The Wii U controller is subtly different than we saw last year. As unveiled in the pre-show briefing with Iwata-san the hardware's had some subtle tweaks made.
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.