First Impressions: Wii U GamePad

Countdown to Wii U:
– 16 Days Remain -

It took much longer than I had hoped to get my hands on with the Wii U GamePad, but I have finally laid my hands on Nintendo’s latest creation. So many of us have yet to get our hands on with the Wii U, but that will quickly change as Nintendo dispatches more Wii U demo stations by the day. With GameStop, Best Buy, and now Target getting in on the action, it will be harder to miss than ever before.

As of the writing of this post there are still 17 days remaining until the Wii U release date, so for those of you who are still on the fence or have questions about the controller, read on, we’ll go over every last detail beyond the break.
[two_third last=”no”]Looking at the GamePad I wanted to think it was going to weigh a ton – what with the sheer amount of features packed into it. When I picked up the GamePad I was surprised by how light the controller was, it has a great feel to it as well, giving your hands plenty of space to rest along the backside.

On the front side of the device, the 6.2″ resistive touchscreen dominates the face of the controller, with buttons and analog sticks flanking the sides. Although the two analog sticks look less aesthetically pleasing than the circle pads in previous development versions, the change makes both holding the GamePad and playing much easier.

The way the controller is laid out does not favor traditional shooter control schemes with the ABXY face buttons below the right analog stick, but developers could remap controls for easier access by your right thumb. Directly below the face buttons are the Start/Select buttons which have a similar placement as the DSi XL. Below the screen lies the microphone, home, TV control and power buttons.

Across the top side of the device lie the shoulder buttons along with the charging port, headset jack, IR port, volume slider and stylus holder. It’s clear that Nintendo is trying to build upon the massive success the DS was in their home console, creating a gaming experience that draws the player closer to the action by bringing the game content right onto the controller. While the 3-5 hour battery life is quite concerning, the obvious tradeoff is a much lighter controller that almost feels impossibly light.[/two_third]
[one_third last=”yes”]

The Essentials

  • + Control Pad
  • 2 Analog Sticks
  • 4 Digital Shoulder buttons
  • 4 Face Buttons (ABXY)
  • Start/Select Buttons
  • Sensor Bar
  • 6.2″ Resistive touchscreen
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope
  • Stereo speakers
  • Front Facing Camera
  • Microphone
  • Functions as a TV Remote
  • NFC read/write functionality
  • Not available separately

“While the 3-5 hour battery life is quite concerning, the obvious tradeoff is a much lighter controller that almost feels impossibly light.”

The touchscreen is quite responsive, and while not a capacitive screen like modern smartphones and tablets, it’s resistive surface is sensitive enough to use your fingers on and have accurate gestures. Since the controller is so light, it’s easy to hold it in one hand and touch the screen with the other. I never thought THQ’s Udraw games were particularly great, but the Wii U GamePad and its impressive list of features might give new life to a genre of games that are controlled exclusively by the GamePad. I cannot wait to see how developers can maximize the potential gameplay styles the Wii U offers.

The buttons have a very satisfying feel to them when pressed. Though playing 2D platforming games is going to be great with the + Control Pad and face buttons aligned horizontally, there are some concerns when you look at the back of the controller. The shoulder buttons, L and R, feel great, but the ZL and ZR triggers lack their usual depth which will make shooters and racing games feel less immersive. For a console that is supposed to have great core gamer appeal, this is a critical flaw for the system. The analog sticks are great – I’ll admit that I am used to the layout of the Xbox 360 controller and PS3 controller, but the Wii U analog sticks feel great and the domed tops are a definite plus.

One of the most infuriating parts of setting up the Wii was when controllers failed to sync with the console. That usually meant a multi-step process just to access the little red sync button that lies beyond the battery door of the Wii Remote. This, thankfully will never be an issue as the sync button is easily accessible – both on the GamePad and on the Wii U console. The GamePad is geared to be your total entertainment controller encompassing everything in your living room. What remains to be seen is how robust of a television control interface Nintendo has in store for us, or more importantly – will it control my entire home theater?

While I couldn’t get my hands on with the actual console (plexiglass and an armed alarm were good deterrents) it was easy to see how deep the console is, easily dwarfing the original Wii in size, the Wii U is much deeper and is about an inch or two longer than the GamePad itself. That said, the console still comes in smaller than both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

With the Wii U set to release November 18th here in the U.S., it’s nice to know that the GamePad is a solid piece of gaming gold that brings together many familiar concepts while tying in additional features to prevent users from forgetting about it. Still not decided? Venture out and find a demo station near you, try it out, and let us know what you think.

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