Culture

Bit Slap: The Wii U looks to the past to create the future

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Walking into a recent event Nintendo held to show off their Wii U was akin to stepping into an oversized version of the console itself. Blue lights peppered the area, illuminating the white walls and couches. It was the same blue light that flashes when the Wii is ready for an update. Fitting that the event was bathed in that icy blue, as the Wii U is the update that Nintendo needs to stay competitive in the console space.

Beginning with the console itself, for anyone who owns a Wii, the Wii U’s design will not be too drastic. In fact, the new console looks like a sleeker version of the former, though we were treated to both black and white options. All current iterations of the Wii Remote are compatible, so you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on new peripherals. The graphics are comparable to the PS3 and 360, but Nintendo has already proven you don’t need the best visuals to sell the most consoles. Being that we are talking about Nintendo, simple controllers will not do. The Wii U features the much-hyped touch screen controller that wirelessly connects to the console. When playing with the newfangled controller, something seemed really familiar. It struck me that this wasn’t a new technology for Nintendo. In fact, they are aiming to achieve something they attempted back on the GBA. Allow me to explain.

Way back before the Wii and DS we had the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance. Four-player gaming was easy, but limited. It’s rather cumbersome for four players to change equipment, check inventories, maps, etc., using one screen. How was this issue solved? By using a cable that connected the GBAs to the Gamecube. Games like Four Swords and the original Crystal Chronicles made use of this feature, which worked great…assuming you had four GBAs and four cables. Now, years later, Nintendo is building a system around this concept. But will it work this time around?

The first game we  get to try out was Nintendo Land, an ode to the company’s history featuring twelve attractions based on different properties ranging from Legend of Zelda to Animal Crossing. One of the available available attractions involved Luigi’s Mansion and a 1-vs-5 event. One player used the touch pad on which was displayed the same game screen, only he saw where his character (a ghost). The other four players viewed their Mii characters on the TV screen, but they had no idea where the ghost was. The object was to defeat the ghost using your flashlight or, in the case of the touch pad player, attack and defeat the other players. We were encouraged to use team work in hunting down the ghost, which caused Wii Remote vibrations when it was near. This took me back to the days of Nintendo 64 and multiplayer games that were as much about being with your friends as it was about the game itself. Obviously there is the danger of the players screen watching the touch pad, but where is the fun in that?

We also got to try out New Super Mario Bros. U which played almost identically to the Wii iteration with the touch screen being used by an extra player to add platforms, while Rayman’s use of the touch screen was much the same purpose, helping the actual player. It’s this use of the touch pad that has me a bit worried. Much like shoe-horning motion control onto early Wii games, we may see a lot of “helping” modes on early Wii U games.

One of the most popular games at the event was ZombiU, an Ubisoft-developed game that has the player experiencing the zombie apocalypse in London. The touch pad added to the tension by acting as the backpack of the player character as well as a means of aiming and scanning the area. What is interesting was that there was no way to pause the action when you accessed your inventory, adding a sense of lingering dread to every action. Another novel bit is that when you die, you’re dead. Your character becomes a zombie and you take on a brand new character who may come upon your undead former ally. These are the kind of ideas I want to see expanded upon, new ways to play games beyond just better graphics or different control schemes.

An odd game at the event was the Wii U version of Arkham City which was…Arkham City with touch controls. Controlling a batarang by tilting the controller was all kinds of annoying and the sense of accomplishment I felt after was not because of a job well done. It meant I could move on.

The last game I got my hands on was P-100, which was like a mix of Viewtiful Joe and an RTS. You gathered townspeople and turned them into swords, gloves, and guns to fight gigantor alien mecha. By tracing symbols on the touch pad you morophed your little cannon fodder. I didn’t get much time on this one, but it is definitely a game I want to know more about.

Will the Wii U have the same success as the Wii? Time will tell, but Nintendo’s adherence to the past looks to either continue their success or damn the company. I’m banking on the former, simply because the company pushes their console as a means to bring people together in the physical world, a feature sorely lacking in all other consoles on the market.

A few quick notes for those interested:

The touch pad does have two analog sticks, a d-pad, and the usual face/trigger buttons. It’s sort of like holding the bottom of a 3DS but with a bigger screen.

The console is backwards compatible with Wii games but NOT Gamecube games.

No word on pricing, storage space or release date but Nintendo promised before the end of the calendar year.