Nintendo's pre-E3 media briefing has wrapped up and the doors have opened, doors containing the latest and final revision of the Wii U hardware. Reggie & Co. failed to give us any concrete launch details beyond "holiday" this year, so we can't quite be sure of a date or a price or, really, much of anything. But, we do know about more of the launch titles. NintendoLand is, apparently, the premiere title, a sort of touchscreen-friendly version of Wii Sports that digs up many of the company's storied brands and squeezes them into mini-game format.
How does it play? And, how is the new, refined Wii U controller? Join us after the break to find out!
Biggest among them is the change from circle sliders to proper analog joysticks for each thumb, a change that might help to improve precision to some degree, but doesn't result in a drastically different feel. Speaking of feel, the controller is still very light, something we noted last year and immediately noticed this year as well. Since all the controllers are tethered we have to imagine they lack the onboard battery packs that will increase heft, but if you were worried that waving around a giant tablet will get tiring, well, don't sweat it.
Nintendo did confirm that you'll be able to use two of the things with the Wii U console, answering a question that we've had for the past year now and assuaging concerns that wireless bandwidth wouldn't be sufficient to support two wireless displays. How much extra controllers will cost, and how many developers will write games that expect players to have made that extra investment, remains to be seen.
Some of the buttons have been moved as well, notably Select and Start, which previously flanked the Home button. They've now moved to the side, beneath the main face buttons. A "TV" button has been added to the left of the power button and the triggers are slightly wider and more pronounced. The stylus moved too, how situated on the back-right rather than the left.
Like most Nintendo controllers, the Wii U gamepad is comfortable to hold in the hand and feels quite durable. Lengthy gaming sessions should be no problem.
NintendoLand and other software
There will be 12 total games for NintendoLand, but Nintendo's only showing off a subset of them for now. Why? Partly for the intrigue, but we're also guessing that some of them simply aren't done yet. The majority of these games are extremely simple affairs, titles that will entertain immediately but will live or die by their replayability. Again, it's just like Wii Sports, a mish-mash of games that somehow managed to be fresh even after hundreds of playings.
Will these games feel as fresh?
Luigi's Ghost Mansion
This is the game that was given a very, very lengthy demo in Nintendo's briefing and threatened to put nearly everyone in the Nokia Theater asleep. Fear not: it's a heck of a lot more fun to play than it is to watch. It borrows heavily from the Luigi's Mansion games but mixes that with Pac-Man-style gameplay for a multiplayer-match that is fun -- at least for a few minutes.
Up to four players can take Wiimotes and control multi-colored Luigis. These guys have only their flashlights and their wits to find the ghost. The ghost is, naturally, invisible unless illuminated by one of the players' flashlights -- flashlights that, naturally, have crummy batteries that die after about 30 seconds of use.
The players are otherwise blind and have to work together, communicating verbally to chase down the ghost through the maze. Meanwhile, the cunning ghost player, who has a Wii U gamepad, can see the entire board. He's trying to avoid the flashlights and sneak up on the human players to capture them. If he captures them he wins -- if he gets captured, the human players win.
If it sounds like fun, it is, and it doesn't hurt that the ghost is dressed up like Pac-Man. Will it stand up after a couple-dozen plays? That remains to be seen.
Nintendo was showing off a feature by the name of PanaromaView, as well. Turn it on and the control pad will give you a list of locales you can choose from -- things like a double-decker bus and a tour of the cherry blossom trees of Japan. We opted for the latter, scrolled down with the d-pad and selected with the A button. Once fired up, the controller showed a trip down a river, with cherry blossoms in full bloom.
The key here is that you can move the controller around to get a full 360-degree picture. Imagine the Wii U controller as a window that you're looking through, move it up, down, left or right and you'll get a view of the image in the corresponding place. The video itself was crisp, though there were a few blurry spots, primarily toward the ground -- a similar effect to the one you get from Google Maps stitching. The company's rep was careful to point out that this is an "experience," not a game, which is to say the company was just showing off the technology's potential, rather than a title the system will actually ship with the console. It's a feature that will be incorporated into titles to give players the full immersive experience.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course
One of the simpler Wii U NintendoLand games on display, Donkey Kong's Crash Course is a simple, physics-based race game in which you try to navigate a little car through a giant, zany maze. It's an entirely 2-D game and the controls are similarly limited -- just tilt the Wii U gamepad left or right to roll left or right, and then use the L or R buttons to raise or lower flippers. You can also rotate the thumbsticks to spin around big, spiraling sections of the course to let your little car through.
The trick, of course, is that if you hit anything too quickly or flip your little car over you crash and have to go back to the last checkpoint. How exactly this has anything to do with Donkey Kong or, indeed, the princess he's trying to race toward escapes us, but the game is reasonably fun. For a minute or two, at least.
A year later, the Wii U looks and feels much like it did when we played with it last year. Still we've only had time with a selection of mini-games and still we don't know how much it'll cost or when it'll ship. With no proper guidance on those fronts it's hard to make a prediction on just how much of a must-buy the console is this holiday season, but surely by now most Nintendo fans will have already made up their minds on that front.