The Skeptic and the Wii U
by Mike D.
You\’ll know it when you hold it.
I admit I\’ve been a skeptic. To me, the unveiling of the Wii U, with its Capulet-meets-Montague controller, always felt a bit like a step backwards. Motion controls still have a wealth of untapped potential, and the tablet-y direction Nintendo was choosing seemed a bit odd (even for them). Certainly, I\’ve come around to seeing some of the potential that this newfangled device offers, but a part of me has never been able to think that it offers quite as much upside as motion controls.
Then, I held the controller.
I can\’t have been the only one who was thinking of holding out until launch day, waiting to experience the Wii U fresh. Yet there I found myself, in Target shopping with my best friends, when I spied the demo booth. Or, to be more accurate, I spied the controller. What was displaying on the screen didn\’t catch my interest, but seeing that star-crossed controller did. Without even really thinking, I walked over and immediately picked it up.
If you haven\’t had the chance to do so yet, I can tell you that it\’s…right.
It shouldn\’t be. It shouldn\’t feel as light as it does while also feeling so solid; a screen that small shouldn\’t give the impression of being so large; reaching for the face buttons shouldn\’t feel so easy and natural, considering the position of the analog sticks on such a wide device (I even wrote an article – now lost to time – on how the old, original Wii U controller seemed better than the revision). But it\’s all so right. The GamePad is weighted perfectly, the screen size is just big enough and the layout is sensible.
But more than that, it nails the sweet spot that Nintendo has aimed for. Yes, it ticks off just about every box on the standard, twin-stick controller checklist (including hand grips that offer the perfect amount of plastic in your palms), even if it doesn\’t quite look as elegant as the original design. It also has just enough tablet functionality to feel like more than a glorified DS. For example, the first thing one of my friends did (the other had pressing discount Halloween business to attend to), as we both introduced ourselves to this curious beast, was to manipulate the standard video game controls to scroll through the demo/video menu; I immediately touched the screen to wheel through it. Of course, the GamePad will not be a tablet substitute, but it\’s imbued with just enough of the hands-on ethos of one that it seems to hit the aforementioned sweet spot – it feels like an exciting new design, but one that you\’re familiar enough with to immediately understand. More importantly, its potential as a tantalizing window into the virtual world of gaming is something you have to experience for yourself to fully grasp.
Complaints? Well, I\’m never been a \”clicky sticks\” fan, and this demo booth didn\’t convert me. The shoulder buttons, while perfectly functional, could use a tad more travel in their operation.
That\’s really it, though. All of the raving above stands. I would also add that the analog sticks are low-profile enough that they aren\’t tiresome (something I worried about after Nintendo switched out the circle pads), and the GamePad\’s screen resolution is as smooth as Sean Connery\’s accent.
If you\’re wondering about my impressions of anything else, I had limited time to observe the Wii U\’s graphical oomph. However, I can\’t say that my gaze left the GamePad for very long, anyway. I\’ve been curious about this mongrel input method for months. Having it in my own hands was enough of a charge that I couldn\’t help walking away satisfied.
I grok it now. The potential is there. Now it\’s up to Nintendo – and third parties – to deliver on all of this promise.