When Nintendo introduced its Wii console back in 2006, it changed the way we play video games. Instead of passively sitting and pressing buttons, Wii games expected us to swing our arms, move around, jump and duck and generally use our bodies as a controller. The successor to the Wii, due on November 18, delivers another radical change to console gameplay with action on different planes with varied views.
The heart of the system is the Wii U GamePad, a controller with its own 6.2-inch touch-sensitive screen, a camera, microphone, speaker and complete set of buttons and triggers. At its most basic, the screen can recreate the same picture shown on the TV monitor to which your Wii U is connected. So if you’re in the middle of a game and the family wants to use the big screen, you can simply continue playing on the GamePad.
Far more interesting, though, are games that use the handheld screen to show a different view of the action than other players are seeing. In one part of the Nintendo Land game, for example, the player with the GamePad is a ghost who can see the entire floor plan of a mansion on the handheld screen, while his human opponents play using standard Wii controllers and have limited visibility on the TV screen. In EA’s Madden NFL 13, the offense can draw passing routes on the touch-screen GamePad that the defense can’t see.
The GamePad shares the motion-sensing abilities of standard Wii controllers, which opens up additional possibilities. For example, in one game you hold the controller up in front of yourself and use it as a shield to ward off incoming arrows. You can also use the touch-screen to fire off weapons, such as unleashing a barrage of ninja stars by sliding your finger across the screen. Another game I demoed uses the GamePad’s built-in camera to follow your movements. You lay the controller on the ground, where the screen shows a golf ball. You stand above it and, by swinging an imaginary golf club, send it soaring.
The Wii U also marks Nintendo’s move up to high-definition display, a feature sorely lacking in the original Wii. The system won’t play Blu-ray discs the way the PlayStation 3 does, but you will be able to stream video content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube. Another welcome video-related feature: the GamePad can be used as a universal remote for your TV.
The Wii U comes in two versions: the basic eight-gigabyte white model ($299.99) and the deluxe in black ($349.99) with 32 gigabytes. Neither comes with the standard Wii remotes or nunchuks. The company assumes most customers will already have them.