is spectacular thanks to its concept alone, and in its five minute running time takes in a variety of areas and times of the day, with a particularly striking finale. It's easy to see why the concept and films were considered worth distributing.

Sadly the technical shortcomings, which really boil down to sub-par image quality, deprive these tours of any notable sheen; another illusion-busting effect is that if you look directly down at some points, a bizarre and unsightly blurred circle appears. It adds up, with the pricing and the short run times, to make the sale of these tours questionable. They simply don't have the visual quality to make the experience truly engaging or immersive beyond a solid impression of the GamePad's capabilities, so their value doesn't match up to the asking price.

As a tech demo, these tours are nice and brief diversions, and would have been ideally suited as free downloads to tempt Wii U owners onto the eShop. With their current price tags, however, they're slightly disappointing.