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Hands-on: Nintendo raises expectations with the Wii U GamePad

A detailed look at Nintendo's promising controller...

You've seen the games, you ogled at hardware shots, but what does the Wii U GamePad feel like in the hands? We poked and prodded the oversized unit to offer our in-depth impressions.

Once again Nintendo has gone against the grain with controller design, creating a device that almost looks like a console within itself. That 6.2-inch, 16:9 screen forces the unit's dimensions north of anything we're used to, and yet unlike the original Xbox controller - which was known and widely criticised for its excessive bulk - the Wii U GamePad doesn't feel bulky to hold.

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And that's crucial to point out - it looks big and square but it feels ergonomic in the palms. The controller has been compared by some to an iPad with buttons, but it's not even nearly the same hand-cramping experience. Your hands wrap perfectly around two nicely-shaped bulges at the far ends of the controller, giving you defined points of grip and - as with most well-designed controllers - allowing your thumbs to rest naturally over the face buttons and analogue sticks.

There have obviously been a number of significant changes since the Wii U was last shown. Last year's version of the controller seemed to take cues from the 3DS, with the same analogue nub and similarly-sized, small face buttons clustered tightly together.

This year's revision is more orthodox for a home game console - replacing the nubs are larger analogue sticks that feel much like the one on the Nunchuk. They're similar also in terms of their solid feeling of resistance, but differ in that the outer rims of the sticks are circular and smooth, not octagonal. So it'll offer smoother directional transitions, but doesn't offer tactile assistance for hitting the eight main directional points of the circle. Whether or not you like that is down to personal preference.

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The analogues are topped with a nice rubber surface, with a raised circular rim that keeps your thumb in check without causing calluses like the little nubs on the Xbox 360 analogues. The d-pad and face buttons are also back to a more console-like size - comparable to the Wii U classic controller - with the same deliberate clickiness typical to Nintendo controllers. It's a shame the red, yellow, blue and green colour scheme that Nintendo defined hasn't make a return. Without them, Nintendo's new controller lacks that added visual memory cue that makes remembering/describing controls easier for newbies ("Which one's Jump?"... "The green one!").

We noted the convenient positioning and action-button-like size of the Start and Select buttons, which we could easily provide two more potential buttons for developers to use for in-game actions. Bringing up a map screen, for example, could be done with those buttons without any of the hard-to-reach inconveniences usually associated with Start and Select keys.

Sitting right in-line with your index and middle fingers are four more buttons; two on the shoulders (L and R) and two triggers on the back (ZL and ZR). Unlike the Xbox, these have no analogous function - they're just regular buttons, curved nicely to accommodate your fingers.

The screen is bright and sharp enough to do the job - but anyone who's ever used an iPad 2 or above won't be particularly impressed with its colors or resolution. Nintendo's clearly keeping costs down with this one and that's important - price point will be crucial for Wii U.

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With limited software experiences available at the moment, there are a fair few controller features we're yet to use. There's a stylus - similar in length and girth to the DSi XL stylus - slotted discretely into the back of the controller. It's surprising that Nintendo chose to go with the stylus-style of touch screen used with the DS, rather than going with a more finger-friendly 'capacitive' screen like those in the Vita or Apple devices.

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