Thursday, 4 October 2012

Eurogamer Expo 2012: Wii U Hands-On Preview

Nintendo Wii U hands-on preview

[This is an abridged version of an article for Hit-Reset. The full version, which you can access by clicking the link, contains previews of games such as ZombiU, New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, Wonderful 101, Nintendoland and Rayman Legends.]

Last week's Eurogamer Expo featured the hands-on UK debut of Nintendo's upcoming console, the Wii U. The console has attracted a considerable amount of attention not only for the touchscreen taking pride of place in the centre of its main controller, but for the mixed messages Nintendo have been sending regarding their intentions for the machine. Following two disasterous E3s, the company revived what appeared to be a precarious launch with the recent announcement of a solid launch lineup and competitive pricing plan.

There's no question that a large percentage of the self-styled 'hardcore' gamers, whom Nintendo are reportedly trying to woo after the unfairly maligned Wii got stuck with a reputation as a 'casual' console, have yet to be convinced. Whether they are even willing to give the company another shot remains to be seen, but Nintendo have repeatedly stated that once gamers get their hands on the Wii gamepad, any reservations will be blown away.
   
It's certainly true that picking up the controller lays certain fears to rest. It's much smaller than it often appears in pictures and certainly nowhere near as heavy as many have wondered. It feels like holding a large handheld and is of comparable weight, only marginally heftier than the average controller. It fits snugly into the contours of the palms and naturally guides the thumbs towards its analogue sticks. The button placement below the right analogue takes a little getting used to and feels slightly less accessible than the staggered stick positioning on the 360 controller. It soon becomes second nature, but continues to feel like there's an ever-so-slight loss in ease. The difference is tiny, and may well diminish with extended practice, but is a definite factor for the first two hours or so.

The build quality is typically excellent, as you'd expect from Nintendo. The controller has a satisfying sturdiness and there's something about the buttons which are inexplicably delightful to click. Don't ask me what, because I couldn't tell you, but after thirty-five years making video games (and I'm including their arcade years, before anyone asks), Nintendo have this stuff pretty much nailed. Tiny complaint? I wish the ZR and ZL buttons were beneath the ridge on the back of the controller so they felt like real triggers. They're perfectly comfortable and convenient where they are, but not quite as gratifying for shooting things as the N64 or Wii remote triggers. I doubt many people will care, and both the Classic Controller Pro and Wii remote compatibility make the issue largely redundant, but there you go. Horses for courses.

With the controller being smaller than expected, the touchscreen is no more difficult to reach with the right thumb than the four main face buttons. You can be accessing inventories and maps with a flicks of the thumb, and certainly no need to take your hand away or remove the stylus, which approximately nobody at the Expo's many Wii U stands was using, if they even remembered it existed at all. The left hand side of the screen is more problematic, because it means taking your thumb away from the stick reserved for navigation, so games like ZombiU, which place certain inventory items on that side of the screen, can feel slightly clunky, requiring your character to either stop moving or your right hand to release the controller to make the relevant taps. Again, it's something you get used to, but feels a tad unnatural.

Incidentally, everyone who has been complaining about the lack of capacitive touch technology should go to the back of class in shame immediately: not only is the idea of a game needing multitouch absurdly impractical when you take into account the need to have one hand gripping the controller and using the analogue sticks, but would be actively detrimental to the controller's functioning. Games such as The Wonderful 101 require your right thumb to make quick movements between the analogue and the screen, which can lead to lower parts of your thumb grazing the screen while drawing the required shapes. I dread to think how many mistaken inputs this would cause on a multitouch screen, but the resistive technology works perfectly for the job (literally) in hand.

The quality of the controller screen is excellent and big enough to be an acceptable replacement for the main screen when the missus absolutely positively can't miss her next fix of Tyra Banks-induced drivel. (Okay, and to not appear sexist, or when your boyf point blank refuses to record Strictly Come Dancing for later). The rumble, unfortunately, is barely noticeable: reps assured me it was present, but it certainly never made itself known to me. Perhaps sensory overload from the Expo's bright lights and loud noises played a part, but don't expect much oomph when it comes to controller feedback this time around.

To read my previews of some of the console's biggest launch titles, head over to the full article at Hit-Reset, who were kind enough to supply me with a press ticket for the event.

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