As E3 2012 closely approaches, Nintendo decided to take a half hour of its time to air a Nintendo Direct conference for all of its fans to learn more about Nintendo's upcoming home console, the Wii U. It seems like Nintendo is very confident that the console will be as innovative, if not more innovative, than its predecessor. Likewise, Nintendo hopes that the Wii U completely changes the social aspect of gaming, bring players together from all around the world, the house, the living room, or an inconspicuous geek-cave where stereotypical hipster gamers fail absolutely horribly at beating zombie games and have to web chat old people to figure out the zombie's weak point. Yep, you heard that correctly.
First of all, it seems like the Wii U controller now has an official name, “Wii U GamePad.” The controller seems to indeed be of the same layout that was leaked out to the Internet a couple of weeks ago, with analog sticks replacing sliders and much more. The leaked images showed a mysterious white square toward the bottom left of the controller. This square is now confirmed to be a, “NFC Reader/Writer.” The functionality behind the square seems to be to read information off of special cards, possibly some sort of spiritual successor to the Game Boy Advance's E-Reader from back in the day. Gamers may be able to purchase special cards that can be read by the NFC Reader to unlock something special in-game or easily add Virtual Console points to your account. This is just speculation, mind you.
Mr. Iwata, who hosted the Direct conference, went on a bit more about changes to the controller that were leaked not too long ago, namely the analog sticks and controller modification. The analog sticks were apparently substituting the original dual sliders because Nintendo felt that the sliders were better suited for a portable platform rather than a home console. Additionally, they made the back of the controller more form-fitting for the hands of the average person, making the controller more comfortable to hold. Compared to what we saw and experienced last year at E3 2011, these are welcome changes.
The Wii U GamePad seems to be a rather nifty utility for one's room overall – the GamePad can be used as a remote for your TV, making using your television and then transitioning into playing your Wii U much smoother. The controller will also sport a stylus a la the Nintendo DS/3DS family, another welcome addition. It seems like Nintendo has tried to cover all the bases in terms of control.
You'll be able to use your GamePad to do more than just play games, such as control your TV.
Speaking of control, Nintendo confirmed that the Wii U will indeed support the tablet controller, plus the Wii remote and nunchuk, as well as Wii balance board. There was no mention of support for two Wii U GamePads per console (or, if there was, I didn't hear it), but a very big reveal that ended up happening upon the conference was the unveiling of the Wii U Pro controller, which looks like a weird lovechild of the Wii's Classic Controller and the Xbox 360 pad. The Pro controller takes after its tablet brother, with the analog sticks residing where usual dual analog controllers have their buttons and the buttons where usually sticks and directional pad would be. Put simply, let's imagine the face of the controller – the top left has an analog stick, the top right has an analog stick, the bottom left has a d-pad and the bottom right has the four face buttons.
This may be a weird change for most gamers...actually, it definitely will be, as this format has never been seen on any kind of standard, dual analog controller. I'm personally surprised that Nintendo didn't take more notes from its remarkably awesome Gamecube controller, but at least we now have a rather standard mode of input for the Wii U instead of being forced to use the GamePad or Wii controllers.
A bunch of other information was then reiterated, most of it known to us for about a year now – players can play Wii U games on the GamePad while someone uses the television for non-Wii U activity, the GamePad can support the graphics of the Wii U by itself, mirroring what would be on the television, etc.
One interesting thing that did pop up was that the Zelda HD demo from E3 2011 reared its beautiful head once again. It seems like Nintendo has forgotten about the tech demo – will this HD version of The Legend of Zelda be more than just a tech demo?
The aforementioned Wii U Pro controller, featuring an odd layout, as well as bumpers!
Of course, any E3-related presentation wouldn't be an E3-related presentation without a cheesy commercial, so Nintendo decided to rot some brain cells in the masses by airing a rather odd, and barely funny, Wii U bit that showed more the social functionality of the controller and console.
I don't feel like getting into the commercial itself, so instead I'll quickly run through what exactly was revealed in this commercial – the console will support video chat between players, similar to Skype web chatting; players can post on message-board looking interfaces using text messaging and not pre-made conversational messages; players can see what other players are playing and view and respond to messages posted by these players.
This is all part of the “Miiverse,” a social hub/network that will connect gamers from all across the world based on location, language, and the games they are playing. Miis return once again, without a surprise, gathering around icons of games that players are in the middle of playing, so you can see exactly which of your friends are playing what game. Essentially it seems like a much more interactive friends list.
The most important thing that was shown in this commercial was an activity feed on a mobile device, in which one of the actors viewed what their friends were playing and posting on Wii U's Miiverse on his mobile phone. Mr. Iwata confirmed that the Miiverse would originally be only for the Wii U, but in the future it will be available for the 3DS, PC and internet-connected mobile devices in the future. Finally, Nintendo products not on a Nintendo platform!
This Miiverse will also connect gamers who are playing games that aren't meant for multiplayer interaction. So, if you're playing a game that's mostly a campaign-oriented game or doesn't have multiplayer functionality, you can still interact with other gamers playing the same game thanks to Miiverse. The video showed a player in the middle of New Super Mario Bros and seeing the messages of other gamers on the world map.
The presentation wrapped up with a few more bits of functionality – the GamePad will indeed have an internet browser, and this browser can be rendered on both the GamePad and on your television. Players can also “throw” whatever is on their GamePad over to the television to show other people what they're doing using an upward swiping motion on the GamePad. Whoever is holding the GamePad can also use a curtain feature to temporarily block what is being streamed to the television for whatever reason they choose to do so.
And then we said good-bye to Mr. Iwata and now await the beginning of E3 2012.
Overall, Nintendo seemed to confirm a lot of what we already knew from last year's E3 expo, as well as from leaked information and images spread across the web. However, there was a lot that Nintendo casually brought to the table that are very important additions to the console – the multi-platform functionality of Miiverse, the Wii U Pro controller, the NFC Reader/Writer, the Miiverse itself, etc. And for those of you who were wondering, no, there was no information on any release date, pricing, launch line-up or game library for the Wii U, and the 3DS was only mentioned in passing. We'll have to wait a couple of days to hear more on those subjects.