You may not understand right away what's special about the Wii U. What's the big deal about having a small tablet as a controller and a second screen? Quite simply, it solves problems and opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities.
Ben Kuchera of the Penny Arcade Report weighed in after playing with the Wii U in his home for several days. As he pointed out, the gaming device's virtues aren't obvious right away. Commercials for it show how easily one can switch from playing a game on a TV screen to the Wii U tablet whenever someone wants to use that big screen to watch a program or DVD. But there is so much more it can do.
Say you have more people than TVs in your house, and you can't agree on what to watch. The Wii U tablet effectively gives you an extra screen. “Once the system's updates go live you'll be able to watch a film on NetFlix with the GamePad and a pair of headphones while someone else watches the television,” Kuchera explained. “My son loves watching Dr. Who, but it's too scary for my daughter...This allows him to sit back and enjoy his own shows while the younger kids watch a DVD on the TV.”
It's important to note that you can plug headphones into the GamePad so the noise from whatever you're playing on it doesn't disturb those around you. This can be particularly helpful in a household with young kids. “Parents, you can now play M-rated games with your children in the room!” Kuchera exulted.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Wii U's GamePad, however, is the potential it opens up for video game dynamics that operate very differently from what we're used to seeing. A separate GamePad, controlled by one player, opens up the possibility of hidden data, unknown to the other players. Some of you old-school gamers may have experienced this in analog form playing Dungeons & Dragons style games, where one player created a world – or at least a dungeon, complete with monsters and treasure – for the other players to explore. Something similar happens in the board game “Betrayal at House on the Hill,” where your group explores a haunted mansion, and at some point in the game, one of the players betrays the rest – and a battle ensues to see who wins.
How does this play out in a video game mechanic? Well, in a regular video game played on a TV, adversarial players can't exactly hide anything from each other; it's all displayed on the one screen for everyone to see. But the ability to hide information changes everything, as Kuchera explained in his review of “Luigi's Ghost Mansion.” All of the players – except one – are exploring a haunted mansion. One player, in control of the GamePad, is the ghost. The ghost wins by grabbing everyone. The players win by killing the ghost – by shining their flashlights at him to drain his energy.
But none of the other players can see the ghost. The ghost, of course, can see everyone. Players get a warning – their controllers vibrate – when the ghost is close to them. The person playing the ghost sees his or her avatar on the GamePad with a little aura around it, indicating how close it can get to a player before triggering a warning vibration.
There is no gore and nothing really scary about this game, but oh, does it deliver in the tension department! Every time someone gets a warning, all of the players tend to react – the one grabbed shouts out where he thinks the ghost is, and everyone rushes in to help. A ghost must trigger that warning to attack, of course, but a sharp player can turn that into an advantage by using the warnings to “nudge” the other players in specific directions.
“This is the power of giving one player information that they don't share,” Kuchera pointed out. “There is something magical” when you're the ghost and you can hear players discussing their plans, “as you watch them on your screen stumbling around with their flashlights trying to hunt you...The ghost is trying to hunt the players, the players are trying to work together to trap the ghost, and whenever the ghost grabs a player there is usually a group reaction from everyone present.” The game is so simple that users can play it with their kids, but playing it involves enough strategy and tactics to keep adults engaged as well.
In short, the Wii U offers great potential for both convenience and tremendously cool gaming, thanks to the possibilities for very different game dynamics. We can only hope that video game creators understand that potential, and use it for good.
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