Nintendo finally unveiled it's powerful HD successor to the Wii on the first day of E3. As expected the new controller surprised everyone with it's abilities despite plenty of spot-on rumors. Here are my first impressions upon seeing the unveiling.
The controller itself is composed of a large 6.2 inch touchscreen adorned with a classic assortment of controls. It seems to have all the bells & whistles of the original Wii remote plus a camera and microphone. The screen itself is able to stream content from the Wii U console itself. This content can be a mirroring of what is displayed on the TV itself or separate content. Nintendo kindly provided a few examples of ways in which the controller might be used in their reveal.
Now, at first I was a little disappointed with this new controller and probably for reasons other than most people. Previously, I wrote (quite hastily) about the then unknown Wii 2. At that time, there were plenty of rumors circulating, many of which would turn out to be true, most specifically the touchscreen. I thought that the controller would be modular like the current Wii remote and that an improved version of the current set-up would augment the new screen by attaching to the sides. Obviously, that did not happen. This makes me a little sad. The new flagship controller has the same gyroscope/accelerometer wizardry as the original Wii remote/nunchuck combo with one exception: it is one piece. This means future games that require independent movement of one hand to simulate a weapon, such as Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword or Red Steel 2, will be incompatible with the new controller. This may not seem like a big deal at first, considering that the Wii U supports the older Wii Motion+ controller for new games, except now you have to choose sides. Do you want the more traditional controls paired with an innovative touchscreen interface, camera and microphone or do you want dual-wielded motion-controls that can simulate activities such as sword fighting? Then we come to the point where the button layout on the original Wii remote is less than preferred by a large group that shun the controller. Will they release an updated Wii remote that mimics the controls on either side of the Wii U's new touchscreen? If they do that then why not just make it modular to begin with? Its a small complaint but one with several repercussions. Also, the name…it sucks, but whatever.
Okay, enough nit-picking. All of the newly introduced functions of the controller seem like they could be quite beneficial. While I was confused at first, the video provided by Nintendo soothed my misconceptions. In this video (linked above), we see the controller being used as a sort of window into another world, similar to some gyroscopic 3DS games. There is also a scene showing someone drawing Link, which would be a great way to reintroduce Mario Paint or its Wii-branded equivalent. It would also serve as an effective means of deploying troops on a map. (RTS' rejoice!) It also supports video chat and potentially voice recognition; neither of these are very exciting to me but they are there.
Nintendo now has a system purportedly more powerful than both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so third-parties do not have an excuse to shun the system as they did the Wii. Content should scale well across all three platforms. The real question is how will the Wii U hold up against the successors of their competitors. Since both Sony and Microsoft have admitted they are aiming for a longer console cycle it could be two years before they release a new system. Technology advances fast; this could leave Nintendo in an awkward position, but it could also see them with an established install-base ahead of time and nearly half-way through the Wii U's lifespan. We also have to take into account if the Wii U's defining features are easily copied as that is a very real possibility. Can the Wii U hold its own against this future threat? It's hard to say as we don't have any idea of the power that it will have or that of the inevitably incoming competition.
While Nintendo made the official announcement for the system this week, we still don't know a whole lot about it, We haven't seen any games running on final hardware. We don't know anything about the online system it will employ beyond the fact that it is devoid of friend codes. All we received were announcements of games that would be coming to the system and some promotional material showing what the controller is capable of. There was also a beautiful tech demo showing the supposed graphical fidelity, but lets wait for the games, shall we?
So while, Nintendo may not have showed us much of their hand, what they did show was quite promising. They seem to be quite serious about reacquiring strong third-party support and I think they will be successful in surpassing that of the Wii. Third parties seem genuinely interested in the Wii U's controller as opposed to the original Wii's, but third-parties are fickle bastards, much like gamers. Who knows how this will turn out. The only thing we can count on is a solid assortment of first-party content. Though it would be nice if there were some games in between. I if can play some unique downloadable games, Rockstar games and Nintendo games on the same console I will be a very happy camper indeed. This seems like combination worthy of a doomsday prophecy. In other news, the Wii U is expected to debut in 2012.