During its E3 2011 press conference, Nintendo made doubly sure to reinforce that the “games” on display for its newly revealed Wii U tablet/console are actually just bite sized “experiences” that have been designed to showcase the Wii U’s potential.One of these “experiences” was a three-player sci-fi shooter called Battle Mii where two players use traditional Wii remotes to run around a space-age map firing laser pistols at the third player who uses the Wii U tablet controller (aka the Umote, as I’m calling it) to pilot a flying saucer, trying to take out the players on the ground.
While the two players have split-screen views on the traditional monitor, the third player has an entirely different view since they’re piloting the ship. You use face buttons to shoot (tap for laser beam, hold for missile) and tilting and turning the controller changes the camera angle. While the screen itself is crisp and the device lighter and more comfortable to hold that I was expecting, the actual controls were kind of awkward.
First off, you have to hold the table straight out in front of you to “center” the camera. If you hold it lower, like you would if you were sitting down, the camera tilts over the ship, giving you a great view of the top of your head. Pushing up and down of the right thumbstick raises and/or lowers your craft, while left and right turn it slightly, but not enough to actually turn around. You have to use a combination of tilting/turning the tablet and the thumbstick s (left controls your speed) to get your bearings. All the while you’re trying to shoot tiny enemies on the ground that have zero problem picking you out of the sky as you (i.e. me) spins around like an idiot trying to get someone in my sights.
To be fair, this isn’t a real game so it makes little sense to harp on its specific issues too much, but they’re worth noting since they hint at potential issues that might arise should an actual Wii U game decides to incorporate this sort of control scheme. Nintendo made a big deal during its press conference that the Wii U was conceived as a console for everybody, one that appeals and is accessible to all levels of gamers. If a core player like myself has trouble coming to grips with not only the controls but the overall design philosophy, then I can only imagine what a casual gamer, or non-gamer for that matter, will think when they get their hands on it. Where the Wii isolated core gamers, the Wii U has the potential to isolate both core and casual audiences, since it wants to be all things to all gamers. A bold vision to be sure, but, then again, as Nintendo has proven in the past, executing on bold visions is what it does better than anyone else. Waiting game it is.
By far the most impressive Wii U "experience," at least from a purely graphical perspective, was the Zelda HD demo. The interactive cinematic featured Link facing off a gigantic mechanized spider in an epic showdown that showcased some spectacular lighting and particle effects as well as richly detailed textures, you know, the kind you would expect to see from 1080p HD title. Of course, this Zelda demo isn’t part of any official game (it’s just an “experience,” remember?), but it sure as hell should be. It’s exactly the style and feel I’ve wanted from a Zelda game since the credits rolled on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and it would be a shock to no one if this was exactly what Nintendo's first Wii U Zelda game ends up using as a jumping off point. But I digress.
The semi-interactive sequence played out on both the standard monitor and on the Wii U remote, aka the Umote. On the Umote, you have the option to change the scene from day to night, which demonstrated some fantastic bloom and shadow effects, switch the camera angle (tracking shots, third-person views, etc.), and, most importantly, toggle what was being displayed in the demo between monitors. One option had the gameplay running on the television while the Umote displayed a map of the temple, complete with icons for Link and the spider moving around accordingly, ala the bottom screen of a Nintendo DS game. The other put the action directly on the remote’s screen, with the television displaying the scene in a box next to a box showing the map.
The second view demonstrates how players will be able to easily jump from TV gaming to remote gaming instantly without skipping a beat. What this will do to the gameplay experience (for instance, how will a game that uses the dual monitors as a key mechanic work when it’s limited to just the remote display?) isn’t exactly clear, but I have a feeling Nintendo is on the case. If not, they have bigger issues to worry about.
There wasn’t much else to the demo, nor would there be, but as a proof of concept, it definitely did its job. Sure, teasing us with the best looking Zelda game ever made was kind of cheap, but I can’t fault Nintendo for that. But I can/will hold them to the promise it was meant to inspire in my skeptical and cynical Wii-weary heart. I'm a simple man, afterall.