With its first hands on in the UK, the Wii U was hot stuff at the Eurogamer Expo 2012, offering first plays of some of the releases we can expect on and around the 30th November - as well as some rather large queues if you weren't there first.
Before going over the games let's talk about the actual hardware itself. The white console sports a similar shade of off-white as the Wii; in fact even the front is very similar to its little brother with the same motorised auto load disc system. To pack all of this new hardware in though the depth is nearly twice the size of the Wii, something that does not come across in all of the press shots.
All of the games worked with a combination of the Wii Remote Plus, the Wii U GamePad (I refuse to call it a WiiPad, that makes it sound like a product for ladies with a weak bladder) and some catering for the unsung Wii U Pro Controller. The Remote Plus works exactly as expected and was mainly used horizontally for a more basic joypad experience, while the Pro Controller is another triumph for Nintendo's unsurpassed eye for design, clearly taking note from Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers and making for a light, yet comfortable gaming experience. Of course the big kahuna is the all new touch screen Wii U GamePad and this beauty exceeded all expectations. Although quite large in appearance, once in hand everything feels where it should be, with dual sticks on the top corners, the four trigger buttons underneath and a neat little stylus holder. I do not know what kind of witchcraft Nintendo has used in the implementation of the screen but it is completely lag free. Previous experience with off TV screen games, even the recent batch of PlayStation Vita remote plays like the God of War collection, show that there is the teensiest piece of lag and though barely noticeable it is enough for me to stop playing and just play on the big screen. Not so on the GamePad, with gameplay seamlessly flicking from TV to your lap, every swoosh of the stylus or your finger being perfectly recreated.
There were a few games to play at the stand, most of which will be mentioned here other than ZombiU; as this was our Wii U game of the show it gets its own personal hands on. First up we have the games which will be bundled with the Wii U, Nintendo Land; a collection of small but perfectly formed mini games that will entertain long after other games would have worn their welcome. The hands on granted us the chance to have a go at a few of the games on the disc including Donkey Kong's Crash Course, controlling a cart by tilting the GamePad to negotiate huge and intricate mazes. Takamaru's Ninja Castle, where you hold the GamePad in your palm and flick ninja stars at enemies on the screen and Luigi's Ghost Mansion, where up to four players run around a Pac-Man like maze trying to avoid the ghost who is controlled by the fifth player via the GamePad. All of these games are clearly made with the family in mind and judging from the reactions of the gamers trying it out, there will be a lot of families bunched around the TV screen this November playing games rather than watching Corrie.
Next up is Nintendo's mascot in New Super Mario Bros.U, a game instantly familiar with its colourful and gentle backgrounds, Mario started against that single Goomba, with the first mushroom just waiting for him to grab and grow and begin an all new adventure. This short demo was to showcase two gameplay elements, first off the flying squirrel suit, this brown winged suit allows Mario to reach otherwise unobtainable heights by gliding and then shaking the Remote Plus to make him spin even higher. The other main gameplay element is experienced in the multiplayer mode, with multiple players using the Remote Plus as controllers, an almost dungeon keeper role is beset to the one holding the GamePad with them being charged with either helping or hindering the other players onscreen. The gameplay is duplicated directly onto the GamePad screen, allowing the holder to tap the screen for blocks to appear on the TV instantly. With absolutely no lag this allows the player to either give the others a hand by creating makeshift bridges and platforms or if they like, blocking them in place, which is sure to end up with many arguments on the sofa.
Pikmin 3 gave players the chance to try out some of the new Pikmin, namely the rock heads that can be thrown about and used as weapons, necessary against a huge blue bug, requiring to smash its carapace armour and damage its soft innards.
Rather unjustly tucked away in the corner was The Wonderful 101, a game that initially appeared to be a strange and confusing looking title, hands on shows that it has been given Platinum Game's golden touch, combining elements of titles such as Pokemon and Pikmin. The playable demo was situated in an idyllic small town, ravaged by a recent robot alien invasion who have kidnapped its inhabitants. You play as a hero who somehow has the ability to command others around him, allowing huge groups of other characters to surround him who lend their own moves and abilities. Getting your head around the all controls and the thought that you are playing as one character, who is then controlling a horde of others takes a little time, though once it clicks the game becomes very addictive. With every town's person you save you can then use their abilities, be it fist, sword or guns, but as a group you are also responsible or their wellbeing, with each one taking a hit affecting your health. As you gather more characters it appears that you can combine their abilities to create special powers like being a huge fist to pummel baddies or a tough shield to protect them all. Basic control of the hero is via the control sticks and commanding the actions of the group, like switching the way they move around you to which power set to move, is all via the touch screen on the GamePad. Briefly touched on but an impressive addition is that when you travel inside a building the action instantly transfers to the GamePad as a third person viewpoint of the main character, adding a puzzle element where you need to locate a code. All of the action then peaked with a huge screen shaking boss battle where your units are fighting on the arm of a robot baddie. Even though a very short demo The Wonderful 101 looks like it could become Platinum Games newest and hottest original creation.
Other third party publishers also showed that they'll be making an impact on Wii U. Ubisoft, a company that has totally committed to this new console with some truly outstanding titles, more to come on ZombiU at a later date but just as impressive and one that will make Mario run for his money, Rayman Legends. With Ubisoft showing what it could do with the outstanding Origins, this exclusive Wii U title looks set to blow it out of the water, hosting very original co-op play that allows experienced gamers and newcomers to enjoy equally, especially those with partners with no real previous interest in games. The amazing cartoon-like graphics aside it is the control method which again that steals the show. The demo available was to show how the new co-op elements work, with one player using the Pro Controller and another GamePad. The player using the Pro Controller will play Rayman Legends like any other platformer, running, jumping and punching their way through a healthy amount of challenging levels, whilst the GamePad player is able to directly influence what is occurring in the game world. All of the action is replicated on the GamePad screen, with the player tapping icons to create more Lums for Rayman to collect, lowering spike traps and tapping enemies to slow them down. Team work has been pressed upon heavily in the demo, showing Rayman entering a death-trap of a maze and with careful manipulation; the GamePad can be tilted to alter the layout of the maze and secret platforms that only the GamePad player can see, requiring constant communication. Rayman Legends is looking to be yet another must have Wii U title.
If you have been sitting on the fence, unsure what the Wii U offers, then considering what is around the corner today is the day to pre-order. No matter what package you go for, it will not disappoint.
Words by Ash Buchanan.