Nintendo Wii U hands-on preview

Key Features:

  • Touchscreen controller
  • Innovative use of second screen 
  • Improved graphics 
  • Price: from £229.99 
  • Release date: 30 November

Nintendo Wii U

I feel a bit out of place in the Wii U booth. Here it is, the latest and greatest in living room multiplayer gaming, and I'm playing it by myself. Well, not completely; a few sympathetic Nintendo staff jump on and off the Wii-mote to demonstrate some new features for me - and what new features.

The big deal is of course the Gamepad, a touch sensitive half Gameboy, half tablet computer that lets a second, third or fourth player join the fun in several different ways.

I'm playing Rayman Legends, and while the friendly Nintendo woman (I think her name was Stephanie) jumped and bopped her way through the various platform sections, it was my job to clear her path by lowering bridges and zapping enemies, all using the Gamepad's touchscreen.

Puzzling

Puzzles ranged from basic - swiping my finger to across a rope, to lower a drawbridge - to very complex and precise. The best one came towards the end of the level - a giant wheel, spinning on its axle and lined with spikes. I had to turn the Gamepad physically on its side, tilting the whole level and moving the wheel out the way so that Stephanie, bless her, could keep going.

For everyone tired of team deathmatches and penalty shootouts, here is a new type of multiplayer. For all thosefrustrated by the rise of online multiplayer, and the end of the split-screen, here's your answer. With up to four people using the Wii-mote, and another on the Gamepad, the Wii U opens up more types of play, and more players than ever - split-split-split-screen.

New Super Mario Bros U was similarly welcoming. With two of us playing, it was up to the guy on the Gamepad to swipe enemies out of the way and build platforms to help me get the hard to reach coins. Though fun and bouncy as ever, the latest Mario would likely feel very tired, if it weren't for Gamepad twist.

It's a brilliant showcase for Nintendo's newest hardware, the oldest franchise in the book, tapped, swapped and tilted back to life by the Wii U.

Zombi U

And it's not just for mums and idiots, either: Zombi U is out in full promotional force at Eurogamer, and the snaking line of eager young men, some in Black Ops t-shirts, shows that Nintendo might have finally reconnected with the so-called core gamer.

Set in a post zombie-apocalypse London, Zombi U mixes the Gamepad and the Wii-mote by allowing players to fight and move with the standard motion controls, and access their inventory via the touch screen. Violent and sweary, Zombi U is as far removed from the rest of the Wii U launch lineup as possible.

But it's not terrific fun to play. On any other machine, Zombi U's clunky, slow - often boring - approach to an already used up genre wouldn't fly. Ironically, the Wii U is the best home for Zombi U.

Now call me boring, and you will, but my favourite Wii U game far is Wii U Panorama. Hardly a game at all, Panorama shows recorded footage of various live events - the Rio carnival, a double-decker tour of London - and lets you use the Gamepad to turn the camera 360 degrees.

I can't quite work out how they've done it - presumably, some sort of Google Street View-style camera setup but somehow applied to a hanglider following a flock of geese. My dad would love it; so do I.

Pleasantly surprised

I'm pleasantly surprised by the Wii U. As a surly shoot-'em-up fan, I've never had time for Nintendo's line of chirpy party games and wacky peripherals. But the Wii U has me charmed. I'm not a convert yet, but I had lots of fun with Nintendo's latest console.

Then came the queues, the braying, endless queues, and I had to leave to make for another batch of could-be customers. The Wii U isn't out until 30 November, but as of yet, I'm not entirely convinced.

The games are still too light, and I'm not sure it's healthy for the Wii U to always insist on multiple players; the richest games are usually done solo. But Nintendo's not interested in that, it's not what the Wii U is for; unfortunately that could mean that the Wii U is just not for me.