Through some great contacts we were able to jump the line and look at the Wii U up close and personal today at E3.
Wow. What A dud!
Honestly, I love (or at least once "loved") the Wii. I think it solved a very unique problem with games (the complex interface), but has now been bettered by Microsoft Kinect. I think Wii-motion Plus was a great idea, but sadly, never fully utilized (where is my Wii-motion Plus Star Wars game, eh?). However the Wii U makes little sense. It is a complex device in search of a problem that does not exist.
If you have not seen it, here is a description:
The console itself looked like a Wii with rounded edges. It purports to have HD output, but from what I saw (for the demos), they are probably using a standard Wii that is slightly modified for the new controller. Sure, this might just be temporary, but it was not impressive in any way. Wii-motes are still used, so from my perspective, the actual console will be souped-up for better graphics, and little else besides connecting the new controller. I hope I'm wrong.
The new controller *is* where all the differences come into play. It has a 6.2 inch screen, with two analog sticks, buttons, etc. It has cameras and gyroscopes, and nearly anything else you can imagine. It's like a mini-iPad with built-in controls.
The key feature of the new controller is that the Wii U games will stream content to the controller, so you can play games using both screens simultaneously, your TV and the Wii U controller screen.
The demos we played were all "interesting". They split the game between the two screens, effectively, and the gameplay was seamless. So far, so good. In one demo, your job was to aim and block arrows fired from pirate ships. By physically moving the controller left and right, you could find ships to block. When a arrow was caught, you shook the controller make it drop off, then continued. It all worked fine, but the question was "why?" It was not fun at all. In fact, the effect was jarring. The TV was hardly used, and the instructions were very complex. It was the complete opposite of the Wii, and it was not intuitive in the least. Oops.
Another demo we tried was a chase game. Four people with Wii-Motes chased a player controlling Mario with the new pad controller. The player with the pad could see where all the others players were, and tried to hide from them. It was a fine party game, but one guy in our group said "It's Pac-Man Vs....I played this 8 years ago!"
There was also a demo of a shooting game that worked like the chase game (but with two wii-motes instead of one), plus a non-playable, interactive HD video of Zelda. It was nice, but not any more impressive than your standard 360 or PS3 game.
That was it. Underwhelming does not even cut it. While it was obvious that some great games could be made that utilized both screens, you had to use your imagination to figure out what they might be, because there was nothing on the show-floor to fill the gap. Strategy games are an obvious usage, but when you think of Nintendo, your first thought is hardly "yeah, strategy games!" (OK, the "Advanced Wars" series is fun, so there is ONE possible game.).
One of the Nintendo reps told us that a "feature" of the system would be to take your games with you. Okay. He said "So, imagine if your wife comes home while you are playing and wants to watch TV. You can let her watch, and you can take the game with youwith on the controller!"
Huh? Since when in the past decade has that really been a problem for someone? Have you heard of DVRs and "On Demand" Nintendo? It sounded like a desperate plea to find a feature that made the controller useful. As well, all of the games they showed tried to use both the controller AND the TV together. How does that work in "running away from my wife because my game is obviously more important than her" world?
While Microsoft was busy showing some amazing looking Kinect games (Star Wars, Disneyland, Kinect Sports 2), Nintendo looked confused and beaten.
Actually, I felt kind of embarrassed for them. They should have kept this whole thing under-wraps until they had some fully baked games ready to show, or even (to be honest) rethought the whole thing. The new controller was not fun to use and it appeared to serve very little purpose besides giving the player who was "it" in the multi-player demos an advantage over the players with Wii-motes. It looked like a desperate attempt to answer the threat from mobile devices and Kinect, but answered neither one in any real way.
Honestly, if ANYONE else (besides Nintendo) showed this thing, it would not have even made a small dent in press coverage. It's just not that compelling. The good news for Nintendo is that legions really believe they are geniuses who can make anything fun, so first day sales should be solid (see 3DS). However, they certainly have dug a deep hole for themselves this time, and if they can get out of it, they may just prove those legions correct.
However, if they don't find a way to pull this out, I don't see great things ahead for Nintendo in the next couple years. From what I saw, they could be the next SEGA. Not a bad thing, as an HD, Kinect version of Zelda would be a really cool game.