E3 2011: First Glance at the Wii U

E3 2011: First Glance at the Wii U

Nintendo pulled a slightly expected fast one on the crowds of people at 2011 E3. In the chaotic mess of E3, through the thousands of people swarming around, and the hundreds of games being presented, there was new hardware being presented, only one year later after Nintendo announced their new handheld, the 3DS. The Wii U, the next generation unit from Nintendo, was announced this year to the public and it has some new tricks to go along. Nintendo has said that the hardware inside the units being shown is not final, but it is on par if not better then the current generation of hardware. The Wii U looks like a first generation Xbox 360 had a baby with a Wii. It’s a slightly curvy yet generic looking unit. It has an optical drive slot and all the usual buttons on the first of the box, but the different thing that they presented was what you play the Wii U with.

The controller is vastly different from what most of us are used to. It has its circle pads (what the 3ds uses as analog sticks), but they are slightly smaller then the 3DS’s. It has four shoulder buttons that aren’t analog and feel slightly archaic when felt against the 360 and PS3’s shoulders, four smallish face buttons, and your plus/minus/home buttons on the bottom. The difference in this controller is the 6.2” touch capable screen in the middle.  Yes, with its size comparable to a tablet PC, it has a single touch capable screen in the middle of the controller. This can be used for multiple things like displaying information, used as space for more buttons, and even be used to play the game on. Think of this as a giant DS screen for home console use. Great, now I can take my full console games on the john instead of my DS!

You can see the reasons why this is a great idea, but how long will it be till this becomes the next waggle controller. It’s great that Nintendo wants to enter the HD market and compete against the other two. This could give them the edge over a standard Xbox controller. I’m speaking for myself, but I can’t remember the last time I touched my Wii console.  When I got time with the Wii U, I had a chance to play some demos and play with the controller. I wasn’t entirely impressed. Yes the Wii had left a slightly bad taste in my mouth, but I love new technology and I wanted to take a swing at it. The tech is tech that has been around for a while now, but implemented in certain ways. Lets take a look at some of the demos for the Wii U, the Japanese Garden demo and the Ghost Recon demo.

These demos were short snippets that show off the new tech of Nintendo’s shiny new box. The Japanese Garden demo showed the graphical capabilities with of the Wii U. The demo looked good, it showed HDR lighting, snow, and a pretty bird flying around. The controller showed something different than what was on screen. It showed a different perspective on the same scene being shown on the TV, and with a trigger button held you were able to manipulate the scene by moving around in a circle. This augmented reality is nothing new really, but for a home console it was a nice spin. The graphics were nothing spectacular for anyone who has been with a Xbox or Playstation. The screen on the controller was producing video capable of about 480p resolution. The Ghost Recon demo had a little bit of a better trick. The demo had you running through one of the sections from the PC demo they had running at Ubisoft, which was a destroyed city. The differences is that instead of pressing a button to crouch or go prone you would thrust the controller towards the ground. I didn’t really care for this, but when you run out of buttons to press you kind of have to make lemonade. The screen on the controller was producing an interactive map; not just a top down map, but the game from a different perspective. The screen could also be used to issue commands by taps as they explained at the booth. They had a few more demos but I unfortunately ran out of time to try them.

I stay leery on the Wii U and will wait to see what else Nintendo has to say about their new hardware. They stated that the hardware is not final but time will tell if Nintendo has what it takes to stay with the race. The Wii was a great commercial success for them, but was in a many ways a critical failure with its lack of software. Being up to snuff with the other two will make it easier to port over to their new project. The problem that I have is the timing of the new console. It takes a decent chunk of processing power to feed the video to the controller as well as produce what it does on the TV. With the release of this console somewhere around the end of 2012, and with Microsoft and Sony not saying when their new hardware will be around; this puts Nintendo in Dreamcast territory. Its great to see new hardware when it should be coming around, but when the competitors lag behind it gives them more time come around with something better. This concerns me when the next generation happens because it will put Nintendo in the same place that it was this generation, behind the rest of everyone. Nintendo saying that they want to compete directly in software with the others, but this concerns me for their next generation offering. I guess we will just have to stay tuned.

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