Initially, I have to admit, I was underwhelmed by the idea of the Wii U. I wasn’t disappointed, precisely, I just didn’t care. I looked at the system and immediately said, “None of this looks terrifically new.”
Nintendo looked like they were playing catch-up. They finally are introducing an HD console, which is great and I’m as excited as anyone to see Link clear as day in 1080p. However, that little tidbit loses some of its flavor when you realize that, in the HD department, Nintendo is six years behind its competitors right now, and they’ll be even further behind the curve in 2013 when this new system releases. I’m aware that stunning graphics are not the chief goal of the Nintendo brand, so this didn’t surprise me. I just wasn’t blown away by the fact that their next console was in HD. It was a given in my mind before it was even announced.
The new controller had been leaked as a rumor well before E3 started, and, again, while not being disappointed, I wasn’t really excited about the technology. I was immediately reminded of the Dreamcast VMUs and of the GBA/Gamecube team-up of days gone by. Neither turned out particularly well. The integration of the touch-screen controller with the game on the main screen didn’t materialize in any way that made me eager to try it out. The “shield-mode” type gameplay looked interesting, but left a gimmicky taste in my mouth that made me wonder if it would be an interesting or sustainable mechanic the 1000th time you had to fend off arrows from your on-screen foes.
The other key feature of the controller that was showcased was the ability to pull the game you’re currently playing from the main screen to the controller screen. At the Sony conference the previous day, the Vita had shown off its ability to bounce back and forth between a tv screen and the handheld, so this stole some of Nintendo’s thunder in my eyes. The Wii U’s implementation of this feature seemed lackluster in comparison to Sony’s especially when I considered that, in as far as I could tell, the Wii U controller is not truly portable. Sure, you can play it around the house, as long as it’s in range of the Wii U, but I don’t think you can take it with you anywhere and still have similar functionality.
So, after all this, I walked away from the Nintendo conference wondering if there was an up-side to this reveal that I wasn’t seeing. It wasn’t until I started to watch some of the hands-on videos that it finally clicked for me: Nintendo has made an HD console out of the DS.
The touch screen on the “bottom” and the regular screen on the “top” is the same formula that worked so well in so many innovative ways for Nintendo with their DS games. Watching people play the Legend of Zelda experience tech demo in the Nintendo booth, it was easy to see the design parallels. The map lives on the bottom screen, and there are a few toggles that change on the main screen with a simple touch. It’s very similar to the way any number of mechanics work on the DS. Having a touchable menu interface on a second screen has proven to be a valid design aesthetic for any number of Nintendo DS games.
Nintendo knows what it’s doing with this dual-screen setup, and many third party developers are perfectly comfortable with it from a design standpoint, thanks to the success of the DS. Nintendo should be able to work wonders with this new system. The increased graphical capacities, familiar gameplay aesthetic, complete dual-stick functionality, and the (apparently) firm support of major third parties will carry them for years to come. Good call Nintendo! You’ve gotten your grubby mitts into my future-wallet once again!