Mr. Hands-On: 3DS XL and Wii U Gamepad
Yesterday I had the opportunity for hands-on demonstrations of the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS XL. Before digging into individual game impressions I’m going to talk a bit about hardware. The long and the short of it: the armchair Internet bitching and speculation about discomfort is largely baseless. Read on for more!
The 3DS XL’s large screens are, as expected, roughly the same jump experienced previously from the DS to the DSi XL. (I was going to say “from the DSi to the DSi XL” but realized that this would have been meaningless to sane people, as they would have bought one or the other, if either.) Having not spent a lot of time with the 3DS myself at this point, I was rather impressed, as the 3D is still novel to me, and coupled with the large screen it’s difficult to not make an impression. Based on the little 3DS experience I’d had previously, I can say it wasn’t any harder to maintain the 3D effect with the larger screen, and in fact may have been just slightly easier. The weight was fine, and in fact is probably a bit lighter than what I experienced due to the large security tether hanging on the bottom of the demo units. Portability seems like it will be a problem, but not much more so than the existing 3DS, as Nintendo hasn’t really built a pocket-sized system since the Game Boy micro anyway. Men, get over yourselves and start carrying purses, even if you won’t call them that- that’s fine. As for the unit’s speakers, I cannot speak to the audio quality because the demo area was rather loud, but I could hear some of the game sounds so power-wise they seem to be just fine. Finally, the buttons: The triggers were a bit small for my liking, but nothing terrible, and the face buttons presented no issue. The Home, Start, and Select buttons being physically pressable buttons is an improvement, although I still miss the Start/Select placement of the original DS. Overall, I heartily approve of this design and look forward to waiting for a special limited-edition color tie-in to one of my favorite game series.
Now for the bigger impressions (because the controller is huge, you see): the Wii U Gamepad. It turns out that adding an LCD screen and a bunch of lightweight plastic in the middle doesn’t actually make the Gamepad that much heavier than standard controllers. The extreme width is rather deceptive; it doesn’t feel much different to hold than, say, a Classic Controller Pro, but when looking at the Gamepad itself and not the television I did find myself thinking it felt different. Optical illusions aside, it’s quite comfortable. The offset positioning of the Z triggers from the higher “bumper” triggers is something I’m not used to but should be familiar to anyone who regularly plays with an Xbox 360 controller. Other than that the buttons and sticks are all positioned just fine, and having the second analog stick above the face buttons is not inherently better or worse than the other way around. I found myself pressing harder on the touch screen than I needed to for a few games, making sliding my finger across rather difficult, but this is because I am a loser without a smartphone who doesn’t regularly interact with touch screens without using a stylus and I’m just not used to it, and in fact I did get better with a bit of practice. The screen itself is rather nice for the size- think of some of the nicer screens you may have seen on portable DVD players of the same size. I can easily see myself using it as my go-to Netflix device or happily using it to play Wii and Wii U games while the TV is otherwise occupied.
One thing getting the Gamepad in my hands really impressed upon me that the E3 spec sheets couldn’t quite convey is just how PACKED the thing is with little gadgets and important bits. Aside from all the buttons and the NEW-TO-NINTENDO CLICKABLE STICKS! here’s a list:
-Sensor bar array
-Pizza delivery speed dial
-That Skylanders thingy where the thing can read data off the figures with radio waves or whatever
I didn’t get to use a lot of these functions, but even taking that into account none of them really feel superfluous, aside from the panic button and pizza delivery, and which I just made up for comedy value anyway. Holding the Gamepad, stopping for a moment, and taking note of all the little gizmos on it left me kind of… consulting a thesaurus for a less strong form of “astonished”. Just sort of a minor revelation, I suppose, something I hadn’t really thought about due to the slow crawl of feature creep over the years as innovations become standards. I think the rumble was what did it; the Gamepad feels like a (rather large) portable system, which typically do not have built-in rumble, and so I noted that as a point of comparison. I’m disappointed there wasn’t a chance to check out the Gamepad’s TV remote functionality.