This is the most important day in America this year. No, I am not talking about the election, I am talking about my playing the Wii U for the first time. I held it in my hands, friends, and now read on to see some impressions!
Nintendo’s in store kiosk is not too bad, with a nice, sharp display and everything tethered with RIDICULOUSLY coiled wire. Coiled wire in and of itself isn’t bad, but the tether they have on the GamePad belies the fact that the GamePad is actually really lightweight. As soon as you pick it up, you have about an inch of “oh, this thing is really lightweight!” and then the tether starts to pull on it, forcing you to hold the whole unit awkwardly. The stylus – which felt exactly like the DS Lite stylus – dangles haphazardly from a thin black wire because the way the wire is affixed it forces the stylus to be unable to seat properly in the back of the GamePad. I know all of this is to keep people from stealing the thing, but man. There was a Wii Remote and Nunchuck as well, but who cares about that?
An interesting thing I noticed as I pulled the GamePad from it’s cradle is how long the Wii U console that was sitting under it is. If the Wii was in the shape of a deck of cards, say, the Wii U is more like a Hershey bar. Those proportions certainly are not perfect, but the thing definitely is longer than it looks in all of the images I have seen. I tried to crane my neck a bit to get a look at the back, but I couldn’t see anything in particular.
The GamePad certainly is the star of this show, and holding it felt very nice, even with the death grip of the tether to contend with. All of the main face buttons are easy to reach, and the perimeter around the sticks is now a circle instead of the octagon that all previous Nintendo analogue sticks have been (save for the 3DS). Having the A,B,X,Y buttons under the right stick might seem weird, but in practice it works just fine, although this kiosk didn’t have any demos that forced you to exercise your thumb back and forth between them. These action buttons feel good, though, as you’d expect. It’s very exciting to get a big, fat Nintendo D-pad on this thing. No one does D-pads better, and you instantly know that when touching this thing. It looks like it is simply the D-pad from the Classic Controller on the Wii, so there is no complaining there.
The only buttons that felt a little awkward at first blush are the top buttons. There is a bit more travel for your index finger to get from those on the back to those on the top than we might be familiar with with the 360 and PS3. Otherwise, they felt fine and have nice travel. It’ll just be a matter of teaching your hands a bit to get used to them, like you might have had to do with the Dualshock 3 to make sure you weren’t just slipping off the L2/R2 buttons.
The software on display was pretty minimal, with only one title available to actually play. Everything else simply had a video, and even then sometimes that was just a slideshow of images. The Wii U system menu was not on display here; there was just a carousel of these demo games and that was it. Of the 19 titles you could spin in this carousel, Rayman Legends was the only one that you could play. The touchscreen while swiping around on this menu was very responsive, but certainly not the kind of accuracy you get from a capacitive touch screen. It feels like a really nice, super sharp, huge DS screen, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am also glad to have tested this out before the leagues of local children have had a chance to destroy the thing.
Upon choosing Rayman Legends, the system took a couple of seconds to load the game, and then I was treated to my first taste of an HD game on a Nintendo system. Let’s just get this out of the way: Rayman Legends looks sharp has hell. The other consoles on the market could certainly play this game with the same fidelity, but for some reason knowing that it’s a Nintendo console makes it more awesome, as if your subconscious is shouting “FINALLY” in the back of your head.
When the game fully loaded, I started out as some viking girl that swung an axe, and I was asked to choose among a few levels to play. I picked the one you might have seen in various videos from earlier in the year: a colorful foresty level (I know that is not that descriptive). Starting out as Viking Girl I chopped some bad dudes with my axe for a bit until the screen told me to look down. I needed to release a little green flying fellow by touching the screen and opening his cage. From there, I assumed control of that character, and for whatever reason Rayman showed up and Viking Girl was no more. As the green dude, I tickled enemies to allow a computer controller Rayman an opportunity to attack, then cut ropes to drop platforms, and even spun the entire GamePad to rotate obstacles so Rayman could cross. This seems like it would be super fun with a lot of people. The touch screen was responsive, and I could discern no lag. Although you could use your nasty finger to do all of these things, I opted for the stylus for better precision. Even with the kiosk trying to pull the GamePad from my hands, it wasn’t an issue to use the stylus with it while standing up in the middle of a store.
Because I had been hogging the kiosk for a while, I decided to cut my time a little short (the Rayman demo gives you 12 minutes to play), and I started up the ZombiU video. Instead of a video, though, I got basically a slide show. Maybe Nintendo didn’t want a lot of gore on the screen just out in the open for tiny children to see? I could feel a Gamestop employee thinking about asking me questions or pushing a rewards program I don’t need on me, so I left after the ZombiU “video” showed me nothing.
And that was my time with the Wii U today. I really want to play one of these in a home environment where the GamePad isn’t weighed down by a heavy, springy tether. I want to play this with four other people while we are all shouting and yelling and having fun. I WANT TO DO THAT RIGHT NOW.