Since the tail end of 2011, a core team of engineers at Criterion has been working with the Wii U. The final hardware launched in November, and Criterion started to scratch its collective noggin and figure out how it would work for Need for Speed: Most Wanted.

This meant missing the Wii U launch, but Criterion Games' Alex Ward was fine with that during a preview session last week – if Need for Speed: Most Wanted had been at launch, it would've lacked all online functionality.

"The reason we didn't do the game for launch is because the online side of it wasn't very clear to us," said Ward. "We weren't sure how much we could do online or how it was going to be, because obviously Nintendo were making a lot of changes up until their run-up to launch. So we didn't want to bring the game out at launch on Wii U with no online play."


The extra time was not spent in vain, something that became obvious once Most Wanted was up and running on a television. The Wii U port pulls in the PC assets and immediately sports a much longer draw distance and better frame rate than its console cousins. Having played my fair share of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the work that went into this Wii U version was clear – and not just in graphical fidelity, either.

"When we got the final hardware in November, we started to look at it, to really experience it, and start to think that just a port isn't going to cut it. Like we'd be embarrassed if we didn't do anything extra; putting something out, any team could do that."

It was during this period that the studio came up with the idea of a "father and son" mode, officially called Co-Driver in-game. It's a type of co-existence, featuring a touchscreen menu of gameplay options, where two players can both contribute to the game and take over driving duties on the fly. Cops hassling you? Use the WiiPad to disrupt their pursuit and let your buddy get away. Night blindness? Switch it to daytime. Don't want all that pesky traffic in the way during the next race? Turn traffic off.

These are basic wingman types of assistance that the GamePad can employ at any time, but the most useful is being able to switch rides. Outside of the Wii U, the Easy Drive menu makes it fairly painless to jump into another car, but you've got to take your eyes off the road and navigate through a few menus to hop in your preferred whip. Now a pal can do it for you while you concentrate on beating your friends' speed trap time.

This is the head space that Criterion was looking to get into, where Nintendo envisioned this console as a group living room experience. "Wii U to us means two or more people together on a sofa. It's not enough to have the game running on the GamePad screen. "Wii U is about playing together. Wii U is about sharing that experience with everyone else who is in the room, so you've got to entertain that entire living room."

Co-Driving itself feels like a natural fit for the Wii U. An icon interface allows WiiPad holders to switch settings with a simple tap. Of course, it's not only great for assistance, but also a potent fuel for griefing because, at the touch of an icon, both players can have control of the car at the same time. So why not slam on the brakes during the last lap of a grueling race? It would be practically irresponsible not to!

Need for Speed: Most Wanted will support every peripheral for the Wii U, so if you want to drive using the WiiPad, Wiimote and Nunchuk, the Pro Controller or even just the Wiimote by itself, you can. The game also supports motion controls so if you've been dying to break out that Mario Kart wheel again, it's entirely possible.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted on Wii U is the entire stock Most Wanted game, plus the Ultimate Speed Pack DLC. It pulls up to the starting line on Wii U in North America March 19, and in Europe on March 21.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.