One of the biggest deals at E3 was of course the upcoming system, the Wii U. Taking up around 98% of Nintendo’s booth, not only were there plenty of opportunities to get your hands on a Wii U GamePad, but there were also a lot of different ways in which to try it. My first experience with the Wii U GamePad was good, even though the game I tried was perhaps the worst on show for the Wii U. Tucked away at the back of the Namco Bandai booth was a demo kiosk for Tank! Tank! Tank! on the Wii U that had absolutely no line, so I seized the opportunity to have my first experience with the Wii U only to quickly discover just why the game had no line. The Tank! Tank! Tank! game was horrible in many ways that I’ll elaborate upon in its own Impressions article, but even in spite of the game’s lacking nature I was immediately impressed with the Wii U GamePad.
The face buttons on the GamePad have a “squishy” feel to them like those on the DS lite as opposed to the “clicky” feel of the buttons featured on DSi units. The NFC area below the D-pad is simply a decal and has no other indentation or texturing to differentiate it from the rest of the controller’s face. The control sticks essentially feel like those found on Wii nunchucks, but with their smooth surroundings they feel more nimble and fluid than their Wii counterparts. The D-pad is shaped well and feels good, just not quite as good as the textured one found on the Wii U Controller Pro. The L and R shoulder buttons have a small amount of give to them before their fully depressed which makes me think that they may, if only slightly, be analog as opposed to digital, but the ZR and ZL buttons, while feeling nice, were certainly and unfortunately digital instead of analog. The back of the GamePad has been given grips so that holding it is more comfortable than the first iteration of the controller shown off at last year’s E3, and it feels surprisingly light and comfortable when in-hand. The GamePad’s screen was bright and clear on every unit I played, even with all of the standard E3 lights constantly flashing about, but I did have one bone to pick with it. When doing the “bring the screen up to your nose” test that I do on all portable devices, the Wii U GamePad failed rather miserably. With systems like the PS Vita and the iPhone 4S, when you bring the screens up to your face their images stay sharp, but with the Wii U GamePad the Mario on my screen turned into a decidedly unattractive clump of blurry pixels. What this means is that the pixel density or “definition” of the GamePad’s screen is a very standard (ie. poor) one probably around a measly 854×480 pixels. In standard gameplay scenarios this shouldn’t matter much at all, but who given the choice wouldn’t want the greatest possible pixel density in any given screen? A lower-resolution screen will also be saving both Nintendo and us money, which was probably the biggest consideration in Nintendo’s decision to skimp on controller screen resolution. The touch screen, while still only being a resistive touch screen, worked really well using both styli and fingers (as is to be expected). The Tank! Tank! Tank! game, while less than stellar, at least afforded me the rare opportunity to test out the camera in the Wii U controller, which was still fairly low resolution, as is to be expected, but the image of my face that it took was still not as grainy as it could have been. One aspect of the GamePad that still needs some work is how Nintendo is using its motion sensing capabilities. For the Zelda Battle Quest Nintendo Land demo the person with the GamePad held it up to the screen as a secondary window into the game world, specifically a first-person view of the archer character, as well as in the PanoramaView demo where the GamePad was similarly used to view a 360-degree video, it was clear that much like with the MotionPlus pointing in Skyward Sword, the system without the help of the IR points fairly quickly loses track of where the “center” view is and the view can fairly easily become misaligned with the TV. Nintendo themselves noted this shortcoming in recent interviews, so let’s hope they either back-off on using the GamePad as a pointing device or find a better way in which to do so before the system launches later this year.
Overall, my experiences with the Wii U GamePad were decidedly positive and they have not only made me more excited for the Wii U’s release, but have also altered my estimations on the Wii U’s overall price when its released. Having seen and felt the combined power of the Wii U and GamePad, I think that it is reasonable to expect Nintendo to launch it for a price of $299.99 with perhaps an alternate bundle including a Wii RemotePlus and a copy of Nintendo Land for $349.99. Time will tell, of course, but I am confident that as long as Nintendo can get a good set of launch games lined up that they will have a success on their hands with the Wii U.