Hopefully you've had a chance to check out all our hands-on coverage of first- and third-party Wii-U titles straight from E3! Yesterday Nintendo hosted a local "post-E3" event for members of the Canadian press who were not able to make the trip to Los Angeles last month to give the new Wii U a try at the big event, but Neoseeker was also invited to give the console another spin. We weren't about to turn down the chance to play with Wii U titles with other people for four, count 'em four, whole hours.
A total of eight demo stations were set up for each of the Wii U titles. It's worth noting that the consoles were all outputting to ~55" 1080p Toshiba HDTVs via HDMI. We know Nintendo has finally set aside its aversion for high definition graphics with the Wii U, and while we weren't exactly seeing face-melting Unreal Engine 4 quality visuals from any the Wii U titles on display, it does mean that the Wii U won't look like sheer pixelated ass on HDTVs unlike the current Wii.
While the focus of the event was clearly the new Wii U, three 3DS titles were also available for play.
Nintendo of Canada's Communications Manager Matt Ryan explained to Neoseeker that the goal of the event was to help members of the press better understand what the Wii U will be all about, and the potential of the "asymmetric" gameplay offered by the Wii U and its GamePad with the secondary touch screen. That meant getting the GamePad into their hands and letting them try out some of the titles to see for themselves to what can be possible.
Some titles demonstrated this better than others. Nintendo Land turned out to be a disappointing E3 reveal for fans who were expecting another Smash Bros. level megaton, yet it proved to be the most popular title with attendees at yesterday's event People just couldn't get enough with joining together for quick multiplayer games, helping cement the title as a handy poster child for the Wii U GamePad.
The most popular Nintendo Land minigame by far was Luigi's Ghost Mansion, where if you recall one player assumes the role of the ghost hunting down the other four players, who in turn must team up to track down the ghost player. The ghost player primarly uses the Wii U GamePad's secondary screen, while the remaining players stick to the television as normal. At first it seems that the ghost player is at a disadvantage because the other players quickly learn to watch each other's backs, so it's quite a hoot to see the ghosts start to get good at systematically eliminating everyone by dragging them off to some dark corner one by one.
Nintendo Land's single player games weren't as popular, with one important exception: you guessed it, Donkey Kong's Crash Course. We loved it back at E3, and so did everyone else who had the stones to take the leap at yesterday's event.
Batman: Arkham City
Other titles made use of the GamePad in different ways. We've already covered Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition on the Wii U back during E3, and our experiences weren't too different this time around though it will come as solace to poor Lydia that yours truly took just about as long trying to hit that darn door switch using the remote-control Batarang by controlling it with the GamePad.
ZombiU meanwhile also uses the GamePad touchscreen both as an inventory interface and as a secondary camera for certain weapons like the crossbow which can be used to snipe the infected zombies from a distance; aim down the sights by holding up the GamePad and moving it into position for that glorius headshot. Be sure to hit our multiplayer impressions of the title as well.
When a title's art direction has a unique and strong focus, you just might be pleasantly surprised at how good a Wii U game can look. Rayman Legends for example is turning into one of the sharpest looking 2D titles yet, especially once you see it motion! It was certainly on my shortlist for the best Wii U title at the event.
The Rayman Legends demo was all about co-op between two players. One player controls Rayman using the Wii U Pro Controller (which was a nice change of pace to use), while your partner uses the GamePad to assist in a variety of ways; for example, your partner can use the touch screen to manipulate parts of the environment to make for safer passage, or help the Rayman player navigate dangerous puzzles and mazes. And again, the game was not lacking in visual flair.
New Super Mario Bros. U
New Super Mario Bros. U similarly used the GamePad as an assist tool for partner players in multiplayer mode; otherwise the title supports the GamePad as the main controller in single player mode. In single player, the touchscreen will display exactly what is on the television, so the game can actually be played on the GamePad without ever needing to the look at the television if it isn't available for whatever reason. If you know Mario, you know Super Mario Bros. U, or you could just hit our E3 impressions again! It should be noted however that none of the title's advertised Miiverse functionality was ready for demonstration at the event.
Pikmin 3 was the title I personally was most excited to try, and it proved a lot of fun. You use the Wii nunchuk to move Olimar, while you aim at the screen with the Wiimote to target fruit to gather back to the ship, and of course enemies for your Pikmin to fight. The Wiimote also serves as the means to rally any idle Pikmin back to your cause, readying them for new commands.
The Wii U's hardware does make a difference here, as the title simply look so much better and more detailed than previous installments. We got the chance to try the new Rock Pikmin in a boss battle, where they proved the only way to break an armored centipide's hard shell. Once enough of the armor has been broken off, we had to switch back to the Red Pikmin to get them to attack the boss where it lacked protection. The challenge was to beat the boss within the time limit, which required the right mix of aggression and rallying.
Wii Fit U
Unfortunately the Wii U GamePad took a backseat in Pikmin 3 during our demo, serving primarily to display a minimap of the areas. The GamePad was put to more use in Wii Fit U, but only in certain minigames where it was used either to mimic a tray you had to keep level while you performed a speed walking motion on the Balance Board, or again as a sniper scope of sorts for a water shooting game where your foot served as a pedal to control the water flow to the gun. Incidentally I proved to have atrocious balance by Wii Fit U's reckoning, but my body wasn't ready because I had my digital SLR camera slung from my shoulder the whole time. Honest! I got 5 stars out of 5 in the rowing minigame though, because I'm so boss in a (video game) kayak.
One pleasant surprise at the event was Platinum Games' Project P-100. Still a working title, the game nonetheless seems to have cemented its core mechanics. You use the GamePad to control your main hero followed by a swarm of other heroes you must recruit throughout the stage by using the touchscreen to draw lines connecting your hero to them. You use button controls to fight with normal and special attacks; to change the special attack equipped, you draw the required shape on the GamePad touchscreen. For example, a straight line switches to the sword special attack, while drawing a circle changes it to the fist attack. Naturally, each special attack is more useful in certain situations; the fist attack destroys obstacles quicker, for example.
The demo was otherwise simplistic, with you running through the city stage pummelling enemies and large bosses while guarding or dodging their attacks using the GamePad shoulder buttons. Maybe that's all a Platinum Games title needs to be though; good silly fun. Plus the title looks great with its charming super-deformed super heroes and depth of field visual effects throughout the stages.
Of the 3DS titles available to try, we made sure to give Castlevania some love. As previously reported, Mirror of Fate is structured around "Metroidvania" exploration of stages; the bottom screen even has the familiar minimap. The combat however is more involved; enemies take plenty of hits with the Combat Cross before going down, so effecient and powerful combos are the name of the game against the stronger miniboss enemies. The last bad boy in the demo required both strength and platforming skill to avoid its powerful weapon and bodychecking attacks. While the stages look great on the 3DS screen with lots of nice touches in the background, the actual stereoscopic 3D implementation left a lot to be desired at this point; the 3D simply didn't go well with this game.
Nintendo naturally pulled off the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D much better in their own first party titles. New Super Mario Bros. 2 plays about what you'd expect from a classic sidescrolling Mario title, with a large emphasis on gathering as many coins as possible throughout the courses. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon meanwhile looks to live up to its GameCube predecessor both in graphics and gameplay, and yes the haunted house music is as charmingly silly as ever.
Launch details still forthcoming
The current company line at Nintendo is that the Wii U will be "hard to understand" until players actually get the chance to try out the games and the new GamePad for themselves. Events like the one held yesterday are intended to help people get hands-on with the new hardware and experience this "asymmetrical" gameplay for themselves.
The GamePad wasn't as difficult to use as it may look due to its tablet shape, but the touchscreen is perhaps best used when players don't have to frequently switch between it and the television screen in the middle of the action. To be sure, this will be down to the first- and third-party developers themselves to design gameplay mechanics that will work well with the GamePad if desired. Nintendo Land's use of the GamePad at the very least proved to be a hit with attendees yesterday. Together really was better, when it cames to the Haunted Mansion anyway. Then again, it's the sort of title that could just as easily ruin friendships given how devious the ghost player can get; trust us, seeing a good ghost player in action can be pretty demoralizing.
Unfortunately, the focus on games meant the event was not an avenue to demonstrate any of the networking features touted by the Wii U. There were no Miiverse demonstrations, and certainly no video chatting though the GamePads at the event did sport the video camera already built-in. Nintendo was likely not ready to showcase any of the upcoming Nintendo Network features for the Wii U, which was a bit of a shame given the fanfare over it at E3.
And no, Nintendo didn't take the opportunity to further solidify any launch pricing; about the most we got from the company was a "winter" launch timeframe for the hardware itself, which should still be before December 2012 if all goes well.