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E3 2011: Wii U Hands On

Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: N/A | Genre: Hardware

Release Date: 2012

I've seen many comments around the web worrying about the comfort of Nintendo's new controller. Looking at the pictures, I can understand the concern. On the other hand, considering Nintendo's track record, perhaps gamers should give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt. We have had extensive hands on play with Wii U, and I can tell you that the concerns are unfounded. For detailed information about the controller's features and functions, check out our other preview here.

The Wii U controller is comfortable to hold. It seems to look bigger and bulkier in pictures than it really is. Your thumbs and index fingers will easily find where they need to go, especially if you're a veteran gamer. The ridge protruding from the back of the controller provides a comfortable way to support the controller with you palm and fingers, but it also helps to guide your hands to the right place. Your index fingers will naturally fall onto the triggers, yet the shoulder buttons will easily be within reach. Your thumbs will rest naturally on the tow Circle Pads. Using the face buttons or the D-Pad is not a problem. Many have noticed that Nintendo chose to place the two Circle Pads symmetrically, rather than the way the analog sticks are positions on the Xbox 360 controller, with the A, B, X, and Y buttons in the more prominent location on the right side. This was probably done to accommodate both left and right-handed players with games that use the touch screen heavily. Game developers have used this tactic a lot on the DS. For DS games that require extensive touch screen control, the D-Pad often performs the same actions as the A, B, X, and Y buttons, making it easy for a person to use a stylus with either the left or right hand. We will probably see this kind of control scheme on the Wii U as well, so the Circle Pad and button placements make a lot of sense.

The Circle Pads are very similar to the Circle Pad on the Nintendo 3DS. However, they are a little smaller and thicker. I find the 3DS's Circle Pad to be a little more comfortable, but only by a narrow margin. For those of you who do not yet own a 3DS, the Circle Pad does feel different from an analog stick. It's not a terribly different experience, but you may need some practice to become perfectly precise with the Circle Pad. I found that it is not difficult to move your thumbs from the Circle Pad to the D-Pad or face buttons, but then, all of the demos we played lasted ten minutes or less. We have yet to test the controller's comfort with extensive play time.

The controller's shoulder buttons and trigger buttons are all analog. If there is anything I find lacking about the controller, it is this fact. The GameCube, Xbox, Xbox 360, and PS3 all have analog triggers. The feature is not often important for most games, but it's still nice to have. However, the Wii U controller is the most versatile controller yet, so I'm not really complaining.

The touch screen is better than I expected it to be. The resolution is great and I saw no problems with lag. Nintendo hasn't released the specs for the screen, such as the resolution, but I played several demos with it. Both dark and bright images showed up nicely, with fine details easy to see. Text and other 2D elements appeared crisp on the screen. It makes me wonder how much this thing is going to cost.

The edges of the screen were within easy reach of my thumbs when holding the controller normally. I imagine that game could map quick inventory options or special moves to buttons along the edge of the touch screen. Holding the controller with one hand so that you could fully use the touch screen with the other was not a problem either. That's because the controller is fairly light. However, that's because the demo units did not actually contain batteries. They ran off of wired power. The actual weight of the retail controller is a big unknown right now. Nintendo did have some free standing controllers to play around with. These controllers were powered with batteries, and they were only a little heavier than the playable demo units. However, these controllers only displayed the Wii U logo on the screen. They featured no interactivity. The logo on the screen was bright, and the batteries seemed to last many hours, but we don't know if the weight of these controllers is indicative of what we'll see at retail. If it is, it would be really good.

The +, -, and Home buttons are the only gameplay buttons that are kind of out of the way. It might be tough to quickly pause your game if one of these buttons is used.

None of the demos used the camera, so we didn't get to see what the quality was like. The "sensor strip" is what Nintendo's spec sheet calls that black strip at the top of the controller. None of the Nintendo representatives were able to tell us if it does anything besides containing the camera.

None of the demos featured microphone use either, though a Ubisoft promo reel did show gamers chatting online with others without using a headset. The background noise at E3 was too loud for me to tell whether or not the speakers on the controller were used for any of the demos. Hopefully their quality is better than that of the speaker on the Wii Remote.

Motion control with the new controller was smooth and responsive. Of course, I don't know for sure, but the quality seems the same as or better than the motion control provided by Wii Motion Plus. One game demo used the gyroscope for controlling a first person view. It was very responsive.

Overall, I am very pleased with Nintendo's controller. There's a lot of potential here. It may bring you brand new gameplay experiences, but I also expect to see a lot of gameplay that is simply enhanced by what the new controller offers. This controller is a tool that gives game developers a lot of options. I could rattle off dozens of game series and genres that could make really interesting use of this new controller: Trauma Center, Metroid, Zelda, RTS games, adventure games, etc.

After using the controller, I'm not apprehensive about the device at all. Like we saw with the Wii and Nintendo DS, I believe we will go through an experimental phase where we will see developers try new things. Some will work, some won't. What I'm really happy about is that Nintendo is providing a console that will be able to deliver a wide range of experiences, both hardcore and casual, in a better way than what Wii is able to do.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 06/12/11

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