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Hands on with the Wii U

Nintendo made the Wii U available for Club Nintendo Platinum members to play last week. I attended!

The GamePad controller is light, easy to manipulate, and not as obtrusive as it seems at first. Ultimately, my fears about the controller’s usability are gone. Yet, based on the selection of games I tried, I fear that Nintendo will be the only company to ever use a tablet controller effectively, as was the usual case for the Wii and DS. We've already seen the DS introduce a second screen, and there's not much else that can be done here that the DS hasn't already attempted.

The GamePad does not need to exist. None of the games demonstrated a clear need for this controller.

The tablets' companion piece, the Pro controller, needlessly messes with standard controller layout. It swaps the positions of the right A/B/X/Y buttons and the right analog stick, which is not impossible to get used to, but it begs the question: Why? The same question applies to everything about the Wii U.

New Super Mario Bros Wii U was fun. It was a Mario game, and it was fun. Like in the earlier Wii title in this co-op series, players use Wii remotes, while a fifth player adds degrading platforms to the screen to help people along. It was Mario. New powerups, same old Mario. Mario Mario.

Pikmin 3 will not disappoint Pikmin fans. It’s exactly what you want from a new Pikmin — more Pikmin. Of what I played, I had a lot of fun, and I’m certain this’ll be well received. The primary form of control was the Wii remote and nunchuck, the same scheme as the Wii remakes. The GamePad was next-to-useless as a map of the area, replacing an on-screen HUD. Since you're never handling this during game play, it either has to be mounted in front of your TV or ignored.

NintendoLand's Zelda-themed segment was reminiscent of the fencing minigame in Wii Sports Resort. Your character moves forward on his own, confronting an advancing horde of enemies. You slash. Sometimes you have to slash at an angle to hit the enemy the right way. A player using the GamePad has access to a bow, which is necessary for far away enemies. No fun was had by yours truly.

Project P-100, the Platinum Games title with the style of Viewtiful Joe and Pikminesque gameplay showed some great potential. It was a lot of fun, though not much time was given to gain familiarity with the GamePad controls. Consequently, it all felt hectic. The fast pace of the game often made the touch screen gestures difficult to execute. Keep a look out for this.

ZombiU's multiplayer was available, allowing attendees to play as either zombie or human, trying to capture flags across a map. The zombie player views this map from the GamePad as an RTS, placing different kinds of zombies to slow down (kill) the player or to capture flags. The human player’s interface is an FPS with the Pro Controller, running from flag to flag while dodging zombies. It was a neat concept, but in execution grew boring quickly. It takes an unusually long time to capture a flag, making the games drag. This could potentially change in the final version, so wait for reviews on this one.

Arkham City: Armored Edition was present as an early demo build, so it was a bit rough to play, with poorly tweaked controls and low resolution textures. Its primary purpose was to demonstrate the GamePad. A game of gadgets, AC relies heavily upon its thoughtful control scheme. On the Wii U, the tablet screen replaces the D-pad quick-select of other platforms. It was not better. There's a new combat power-up system that spends combo points to enact a limited strength bonus. I used it once but canceled it, as combat is my favorite part of those games. Making it faster has no purpose. This will not be a version worth owning.

I would love to see HD remakes of GCN classics, but then I'd be sad at the loss of my perfectly designed Gamecube controller. Maybe this is another console that's for families and non-gamers. Maybe the intended Wii U demographic reaches further than the Wii, seeking to broaden/include that market. Or, maybe Nintendo has faltered.