In my earlier Wii U preview I took a look at the new controller, assessed it's strengths and weaknesses and posited that it not only asked questions of us as gamers, but also of Nintendo themselves. Questions that will need to be answered in the coming months. Highest on the list must the games themselves. Nintendo brought along a few little tidbits to help show off the new console, or rather its controller, but, as several reps noted to me themselves, it was more of an experience to showcase the features - very much tech demonstrations - rather than an opportunity to preview actual games for the system.
This was something of a source of disappointment to me, I'll be honest. After the press conference was over I was hoping for some serious fireworks, cannon blasts of power that would loudly trumpet Nintendo's return to the HD stage. Alas, it was not to be, and it should not have surprised me. Power is not how they won this generation, and it won't be at the forefront of their tactics for the next. But the little nuggets of gameplay on show were at least enough to pique the curiosity for a little longer and help me further understand exactly what Nintendo were pitching. I'll go through them one by one...
A third person multiplayer shooter, Battle Mii pitted two players on the ground in possession of Samus-esque suits, blasters, morphball abilities and a Wiimote and nunchuk setup against a third player flying a massive laser-spewing ship with the Wii U pad. I got to try the little demo from both perspectives and it was good to see a game from multiple angles. Controlling the ship was a little awkward the first time around, but for the second game - having now gotten my head around combining aiming with the sticks along with fine motion control aiming as well similar to Face Raiders on the 3DS - I was unstoppable.
A good little showcase of the opportunity for alternative player perspectives.
Another relatively simple but fun little demo. This time around one player took control of Mario, guiding him through a maze using the Wii U pad, enjoying a top down view of proceedings via the touchscreen. Four other players chased after him using the Wiimote, their views restricted to a normal third person perspective. It was madcap fun for five minutes although, again, really just a basic way of showing off alternative perspectives of gameplay.
New Super Mario Bros. Mii
A bit of a lazy one this, it was basically just a few levels from New Super Mario Bros. Wii in HD incorporating Miis into the game world rather than Mario himself. That said, it was entertaining to swap between the large TV and the smaller Wii U controller screen, though I must say that more often than not (as was the case with most of the things on display) I found myself completely ignoring the television in favour of the smaller screen and playing the thing exactly as I would a handheld or a tablet with buttons.
A quirky little touchscreen game that had me attempting to draw lines and shapes of a certain length, or circles of a certain circumference. Played with a partner, the winner was obviously the most accurate after the software had measured each entry. Hardly scintillating stuff, but perfectly functional.
There's a strong community dream among Nintendo fans: to one day see a Zelda game in HD. Well that's what we saw at E3...sort of. Disappointingly, it wasn't playable at all, more an HD cinematic with malleable camera shots and viewing angles. It looked a lot like Twilight Princess although, obviously, some of the textures had been scrubbed up a little bit. It was smooth, silky and very easy on the eye if not retina-poppingly so, and it was nice to see Link taking on a more realistic-looking Gohma. Changing the time of day, though, was not enough. It would have been nice to see a playable section, even if it was only half a minute long.
Japanese Garden Tech Demo
If the HD Experience was a little underwhelming - when it comes to Zelda we Nintendo fans have extraordinarily high expectations - the Japanese Garden demo was absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Most of the demos before had simply seen Wii graphics upscaled a bit to HD, but this was something else. Stunning water effects, shimmering koi carp, dazzling weather effects, photo-realistic environments and gloriously rendered animals, with customisable camera angles just to show that the thing was running in real time. Of course, that could have been running off of a PS3 too...but there would have been little point.
Those praying that the Wii U doesn't herald a whole new advent in barely developed shovelware, think again. It's almost guaranteed. But not all of the rhythm-action-party titles were bad, just the ones with terrible mechanics. Thankfully Shield Pose fully made use of the accelerometer and gyroscope mega motion combo for maximum effect. There was a boat with pirates on it firing arrows from all sides, and it was up to the player to defend themselves in time with the beat. Simple? Yes, but as we so often see it's easy to get the basics wrong. Not this time.
Ghost Recon Online
The only actual playable 'proper' game on the Wii U at E3, Ghost Recon Online did not run quite as smoothly as its PC counterpart...not yet anyway. But it did showcase some exciting ways in which the Wii U controller's touchpad might be used in conjunction with a fuller game.
It controls like a regular game, circle pads and all, which probably shouldn't be as exciting as it is...but, frankly, some of that excitement is probably relief! The touchscreen is used primarily as a map and can also be used to deploy and control things like satellites and drones and UAVs.
It is possible this little title that was by far the most important thing on show. The other's will certainly appeal to Nintendo's new casual audience - bitesized chunks of schooling that they were, but it is this that will serve to start winning over the hardcore, not to mention those third parties that Ninty have not had the best relationship with in the past. It was far from perfect (but then, the console is a good year away yet at least) but it was certainly encouraging.
I walked away from my initial Wii U experience with some disappointment, that I will not deny. But much of that was because I still had some unanswered questions, more preoccupied with what I hadn't seen than what I had. But that's really not the point, you have to start with what's in front of you and what I saw was certainly encouraging enough to make me want to see more, and that definitely is the point. Nintendo smashed clunkily into port this year with a somewhat haphazard announcement, but it's interesting and innovative and has some of the loftiest ambitions to bridge the gap between hardcore and casual and also change the way we play home consoles once again. They have a huge year ahead of them, and they have to deliver some answers to alleviate some of the doubts within the next few months. They never make it easy on themselves and the market situation is unfavourable to say the least. But I wouldn't rule them out just yet. If anyone can pull this off - and we absolutely must see more of the Wii U - it's the Big N.