At least year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo caused a stir when it unveiled the successor to it's extremely popular Wii console - the Wii U. Promising to reinvent the games industry like the Wii's motion controls did before it – Nintendo are trying to bring together the best of both worlds, with the controller featuring both a massive Touch Screen, much like a tablet PC, along with the more conventional dual analogue sticks and buttons. Fast forward to this year's event (which kicks off proper tonight), and a special pre-show Nintendo Direct video has been put together detailing the Wii U controller in more detail - and we have everything you need to know.
Before we get started, let's recap what we already know about the controller. First of all, it has a massive touch screen built in, turning it into a sort of controller/giant DS, which sounds good if you ask us. Second of all, it features a camera, microphone, plenty of buttons, and gyroscopes, which can sense if the tablet's being tilted - pretty much how the Wii Remote does as the moment. Fusing the best of the Wii and DS together into a single controller, it's an exciting prospect - and now it has a name too. Officially announced last night, the controller will now be called the Wii U GamePad, in a nod to the glory days of the NES, which had a similarly named controller.
When the prototype was unveiled last year at E3, it featured two Circle Pads for control, which looked similar to those found on the 3DS, and "slid", rather than tilted, and were pretty much flat with the controller. Although the design saved on vertical space, given that the Wii U is a home console, and not really designed with portability in mind, the conservative design of the 3DS's circle pad have given way to the enhanced usability of the new sticks, which are similar to those found on the Wii's Nunchuck, or the conventional Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 controllers. They've also made them clickable, giving you an extra button input on each stick, as on the Xbox 360/PS3 controllers – by having this option available, Nintendo's obviously hoping for a slice of the multiformat blockbuster games it's missed out on this generation. The buttons and +Control Pad have also been shifted slightly, to make the controller more comfortable to use.
On the left of the Touch Screen, below the +Control Pad is the NFC Reader/Writer, which is a very cool feature indeed, even if it has got a weird name. Working a bit like the Oyster card machines on the London Underground, you'll be able to scan anything that has a compatible NFC chip in it into your game - whether it's a card, an action figure, or anything else. It's not yet entirely clear how this is going to work, but it basically means the controller will have Skylanders' portal-style powers built into it from day one. Nintendo also say the controller will be able to write data as well as reading it, suggesting that some things could be stored on separate devices - hopefully in the form of a memory card you can take round to friends houses.
The Wii U will also work with all your existing Wii controllers too – the Wii Remotes, Nunchucks and the Wii Balance Board, as well as the fancy new Wii U GamePad tablet thingy - but that's not all. If you fancy a more conventional controller layout, without the massive Touch Screen in the middle, Nintendo will be offering a Wii U Pro Controller, which features all the analogue sticks, buttons and triggers of an Xbox 360/Playstation 3 controller – we'd imagine it might end up replacing the Wii's Classic Controller too, seeing as there was no mention of it in the video.
So, a massive controller is all well and good – but have we heard anything about the games yet? After all, the Wii U GamePad can be as innovative as it likes, but no-one would be interested if the console didn't have a line up of amazing games to show them off. Unfortunately, Nintendo have remained tight lipped so far - but that doesn't mean we haven't seen a few glimpses of how the new controller can be used. First there's golf, where the Wii U GamePad is placed on the floor and shows the golf ball, while you stand above with your Wii Remote-cum-golf-club, a la Wii Sports. Another snippet showed another Wii Sports classic in the form of Baseball – but this time, letting you be a fielder rather than a batter by pointing the Wii U GamePad at the screen and following the path of the ball, making use of the controller's built-in gyroscopes and motion sensors. As for more conventional games, and more conventional Nintendo fare, we saw a brief clip of (New) New Super Mario Bros. Mii, where your Mii characters can join Mario and Luigi as they platform their way to rescue Princess Peach (we assume, anyway – it's what usually happens...) - but the funky thing about this title is that if someone else needs to use the TV to catch up on some Bargain Hunt, you can continue your game on the screen built into the controller.
That's all that's been revealed about the Wii U GamePad so far – although with the Electronic Entertainment Expo kicking off in LA tonight, and Nintendo's conference tomorrow evening, we'd expect oodles of information to come out over the next few days. And we've been promised that the show will focus pretty much entirely on the software for the Wii U too, which means games, games and more games - so stay tuned!