Sneak Preview: The WiiU - Hype Week

By Mark Falanga

It’s fair to say that if you mention the words “video game” to anyone, “Nintendo” can’t be too far away. Since the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, the company has consistently been at the forefront of the video game world, producing hit after hit. Things remained unchanged until the debut of the Wii in 2006. The console sold extremely well, in fact, it was the fastest selling video game console of all time. However, it did lack one key feature: the high definition graphics that both Microsoft’s X Box 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3 had.

Many hardcore gamers felt that Nintendo had shifted its focus too much from visually stunning games like Batman: Arkham City and Call of Duty: Black Ops (which were not released on the Wii) to family-oriented video games with little need for advanced graphics. This was made even more evident when the Wii became a sudden hit with the elderly population, which hurt its “cool factor” among the system’s core audience.

Now that six years have passed with no new consoles from any of the big three companies, Nintendo has boldly pushed forward to create the first console of the ninth generation, the Wii U, and I was lucky enough to gain an invite to an exclusive showing of the console at Nintendo World on 48th Street in Manhattan.

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Before I talk about the games I played, the specifications of the system and the controller are both worth some preliminary discussion. First, and in my opinion, most importantly, this system by Nintendo finally has full 1080i HD graphics! Now, Nintendo owners can play all of the best selling titles created by third party developers, not trimmed down versions of the full HD games like the Ghostbusters game released in 2007.

The Wii U also sports a new touchpad controller that is revolutionary in every sense of the word. It features a 6.2-inch screen with a camera, stereo sound that aids in gameplay, and also allows for other functions such as internet browsing, watching movies, or even entering Nintendo’s own social networking service, called “Me-Verse,” which lets users see what games their friends are playing with a simple click of the controller.

Now many people would think that a controller of this size would fit awkwardly in their hands and not be terribly comfortable. From experience, I can tell you that somehow that’s not the case. It happened to be both very comfortable and intuitive.

Now comes the fun part of the review: the games! First up, Super Mario Bros U. How can you start a Nintendo review without talking about the Mario release first? As much as I wanted to play the single player mode, I knew that the Nintendo people were trying to get as many people as they could to play each game, so I was forced to play the five player mode.

Honestly, it didn’t impress me that much. The other four players got to traverse the world using the basic Wii controller while I had the touchpad controller. My job was to simply make platforms for the team as they got to jump around and explore the world. Also, the graphics, while better than the Wii, weren’t as visually stunning as I hoped. Granted, this was only one aspect of the game and I’m hoping the single player mode offers more variety.

Next, was the family friendly game, Nintendo Land. This was absolutely a ton of fun. Plus, it showed the full functionality of the touchpad controller. The game is set in a carnival-like atmosphere with a bunch of different miniature games to play. The ones I played were Mario Chase and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. In Mario Chase, the player has the touchpad focus on the screen for their controller only, and must keep away from the other four players using the regular Wii controllers. Though the gameplay wasn’t difficult, the game reminded me a lot of the Nintendo 64 hit game GoldenEye 007, with one key difference. In GoldenEye, you could simply look at the screen of the person you’re trying to chase and figure out where they are based on the location. In Mario Chase, the player being sought has their own screen and therefore, is much harder to locate.

The same principal applies to the game Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. The plot of the game was somewhat reversed from Mario Chase, in that the player with the touchpad had to chase the four other players, who attempt to steal candy from trees. I was the player with the touchpad this time and I found this a lot of fun. The hardest part about this was that you had to control two players simultaneously with the touchpad’s two joysticks. After a few early hiccups, I finally got the hang of it and was able to catch everyone on screen (with the exception of fellow BTR employee Alexandra Bellink, she was very elusive).

While these games were certainly a blast, the graphics were not what I had hoped for. Plus, these games were too family friendly and I needed something that showcased the graphical enhancements of the Wii U. For that, I turned to Call of Duty: Black Ops II. As a person who fully admits they didn’t play much of the first game, I can see myself playing this a lot more. The character movement is some of the smoothest I’ve ever played. You truly feel like you’re the character on screen trying to dodge the hail of bullets that come at you. Also, the environments look amazing and you can interact with everything on screen, using whatever lies around you like barrels or even car doors as shields from enemy fire.

In addition to this, the new features in the multi-player don’t disappoint. I like the multi-team feature, which can allow more than just two teams to face off in combat against each other. The best part about this preview was that the game developer said the bugs were still being worked out, so I can only expect this game to get better.

Then came the final game of the day, and boy was this worth the wait: Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. As a fan of the first Ninja Gaiden from way back in the days of the original Nintendo, I was eager to play this one, especially for the fact that it utilized the Wii U’s Pro Controller, which feels right for a game like this. From the moment the first stage started, my jaw hit the floor and stayed there. The movement was so fluid and the ninja moves performed made for very satisfying kills. The enemy AI was vastly improved and, over the course of the game, would ascertain from your fighting style how to better guard your attacks, so you always needed to change your methods. That combined with new enemies and a new multi-player platform made me eagerly await the release of this digital masterpiece.

The Wii U is definitely poised for a remarkable sales run when it gets released on November 18. Its appeal is universal to attract families looking to play together, but doesn’t neglect the hardcore gamer crowd by finally featuring stunning HD graphics. It reinforces Nintendo’s mission statement of “put a smile on every face.” Well, it certainly has for this gamer.