Wii U preview and first impressions

Contributing writer Haven Bloome recently attended the Wii U Experience event in Seattle and got some hands on time with the Wii U and several games. Here’s his full Wii U preview, so sit down, have a cup of tea or coffee, and read on.

Recently I had the privilege of trying out the Wii U. Back in August, I was invited to the Wii U Experience Event in Seattle. I quickly signed up to go — no way was I going to miss this!

Wii U logoThe event was on September 8, a Saturday, at 6:00. I arrived shortly before it began and got in the line, which stretched outside. It advanced slowly into the building and my anticipation began to grow. A staff lady asked me for my ID to confirm I was actually registered to be at the event, after which I got a Wii U lanyard and a card that would let me send pictures and such straight to my Facebook account. Not having a Facebook account, I ignored this step and headed straight into the room with all the games.

Now let me be honest. This is exactly the type of environment I generally hate. Loud music blaring from the SiNG and Just Dance booths. Large crowds of people. Flashing and oddly-colored lights. But I was going to try the Wii U, so I could ignore everything else.

Directly ahead of me was a display with four Wii U consoles demoing Nintendo Land. There were white couches set up around one central pillar with a TV on four sides and a white Wii U beneath each of those. I didn’t pay much attention to that, because I was looking for ZombiU.

ZombiU was one of two games I actually got a chance to play. The other was New Super Mario Bros. U. I would’ve played more than those two games, but I spent over half the event waiting in line for ZombiU. It was the game I was most excited to play, and while I would’ve liked to try out more games (such as Nintendo Land and Rayman Legends), I found the wait to be worth it.


I found two ZombiU displays: one in a side booth specifically for the multiplayer, and one standalone display demoing the single-player campaign. I started by watching a little bit of the multiplayer. A boy and a girl were playing, the boy controlling the zombies and the girl controlling the human. I didn’t watch for very long because I wanted to try out the game for myself, but from what I gleaned, playing as the human is difficult when the zombies know what they’re doing. The zombie player ended up winning the game after biting the human player a number of times.

After this I headed over to the single-player display, which was right next to the multiplayer booth. There was quite a line to try it out — as I said, I spent over half the event waiting in this line — and it was the same couple of segments repeating over and over, so I got a pretty good feel for what to do while watching.

Zombi U previewWhen it was finally my turn to play, I gladly took the Wii U GamePad from the attendant and listened as he walked me through the controls. (I’ll discuss the GamePad itself later on.) To use a gun, you first have to hold ZL to get ready to shoot it. You aim with the right stick and fire by pressing ZR. If you press ZR without holding ZL, you do a quick push, Left 4 Dead style, which can be useful if a zombie’s about to get you and you can’t aim in time. If you hold ZR without holding ZL, your character begins to sprint—again, a useful feature in case there are too many zombies. The way you hold the GamePad makes this configuration feel very natural. Melee weapons use the same control scheme. X is the main action button; you press it to do most context-sensitive actions. And if a zombie grabs you and you have virucide, you press ZR to stick the syringe into the zombie’s neck, which appears to instantly kill it.

The Wii U touch screen is used very well. Across the top of the screen is a tab that reads “Backpack.” You swipe this tab down to open your backpack. Doing so pops the TV’s view into third-person and shows your character rifling through their backpack, along with letting you see any approaching zombies. It’s a good idea to open the backpack only when you have a safe moment. Additionally, looting a body or looking through a cabinet or chest opens up a menu on the touch screen which lets you pick what items you want to take (including, thankfully, a Take All option). You drag items from the body or container to your own backpack. In the top left corner of the Wii U screen there are two weapon slots, allowing you to quickly swap from one weapon to another…but as there are only two, you have to try and judge what you’ll use the most to have those weapons easily available. In the bottom left is a health bar. If you take too much damage from zombies hitting you, game over. The majority of the screen is used as a minimap which shows the room layout as well as any approaching zombies.

After the girls in front of me were done playing, I stepped up, listened to the attendant explain the Wii U controls, and then started to play. Now, I’m kind of terrible at playing first-person games on a controller — moving the camera with the stick doesn’t work as well as a mouse for me — so I probably looked like a noob while playing, but I didn’t care. The character’s default movement speed was a little slower than I expected, but I quickly adjusted. I started in an area outside Buckingham Palace with a man speaking to me over a radio or something. (It was a good thing subtitles were enabled, because I couldn’t hear anything in the game over the sound of the event around me.) He warned me to get out of the area as soon as possible because there were too many zombies around. I opened a chest near my starting location and acquired a crossbow. I didn’t try it out because I wanted to use the pistol and the cricket bat instead. After shooting a couple zombies with my pistol, I moved on to the other section of the demo: the hospital area.

The hospital was very dark. The only light came from my flashlight, which pointed wherever I looked, and an occasional flash of lightning. I had to use X to vault over a couple counters, to open doors, and to crawl through a ventilation shaft. The hospital wasn’t exactly swarming with zombies, though there were a decent amount. I didn’t encounter any zombie children either, even in the nursery section. There were a couple doors for which I needed a keycard, so there was a little backtracking once I obtained that, and I also had to pick the lock on one door. There was an apparently dead person slumped next to the door, but I shot him in the head just to be sure. That completed, I started to pick the lock.

ZombiU lockpickingLockpicking is fairly simple, though potentially time-consuming. Upon choosing to pick a lock, a lockpick and a set of tumblers appeared on the screen. I had to drag the lockpick slowly around each tumbler until I hit a certain location, indicated by the GamePad rumbling in my hands. Once on that location, I had to hold it there until a little meter filled up and then advance to the next tumbler. The meter filled quickly, but every second counts when there are zombies everywhere, and I’d imagine that more complicated locks would have more tumblers than the three this one had.

After wandering around the hospital a little more, I encountered the nurse, who you’ve probably seen in one of the Wii U trailers. She attacked me out of nowhere, which would have been much scarier had I been home alone in a dark house instead of surrounded by people and lights. She hit me instead of biting me. I whirled around and shot her a couple of times before she vanished. She reappeared behind me and beat me to death before I could shoot her any more.

So ended my time playing ZombiU on the Wii U. I played for a little less than ten minutes before dying, and if that’s a typical rate, I hope Ubisoft has a lot of potential characters to play as. Overall, I really enjoyed what I played. I didn’t get a chance to use the scanner — I think you use it on the nurse if you beat her — but from what I played, Ubisoft has done a wonderful job incorporating Wii U GamePad’s many features into this game. I can’t wait to play it in its proper environment: alone in a dark house.

New Super Mario Bros. U

After playing ZombiU, I moved on to New Super Mario Bros. U. The Wii U attendant there rounded up three other players and asked us if we were hardcore gamers. The consensus was that we were, so he said he was going to do his best with the GamePad to make it hard for us to win the level. He was quite successful in this goal, placing platforms in places that made it difficult or impossible to make certain jumps. He did manage to prevent us from winning. Aside from the creation of random platforms, the game played pretty much the same as New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Mario Wii UThe second time around I got to use the GamePad. It was more useful than I expected it to be. The screen shows exactly what’s happening on the TV, allowing you to place platforms with precision. The platforms are fairly small, probably just long enough for all four people to stand on them, if not shorter. They start to fade when someone stands on them, making them useful for recoveries but not a place to camp and shoot fireballs or anything like that. They also break if hit from beneath, meaning an accidental placement can be undone. Sadly, I didn’t think to check if the person with the GamePad can manually remove them.

Platforms aren’t the only thing the GamePad is useful for, though. While experimenting, I discovered that tapping on enemies affects them. Koopas on the ground retreat into their shells, while flying ones lose their wings. Goombas do a little hop backwards, which could potentially be used to save a player from damage or death. And powerups sliding across the ground will hop when tapped, although, from what I observed, not high enough to place a platform underneath. All things considered, the GamePad can be used pretty much equally to help or to hinder. I will say it certainly makes landing on the top of the flagpole easier, though.

Unlike the attendant, I decided to help my four co-players. It was a different set of people, most of whom weren’t quite as good as the group I’d been playing with, so I felt like they actually benefited from my assistance. I managed to save them from falling into pits a couple of times by placing platforms underneath them as they fell, which I felt proud about.

The New Super Mario Bros. series has never been my favorite set of Mario games, mainly because of the physics, but I did really enjoy the Wii one with friends. New Super Mario Bros. U looks to replicate NSMB Wii in terms of co-op, and I think it will be successful in doing so. I’ll probably pick it up at some point, because I definitely had fun playing it.

Nintendo Land

Nintendo LandWhile ZombiU and NSMBU were the only two games I had the chance to play, I did watch a little bit of Nintendo Land as well. I stood behind one of the couches and watched three people play Zelda: Battle Quest. It looked like a lot of fun. Two people use Wii Remotes as swords while the third person uses the GamePad as a bow. The characters looked to be Miis with different colors of Link outfits on. I paid more attention to the GamePad player than the Wii Remote players, so I don’t know how accurate the sword slashes are or if Wii Motion Plus is incorporated. The player using the Wii U GamePad aims by moving it around and flicks it down to reload arrows. The Wii U game is split into four screens: one for each player and a fourth where health is shown. From what I could tell, the players shared a health meter. I watched them progress through a level, fighting enemies. Eventually they encountered a boss, which looked like a big Moblin, but it struck one of the sword players down, so I didn’t get to see the end of the game.

The Wii U

Now I’ll finally discuss the Wii U console itself. I don’t know any hardware specs, so I’ll just talk about the exterior and the controller. The console didn’t appear to be too much bigger than the Wii, though I didn’t actually have it with me to compare them, of course. It’s much rounder than the Wii and just generally looks smoother. They were all in cases, so I couldn’t really do a full inspection, but I can give you details on the controller…

Wii U GamePad controller impressions

Upon holding it for the first time, I found it to be extremely comfortable and it fit very naturally into my hands. It is, of course, big, but it’s not as big as you might expect. The weight felt perfect to me. Judging by its size you might think it’s heavy, but it’s really not. The two sticks are quite easy to reach and feel smooth and precise. The X button is directly below the right analog stick, which will probably make it the primary action button for first-person games. It has two ridges along the back where you hold the controller, and the ZL and ZR buttons are right at your fingertips. The L and R buttons are up in the back of the controller, closer to the sticks than ZL and ZR, but I found them quite easy to reach as well. The Wii U stylus is on the back right of the controller. The + and – buttons are on the right side of the controller, and the Power and TV buttons were under the screen on the right side.

Wii U controllerThe screen is… well, big. But that’s definitely a good thing. It never felt cramped. The only real downside I can see would be reaching things in the middle, but that’s not that big a problem, since I think most items on the screen will be close to the edge unless they’re deliberately meant to interrupt the action anyway, such as with the backpack in ZombiU. And the actual display on the screen was very nice. In New Super Mario Bros. U, the Wii U touch screen displayed exactly what was happening on the TV with no latency — and looked good doing so. It really just looked like a miniature version of the game.

Using the GamePad was quite easy. It took just a second of readjustment to get used to reaching down for buttons instead of up, but once I did it was smooth. It didn’t really feel any different from any other controller, even though my hands were further apart—it certainly wasn’t as big an adjustment as the Wii Remote. It was just comfortable and intuitive. And even when I was using it one-handed in New Super Mario Bros. U, it wasn’t heavy or difficult to hold. It felt exactly right in my hands. All in all, Nintendo has once again made a spectacular controller with the Wii U.


Once the Wii U preview event was over, we all gathered around the door for quick questions and then a short trivia session where they handed out prizes for knowing things about Nintendo. I won a cute little Koopa figurine because I knew the meaning of “Nintendo.” (It means “Leave luck to heaven” for those of you who don’t know.) As we left the building, we were each given a high-five and a tasty cake pop shaped like a red mushroom. I took the bus home feeling more excited than ever before that a new Nintendo console would soon be sitting in my living room.