If there's one thing I've learned in this day and age of gaming, it's to never jump to conclusions before you actually get to play a system. With the Wii, DS, and even 3DS, it was almost impossible to understand the level of novelty until actually getting your hands on one and even then, it took some time into the systems' lives before we truly saw some game-changing mechanics.
With all of the buzz about new consoles this E3, I made it a rule that I wasn't going to jump to any conclusions, positive or negative, once I heard about Nintendo's new console proposition. And, just as I sat at the Nintendo Media Briefing this year, I had to collect my thoughts after the showing of the of Wii U. I had heard rumors that the system would feature a touchscreen controller and though I could see the novelty of this, it was difficult to imagine what exactly this would look like.
Another rumor I had heard buzzing around E3 was that Nintendo would call their next system precisely that, "Nintendo." However, after hearing of the bizarre name, "Wii U", it made me wish for a second that we could take a step back in time to an age when all information wasn't at our fingertips (or at least have some sort of censorship when it comes to gaming press conferences ;-) as the new name didn't compare to the idea of turning the name "Nintendo" into a console title.
What they demonstrated at the media briefing looked promising. After showing a gamer move the TV's screen down to his Wii U device, it made me think of not having an issue playing a console game while my fiance watches TV. Gameplay such as setting the Wii U on the floor to act as a sand trap in golf or moving the Wii U around the TV screen to attempt to catch a ball looked like cool ideas that would surely make for a unique Wii U Sports game. However, I still knew not to make any assumptions until I got my hands on one.
Later that day, I got to actually hold a Wii U in my hands, though I wasn't able to play it till later in the week. The system felt comfortable and surprisingly light for a device that featured a 6.2" touch screen. The analog nubs seemed similar to the ones that showed up on the 3DS. And, when I finally got the chance to walk up to Nintendo's tech demos at E3, I was able to play a few of the games for myself.
The first of the games I experienced was called Shield Pose. This game seemed very much like something you would expect out of Rhythm Heaven, where the Wii U controller doubled as a shield and the goal of the game was to block incoming arrows from multiple directions with respect to the TV (above, to the left, right and directly towards). However, the key was to listen to the beat as well as cues to let you know when and where the next arrows will hit (and after catching them, you had to "shake them off" by thrusting the Wii U downward, something that was difficult to do without a wrist strap). This tech demo didn't fundamentally change the way you could play Rhythm Heaven (as similar Wii controls could have been implemented for the upcoming Wii game) but the relative movement was extremely responsive which makes me think that AR gameplay will be utilized quite well on the new system.
The second demo I witnessed was the recreation of the Temple of Time from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in HD. The demo only allowed you to move cameras around in different angles, turn the torches on/off in the game, and move the video from the big screen to the Wii U device. Now, I don't know if they purposefully used lower res HD TVs or not, but the video actually seemed to look better on the high resolution touch screen than it actually did on the TV (this could also be due to the fact that we were very close to the TV, which could also make the resolution look less detailed). Though the demo didn't show any gameplay elements, it did give us something that gamers have been asking for for years: a glimpse at HD Zelda.
The third game I got a chance to play was Find Mii. This game reminded me a lot of Pac Man Vs. for the Gamecube, where the one gamer who held the Wii U had to run away from the other four gamers who donned Wii-Motes. The novelty of the game is that the Wii U user could see the entire map including the other players' locations on the tiny touchscreen. However, the other four gamers were only able to see the map and needed to use communication to track down the hider. Using my massive escapist skills, I was able to avert the other gamers; however, when Steve was the hider, he wasn't so lucky.
The final game I got a chance to play was "Measure Up", a game that required each of two gamers to draw a series of different shapes and angles as neatly and accurately as possible. The game would then measure up the results to see whose shapes were more accurate compared to the actual shape. There were 5 rounds total and the winner of the match was determined by the total score of each of the five rounds added together. The game had an interesting take on players' ability to visualize shapes and geometry. For instance, the first shape was a straight line, 2.5 inches long. Next, we were required to draw a circle with a diameter of one inch, a triangle with a total perimeter of a certain length, and an angle of 65 degrees. The final task was to draw a squiggly line that was something around 18 inches long (I actually drew one that was only .03 inches off to prove my mathematical prowess).
So, I would say that my time with the Wii U was enjoyable. However, I think back to 2006 when the Wii was unveiled and the system had like 20 playable games on the show floor as opposed to the 7 or so tech demos that showed up this year. With Wii, it was easy to fall in love with the device because there was software to support it on the show floor and the creativity of third party developers was available to experience in full force. The Wii U remains a mystery, however, even after getting hands-on time on the show floor at E3. It's difficult to have to leave E3 with little conclusions about the future success of the platform (especially since I'm such a devout Nintendo fan) but I guess we'll all just have to wait and see if Nintendo truly brings an experience for both casual and hardcore gamers. But if it's any consolation, at least we got a Wii HD...right?