It’s been 6 years since the original Wii launched and despite its dismissal by the core market; Nintendo won the ‘console war’, outselling the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by over 25 million units. So let’s avoid making the same mistake twice, if you want to know more about the Wii U, ZombiU, Batman: Arkham City and Nintendo Land, keep reading.
After grabbing a sofa in the game centre, I was introduced to the Wii U Gamepad, moulded to fit comfortably in the palm your hands. The built-in screen is a little darker than a TV, but the games look sharper. The battery life lasts a meagre 3-5 hours depending on what you’re playing, but can be charged during intense sessions. The gyroscope works like a charm, allowing you to tilt and pan the Gamepad, immediately replicating your actions in game.
I spent the majority of my time with Ubisoft’s survival horror, ZombiU, geared towards a hardcore audience. It’s not a breath of fresh air, instead it heralds a return to the days of limited supplies and frantic changes of pace to build tension, and in that respect it excels.
How long will you survive, the odds are stacked against you and death is inevitable. The tutorial quickly establishes this; you dash into the underground station as an undead horde clip your heels. A ladder lies ahead and you clamber up. Before reaching the pinnacle, a zombie grasps your leg, pulling you both to the floor and your inevitable demise. It’s all so real that you’re left with this deep sensation of failure, when the game was only introducing a gameplay mechanic. You awake in the body of another survivor. Your first mission, hunt down and execute John Doe, claiming his gear as your own.
The gamepad is used for utility; your map, radar and inventory are assessed via the touchscreen. Switching weapons or activating your flashlight is done with a simple tap. Micromanaging the inventory is a little more risky, the game doesn’t pause when looting or accessing your backpack. The action switches to the Gamepad, with the TV offering another perspective.
Melee combat is clunky and that’s the way it should be. You need ready the cricket bat before you can swing and you’re certainly no Adam Gilchrist, enemies resiliently withstand numerous hits. This makes engaging them a life or death struggle, your survivor grunting furiously as they crush skull after skull.
The scarce nature of supplies results in complex decision making, using that last grenade now may have unforetold consequences when you need it most. Firearms allow you to take out enemies at range, but the noise it creates will draw more zombies. I baited a horde of the undead to a turret, mowing them down. More rose to the challenge, they wouldn’t stop coming, after exhausting all 250 rounds of ammo I fell back into a small shed. I turned to barricade the door, but they were already inside. I pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it, killing everyone. This valiant sacrifice meant the next survivor could grab the supplies with little difficulty, never before has a game given you this sort of choice.
ZombiU eve has a multiplayer mode centred on asymmetrical gaming. The player with the gamepad takes the role of ‘Boris’ self-proclaimed ‘King of the Zombies’, who tactically places units onto the map through the touchscreen. The other player is the survivor, emphasizing a run and gun gameplay not seen in the campaign. During the match both sides level up, providing certain bonuses or new units that influence gameplay.
My experience with ZombiU wasn’t perfect, long loading times leave your character standing idly at doors. Weapons don’t react to the environment; I swung my cricket bat into a nearby car to no avail. You can climb most obstacles and this can be used to your advantage. Yet when I tried to use this at a gun emplacement, I discovered you can’t climb certain walls, resulting in the death of a survivor. The game suffers from Dynasty Warriors syndrome, with a limited number of skins cycled between the undead. The visuals are a little muddy, but with any new console developers have yet to push the hardware to its limits. Considering everything ZombiU brings to the table, these issues are hardly deal breakers.
ZombiU is a true gem; the rapid change in pacing will have you hastily cutting a retreat from an unending horde mere moments after traversing an abandoned area. The Wii U gamepad creates immersion, resulting in a pervading sense of dread that the streets of London might never be safe again.
Batman: Arkham City
I hadn’t played Arkham City before, and the Wii U version was a great place to start. The Gamepad is used to access Batman’s suit, crafting the idea that you are the caped crusader.
You can instantly swap the gameplay from TV to gamepad. The game looked fantastic and the built-in speakers on the gamepad are surprisingly powerful, you can plug a set of headphones in if you’d prefer.
Arkham City is truly a fantastic game on Wii U; but the true test lies ahead, competing with its counterparts on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Does its high price point put it out of the running before it’s even been released?
My Wii U experience ended with the co-op orientated Nintendo Land. It’s packaged with the premium console and includes a ton of mini-games, showcasing the consoles features.
I only had time to try out 2, starting with Metroid Blast, as you pilot Samus’ iconic spaceship, using the thumbsticks to move and the gyroscope to aim. As you pass each level, another unlocks with new enemies and stronger waves than before. It’s a deeply engrossing experience, that leaves you wanting more.
The session ended with Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, requiring players with Wii Remotes to compete against the player on the Gamepad. With the Gamepad in hand, I controlled an invisible ghost, chasing down the other players whilst avoiding the beams of their flashlights. These players could sense me via subtle vibrations on the Wii mote, forcing them to cooperate to catch me. This game of cat and mouse lasted a fair few minutes, before I was ultimately defeated.
The core market may casually dismiss the Wii U, in exactly the same way that we laughed at its predecessor; granted it’s not going to be as powerful as the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox 720. But for the second time in a row, Nintendo have innovated, the gamepad has fostered some of gaming’s most immersive experiences yet, so let’s hope developers continue this trend.