Wii U Preview
Two-Screen GamingSwitching games from the TV to the Pad screen is, of course, one of Wii U’s big party pieces, and on this occasion we got to try it out on numerous games, including Super Mario U, Trine 2 and Mass Effect 3. You appear to be able to switch instantly, there’s no discernible lag, and with a headphone socket on the controller there’s no reason to stop playing a game just because your significant other would rather watch The X Factor than Zombi U. The Touchscreen controls appear to work with either finger or stylus, though we suspect speed and accuracy will be better with the latter.
Beyond the screen, the Wii U Pad includes three-axis accelerometers plus a speaker, microphone and front-facing camera, which we’ve now seen used giving a picture-in-picture view of the Pad-wielder’s face while playing the Chase Mario segment of NintendoLand (more of this later).
We’re still not 100% convinced by the efforts being made to enhance cross-platform titles with Wii U Pad controls. We were able to sample Assassin’s Creed 3, Mass Effect 3, Darksiders 2 and Trine 2 on Nintendo’s new console, and while all had maps on the Wii U Pad, touchscreen menu systems or tactical controls, none of these additions made them necessarily a better game. Trine 2 was slightly different in that touch controls had been more closely integrated into the gameplay, allowing you to drag objects around as the wizard or tap to aim and shoot the bow with the thief. That and a raft of new content could make the Wii U version the best yet – and it certainly looks stunning on the hardware.
However, start playing something purpose built for the console and Wii U starts to come alive. Ubisoft’s Zombi U remains a fantastic showcase. With a larger section to explore, we could really get to grips with how the Wii U Pad augments the game’s FPS/Survival Horror/RPG gameplay. Here the Pad functions as a real-world analogue for an in-game scanner. You have to scan with the Pad to spot potential threats or sources of ammo – particularly with the latter in such short supply. And while other games struggle with the division of your attention between the Pad screen and the TV, Zombi U turns this to its advantage. While you’re busy moving items from a dead zombie to your backpack on the Pad, you can’t react so quickly to the zombies lurching towards you on the main screen. Ditto while you’re using the Pad to take potshots with a sniper rifle, or decoding cryptic messages left on flooded cellar walls. With its very deliberate and deeply creepy feel, we have Zombi U down as Wii U’s first third-party killer app.
The Wii Sports of Wii U?The big question, however, is whether Wii U has its own Wii Sports – an experience so different and exciting that it spreads Wii U fever from household to household in the way of Wii Sports Tennis. Well, of the three likeliest candidates, we’d now say that New Super Mario Bros. U is the least likely option. Of course it’s brilliant, and it's a treat to see Mario in glorious HD. What's more, in the three short sections we’ve seen we’ve already witnessed more signs of innovation than in the mildly disappointing New Super Mario Bros 2, with a very cool flying squirrel suit and some devilishly tricky new mechanisms. It’s also a solid showcase for Nintendo’s new concept of asymmetric multiplayer, with four players running, jumping and flying around the levels with normal Wii remotes, while a fifth bothers enemies and calls in blocks by tapping on the Wii U Pad. Is it different enough, though, to cause a sensation outside Nintendo's wide fanbase? Maybe not.
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